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.
Here's a blast from the past: Sean Connery as the "mystery guest" on a 1965 episode of "What's My Line?". The clip recalls an era when those who appeared on television tended to be sophisticated, well-mannered and polite. The celebrity participants in the game always wore tuxedos and fine dresses as they played to win token amounts of money that never exceeded $50. The fun was waiting until the end of the show to see if the blindfolded panelists could guess the mystery guest, who would inevitably disguise his/her voice. Here, the "Great Scot" shows a bit of humor as he feigns a high-pitched female voice. Later he seems rather shy engaging in actual conversation with host John Daly. He briefly mentions that he is in New York to film "A Fine Madness" and shows some enthusiasm for his about-to-be-released prison classic "The Hill". He noticeably does not mention the forthcoming release of his fourth James Bond blockbuster "Thunderball", which opened in December 1965. By this point, it's apparent that the bloom was off the 007 rose for Connery.
a cult favorite, actress Edwige Fenech
has numerous movie moments that are ingrained into the minds of many
Italian men who came of age in the 1970’s. Yet there is one particular moment, running topless in slow-motion
through a field of flowers, that is probably more memorable then the rest. Many words come to mind when trying to
describe this scene: Crude. Low-brow. Gratuitous. All of these are
excellent adjectives to use when trying to sum up 1973’s Ubalda, All Naked and Warm. Besides giving audiences an (extremely) intimate look at Ms.
Fenech, this was the film that famously
(or infamously) proved that the Italian “sexy comedies” could be commercially
viable. Although not a for
everyone, Ubalda is perfect for fans who wish to delve more deeply into the
overlooked cult titles of Italy’s yesteryear.
(Pippo Franco) is a hapless knight who has just returned home after a long and
brutal war. As can be expected, he wants
nothing more than to eat fresh food, have a nice bath, and find comfort in the
arms of his beautiful wife Fiamma (Karin Schubert). Before he had left, Olimpio had his wife
fitted with a chastity built in order to ensure that she remained faithful. Yet when he returns home, he finds that Fiamma
is less then eager to return his affections (even with the chastity belt, she
has numerous other suitors lined
up). After she steals the key to the
belt (a fact which delights her suitors), she informs Olimpio that she has
taken a vow of “chastity”, and suggests that her husband focus his energies
toward making peace with their neighbor instead of making love. Discouraged, Olimpio accepts his wife’s words
and heads over to the home of Master Oderisi (Umberto D’Orsi) in order to make
amends. Yet as soon as he sees Oderisi’s
new wife, he quickly has other ideas.
it turns out, Lady Ubalda (Edwige Fenech), is as equally unhappy in her
marriage as Fiamma is in hers. Initially, she is only too happy to add Olimpio to her list of secret
lovers, but quickly loses interest after his plan to bed her fails. Frustrated at home, both Olimpio and Oderisi
eventually agree to swap wives. Yet
their plan sets in motion a chain of events that will forever change their lives
in a very unexpected way. By the time
the film is over, neither man has to worry about the other ever trying to bed
their wife again.
with a budget of roughly $50,000, the
film grossed more than $400,000 at the box office, making it a huge success. (Although people under the age of 18 were not
admitted into the theaters, it is interesting to think of all the creative ways
that teenagers concocted in their attempts to sneak in). After Ubalda’s
stunning success, the Italian sex comedies (known in Italy as “commedia sexy
all’italiana”) became a huge sensation. Aside from the medieval setting, these films tended to center around
numerous other cliched subjects, such as: nurses, policewomen, and lady medics. Unsurprisingly, many of these films would
follow Ubalda’sexample and give top billing to Edwige Fenech.
Fenech was, beyond a doubt, the
break-out star of the movie. Already
known for her roles in the giallos, Ubalda
made Fenech an instant sex siren. It
is little wonder; gifted with natural beauty, she could light up any screen,
regardless of her role. (The fact that
the film featured her disrobing probably made the screen shine even brighter
for many in attendance). On top of her
more obvious attributes, Edwige Fenech also possessed a natural flair for
comedy. Throughout Ubalda, her
wry humor proves to be the perfect compliment to Franco's over the top antics.
Although her glamor and comedy would never grant her universal recognition,
Fenech would still make a decent career for herself.
The decline and decay of American urban centers in the 1960s- along with the inevitable soaring crime rates- inspired Hollywood studios to reflect the general mood of society. It was clearly a tumultuous period, perhaps the most divisive era in American history since the Civil War a hundred years before. Race riots, Vietnam War protests, assassinations of high profile figures and soaring poverty rates combined to provide a perfect storm of social unrest. Always a barometer of where society was at at any particular point in time, the major studio releases begat a tidal wave of urban crime movies. Many of these centered on a single "lone wolf" protagonist...the "dirty cop", if you will, who generally had disdain for following constitutional rights in his quest to fight crime, often within the very police department he worked for. From the late 1960s through the 1970s, we saw such memorable cops as "Popeye" Doyle, "Dirty Harry" Callahan, Frank Bullitt and Virgil Tibbs taking on crime kingpins as well as top brass. The actions of these cops would be found to abhorrent today but at the time, the "shoot first, ask questions later" approach clearly had the backing of an American population that was losing faith in their criminal justice system. Sidney Lumet's 1973 film "Serpico" was perhaps the most compelling look at this problem, as it depicted a real life New York City police officer who dared to take on corruption in the highest levels of his own department and discovered that payoffs and back room deals between cops and crooks were systemic. By the mid-1970s, even John Wayne, the most stalwart symbol of political conservatism, had gone rogue by playing "stick-it-to-the-brass" detectives in "McQ" and "Brannigan". The explosion of urban crime dramas provided a great many opportunities for black actors. Sidney Poitier paved the way with his landmark performance in the 1967 film "In the Heat of the Night" and then revived the leading man from that film, Virgil Tibbs, in several sequels. The 1971 release of director Gordon Parks' "Shaft", portraying a slick, cynical black private eye, was a surprise success with mainstream audiences and led to the overnight tidal wave of so-called blaxploitation films, which were, with few exceptions, crudely made productions that merited "guilty pleasure" status with viewers. One of the many benefits of this trend was the emergence of so many fine African American actors who had been performing under the radar in terms of name recognition.
"Across 110th Street", released in 1972, is not a blaxploitation film but it is a hybrid between that genre and the more upscale big studio crime flicks of the era. It boasts an intelligent script by Luther Davis, based on the source novel by Walter Ferris. The film takes place during the period when Harlem was generally depicted on screen as an urban wasteland, characterized by burned out buildings, back lots strewn with garbage and a generation of young black man with no hopes or prospects and, thus, falling prey to the lure of the criminal life. The movie opens with a back room meeting between members of an odd alliance: Mafia guys getting together with their counterparts in the Harlem mob to split up weekly proceeds from shakedowns and other ill-gotten gains. Just as they are counting the loot, they are interrupted by two black police officers who turn out to be small time crooks in disguise. They attempt to steal the money but the plan goes awry leading to the machine gun massacre of all the mob guys. The four perpetrators of the crime against the crooks make a hair-raising getaway, gunning down two legitimate police officers in the process. The NYPD is determined to find the culprits. Ordinarily, it would fall to veteran police captain Matelli (Anthony Quinn) to head the investigation. However, he's ordered to play a subordinate role to Lt. Pope, a young up-and-coming black detective (Yaphet Kotto) who the top brass believe might have more resources within the Harlem community. The notion of taking orders from someone with a subordinate rank infuriates Matelli and he had Pope have a strained relationship at best. "Across 110th Street" is a unique crime movie from this period on a number of levels. For one, the two main police protagonists don't dominate the movie. Most of the screen time is dedicated to the plight of the four hapless thieves who inadvertently caused a massacre. They split up and hope to stay under the radar in the wake of the crime. However, not only are the cops looking for them but so is the Harlem mob as well as Mafia goons headed by their enforcer, Nick D'Salvio. Everyone wants the stolen money and the frightened men who have it are in imminent danger. In some harrowing sequences, D'Salvio and his men track down three of the four thieves and render torturous street justice to them. The last remaining holdout is Jim Harris (superbly played by Paul Benjamin), the smartest of the group who manages to stay hidden thanks to the help of his sexy girlfriend. However, in an intriguing plot twist, his asthma leads to complications that result in a terrifically exciting finale as cops, mob guys and the Harlem crooks all race to get to him first.
The film was directed with admirable style by Barry Shear, who was primarily a TV director of repute, though he did helm the low-budget cult movie "Wild in the Streets" in 1968. Shear presents a flair not only for ambitious action sequences but also for intense dramatic scenes between the main characters. Anthony Quinn gets top billing and gives a fine performance as a world-weary cop who considers himself honest even though he is on the payroll of a Harlem crime king. He also thinks nothing of beating suspects and depriving them of legal representation, tactics that appall the more modern and progressive methods of Lt. Pope. The two men clash constantly and the inevitable racial and generational barriers between them becomes points of contention. This was an important film for Yaphet Kotto. Although he had been a respected character actor for years, this time around he got "above the title" billing with Quinn. His quiet intensity has always allowed him to steal every scene he is in and this is no exception. Kotto always brings dignity to the roles he plays, even if the characters are not very dignified. Anthony Franciosa also has a meaty role as the outwardly charming D'Salvio, who is, in reality, a merry sadist. Although he travels with goons and bodyguards, he enjoys getting his hands dirty and administrating the beatings and tortures himself. There are a couple of other "up-and-comers" seen in supporting roles including Burt Young and Gloria Hendry, who would go on to star with Yaphet Kotto in the James Bond hit "Live and Let Die" the following year. The film captures the look and feel of New York City at the low point in its history. Today, the city has undergone a Renaissance, as has many of the great American urban centers. Gotham routinely posts annual crime figures that are the lowest since the early 1960s. The city is a far cry from the era in which this film is made but one aspect of the movie remains uncomfortably relevant: the relationship between police and the minority community, as evidenced by continuous high profile cases that seem to erupt in the news every other day. Although most of these incidents now seem to take place outside of major urban areas, they provide proof that America has still not completely turned the corner on one of the most divisive aspects of its culture: race relations.
The film has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The transfer has a graininess to it that I believe represents the way the film was originally shot. In any event, it only adds to the grindhouse nature of the subject matter. "Across 110th Street" is a top-notch crime thriller from an era that boasted many top-notch crime thrillers. Essential viewing, if you like films from this era. The only bonus is trailer, which is a work print version that is lacking any on-screen titles or credits. In all, another welcome release from Kino Lorber. (See below for original trailer with credits.)
Cinema Retro Lee Pfeiffer recently moderated a book signing event for authors Robert Crane and Christopher Fryer in relation to their new release "Bob Crane: Sex, Celebrity and My Father's Unsolved Murder", which has been published by the University Press of Kentucky. The event was held at The Coffee House Club, a legendary 100 year-old private venue for the arts in New York that has boasted such illustrious members as Sir Winston Churchill, Robert Benchley, Basil Rathbone and Henry Fonda. The book details the impact that the murder of "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane had on his family, specifically his son Robert, who was in his early twenties when the grisly crime occurred in 1979. Bob Crane had risen to fame playing avuncular, sharp-witted "guy next door" types. He was also a highly talented musician who enjoyed moonlighting as an acclaimed drummer. In private life, he was a very complex man. As outlined in the book, he was capable of being a loving, hard-working father and husband who always ensured that his family was provided for. However, he also had many personal demons, most of them revolving around an obsession with sex that he was never able to control.
(L to R: Christopher Fryer, Leslie Crane, Desly Fryer, Robert Crane)
(L to R): Robert Crane, Lee Pfeiffer, Christopher Fryer.
From his first days of stardom on TV in the early 1960s, Crane's unrestrained attempts to satisfy his libido led to great distress in his family. He routinely bedded the seemingly endless array of willing female lovers. When his long-suffering wife finally ended their marriage, whatever structure still remained in Crane's life evaporated. A second marriage to an actress who was a regular on "Hogan's Heroes" led to even more consternation. When "Hogan's Heroes" was finally canceled after a long run, Crane found himself estranged from his second wife. He was trying to support both ex-spouses and his own lifestyle even as his star power dwindled, in no small part due to his personal excesses. Crane had always been interested in the latest video and audio technology. His friendship with a creepy hanger-on named John Carpenter proved to be problematic in the long run. Carpenter, who was in the video technology business, kept Crane up to date with the latest video cameras, which the actor used to document his sex sessions with countless lovers. In return, Carpenter benefited from being included in group sex sessions that were arranged by Crane for the purposes of being filmed. (Contrary to popular legend, Robert Crane told Lee Pfeiffer that he has never found evidence that any of these women were filmed surreptitiously or without their consent.) Ultimately, Bob Crane's fortunes had dwindled to the point that he had to make a living by performing a middling comedy stage play on the dinner theater circuit. He was doing so for a Phoenix engagement when his lifeless body was discovered in his rented apartment there. Crane had been brutally bludgeoned to death with the tripod of a camera. Over the decades, the consensus was that Carpenter, who had had a falling out with Crane, was the likely suspect. He had motive and opportunity but so many years passed before he was tried for the crime that the case was largely circumstantial and he was found not guilty. During the course of the book event, both Crane and his old friend and co-author Fryer, each discussed their own theories about who was likely to blame for the murder, which was the subject of Paul Schrader's film "Auto Focus". (For the record, Robert Crane remains convinced that Carpenter was a culprit but leaves the door open for involvement by another person, whose identity might surprise readers.) The book very effectively interweaves Bob Crane's life and career with the very dramatic life of his son. Robert recounts numerous personal obstacles in a compelling and moving manner. Here was a young man who had to contend with his father's murder at an early age, then the loss of his friend, mentor and employer, John Candy. He would later also lose his beloved first wife to a terminal illness. It all makes for a highly readable page turner.
Possessed,” (1961), a soap opera starring Lana Turner that was her attempt to
have another hit on the order of “Peyton Place,” has two distinguishing
features. First, two of the male leads, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., and Jason
Robards, Jr., have Jr. after their names, (There may be other films with two
juniors in the top-ranked cast, but I can’t think of them, can you?) and,
second, it may be the worst film that the estimable John Sturges ever directed.
Other than that, there is absolutely nothing noteworthy about this film except
how bad it is.
First of all even
though Lana got star billing, the central character is really the lawyer played
by Zimbalist. He’s partners with Robards in a firm headed by Thomas Mitchell. Efrem is a
cold, unfeeling guy who believes in fulfilling the letter of the law, no matter
who it hurts. (Sounds perfect to play in a TV series about the FBI). To show
the kind of guy he is, Efrem discovers Thomas Mitchell has been screwing up the
law firm’s books. When he first suspects something’s wrong he tells Robards
they’ll have to put the old man on moth balls, because he’s becoming senile. He
plans to take away all his duties, and just keep him around as a lawn jockey.
Jason flinches, telling Efrem to carry out the deed because he couldn’t bring
himself to hurt him that way.
Zimbalist has a
wife (Barbara Bel Geddes) who’s in the hospital with a tennis injury
(presumably tennis elbow!) They have a son (George Hamilton) who hates his
life. It’s rough being wealthy and going to Harvard Law School. George, in
turn, has a girlfriend (Susan Kohner),
but he’s bored with her because she won’t sleep with him. After failing to have
a meaningful conversation about relationships with his father, George decides
to take up with the town tramp, Yvonne Craig.
wifey Bel Geddes in the hospital, and Robards away in New York, Efrem discovers
Lana has eyes for him. You see, Robards is impotent as the result of an
undefined accident. Efrem and Lana start
a little fling. In the meantime, Efrem’s son, George’s date with the easy girl Yvonne turns disastrous when he brushes her off
afterward, and she cries rape. Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Conner) shows up as the
police chief and arrests George. George gets out of jail and skips on his bail.
When girlfriend Kohner finds out about the tramp she kills herself by drinking
cleaning fluid. That’s right. Cleaning
By this time, I
felt like I wanted to take a swig of it myself. But as Everett Sloan as the family
doctor says, while playing gin with
Efrem, “Forces are put in motion that lead to an inevitable end, and sometimes
it’s a bitter inevitablility” or some jazz like that, that makes as much sense
as the rest of the movie. I won’t bore you with the rest of this tedious
nonsense, but suffice to say that, since it was only 1961 and the sexual
revolution was still to come later in the decade, the hypocritical ending lets
just about everyone off the hook, morally speaking.
biggest mystery surrounding this film is how in the world John Sturges came to
direct it. Sturges had already done “The Magnificent Seven” the year before,
and “Gunfight at the OK Corral” before that, and would go on to “The Great
Escape” and other solid action films. Perhaps Sturges’ venture into Douglas
Sirk territory best serves as a reminder that if you want a long career in
Hollywood, you’ve got to be flexible.
Possessed” was a Seven Arts Production with script by Charles Schnee (as John
Dennis) produced by Walter Mirisch, music score by Elmer Bernstein and cinematography
by Russell Metty. MGM’s Limited Edition Collection DVD is presented in 16x9 1.85:1
widescreen format. Picture is adequate, sound a bit flat and tinny. Recommended
for Lana Turner completists and those with a taste for cleaning fluid.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
The incomparable filmography of raven-eyed Barbara Steele
attests to the iconic actresses’ reign as the uncontested Queen of Gothic
Horror cinema. Though a British
national, Steele’s earliest roles for England’s film industry were mostly
unexceptional; she was usually offered roles small and oft-times un-credited. Her most notable work would neatly coincide
with the turn of the calendar page from the prim 1950s to the more robust and
envelope-pushing 1960s. Steele’s finest
and most memorable films were, not without exception, neither productions of
English nor American origin. Though she would work alongside horror-master
Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s highly polished and well- regarded retelling of
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961), this big-screen splash was
something on an anomaly. Steele’s
reputation as horror-film goddess was largely advanced by several evocative roles
in a series of hauntingly memorable, modestly-budgeted, and singularly Italian
or Italian-European co-productions. She
worked with the best: several of her most remarkable films were helmed, under
the aegis of such celebrated directors as Mario Bava (“Black Sunday”) and Federico
Fellini (“8 ½”).
Though he would never, perhaps rightfully, be knighted with
the auteur status bestowed upon such contemporaries
as Bava and Fellini, Antonio Margheriti’s resume of film credits – particularly
fantastic film credits - is lengthier
than that of either director. There was
no denying he could deliver, on time and on budget, a marketable - if sometimes
pedestrian and occasionally incoherent - science-fiction or sword-and-sandal epic
to the studio. Conversely, Margheriti’s
sensitive and nuanced handling of the gothic-horror period films assigned to
him in the early 1960s was never less than completely stylish: such entries as “The
Virgin of Nuremberg” (aka “Horror Castle”) (1963), with Christopher Lee in a small
red-herring role, remains a memorable addition to the canon. The director’s immediate follow-up, “Danza
Macabra” (“Castle of Blood”) (1964) with Barbara Steele was, on the other hand,
so much more than the ordinary color-by-numbers ghost story. That black and white film is, in the opinion
of this reviewer, nothing short of brilliant, an atmospheric and haunting masterpiece
of gothic-horror cinema. Undeservedly,
as would be the case with many of his earliest films, this celluloid treasure
was unceremoniously relegated to U.S. markets as programming fodder for the drive-in
theater circuit. Thankfully, many of
Margheriti’s films – including, inevitably, many of his lesser works - would eventually
draw new breath. Many of his earliest films
were ultimately saved from obscurity when several titles became staples of
late-night broadcast TV.
Margheriti is described on Raro Video’s brilliant recent
Blu-Ray issue of “The Long Hair of Death” (1964) as having been totally
“fascinated” by Barbara Steele’s persona, and terribly eager to work with the
actress again on a follow-up project. As
“Castle of Blood” had proven to be a low-budget but world-wide success at the international
box office, Margheriti did his best to assemble the same troupe of actors and
film technicians for his next gothic horror outing. Many of the sets for “The Long Hair of Death”
would be familiar to fans of “Castle of Blood.” The cemetery vaults and imposing Italian castle located some forty miles
outside of Rome were re-visits to the gloomy settings of his previous
collaboration with Steele. He was
comfortable in this surrounding, and there were few gothic-horror tropes not
employed by Margheriti - with great effect – in both films. It’s all there to be found – very atmospherically
presented - on screen: the gloomy old
castle, cobwebs, candelabras, chains and steel gates, labyrinth catacombs, torches,
dark-robed shadowy figures, rats, crypts littered with skulls and bones, secret
passageways, and, of course, the elegant and expansive sitting room outfitted
with large hearths and ancient armaments that adorn the walls.
The plot of “The Long Hair of Death” is simple and
recognizable. Near the end of the 15th
century, a witch, Adele Karnstein, is condemned to die by fire for the murder
of Franz Humboldt, the brother of the reigning Count (Giuliano Raffaelli). In her final moment before succumbing to the
flames, Karnstein chooses to wickedly put a century’s end curse of pestilence on
the village – with a very special retribution to be meted out to the
descendants of those who accused her, wrongly, of the crime. Before dying, she cries out to her estranged daughters,
Lisabeth (Halina Zalewska) and Helen (Barbara Steele), to avenge her murder by
the village royals. In an attempt not to
give too much away, I believe it’s safe to say that the mother’s curse will
bode well for neither the reigning Count nor his scheming and loathsome son
Shakespeare’s Richard III,one of the playwright’s earlier
efforts, is generally classified as one of the great history plays, but it’s
also considered one of the better tragedies. It’s also among the bard’s
bloodier and nastier pieces of work. After all, the protagonist is the
villain—and oh, what a villain Richard III, the deformed and power-mad king of
England who ruled the land for a couple of turbulent years in the mid-1480s,
truly is. Throughout the course of the story, he manages to murder or give the
order to murder nearly the entire supporting cast.
play has been filmed before, most notably by Laurence Olivier in 1955, but director
Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film production, based on the stage production by the
Royal National Theatre, takes the story into a very different universe. It’s
always risky to mess with Shakespeare’s temporal settings, but this particular
experiment works like gangbusters.
an alternate fascist England in the late 1930s/early 1940s, in which the story
takes place within something similar to the world of a Nazi propaganda film,
namely The Triumph of the Will, which
documented Hitler’s rise to power. Here, Richard III, superbly embodied by Ian
McKellen (who was also a producer of the film) is a Nazi-like dictator,
complete with a Nazi-like uniform, SS-like henchmen, and a WW2-era military to
serve his wishes. British landmarks are easily recognizable in the picture, and
the Oscar-nominated art direction and costumes brilliantly legitimize the brave
concept. If anything, Richard III is
a sumptuous visual feast.
said, I believe this is a Shakespearean adaptation that is accessible to general
audiences. Those familiar with the play will enjoy what the filmmakers did with
the piece, and those who can’t stand Shakespeare will probably find themselves
totally engrossed. The all-star cast is terrific—Annette Bening, Robert Downey,
Jr., Jim Broadbent, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne, and a
who’s-who of other British supporting players join McKellen, who dominates the
film with a bravura performance. They all manage to properly deliver the
Shakespearean dialogue with clarity; when the acting is spot-on in Shakespeare,
it’s not difficult to comprehend the meaning behind the language.
yet, the running time is less than two hours—screenwriters Loncraine and
McKellan cleverly cut the piece (which is the second longest play Shakespeare
wrote) into a tight, fast-moving spectacle of villainous treachery. McKellen’s
breaking of the fourth wall to address the audience adds to the nudge-nudge,
wink-wink factor that gives the film its irony. There is humor, to be sure, and
one of the better laughs is how the line “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a
horse!” is employed.
Time’s new limited edition Blu-ray is a delight. The transfer is above average,
with sharp images and bold colors. Extras include an isolated music and effects
track and the theatrical trailer.
fans will certainly want to pick up this one, and it’s a good bet that most
cinema buffs will appreciate the thriller aspects, the acting, and the
exquisite look of the inspired and daring re-invention of the play.
Sidney Sheldon (1917-2007), the playwright, television
mogul, and novelist, reportedly sold well over 300 million books in his
lifetime. This is a pretty impressive number
for a man who only turned to churning out books in his early fifties. If I hedged on the word “writing” when
describing the mogul’s working methods, I’m not being coy and
disrespectful. Perhaps taking a page
from fellow television writer-creator-workaholic Rod Serling’s own playbook, Sheldon
would dictate his stories into a tape recorder and later have secretaries type
out his ramblings. With words committed
to paper, Sheldon would then skillfully revise and edit and buffer the
manuscript until satisfied he had a full-fledged novel on hand. Though a number of literary critics - and resentful
thriller-writing contemporaries - would excoriate the creator/writer of The Patty Duke Show and I Dream of Jeannie for his work method
and hackneyed storylines, readers worldwide made Sheldon one of the most
successful popular-market paperback novelists of all time.
One fan of Sheldon’s books was Roger Moore, also in the
midst of enjoying a great run of wealth and fame as James Bond. The actor would recall in his memoir My Word is My Bond, “Since first reading
Sidney Sheldon’s book The Naked Face
I had felt it would lend itself to a very good film.” Moore was interested in exploring new
projects; he was certain his sixth and most recent outing as Bond, Octopussy (1983), was likely his last. He was, after all, now fifty-seven years old. He could be forgiven for believing his
successful turn as British secret agent 007 had come to its natural end.
Several years prior to the cinema version of “The Naked
Face,” Moore was cast in “Sunday Lovers” (1980), a dismal romantic-comedy of four
vignettes tethered together as a feature-length film. The Franco-Italian production would be
released in the U.S. in the early winter of 1981. Though the film performed poorly at the
box-office on both sides of the Atlantic, critics agreed the movie’s first
tale, a distinctly British farce titled “An Englishman’s Home,” was clearly the
best of an otherwise bad bunch. The screenplay for this segment had been written
by the British playwright and lyricist Leslie Bricusse, and featured a talented
ensemble: Moore, Denholm Elliot, Lynn
Redgrave, and Priscilla Barnes. The
vignette was helmed with modest flourish by Bryan Forbes, a formidable figure
in the British film industry who had only recently stepped down as managing
director of EMI films. Moore enjoyed
working with the director on “Sunday Lovers” as Forbes, a true Renaissance man,
had been an old colleague. The two had been
friends since their earliest training together at the Royal Academy of Dramatic
Around this same time a pair of Israeli nationals,
Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, became primary shareholders of Cannon Films, a floundering
company teetering on bankruptcy and desperate for well-heeled investors. The savvy cousins would quickly reinvigorate
the company’s fortunes in the 1980s with a profitable string of teen-horrors
and testosterone-fueled low-budget action B-films starring Charles Bronson and
Chuck Norris. In the interim of such
box-office successes as “Death Wish II” and the first of the “Missing in Action”
films, the producers actively courted Moore for a possible collaboration. The interests of both parties converged when a
window of opportunity opened following the actor’s wrap of Octopussy. Moore’s suggestion
of Sidney Sheldon’s 1970 best-selling novel “The Naked Face” as a possible
project for Cannon was met with enthusiasm. The deal was sealed when the filmmakers agreed to green-light Moore’s
friend Bryan Forbes as director for the project. Golan and Globus announced production of “The
Naked Face” with customary Cannon ballyhoo at the Cannes International Film
The premise of both the novel and film was classic
Hitchcock. A contemplative Chicago
psychiatrist, Dr. Judd Stevens (Roger Moore), becomes entangled as primary
suspect for a series of murders of which he is innocent and seems to have no
connection. As “The Naked Face” was clearly
targeted as entertainment for a sophisticated adult demographic, the producers
cast an impressive roster of middle-to-late-age talent. These were faces familiar to seasoned moviegoers: Rod Steiger, Anne Archer, Elliott Gould, and
Art Carney among them. The casting,
sadly, was not terribly profound. The
producers would cast veteran actor Rod Steiger as Moore’s foil, the
frothing-at-the-mouth, bulldog detective Lt. McGreavy. Steiger’s performance was certainly memorable. Unfortunately, it is memorable for all of the
wrong reasons. The most obvious problem with the actor’s
performance was, as Moore would later lament, Steiger did little to mitigate
his well-deserved reputation amongst his peers as a “scene chewer.” There’s plenty of that charge in evidence
here. The actor’s one-note portrayal is,
in turn, amusing and wearying. McGreavy comes off as a highly-caffeinated
Sgt. Joe Friday, ready to assign even the sketchiest shred of circumstantial
evidence as proof of Moore’s culpability in the murders. The detective’s dogged single-mindedness to
implicate the doctor is explained away as a result of the psychiatrist’s
testimony on behalf of a mentally unstable man who murdered his former police-partner
some years earlier. Elliott Gould is
cast as Angeli, McGreavy’s calmer and more reasonable contemporary partner. He is, seemingly, the better angel of this
traditional “good cop/bad cop” pairing. But
Gould is surprisingly unremarkable here, turning in a curiously flat and remote
performance. Art Carney plays Morgens, an
elderly, eccentric private investigator and collector of vintage clocks, who
briefly allies with Moore. Incredibly,
we’re expected to believe that the contemplative Dr. Stevens would engage this
low-rent private investigator through a listing in the Chicago Yellow Pages.
1975 Stuart Young returned to New York City after graduating from Boston’s
Emerson College with a degree in Mass Communications to begin his career in
show business. Time Warner had just begun laying cable throughout Manhattan and
Young saw an opportunity to produce a show that would air weekly on Public
Access TV and address a growing population of new viewers. The program was
called Inside The Naked City and took a point of view look at nightclubs,
restaurants and social events that were taking place at the time. Through a
mutual friend he was introduced to Herb Graff, the man who would become his
mentor and ultimately change the path his career would take. Monday through
Friday from 9 to 5 Herb was head of sales for the Arrow Shirt Company but that
was just a way to pay for his fulltime passion and hobby…film collecting. In
partnership with critic Leonard Maltin and cinephile Gene Stavis he operated
Film Mavens, a stock footage company specializing in vintage motion pictures.
Additionally he lectured and created thematic evenings around his vast film
collection and invited Young and his crew to attend and shoot one of them. It
was a tribute to Myrna Loy at the Waldorf Astoria and Young, a longtime fan of
the actress and her work in the Thin Man series for MGM, jumped at the
opportunity. That evening would mark the beginning of a lifelong friendship
between the two men and a new direction for both of them.
was an expert in “public domain” footage which was a way of utilizing and
selling material which had either never been copyrighted or had become free and
clear due to either lack of renewal or disinterest by the original owners. His
collection and expertise spanned from the late 1800s to the early 1950s and
stayed locked in that period.
I was a baby boomer”, remembers Young, “I was interested in movies from the
fifties and sixties and asked Herb about adding them to the collection. He
laughed derisively and told me to go out and find my own, which I did, and thus
a business and a website was born.”
then began actively looking for his own special interest films. “The very first
16mm print I bought was from a young collector whom Herb put me in touch with.
I have always had a great fondness for Jayne Mansfield and he sold me a black
& white version of Too Hot to Handle, as it was originally called when
distributed in England. It would later be distributed in the United States with
the more salacious title Playgirl After Dark and was a great find for me at the
time and to this day as I am still selling it both online and in retail stores
via by distributor Allied Vaughn.”
he began researching more titles and hired someone to go directly to the
Library of Congress to determine copyright statuses, he found more and more
movies he considered “orphans” and doggedly searched for existing prints all
over the United States to add to his “orphanage.” Since there was generally no
afterlife for movies during the fifties and sixties in a world where home video,
cable and satellite TV were not yet commercial realities, once a film finished
its theatrical run that was the end of its life cycle. Producers and
distributors, especially those in foreign markets, chose not to waste money on
copyrighting and storing a print in the Library of Congress, and Young
literally found a pot of gold at the end of his personal rainbow.
Young, “I was an avid follower of the ongoing series which appeared in Playboy
Magazine, The History Of Sex In The Cinema written by Arthur Knight and Hollis
Alpert, and those men handed me a virtual map to the treasures I was looking
the original umbrella title package Sex Sirens Of Cinema, he put together a
catalogue of notable legendary ladies who had captured the erotic imaginations
of many an admirer such as himself during their heyday. Sophia Loren, Mamie Van
Doren, Brigitte Bardot, Ann-Margret, Raquel Welch, Elke Sommer, Claudia
Cardinale, and Gina Lollobrigida were among the original stars of the movies he
bought, transferred to video, and sold to a global market of enthusiastic
consumers who were either already familiar with these bombshells of the past or
curious as to who they were and why their appeal continues unabated.
made deals both in the emerging retail and broadcast markets”, continues Young,
“and then the world suddenly discovered the previously secretive world of the
internet known only to the military, and voila, a brand new place to display my
now abundantly endowed orphanage emerged.”
2000 he launched Cinemasirens.com as a free site where fans and consumers could
browse the photo galleries, movie memorabilia, and also purchase the rare,
unique and largely forgotten films which were of interest to a population still
desirous of reliving memories of the past but of no interest to the current
studios and entertainment conglomerates who sell their wares in the here and
Young, “When I first opened the site many people including my friends
questioned the decision to populate it mostly with Black & White relics
from the past. They wondered who in the world would buy such stuff! Well, I’ve
sold those relics to both the people who appeared in them, wrote them, produced
them, and couldn’t find them anyplace else and have been doing it for 15 years.
Next to greed, sex is the most powerful force there is when it comes to the
human condition. Add incredibly beautiful and timeless women to the mix and a
decent storyline, and you have the stuff of which dreams and long term
businesses are made of.”
In the humble opinion of this writer, Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" is the best American movie of the 1990s; a virtually perfect witches brew of violence, betrayal, misguided loyalties and a so-called "code of honor" practiced by a select group of criminals who fancied themselves no worse than your average working stiff. The production, which grabs the viewer from that early, amazing tracking shot that goes inside the Copacabana, boasts some of the finest acting ever seen in any film, with yeomen work by Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino and, most notably, Joe Pesci in an Oscar-winning performance. Add to that some of the best casting ever seen in relation to supporting roles and you have a classic for the ages.
Appropriately, Warner Home Entertainment has released a special 25th anniversary commemorative Blu-ray edition of the film. As outlined below in the official press release, the Blu-ray carries over all previously-released material from other special editions and provides a new documentary produced by Brett Ratner that features most of the principals (and others unrelated to the film) extolling Scorsese's achievement. One cautionary note: despite being referenced in the press release, neither Jack Nicholson -who starred in Scorsese's "The Departed"- or Joe Pesci appear in the new documentary. Nevertheless, add this to your "must-have" list.
On May 5, Warner Bros. HomeEntertainment (WBHE) willreleaseGoodFellason2-DiscBlu-rayfeaturinganewdocumentarywith interviews from Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harvey
Keitel, Ray Liotta andmore, and a
36-page photo book exploring the film’s far-reaching influence. The bookalso includes a letter written by MartinScorsese.
The 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release of GoodFellas, cited by film critic Roger Ebertas “the best mob movie ever,” has been
remastered from a 4k scan of the originalcamera
negative, supervised by Martin Scorsese. The Blu-ray release also includes
DigitalHD with UltraViolet and will
be available for $34.99 SRP. Fans can also own GoodFellason Digital
HD via purchase from digitalretailers.
GoodFellas explores the criminal life like no other
movie. Following the rise and fall ofa
trio of gangsters over 30 years, it’s an electrifying, fact-inspired tale of
living – anddying. Based on the true-life
best seller “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi, the film earnedsix Academy Award® nominations, including Best
Picture and Best Director and wasnamed
1990’s ‘Best Film’ by the New York, Los Angeles and National Society of Film
Critics.In 2000, GoodFellas was selected for
preservation in the National Film Registry by theUS Library ofCongress.
Scorsese was awarded
the Silver Lion Award for Best Director in Venice. RobertDe
Niro received wide recognition for his performance as veteran criminal Jimmy
“TheGent” Conway, and Joe Pesci,
as the volatile Tommy DeVito, walked off with theBest Supporting Actor Oscar®. Academy Award® nominees Lorraine Bracco,
Ray Liottaand Paul Sorvino also
turned in electrifyingperformances.
include all previously released special features alongwith:
Documentary includes interview with the Director, cast andsome of your all-time favorite movie
gangsters! – Join some of MartinScorsese’s greatest gangsters – Robert De
Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harvey Keitel,Ray
Liotta, Jack Nicholson and Joe Pesci – to discover what it’s like to workfor perhaps the greatest gangster director
has released a three-disc Blu-ray set of Robert Rossellini’s celebrated ‘War
Trilogy’. The three films, Rome, Open
City (1945), Paisà (1946) and Germany Year Zero (1948) are among the
jewels in neorealism’s crown. Set in Italy during the German Occupation and its
aftermath, the first two films depict Italy wartorn and almost on the brink of
capitulation, while the third looks at a post-war Germany shattered by the
Rossellini had made three fascist propaganda
films during the war: The White Navy (1941
– detailing hospital ships), A Pilot
Returns (1942 – the air force) and Man
of the Cross (1943 – the Eastern Front). But in the immediate post-war
period his War Trilogy told a very different story of the conflict, often from
a civilian perspective. The Allies invaded Italy, first in Sicily in July 1943
and later the mainland in September of that year. As the liberators fought
their way northward, the Germans exacted terrible revenge on their one-time
Set in the winter of 1943-44, Rome, Open City depicts the hunt for
Giorgio Manfredi (Marcell Pagliero), a resistance leader in Rome. Another
member of the resistance, Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), is due to marry
widow Pina (Anna Magnani), but on their wedding day the Gestapo and Italian
fascists raid their apartment block. Later SS Major Bergmann (Harry Feist)
captures Manfredi and also orders the execution of a priest, Don Pietro
Pellegrini (Aldo Fabrizi), who has aided the resistance. Rome, Open City is a powerful film about the German occupation,
made on location and with a strong sense of authenticity. The ‘Open City’
epithet is a reference to Rome being declared an ‘open city’ on 14 August 1943,
meaning that the defenders had abandoned all efforts to protect the city. This
tactic was intended to safeguard the civilian population and the historical
landmarks from street fighting and aerial bombing (Paris had made the same declaration
in 1940, as did Brussels and Oslo). Rome,
Open City headlines Anna Magnani’s star-making role and established
Rossellini on the international stage as a leading light of the neorealist
movement. Mangani’s death scene, outside her house in Via Raimondo Montecuccoli
in Rome, is among the most famous moments in international cinema. The BFI’s
release is a newly-remastered presentation of the film. Also included on the
disc is Children of Open City (2005,
51 mins) a documentary about the making of the film with Vito Annicchiarico
(who played Pina’s son in the film), and an illustrated booklet by Jonathan
Rosenbaum and Paul Fairclough.
Paisà, my personal favourite of
the trilogy, is perhaps Rossellini’s greatest film. Here the grit and sorrow of
neorealism combines with newsreel combat footage to moving effect. The
six-episode film is set during the Allied campaign to liberate Italy. It begins
in Sicily in 1943 and concludes in the Po Delta in the winter of 1944. In the
first episode, Carmela (Carmela Sazio), a young Sicilian woman, acts as a guide
to a GI patrol on a nighttime patrol. When GI Joe (Robert Van Loon) attempts to
show her a photo of his sister, he strikes a light and a German sniper kills
him. Later the GI’s think Carmela is responsible for Joe’s death. Episode two
is set in Naples. Orphaned street urchin Pasquale (Alfonso Pasca) steals the
boots off drunken American military policeman Joe (Dots Johnson). Later the MP
meets Pasquale again and when he sees Pasquale’s squalid living conditions and
those of other Neapolitan civilians, he realises why the orphan needs to steal
boots. In Rome following the Anzio landings, Sherman tank crewman Fred (Gar
Moore) hitches up with a prostitute. He drunkenly remembers that six months
ago, on his first arrival in Rome, he met a wonderful Roman girl called
Francesca. He is too drunk to realise that the woman he is with is Francesca,
who has been compelled to become a ‘working girl’ to avoid starvation. The film
continues with an episode set during the German retreat north through Tuscan.
In Florence, British nurse Harriet (Harriet White) and Massimo (Enzo Tarascio)
attempt to cross the River Arno: she to contact her lover, Guido Lombardi who
is now heroic partisan leader Lupo (Wolf), he to see his wife and child whose
house is caught up in the fighting. Traversing rooftops and rubble, and
avoiding fascist snipers and patrols, they make contact with partisans in the
German occupied zone. In the next story, at the Gothic Line three US chaplains
– Captain Bill Martin (William Tubbs), Captain Feldman (Elmer Feldman) and
Captain Jones (Newell Jones) – seek shelter in a Franciscan monastery in the
Apennines. The chaplains give the monks Hershey bars and their supplies of
tinned food, but the monks’ attitudes change when they discover that two of the
chaplains are not of the ‘true faith’, but are Jewish and Protestant. In the
final episode, anti-fascist partisans and American OSS operatives fight the Germans
in the Po Delta, south of Venice. This episode is the most actionful and
climaxes with a battle between the partisans and German gunboats on the delta. Paisà depicts the stark reality of war
and its wider impact on society in a way that makes Hollywood and British war
films of the period look inauthentic in comparison. The BFI’s presentation of Paisà includes Into the Future (2009), a 30-minute visual essay on the War Trilogy
by film scholar Tag Gallagher, and an illustrated booklet written by
Germany Year Zero (1948) was set and filmed
in Berlin in the aftermath of Germany’s defeat. The film follows a German
family, the Köhlers. The father (Ernst Pittschau), a widower, is infirm: the
victim of a weak heart and poor diet. His daughter Eva (Ingetraud Hinze) works
at night as a prostitute and his eldest son Karl-Heinz, an ex-soldier, is in
hiding and fears being carted off to a prison camp. The film’s principal
protagonists, the Köhlers’ youngest son Edmund (Edmund Meschke), falls in with
gangs of petty thieves and street kid urchins, and hawks wares on the street
for his old schoolteacher, Mr Henning (Erich Gühne). Rossellini’s documentary-like
style and good performances ensure the degradation of post-war life in ruined Berlin
is palpable. Piles of real Berlin masonry, as photographed by Robert Juillard,
are the haunting backdrop to the story. The BFI edition is a restored print and
includes a booklet with writing on Rossellini by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith,
Jonathan Rosenbaum and Paul Fairclough. The disk also features Rossellini’s
1948 film, L’amore: Due storie d’amore,
a two-part film starring Anna Magnani, which runs 77 minutes. The first part, A Human Voice, is a screen adaptation of
Jean Cocteau’s La Voix humaine while
the second, The Miracle, was based on
a story by Federico Fellini, who was also the film’s assistant director and
appears in the film as a shepherd.
The three films are available on Blu-ray as a
limited edition numbered boxed set or as individual DVDs. The extras are
comprehensive and enlightening. These are superb presentations of three key
Italian films and as a set are essential purchases for anyone interested in
post-war world cinema.
£49.99 / Cat. no. BFIB1193 Certificate 12
in Italian, German and English language, with optional English subtitles/ 301
mins / BD50 x3 / 1080p / 24 fps / PCM mono audio (48k/24-bit) / Region B/2
Sony and Eon Productions have released some behind the scenes footage dedicated to the filming of a high speed car chase through the streets of Rome for the forthcoming James Bond film "SPECTRE" starring Daniel Craig.
The Sopranos ended its run on HBO in
June 2007, fans were forced to say goodbye to one of television’s greatest
series. It is a difficult thing to bid farewell to characters you have come to
know and enjoy watching, and Tony Soprano and his extended family and crew were
no exception. Fortunately, most of the people who appeared on the show have
gone on to other projects, some in a similar vein and others one hundred and
eighty degrees removed from the actions of La Cosa Nostra. Actor Tony Sirico, who portrayed Pauley Walnuts
since the series began in 1999, was himself involved in some criminal behavior
and did less than two years in jail prior to becoming an actor. While the Internet Movie Database lists his
first screen credit as appearing in The Godfather Part II (1974) - his
appearance is both unconfirmed and uncredited - his first speaking part might
have been as a car salesman in an episode of television’s Kojak during season five. The
first role I ever saw him in was as Patsy Riccamonza, a mobster who owes money
to Harvey Keitel’s father, in James Toback’s masterful Fingers (1978). Over the
years, Mr. Sirico has appeared in bit parts in dozens of films playing bad guys
and appeared to be typecast. Some of his
work included bits for Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. It’s his role as one of Tony Soprano’s loyal
soldiers on the highly acclaimed HBO drama that made him a household name. Sopranos
fans who have been looking forward to seeing Mr. Sirico in his own movie might
initially be delighted to catch Zarra’s
Law, a 2012-lensed crime drama, which features him in a role that few would
expect him to play: a retired police detective. However, despite this, Zarra’s Law
is not the acting showcase that it could have been for Mr. Sirico, which is a
shame because he deserves to carry a film on his own. He has proven that he can act, and traded
some truly wonderful banter on the rightly acclaimed HBO series for which he is
best known. That being said, Zarra’s Law is a nice try, but doesn’t
come near to reaching the heights that have made Martin Scorsese
premise is hardly new, but the film’s execution (no pun intended, of course) is
more interesting than one might expect. Tony’s
brother, obviously not on the same side of the law, is blown up in a car right
before his very eyes (think of Sam Rothstein in 1995’s Casino). Tony knows who is
behind it, and his nephew Gaetano (Brendan Fehr), a lawyer who lives 18 miles away
in Hackensack but never visits, wants to have more of a presence in Tony’s
life. Along the way, there are run-ins
with former childhood friend and current mobster Frankie Andreoli; unhinged Mafioso
Bobby Stax who is more short-fused than Sonny Corleone; and irresponsibly
negligent Arthur Pascano whom Gaetano is defending in court.
released on DVD, Zarra’s Law also features
fellow Sopranos actors Brian Tarantina
(he played Mustang Sally on The Sopranos),
Burt Young who did Mustang Sally in, and Kathrine Narducci, Artie Bucco’s
animated wife Charmaine. Mr. Tarantina
has got the “cold, calculating and violent scuzzball” act down pat. He also had a small role opposite Al Pacino
in Donnie Brasco (1997) and here he
doles out threats and violence to both sexes.
is a romantic subplot between Gaetano and a woman he meets (Erin Cummings), but
it’s a distraction, and I would have liked to have seen more of Mr. Sirico’s
character. The film’s best scene is
between him and his mother with whom he lives, and they have an argument about
how he gave up his life to take care of her. The scene is an emotionally pivotal moment, with real feeling that rings
true with a veracity that is unfortunately missing from many other scenes in
the rest of the film.
film’s director, Juha Wuolijoki, is Scandinavian and a curious choice to helm a
story like this.
you’re a fan of mob movies and Tony Sirico in particular (and who isn’t,
especially after his lost-in-the-woods act with a confederate in one of The Soprano’s best episodes), give Zarra’s Law a whirl. It ain’t Goodfellas…but
then again, what is?
Founded by producers James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, American International Pictures (A.I.P.) hit upon a formula of financing and releasing low-budget exploitation films for non-discriminating audiences (translation: the youth market). Specializing in horror films and goofy comedies, A.I.P. occasionally strayed into other genres. In 1963, the company capitalized on the always-popular WWII genre with the release of "Operation Bikini". Ostensibly, the movie's title referred to the obscure atoll in the Pacific where atomic bomb tests were conducted during the Cold War era. However, in true A.I.P. style, the advertising campaign was designed to imply that the title might also refer to the fact that the bikini bathing suit was popularized here by a French designer who conducted a photo shoot on the atoll just days after an atomic blast. (Ignorant of the risks from radiation poison, he merrily pronounced that "like the bomb, the bikini is small and devastating!") Still, the sexploitation angle in "Operation Bikini" was saved for late in the film. What precedes its appearance is a fairly routine combat flick made somewhat more interesting by the obvious attempts of the filmmakers to disguise the movie's very limited budget.
Tab Hunter, one of the top heart throbs of the era, had by this point seen his popularity in decline. He nonetheless received top billing over charismatic crooner Frankie Avalon, whose career was ascending and who would find great popularity as the star of several A.I.P. beach movies over the next few years. Hunter plays Lt. Morgan Hayes, the leader of a secret commando team that has been ordered to rendezvous with a U.S. submarine that has been ordered to transport them on a secret mission. The team is supposed to locate and destroy the sunken wreckage of an American sub that was recently sunk off the coast of Bikini by the Japanese. Seems the wreckage contains a prototype of a top secret sonar device that the Allies can't afford to fall into enemy hands. From minute one, Hayes' small group of rough house land-lubbers rubs the Captain of the submarine, Emmett Carey (Scott Brady) and his crew the wrong way. Hayes' men resent being cooped up in a floating "tin can" and the naval crew resents the presence of these brash soldiers who seem to be perpetually eager to provoke a fight. Carey gives Hayes a dressing down about keeping the tension levels low and the two men ultimately gain mutual respect for one another. Upon arriving at Bikini, Hayes and his men must sneak ashore and traverse the dense jungle in search of the area where the sunken submarine is located. They are guided by local partisans who conveniently include a stunning beauty named Reiko, played by Eva Six, a recent winner of the "Miss Golden Globes" honor. (I will refrain from making any tasteless jokes.) Reiko takes a shine to Hayes and gets his mind temporarily off his troubles by seducing him. When Hayes and his men finally arrive at their destination, they are dismayed to see a virtual fleet of Japanese vessels guarding the coast line where the sub is already being salvaged by the enemy. Hayes realizes that they are now probably on a suicide mission. Nevertheless, they persevere courageously, dodging and sometimes engaging Japanese patrols before sending in Hayes and some fellow scuba divers to attach time bombs to the hull of the sunken sub. (The sequence is rather absurd because the team accomplishes this in the dead of night despite not being able to employ any lighting equipment whatsoever.) Detected by the Japanese, Hayes and his heroes take some casualties in their desperate attempt to make it back to Capt. Carey's submarine.
Here's another reminder of how great movie-going used to be in the era when a hot dog and Coke didn't require a home remortgage loan. In 1967, the Pasadena Theatre was showing a re-issue of John Wayne's "The Alamo" along with another United Artists classic reissue, "The Pink Panther". If that wasn't good enough for you, "In Like Flint" was the next feature! (Kudos to reader Mike Boldt for sharing the photo).
Throughout history there have been men born to see the
future and to do what they can to make it happen.Without exception they are branded lunatics,
fanatics and most often end up on the wrong side of the law. Such a man was abolitionist
John Brown. In 1856, Kansas was about to enter the Union. The question was
whether it would join as a free or a slave state. At a time when the nation
could not make up its mind about slavery, Brown knew instinctively it was evil
and that the future would prove him right. Brown and his seven sons fought to
make Kansas free.
“Seven Angry Men” (1955) presents Raymond Massey’s
third portrayal of John Brown. He first played the role in “Santa Fe Trail”
(1940) and on Broadway in “John Brown’s Body” (1953). Brown’s seven sons are played by Jeffrey
Hunter (Owen), Larry Pennell (Oliver), Dennis Weaver (John, Jr.), John Smith (Frederick),
Guy Williams (Salmon), Tom Irish (Watson) and James Best (Jake).
Directed by Charles Marquis Warren from a script by
Daniel B. Ullman “Seven Angry Men” is an accurate and thoughtful screen
treatment of Brown’s story. It begins by showing the simmering conflict between
the two sides of the slavery issue. Leo Gordon plays Martin White, leader of
the pro-slavery faction in Lawrence. In the first standoff we see the terrible
costs the Brown family paid for the patriarch’s actions, when we witness John
Jr., (Weaver) starting to crumble emotionally. After White burns Lawrence to
the ground to cleanse it of abolitionists, Brown retaliates by killing several
of the perpetrators in a face-to-face fight with guns and knives. The brutality
of the killings causes John Jr. to lose
his mind. Jake quits the fight and rides off to surrender to the army to get
John, Jr. some medical attention. He is soon followed by Frederick. Left with
three sons, Brown continues the battle, saying they have “planted the seeds of
freedom that will flourish with God’s help.”
Jeffrey Hunter as Owen is the brother caught in the
middle between his loyalty to his father and his fear of where the old man’s
fanaticism will lead. Debra Paget is Hunter’s love interest. When she begs him
to get his father to stop what he’s doing, Brown calls his son a weak coward.
Nevertheless Owen stays with him even after Oliver and Salmon desert him. Brown
fights on regardless and the first half of the movie ends with Kansas’ entry
into the Union as a free state, with Brown claiming victory.
The second half follows Brown on a fund raising tour
that leads him to Boston where no lesser personages than Ralph Waldo Emerson
and Henry David Thoreau contribute $1,000 apiece to the cause. Brown invests
the money in rifles and ammo to be sent to Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Brown, now
reunited with three of his sons, and 15 other men seize the arsenal there,
planning to arm the slaves, who Brown believes will march to Harper’s Ferry
once they know he plans to free them. Of course, none of it worked, and one
wonders if Brown wasn’t truly mad to think it would.
He is arrested by Union officers Jeb Stuart and Col.
Robert E. Lee. At his trial for treason, an affidavit is presented claiming
mental illness ran in Brown’s family, but he rejected any attempt to get off on
an insanity plea. He tells the court that he acted on behalf of the poor and
the helpless and if he must give his life “so be it.” He was hanged in Harper’s
Ferry Dec 2, 1859.
Owen, the only son to survive, offers to gather men to
rescue him, saying there are abolitionist leaders all over the country in
support of him. But he refuses, saying he was glad to know there were many in
the nation who did not consider him insane or a murderer. But he believed he
was worth “inconceivably more to hang than any other purpose.”
Overall, “Seven Angry Men” shows us an interesting
slice of history and will probably tell you a few things about Brown and his
mission to free slaves that you didn’t know. It also shows how far a man will go
for what he believes in. In Brown’s case, he went all the way, taking quite a
few people with him. He was a man of passionate beliefs, but strangely the film
itself is very dispassionate. Massey’s portrayal keeps histrionics to a bare
minimum. The entire production, while taking great pains to tell the story in
detail and as accurately as possible, lacks the passion and fire you’d expect. Director
Charles Marquis Warren seemed to deliberately hold the emotional temperature
down with the emphasis more on historical facts. It’s a far cry from the way
today’s filmmakers work. One can easily imagine what Tarantino or Stone would
do with this material.
Warner Brothers Archive Collection presents “Seven
Angry Men” in a no-frills DVD with no extras. The black and white picture is
adequate in widescreen 16x9, and 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Worth viewing for its
cast and as a refresher course on the days leading up to the abolition of
slavery. History buffs will enjoy it the most.
Shaft! Superfly! Supersoul Brother? That’s right, boys and girls. There’s a new hero
in town and his name is Steve. Once a down-on-his-luck, homeless wino, Steve,
thanks to a freaky scientific experiment, has been transformed into an
incredible being who is faster than a…well, he’s actually not faster than much
of anything , but he is more powerful than your local wino and able to bag
chicks who are way out of his league!If
you’re a fan of the funky ‘70s Blaxploitation genre, you can rejoice as a real
rarity has been dug up for your viewing pleasure.
When speaking about Blaxploitation cinema,
most film buffs immediately think of classic action flicks such as Foxy Brown or Three the Hard Way (and rightly so), but there were plenty of other
wonderful genres covered. For instance, horror quickly comes to mind. Blacula and The Zombies of Sugar Hill are not only two solid entries in
Blaxploitation cinema, but in horror cinema as well. And then there’s comedy. Who
can forget Rudy Ray Moore’s uproarious classics like Dolemite or Disco Godfather?
Supersoul Brother sort of fits into
this last category as, like Dolemite,
it’s a spoof of crime/action movies; not to mention comic book superheroes (it
was originally going to be titled The
Black Superman) and the then enormously popular Six Million Dollar Man television show.
Directed by Rene Martinez who also co-wrote
with Laura S. Diaz, Supersoul Brother aka
The Six Thousand Dollar Nigger (I kid
you not) concerns small time hoods Bob (Benny Latimore) and Jim (Lee Cross) who
pay evil Dr. Dippy (Peter Conrad) six thousand dollars to create a super
strength serum that will enable them to easily rob a safe filled with diamonds.
There’s only one small problem: whoever takes the serum dies in six days. Enter
Steve (played by comedian Wildman Steve Gallon), a wino who has hit rock bottom.
The hoods inject the unwary Steve with the serum, convince him to carry out the
robbery (which Steve thinks is just a practical joke) and plan on keeping all
the diamonds for themselves once Steve croaks. However, Super-Steve catches
wind of their nefarious plan, hides the diamonds and, with the help of Nurse
Peggy (the gorgeous Joycelyn Norris), tries to elude the hoods and find an
antidote before it’s too late.
youngest daughter of the great French author, Victor Hugo, was a victim of
schizophrenia. Although she was devastatingly beautiful, history tells us that Adèle
Hugo was seriously disturbed.
the time of America’s Civil War, Adèle became fixated
on a British soldier, one Lieutenant Pinson. She followed him across the
Atlantic to Nova Scotia, where he was stationed, for she was convinced that he
loved her and would marry her. In fact, the couple had experienced a brief
relationship in England (while Victor Hugo was living in Guernsey, in exile
from France), but Pinson ultimately rejected Adèle and wanted no
more to do with her. Even though he was obviously a rakish cad, the girl became
obsessed with the man and went to great lengths to pursue him.
days we would call it stalking.
Truffaut’s The Story of Adèle H. is the true account of a young woman’s
descent into a kind of madness that was sadly misunderstood in the 1800s, for
after the events in the picture took place, the real Adèle spent the rest of her life in an institution.
film is one of the director’s best. Beautifully shot by Nestor Almendros, it garnered
a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for Isabelle Adjani, who in 1975 was
the youngest actress ever to be nominated in that category. For my money, she
should have won (Louise Fletcher snagged the award for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; but, arguably, time has shown that
Adjani went on to a long career of remarkable work, mostly in French films,
whereas Fletcher...?). I remember seeing Adèle H. on its release and falling head over heels
in love with Adjani. Despite playing a woman that all sensible men should run
away from, her physical beauty was indeed intoxicating. Those expressive blue
eyes worked wonders. It is this element of “tragic beauty” that makes
Truffaut’s picture all the more powerful.
lies and cheats and deceives everyone she meets in order to get closer to
Pinson (played by Bruce Robinson). She
creates fantasy scenarios in her head about her relationship with Pinson, and describes
them to anyone who inquires. As he continues to reject her, Adèle attempts to
destroy the soldier’s reputation. She also cruelly leaves
other men in her wake who probably could have cared for her and loved her
deeply—such as the handsome but lame bookseller who dotes on her. Instead, she
ends up breaking his heart. She constantly
lies to her father in correspondence (Hugo is very much a character in the
story, even though he is never seen) and it’s implied that her parents’ worry
and concern for their daughter is the cause of Madame Hugo’s untimely death. By
the end of the picture, the tale has moved to Barbados, where Adèle
has pursued Pinson yet again—and it is here that she finally succumbs to her
the conclusion, we find ourselves almost admiring the poor woman for her
determination and perseverance, even though we know she’s headed for the
madhouse. Her vulnerability and desperation is heartbreaking. The price of
beauty? Perhaps, but Truffaut doesn’t provide an opinion... nevertheless, he
directs the film with a this-is-how-it-was objectivity, utilizing his signature
mise-en-scène of short scenes,
some voice-over narration, and lyrical, sweeping story-telling. The director
was very good with period pieces such as Jules
and Jim, The Wild Child, and Two English Girls. The Story of Adèle H. is another
excellent entry in that category of Truffaut’s body of work, as well as a fascinating
character study and canny look at 19th Century relationships.
Time’s new Blu-ray release looks wonderful, but then Almendros was one of those
great European cinematographers who was particular good at capturing the
splendor of period settings. The limited edition release of 3000 units is short
on extras—there’s an audio commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick
Redman which is interesting, an isolated score track (the orchestral music by
Maurice Jaubert is fabulous), and the theatrical trailer—but the quality of the
digital transfer is worth the price of admission.
is a film as beautiful as its lead actress—don’t miss The Story of Adèle H.
Actor Hugh O’Brian became an icon of American
television through his long-running series “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”. O’Brian
also became a popular fixture in feature films as well as stage productions. At
age 90, he’s still going strong. His autobiography “Hugh O’Brian or What’s
Left of Him” has just been published and his Hugh O’Brian Youth leadership
group is continuing to inspire American teenagers to become productive adults. Additionally, O’Brian has been promoting the
SFM Entertainment’s release of “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp: The Complete Series”
We caught up with O’Brian recently for a phone
interview from his home in Los Angeles. O’Brian’s wife Virginia, who co-authored his autobiography, also
contributed some anecdotes. Hugh O’Brian
possesses a marvelous sense of humor and makes self-deprecating jokes at the
drop of hat. However, the main characteristic that comes across is that he is a
true class act.
Cinema Retro: Can you give us some background on how
you became involved in “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”?
Hugh O’Brian: I really was a fan of Wyatt Earp before I
got the role. I was in the Marine Corps and before my time, he had spent some
time in the San Diego area. Every two or three weeks, he would go over to the
Marine Corps base , which is where I enlisted in 1943 when I was seventeen
CR: You ended up being named the youngest drill
instructor that the Marine Corps ever had…
HO: Yes, they made me a drill instructor at age
seventeen. I don’t know if you’ve ever met any drill instructors, but it would
be very difficult for any of them to believe that. My grandfather was a Marine and my dad was a
Marine. He worked for a company called Armstrong Cork. Cork, at the time, was
the main thing you would use for insulation in homes and so forth. Dad became
the captain in charge of the Marine Corps in the Chicago area and he made a
wonderful recruiting effort there. Every summer from the time that I was four,
I would go with my dad for the two week training period up at Great Lakes,
Wisconsin. I had my own little pup tent and so you could say I was involved
with the Marines since the age of four. Anyway, Wyatt Earp loved the Marine
Corps because of the discipline and what they stood for. There was a guy by the
name of Stuart Lake, who wrote the book on Wyatt (“Wyatt Earp: Frontier
Marshall”- Ed.) I made a point of
meeting him. He became very became very instrumental in my finally getting the
role of Wyatt. He liked the fact that I did all my own stunts, which was a
stupid thing to do! On one film I had
done, I jumped off the roof of a 36
story office building in New York City. These guys with guns were chasing me I broke loose and there was only
one way to go: up. They were following me and I went over to the edge and as
they came towards me, I went over backwards and came through a window
below. There wasn’t any way you could
practice that! I did my own stunts, not because of ego or anything like that,
but because when you look at a film or a TV show, they usually have a stunt man
or a double to do the fight scenes. I insisted from the very beginning that,
while obviously they could lay out action scenes so they could get paid, but I
would do the stunts myself. It helped the filming tremendously because they
didn’t have to cut to a longer shot in which they would have used a double. If
there was something that I thought was much too risky, then, of course, I would
let the stuntman do it. I think appreciated the fact that I tried to do my own
stunts. It was like Wyatt Earp being alive and doing it.
We've often written about the shameful conceit of movie studios that used to cast caucasian actors in leading roles pertaining to ethnic minorities. Sure, it was fine to have actual minority actors playing supporting roles (often for comic effect) but the most important characters were generally always portrayed by white actors or actresses (remember Rex Harrison as The King of Siam???). Sadly, this blatant policy of racial prejudice often extended to films that were sympathetic to the very races they were portraying. Case in point: Geronimo, a 1962 Western that purports to tell the story of the legendary Apache leader who stood virtually alone against the U.S. government, even after most of his tribe was browbeaten into surrendering. The logic at United Artists at the time was that there was no actor more appropriate to play a famous Native American other than Chuck Connors, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed poster boy for the Aryan race. Connors was riding high at the time as the star of the popular TV series The Rifleman, and he certainly possessed an imposing physique as well as more-than-adequate acting abilities. However, even with contact lenses and a black Morticia Addams wig, there is no doubt he was completely miscast as Geronimo. This was also the case with fellow cast members Kamala Devi, a gorgeous flash-in-the-pan actress who worked on several projects with Connors before fading into oblivion and Ross Martin (!), the fine actor primarily known for playing Artemus Gordon in the Wild, Wild West TV series. Not only are all these folks woefully wrong for their roles, the characters talk in modern vernacular that makes you think they must be part of the obscure Apache tribe from Bayonne, New Jersey.
With American crime TV series now an almost indistinguishable jumble of action-oriented plots featuring calendar model-type male and female leads, it's nice to revisit an era when the pace was slower, the plots were more intelligent and the stars resembled everyday people. Case in point: the old "Columbo" series starring Peter Falk, a product of the late 1960s that became so phenomenally successful that its lifespan into the early 2000's. The show would appear regularly- and later occasionally- in the format of a 90 minute TV movie when such fare was all the rage on network TV. The show premiered as a "one-shot" production titled "Prescription: Murder" in 1968 but the character of Columbo became so popular that he became a mainstay of the NBC Mystery Movie", a weekly program in the 1970s in which popular actors were seen as sleuths. The format allowed each star (Falk, Rock Hudson, Dennis Weaver and Richard Boone) to be seen on alternating weeks. "Columbo" became Falk's signature role as the frumpy, seemingly idiotic L.A. police detective who used these characteristics to intellectually disarm his adversaries. Every episode allowed the viewer to see precisely who committed a presumably perfect crime. Inevitably, the culprit would be an elitist, well-established snob- predominantly a male, but occasionally female. The principal villain was also generally played by a major star, thus allowing viewers the delight of seeing actors who generally portrayed heroic figures to engage in some mustache-twirling as bad guys. The most delightful aspect of the series, aside from the intricate plot lines, were the sequences in which Columbo slowly closes the noose around his prey. Both detective and suspect know what is going on but they engage in civility toward each other as the culprit goes through the motions of pretending he is helping Columbo solve the crime. Columbo was unlike any of the slick, sophisticated TV detectives audiences had grown accustomed to. He was generally clad in a crumpled trench coat and drove a laughably battered 1959 Peugeot 403 convertible with the only apparent accessory a working police radio. Falk's inimitable New York mannerisms and speech patterns gave him a "fish-out-of-water" quality no matter who he interacted with, including his fellow police officers. Finishing off his unsophisticated appearance was his omnipresent cheap cigar, which he would smoke everywhere, including mansion houses where he was investigating crimes. (Like Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, we never quite see him with a fresh cigar in his mouth, only a half-stogie that appeared to be as much chewed as smoked.)
Patrick McGoohan as Col. Rumford
Netflix is now presenting the various seasons of "Columbo" that were aired on NBC. (The show's revival in the late 1980s was seen on ABC.) One standout episode in a history of standout episodes is "By Dawn's Early Light", which was originally telecast in October, 1974. (The show can be found in the Season 4 category on Netflix.) Patrick McGoohan is cast as Col. Lyle C. Rumford, a gruff, spit-and-polish career soldier who is in charge of an illustrious military school. When we first see him, he is painstakingly disassembling the shell for a ceremonial canon and modifying it so that it will be an instrument of murder. We soon meet the intended victim: William Haynes (Tom Simcox), the grandson of the school's legendary founder. Haynes has a confrontational meeting with Rumford in the colonel's office. They discuss the fact that enrollment in the school has plummeted dramatically in recent years due to the aversion of boys who want to pursue a military career. (Keep in mind the episode was shot during the period in which the United States still had a presence in Vietnam.) Haynes has developed a plan to ensure the school's economic survival by making it a coed institution. Rumford is appalled by the idea and intends to thwart its implementation by having Haynes killed when he fires the canon at the school's Founder's Day event. He will achieve this by adjusting the explosives inside the shell canister then stuffing a rag into the barrel of the weapon. The ploy works: when Haynes fires the canon, it explodes and kills him in front of hundreds of horrified on-lookers. Rumford thinks he has gotten away with murder and ensured that the school will continue as an all-male institution with him in charge. But, as they say in detective films, the plot thickens when Columbo arrives on scene. To state any more specifics would ruin the enjoyment of the episode, which is one of the best. The sheer pleasure of seeing Falk squaring off on camera with McGoohan is a true delight and the episode was so well received that McGoohan won an Emmy for his performance. Adding to the pleasures are the high production values. The episode was filmed on location at The Citadel military college in Charleston and this allowed the producers a degree of authenticity that would have been difficult to replicate on a back lot. The episode also benefited from the inspired direction of Harvey Hart, who also directed such feature films as "Bus Riley's Back in Town", "The Sweet Ride" and "Fortune and Men's Eyes." If you're going to engage in some binge-watching, you would be hard-pressed to find a better companion than Lt. Columbo.
(Trivia note: keep an eye out for young Bruno Kirby, who plays one of the cadets.)
For an essay about this episode, visit the How Sweet It Was site by clicking here.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "COLUMBO: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON" FROM AMAZON
I mentioned in last month’s review of The Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray
release of The Palm Beach Story,
Preston Sturges was a rare breed in Hollywood in the early 1940s. After
Chaplin, he was the only working screenwriter/director in that he wrote
original scripts alone and then directed them, and he put an auteur stamp on each picture in terms of
style and themes. Naturally, the bigwigs in Hollywood resented the guy, and
Sturges often had a tough time at Paramount, where his most prolific and productive
five-year-reign took place. He was a flame that burned very brightly for a
short time. This brief career arc of a genius filmmaker is aptly presented in one
of the supplements on this new release—Preston
Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer, which originally
appeared on television’s American Masters
Sturges’ best work, Sullivan’s Travels was
released as a DVD from The Criterion Collection over a decade ago. The company
has seen fit to upgrade the film to Blu-ray with a new high-definition digital
restoration. Naturally, it looks magnificent, and I think by now we can take
for granted that Criterion will do a bang-up job on any digital restorations
has been written about Sullivan’s Travels
and there is no question that it is a remarkable piece of work. It premiered in
late 1941 but wasn’t released to the public until early 1942; nevertheless, it
received no Oscar nominations and at the time wasn’t as popular as Sturges’
previous pictures. Why? Possibly because it made audiences think. Yes, it’s a comedy, but that’s really only the first half.
After that, the picture becomes pretty serious, with a very sympathetic and
almost-sentimental social commentary on poverty and the Great Depression. It’s
true that the writer/director’s signature fast-and-witty dialogue is present
throughout, but the belly laughs are few in this particular title. Maybe
audiences in 1942 were wondering what happened to the Preston Sturges they
knew. Ironically (and Sturges was very big on irony), the film is now
considered a classic and Sturges’ masterpiece.
McCrea plays Sullivan, a popular Hollywood movie director who specializes in
comedies. What he really wants to do, however, is make a serious and
responsible Capra-esque picture about human suffering, entitled O Brother, Where Art Thou? (And, yes,
this is where the Coen Brothers got the title for their movie from 2000.) After
much haggling with the studio bosses, Sullivan dresses as a “tramp” and hits
the road in order to undergo first-hand what the American people have been
experiencing during the Depression. Along the way, he meets beautiful Veronica
Lake, and Sully unwittingly allows her to tag along. The movie is then made up
of the couple’s various misadventures, including a hard left turn in which Sullivan
is sent to a hard labor prison with a mistaken identity. One of the most
striking scenes in the picture is when an African-American church opens its
doors to the prisoners for a field trip to watch movies projected on the wall.
It is there that Sullivan has an epiphany about his work and life—and it’s a
very good lesson for us all.
watched The Mississippi Gambler (1953) DVD from Universal while recovering from
a root canal, hoping a good rousing Tyrone Power flick and three fingers of
Kentucky bourbon, would cure my ills. Boy, was I wrong. Watching this slow,
soap opera-ish movie, with a cast of characters that belong in an old Carol
Burnett Show sketch, was like having a root canal all over again.
the Technicolor was good, and Julia Adams was great (which she always is) but
the script by Seton Miller was a complete turnoff with one of the worst endings
I’ve ever seen. The characters were mostly boring and despicable. The plot was
ham-fisted melodrama served with a mint julep. Direction by Rudolph Mate was
lethargic and unimaginative.
it’s one of those stories about four people all in love with the wrong person.
But Miller added some very weird touches to the familiar story line. Piper Laurie
plays Angelique Dureau, a snooty, neurotic iceberg who is way too close to her
brother Laurent (John Baer) for comfort. She uses him as a shield against intimacy
with any other man, as Tyrone Power, playing the titular gambler Mark Fallon,
explains to her. For no comprehensible reason at all, other than the plot
demands it, Fallon falls madly in love with her. Why, oh, why? She’s a pouty,
petulant, porcelain imitation of a woman.
Laurent is a miserable weasel, a man with no honor – and
thus a perfect foil for the upright and honorable Fallon, who is not only a
good man with a deck of cards, he’s also the son of one of New York’s finest
fencing masters. (Zorro rides again!). The three of them meet on a Mississippi riverboat
named The Sultana. Pardon a digression
while I note that this was the same paddle boat on which Yancy Derringer (Jock
Mahoney), a few years later, would ply his poker skills in the CBS television
goal is to run an honest gambling table and eventually open his own casino. He
teams up with Kansas John Polly (John McIntyre), a seasoned veteran of many a
three card Monty game. In a game of poker, Laurent loses his sister’s diamond
necklace to Fallon. Fallon tries to give it back to her later, but she pretends
she told her brother to wager it. In the next scene she confronts the weasel
and cries, “How could you do it without asking me?” This obviously gets the
“star-crossed” lovers off on the wrong foot.
wins big that night but he and Polly barely escape being killed by a gang of
crooked gamblers and have to jump off the boat when the captain gets near the
river bank. They walk to New Orleans, after losing all their winnings in the
river. But they have a good laugh about it.
about the second act mark, enter Julia Adams as Ann Conant. She’s the member of
another weird brother/sister duo. Her brother, Julian (Dennis Weaver, believe
it or not, with a sort of New York high society accent) sits down to play with
Fallon, saying he heard he played an honest game. He quickly loses every cent
he brought with him, then goes out on deck and shoots himself. The Captain and Fallon discover he has a
sister on board, and Fallon feels responsible and wants to help her. She says
he must have gambled away the money his company gave him to take to New
Orleans. Fallon, noble fellow that he is, lies and says no he gave that money
to the captain for safe keeping. He takes Ann to New Orleans where and sets her
up in a hotel. It complicates his plans to romance Angelique but what’s a story
If you love the Warner Archive's DVD and Blu-ray releases, you won't be able to resist their streaming service, which offers hundreds of retro movies and TV episodes. The Archive is offering one month free for new subscribers. Click on the banner above of Duke Wayne as "Chisum" to visit the site.
The Shout! Factory video company has launched an excellent new streaming site, www.shoutfactorytv.com that features dozens of classic TV episodes and cult movies every month. Best of all, you can view them for free! This month we recommend the 1970 Amicus horror flick "The House That Dripped Blood", a 1970 anthology of terror tales by Robert Bloch, author of "Psycho" and starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Ingrid Pitt and John Pertwee. Click here to view.
By 1963, Vincent Price was generally recognized as the heir apparent to Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi as the undisputed king of the horror film genre. Somewhat lost in discussion's of Price's work is the fact that, until he starred in "House of Wax" in the mid-1950s, he had a long career as a popular and respected supporting actor in mainstream Hollywood productions. If there is a sad aspect to his international success as a horror star, it's that his talents were rarely used henceforth in films of other genres. Nonetheless, Price knew a good thing when he saw it. His collaborations with producer Roger Corman on cinematic versions of classic Edgar Allan Poe stories had proven to be wildly successful. Price wasn't overly selective about working with other producers who sought to capitalize on those films by making blatant imitations of Corman's productions. One such title is "Diary of a Madman", released in 1963 and based on a story by French writer Guy de Maupassant. In some ways, the film is a worthy rival to a Corman/Price collaboration in that it's intelligently scripted, well-cast and has a relatively creative production design that somewhat masks the movie's threadbare budget. As with the Corman flicks, Price is given a meaty role and he makes the most of it. He plays Simon Cordier, a respected French judge in the late 19th century. He has a reputation for fairness and an obsession with studying the criminal mind in the hope of understanding what motivates some men to commit horrendous crimes of violence. The film opens with Cordier receiving a request to meet with a prisoner who he has sentenced to die on the guillotine. The man is a serial killer and Cordier is interested in taking the opportunity to speak to the prisoner, whose behavior has left him baffled. The man was a pillar-of-the-community type with no criminal background a stable profession. Upon meeting the condemned prisoner in his cell, the doomed convict informs Cordier that he welcomes his imminent execution because he has been inexplicably possessed by an invisible being known as the Horla. He relates an incredible story about this creature periodically taking over control of his body and mind and forcing him to commit acts of murder. As the incredulous Cordier tries to absorb this fanciful tale, the man suddenly attacks him. In defending himself, Cordier hurls the prisoner against a wall, killing him instantly.
Back in his chambers, Cordier is haunted by the experience but doesn't think much more of it- until some strange occurrences leave him disturbed. Seems that Cordier's irresponsible behavior had somehow been responsible for the accidental death of his wife and young son years before. Cordier has tried to block the bad memories from his mind by locking away all mementos relating to them, including a large framed photograph that had been stored in his attic. He is shocked to find it hanging prominently on the wall of his study. His loyal butler (Ian Wolfe) denies having placed it there. Other strange occurrences lead Cordier to question his mental stability. A psychiatrist assures him that he is suffering from fatigue and urges him to delve back into his passion for sculpting, which he has ignored for years. Cordier follows his advice and begins to feel more relaxed. Things only get better when he has a chance encounter with a vivacious and flirtatious young woman named Odette (Nancy Kovack), who agrees to be a paid model for him. She begins a campaign to seduce Cordier, never telling him that she is actually married to a financially-strapped artist, Paul (Chris Warfield). When Paul objects to the amount of time that Odette is spending in Cordier's studio, she assures him she is only trying to earn money that they desperately need. In reality, she is a heartless gold digger who is weighing the option of leaving Paul for the older man. Oblivious to all this, Cordier is happy to have found love once again. His mood, however, is rudely disrupted when he realizes the cause of the strange things that have been going on in his house: it seems that the Horla has chosen to possess him in retribution for killing the prisoner whose body it once inhabited. Although Cordier can not see the Horla, he discovers it is a physical presence who can not only speak to him, but can also utilize a number of cruel witticisms that he uses to mock and humiliate the esteemed jurist. From this point on, Cordier's life is a living hell. In rational moments, he tries frantically to figure out how to rid himself of this ghoulish presence, but the Horla retains control of his mind and body at will. This leads to Cordier carrying out a particularly gruesome murder, leaving him desperate to find a way out of his tortured existence. He devises a last-ditch effort to lure the Horla into his study where he hopes to kill him through use of his one vulnerability: fire. The resulting consequences are dramatic but have tragic results even for Cordier.
"Diary of a Madman" is mid-range Price fare from this period. The entire enterprise rides on the actor shoulders, but they prove to be broad enough to carry it off. Price looks dashing and, as always, puts his best efforts into even a modest enterprise such as this. Nancy Kovack also gives a fine performance as a bad girl who, refreshingly, never learns to redeem herself as she cuckolds both of her lovers in turn. The film is not exceptional on any level, but it is consistently entertaining an reasonably engrossing.
The MGM made-on-demand DVD features a very impressive transfer and an original trailer is included in which Price (in character) breaks the "Fourth Wall" and addresses the viewer directly.
A film that became a legendary bomb, the 1977 Western The White Buffalo has been re-evaluated by movie fans in recent years and many consider it to be an underrated classic. Count me out of this assessment. The film is certainly unique: an ambitious attempt to blend the Western and horror film genres, but it falls short on most counts.The United Artists production stars Charles Bronson as Wild Bill Hickcok, who- for reasons never adequately explained- is haunted by terrifying nightmares involving him in a life-or-death confrontation with a giant white buffalo. I didn't know that buffalo come in colors, but I'll cede the point. (Given the dreadful styles of the 1970s, it's surprising the film wasn't titled The Plaid Buffalo.) Simultaneously, Chief Crazy Horse (Will Sampson) is having his own white buffalo problems. Seems the actual rampaging beast wreaked havoc on his village and killed his child. In order to restore his pride and stature among the tribe, he must hunt down and slaughter the animal- or be stuck with the monicker of "The Worm" henceforth. (This must be the Indian equivalent of "nerd".)
The two men are on obsessive journeys and are destined to meet up - but both feel they have the singular right to kill the buffalo. Hickcok meanders through some cow towns under an alias and hooks up with a mountain man geezer (Jack Warden channeling the ghost of Gabby Hayes) who decides to accompany him on his quest. When Hickcok and Crazy Horse do meet up, they end up saving each other's life in respective ambushes and declare themselves blood brothers. Despite this, each man is determined to be the one who slays the white buffalo.
The popular John Wayne flick "McLintock!" has had a long, tortured history in terms of its video releases. The film fell out of copyright for a while in the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in any number of cheapo VHS and DVD editions being sold in "dollar stores". Recently Olive Films released a Blu-ray edition of the film, sans any special features. Shortly thereafter, Paramount released a Blu-ray of a previously issued "Authentic Collector's Edition" DVD that is loaded with fascinating extras. The film represented the first time Wayne had been directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, son of his old John Ford stock company buddy Victor McLaglen. Both Wayne and Andrew's careers owed their very existence to Ford and they learned well from the master in terms of how to make comedy/action films that would have broad appeal. "McLintock!" is basically the best John Ford film that Ford never directed. It has all the elements of a traditional Ford production: a battle of the sexes between a strong-willed leading man and an equally strong-willed leading lady; eccentric characters played by eccentric character actors; a snappy musical score and at least one big brawl played out in a humorous manner (in this case, the famous group fight scene in a mud pit).
"McLintock!" reunited Wayne with his favorite leading lady Maureen O'Hara, who had co-starred with him in Ford's "The Quiet Man", "Rio Grande" and "The Wings of Eagles". (They teamed for the final time in 1971 for "Big Jake".) O'Hara was one of the few actresses who could stand up to Wayne in terms of screen presence. Here, they play the familiar roles of an estranged couple. Wayne is George Washington McLintock (known by one and all as "G.W."), a cattle baron so successful that the town he lives in bares his name. He is separated from his fiery-tempered wife Katherine (O'Hara), who returns to town unexpectedly to try to convince McLintock to allow their teenage daughter Becky (Stefanie Powers) to live with her in the big city. That's pretty much the entire plot. Before long, G.W. and Katherine are battling like boxers going the full fifteen rounds. The film is an obvious western-based adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew", which means that although Katherine is allowed to be seen initially as a strong, independent woman, in the end she is pacified by her husband and becomes a compliant Stepford-like wife. In a finale guaranteed to cause Hilary Clinton agitta, G.W. subjects Katherine to the humiliation of being spanked in public in front of a cheering crowd. Anyone who has progressed from a Neanderthal state will find this element of the film a bit cringe-inducing, but if viewed within the context of its era, it is undeniably amusing. In between the shouting and the spanking, G.W. and Katherine alternate between insulting each other like a frontier version of Ralph and Alice Kramden and making goo-goo eyes at each other. There's no doubt that the film will have a storybook ending and the corn quotient is fairly high. Nevertheless, "McLintock!" is such rollicking good fun that its charms are almost impossible to resist. Much of the film's charm comes from its sheer exuberance in portraying amusing people in amusing situations. There is no gravitas on display and the closest we get to some meaningful drama is when G.W.and Katherine stare longingly into each other's eyes after a period of estrangement, indicating that, despite their fiery tempers and constant arguments, these are two people who are not only madly in love but also quite lustful toward each other. Director McLaglen keeps the action flowing in true Fordian style and it's safe to say there isn't a dull moment. A lot of people get punched and some guns get fired, but no one really gets hurt. All of the shenanigans are set to composer Frank De Vol's lively and catchy score. The film was in theaters the same week that President Kennedy was assassinated. Perhaps the presence of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in a feel-good movie like this provided some solace to a grieving nation. In any event, "McLintock!" proved to be one of the Duke's biggest boxoffice hits. It also had a long, successful run on television in the pre-cable/home video era. Over the years, it was shown on prime time by all three major networks and enjoyed big ratings each time.
Original trade magazine ad.
The Paramount Blu-ray carries over the extras from the DVD release and is the definitive home video version of the film. Extras include:
Audio commentary that is jam-packed with vintage interviews with the film's producer, Michael Wayne; director Andrew V. McLaglen, film historians Leonard Maltin and Frank Thompson and cast members Michael Pate and Stefanie Powers.
A "making of" documentary is broken down into three sections. One provides some interesting insights into Michael Wayne's decision to devote the years after his father's death to raising money for the cancer foundation that bares the Duke's name. Another featurette spotlights Maureen O'Hara and Stefanie Powers and the third delves into shooting the famous mud pit fight.
Another featurette shows veteran stuntmen Tom Morga and Wayne Bauer demonstrating how to throw punches convincingly.
An odd but entertaining mini-documentary about the corsets women wore back in the 19th century. Today, we would call the procedure for getting into one of these contraptions "torture".
The quality of the transfer is simply terrific. "McLintock!" never looked so good.
“Sandy” Mackendrick had enjoyed a succession of triumphs in England. Working
out of Ealing studios, he directed such memorable comedies as The Man in the
White Suit, Whiskey Galore and the deliciously dark The Ladykillers. As the
Ealing factory system began to dry up, Mackendrick made an arguably unlikely
move to America. It was through a number of mishaps, unfulfilled projects and
(one could argue) a degree of ‘fate’ that Sweet smell of success eventually
fell into the lap of Mackendrick.
there was little doubt of Mackendrick’s immense ability as a director, there
was perhaps an element of doubt whether he could actually undertake a film such
as Sweet Smell of Success. After all, those subtle British films were about as
far removed as one could possibly imagine when compared to the media dynamics
and fuelled corruption of this screenplay. However, Mackendrick had a good eye;
a very good eye in fact. Given time to observe the city he knew how to capture
it at its best. Through the camera lens, Mackendrick presented Manhattan better
than any other contemporary film had done and as a result, undoubtedly
influenced esteemed future directors such as Woody Allen.
film’s ‘master and dog’ relationship between newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker
(Burt Lancaster, playing a thinly-disguised Walter Winchell) and the Machiavellian press publicist Sidney Falco (Tony
Curtis) is the only one of importance. Lancaster was never more imposing as
Hunsecker, whilst Curtis displays a slimy charm and a sickening depravity as
Falco. As the relationship unfolds, it becomes a battle of wits and power - Falco
believes himself to be in a symbiotic relationship with J.J. — he provides him with
the stories he needs - but, by the close, the power imbalance is made
depressingly obvious. Feeding off the crumbs left by Hunsecker, Sidney is always
destined to be consumed by J.J.’s domineering dictatorship. Whilst Sweet Smell
of Success remains a stunning piece of work, it is also not without its flaws -
specifically in the romantic relationship between Hunsecker’s sister Susan (Susan
Harrison) and Steve (Martin Milner) an aspiring young a jazz musician. Not that
there is anything wrong with this coiling plot- the story of Susan’s sinisterly
over-protective brother and his scheming through Falco to dishonour Steve’s
reputation provides the film’s central narrative. All of it works perfectly. However,
it is sadly the performances from the inexperienced Harrison and Milner that hamper
the film’s vibrant energy and pace – they are both limp and damp. In contrast,
such powerhouse performances from both Lancaster and Curtis, and the provision
of a razor sharp script by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets – still cements Sweet
Smell of Success as one of the greatest films of its kind. Combined with James
Wong Howe’s sumptuous deep-focus cinematography and Elmer Bernstein’s brassy musical
score and you are left with something damn near close to a perfect movie.
newly restored High Definition (1080p) presentation is a 4K digital transfer
from the original 35mm camera negative – and frankly it looks incredible. As Sweet
Smell of Success is such a personal favourite of mine, I have followed its
evolution on home video - through VHS, laserdisc, DVD and now Blu-ray. it’s
been an interesting journey but I feel confident that I have finally arrived at
my destination. The film has never looked so crisp and clean. It is spotless and
always deserved to look this good. There are a couple of location scenes that
look a little ‘too’ real for my liking. I’ve always considered there may be a few
lengths of stock footage involved here, but I can’t be sure. Regardless, these
random shots fall seamlessly in line with the general atmosphere and harsh
realism of the urban setting. Wong Howe’s photography is defined by deep dark
blacks, varying arrays of grey shade and subtle use of intelligent lighting. Pin-
striped suites and intense close ups are all solid and reveal sharply defined
detail. Lancaster’s face and glasses (permanently lit from above) creates a
near ‘skull like’ shadow upon his cold gaze, the results of which look rather
spectacular in this new Blu-ray edition.
continue to supply the audio in an original untampered and uncompressed PCM
mono 1.0, which is clean and free from any distortion. Extras consist of an appreciation
by critic and film historian Philip Kemp, author of Lethal Innocence: The
Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick. Kemp
appears in the top left of screen presenting a detailed analysis of the film
while several scenes are presented. He also provides a selected scene commentary,
taking several key and expanding on detail. It does nevertheless raise the question – why didn’t Kemp provide a full
commentary track? The man is obviously an expert on the movie and his knowledge
would have been very welcome (and valuable) throughout.
bonus highlight for me is Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away – Dermot
McQuarrie’s 1986 Scottish Television documentary which features extensive interviews
with Mackendrick, Burt Lancaster, producer James Hill, Gordon Jackson and many
others. It’s a great example of how documentaries of this kind use to be made –
rather than the quick, cross cutting MTV style of documentary making today.
It’s certainly one to take time over and enjoy fully.
film’s original theatrical trailer is also included.
has again spared no expense in terms of packaging. They have provided a
reversible sleeve featuring both an original poster and newly commissioned
artwork by Chris Walker. The collector’s booklet (40 pages) includes new
writing on the film by Michael Brooke and Mackendrick’s own analysis of various
script drafts. It is also illustrated throughout with original stills and
posters. It all makes for a wonderful package and one that should be savoured –
‘I love this dirty town!’
The majestic Loew's Theatre on Journal Square in Jersey City, New Jersey is one of the theaters that had been saved from destruction.
There's few things sadder than witnessing the decline and neglect of a one time movie palace. At least in the New York City area, this trend is finally being reversed thanks to major restoration efforts to save and preserve these landmark cinema showcases. The New York Times has a major piece on these restoration efforts, which are affording movie lovers the opportunity to enjoy classic films and cultural events in these historical settings. Click here to read.
by Michele Brittany (Published by McFarland & Company, $38), 278 Pages,
Softcover, ISBN: 9780786477937
15 years ago, when I was unsuccessfully hawking a manuscript for a proposed
James Bond book around publishers, I was informed categorically in one
rejection letter that "There are already far too many Bond books jostling
for attention in the marketplace". This may or may not have been the case,
but it struck me even then as nonsense and has never, as far as I'm aware, been
a deterrent to any publisher to seize an opportunity to jump on the
Bondwagon. (I'd rather have been told my work simply wasn't any good). In the
intervening years there have been so
many books bearing the James Bond tag that even die-hard aficionados must have
had a job keeping up.
Bond and Popular Culture" (an assembly of "Essays on the Influence of
the Fictional Superspy") will find its keenest audience among those who
simply must read everything related
to their iconic hero. For it is less about Bond himself, rather – as the
subtitle suggests – it’s focus falls upon 007’s cultural influence and those who
followed in his wake. Also, naturally enough, his antecedents. Following a
foreword (which left me eager to locate James
Batman, a 1960s production from the Philippines which merged Bond and
Batman), the collection of essays of varying length are divided into five
categories: Film, TV, Literature, Lifestyle and Reinterpretation. A wide range
of topics are discussed, from Bollywood and the Japanese Nakano films to The Man from
U.N.C.L.E and Doctor Who, with a
fistful of others in between, all appended with an extensive array of footnotes
and bibliographic detail.
you might anticipate from a work such as this, some of the theses it comprises
– though unquestionably well researched and informative – can be a little hard
going. And, also perhaps a tad predictably, one or two are of a nature that
(unintentionally) sap the fun out of a subject which, let's be honest, really
shouldn't be taken too seriously.
the 24th 007 screen adventure SPECTRE looming on the horizon, the
months ahead will be hard on the wallets of serious Bond buffs. Not least of
all in the book department. At a princely $38, this non-illustrated, comparatively
slender offering is unlikely to top the shopping lists of many. But for those
who do choose to invest, it’s be best filed on your bookshelf
alongside similarly highfalutin tomes such as "Bond and Beyond: The
Political Career of a Popular Hero".
Lewis with Beverly D'Angelo and Clint Eastwood in the hit 1978 comedy Every Which Way But Loose.
Acclaimed character actor Geoffrey Lewis, and father of actress Juliette Lewis, has died at age 79 of natural causes. Lewis had a long and impressive list of major films and TV appearances to his credit. He was frequently cast by Clint Eastwood in the iconic actor's productions including High Plains Drifter, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Every Which Way But Loose, Any Which Way You Can, Bronco Billy, Pink Cadillac and their last collaboration, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Although Lewis was often cast as earthy, hillbilly-types, he could also excel at playing sophisticated characters as well. Other major film credits include The Wind and the Lion, Heaven's Gate, The Lawmower Man, Maverick and the TV movie version of Salem's Lot. He primarily worked in television and had amassed a seemingly endless number of appearances on major series over the decades.
Cage is a workhorse and may be one of the busiest actors today. In an era where
big name actors might release a single movie per year, Cage typically comes out
with three, four or even five. At any given time he may have over a half dozen
movies in various stages of production. Cage is a good actor, often a very good
actor, and has made some very entertaining movies that stand up to repeat
viewings. I enjoy much of what he does from the over-the-top supernatural action-horror
movies “Ghost Rider” and “Drive Angry,” to the adventure-mystery “National
Treasure” franchise and his voice work for about a half-dozen animated movies.
His list of credits and genres is vast and, if his movie output is any
indication, he’s a very busy guy. This can be a good thing for Cage fans, but
may result in a mixed bag for movie fans when an actor has too much exposure.
Fortunately for Cage, he’s pretty good in just about everything he does.
“Outcast,” Cage plays Gallain and he’s teamed with Hayden Christensen as Jacob.
Gallain and Jacob are 12th century crusader knights who are becoming
increasingly weary of killing as they travel from the Middle East to the Far
East. We witness the ruthlessness of Jacob through the eyes of his mentor
Gallain as he kills the members of a defeated Moorish army that refuses to
surrender. Even women and children are not spared Jacob’s murderous wrath. When we meet Jacob again three years later, he’s an opium addict searching for
his former mentor as well as redemption for his past sins. He finds this
redemption as the protector of a princess and her younger brother who is the
rightful new king. Both are fleeing the terror of their older brother and
warrior, Prince Shing, played by Andy On, who was passed over in favor of his
younger brother for the throne and murdered his dying father, the king. Shing
is very similar to Jacob in his bloodlust and this is what his father wishes to
avoid in a new king.
relationship between Jacob and the young king is right out of the classic American
western genre playbook. While this movie is no “Shane,” it is an interesting
melding of American and Chinese action adventure and, fortunately, everyone
speaks perfect English. Jacob agrees to safely transport the princess Lian,
played by Chinese model/actress Liu Yifei, and her younger brother Zhao, played
by Bill Su Jiahang. The boy forms the expected bond and the princess falls in
love with their protector as they make their way to safety while fleeing the
older brother who has sent out an order to kill his younger siblings. The young
king begs to learn how to use a bow as expertly as Jacob and they pause for a time.
During this training we see a flashback of a young Jacob undergoing training by
his mentor, Gallain, who we have not seen since the opening scenes. Cage
eventually returns and he turns out to be the near mythical “white ghost” referred
to throughout the first part of the movie.
Eon Productions has confirmed that Daniel Craig has undergone knee surgery for an injury he suffered during a fight sequence on the latest James Bond production, "SPECTRE". Eon said the surgery was "minor" and is not anticipated to affect filming. Craig is anticipated to resume shooting the movie on April 22 at Pinewood Studios, the series' traditional "home" outside of London. The film is shaping up to be the most expensive and ambitious entry in the long-running series. For more click here.
The Huffington Post presents writer Pat Gallagher presents a tribute to her choices as the 12 most memorable sex sirens of yesteryear. From Marilyn Monroe to Raquel Welch and Ursula Andress, click here to check out the article and see if you agree.
(1983) is a personal favorite horror film of mine. I own a 35mm print of this film, and I’ve seen
it projected three times in the last 15 years. The image looks very similar to
the VHS Vestron Video release which I first rented nearly 30 years ago: it is
dark, murky and difficult to see all of the important details. Fortunately, all
of this has changed thanks to the fine folks at Synapse Films who have
correctly presented the film in the proper aspect ratio and re-mastered the
image beyond anything that we have seen thus far. Curtains, never released in any other home
video format (except for several DVDs duped from that old VHS release), is now
finally available on DVD and Blu-ray, and the result is spectacular.
Eggar and John Vernon star as actress and director team Samantha Sherwood and
Jonathan Stryker attempting to bring the story of a mental patient, Audra, to
the screen. When Sherwood has herself “committed” to an actual mental hospital
to research the role, Stryker leaves her there with plans to make the film with
a different actress and engineers a casting call at his estate without
Sherwood’s knowledge. Curtains
fails to give more than just a hint as to his motivation for doing this
(sleeping with two of the actresses he auditions seems to be one reason), but
it does set up some truly creepy set pieces, the best and most memorable of
which include a large, sad-eyed doll on a rain-swept road, a masked killer
wielding a sickle on a skating rink, and a (somewhat prolonged) chase through
corridors inside of a theatrical warehouse which calls to mind the backstage
milieu in Michele Soavi’s Stage
Fright (1987). The logistics of the murders make little sense, but
then this is a thriller, so it’s wise not to think too much about it and enjoy
it for what it is.
film’s strengths lie in the casting, the music, and the cinematography. Eggar
and Vernon are terrific, and Lynne Griffin, an actress we see far too little of
these days (she’s the suffocation victim in the original Black Christmas), is hilarious as a comedienne vying for the role.
Linda Thorson is great as Brooke Parsons, an elegant actress who discovers
Lesleh Donaldson’s head in a toilet!
Paul Zaza has created a brilliant score for this film. The “sting” that
punctuates the film’s opening title sequence as the word Curtains is cut across
the screen can also be found in Prom
Night, a film that Zaza scored before Curtains.
I’ve often wondered if this score was originally composed for Prom Night and then
rejected. It’s a score worthy of a soundtrack album and it deserves to get a
release from Intrada, Varese Sarabande, Buysoundtrax.com, or Kritzerland.
a sucker for Canadian horror films that take place in the snow (The Brood (1979) and Ghostkeeper (1981) come
to mind), and Curtains
is my favorite, hands-down. One of the strangest and eeriest movies I’ve seen,
the film has always gotten a bum rap. Far from a perfect film, the production
had a lot of rumored problems from the word go and it seems that at this point
in time the movie is more notorious for what it was originally intended to be
rather than what it in fact is. Filming began in November 1980 and continued
for months afterwards. The original director, Richard Ciupka, hand-picked by
the producer due to his previous and well-regarded last-minute takeover of
1982’s Melanie, had his name removed
from the film due to the fact that much of it was not what he himself had
filmed. The ending was changed, as were several key plot points, and what
results is something of a convoluted narrative that possesses an air of
extras on the Blu-ray are plentiful. In addition to the sterling and brightly
colorful transfer, there is a 35-minute documentary called The Ultimate Nightmare: the Making
of Curtains by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. Key players
in the film take part in being interviewed as do those who worked behind the
scenes, particularly composer Zaza admitting his embarrassment at having his
name on the credits and wishing that he had been fired during the film’s
production, which is unfortunate given that his music does for Curtains what John
Williams did for Jaws (1975). There
is also a 15-minute documentary made at the time of shooting simply called Ciupka (pronounced
CHOOP-ka) and it features some behind-the-scenes footage on the set of Curtains.
is also a feature-length audio commentary moderated by Edwin Samuelson with
actresses Lesley Donaldson and Lynne Griffin and they are quite amusing to
listen to. Audio interviews with the late producer (courtesy of the Terror
Trap), actress Samantha Eggar (courtesy of yours truly), and the theatrical
trailer round out the extras.
has been written about the scenes that had been shot for Curtains which ended up
on the cutting room floor. Up until August 2009 these scenes existed but,
amazingly, the decision was made at that time to destroy them. Why the footage
sat in a vault for 26 years and was subsequently tossed in the era of DVD and
Blu-rays is an incident that is not only unfathomable to me but it raises the
question of who ordered the footage dumped. It doesn’t matter at this point,
but I am grateful that the original source materials survived so that we all
can see Curtains
the way it was intended. Although I have been a fan of the film for 28 years, I
feel as though I am really seeing it for the first time.
Film noir wasn’t just
relegated to American Hollywood films of the forties and fifties. It was
something of an international movement, albeit an unconscious one, for it
wasn’t until the late fifties that some critics in France looked back at the
past two decades of crime pictures and proclaimed, “Oui! Film noir!”
was doing it, too. Carol Reed’s 1947 IRA-thriller-that-isn’t-an-IRA-thriller Odd Man Out is one of the best examples
of the style. Robert Krasker’s black and white cinematography pulls in all the
essential film noir elements—German
expressionism, high contrasts between dark and light, and tons of shadows. Other
noir trappings are present, such as stormy
weather, night scenes, exterior locations, bars, shabby tenements, a lot of smoking,
and a crime. And, for a movie to be “pure noir,”
there must not be a happy ending. Odd Man
Out fulfills that last requirement with shocking bravura.
Mason stars as Johnny, the leader of “the organization” in an unnamed Northern
Ireland city; it isn’t difficult to connect the dots and assume the
organization is the IRA and the city is probably someplace like Belfast (where
much of the second unit photography was done on the sly; the rest of the film
was shot in studios and locations in England). Johnny escaped from prison a few
months back and has been in hiding, secluded in a house with his girlfriend
Kathleen (the beautiful Kathleen Ryan) for months. He has gathered a small gang
to rob a mill for money to support their cause. The problem is that Johnny has
gone a bit “soft,” and isn’t properly prepared for the job. Nevertheless, the
four men pull off the caper, but of course it goes wrong. Johnny is shot in the
shoulder, he unwittingly kills a man in self defense, and he is separated from
the other gang members. The rest of the film is a D.O.A.-style story of the next twenty-four hours or so as Johnny
eludes capture from the police on the streets, all the while losing blood and
his life. So we know he’s probably not going to make it and we wait for the
inevitable—but what happens until that fateful ending (which manages to
surprise us anyway with an unexpected twist in how it’s done) is incredibly
Odd Man Out is one of the most
engaging and thrilling British films of the 20th Century. Period. It certainly
rivals Reed’s The Third Man, which is
also an excellent model of British noir.
Mason is terrific as he stumbles around the streets, delusional and suffering,
practically bouncing from one obstacle to another with no safe haven in sight.
Other familiar British and Irish faces crop up—Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, Dan
O’Herlihy, F. J. McCormick—and Kubrick fans might recognize a younger Paul
Farrell (the tramp from A Clockwork
Orange) as a bartender named Sam.
new high-definition digital restoration looks marvelous, naturally. Once again,
the company’s mastering for Blu-ray outdoes the competition. The image is sharp
and without blemishes for the most part, and appears as if the film was made
yesterday. Extras include a new interview with British cinema scholar John Hill
on the picture; “Postwar Poetry,” a new short documentary; a new interview with
music scholar Jeff Smith about composer William Alwyn and his gorgeous score; a
nearly-hour-long 1972 documentary featuring James Mason revisiting his hometown
in Ireland; and a radio adaptation of the film from 1952, starring Mason and
O’Herlihy. The essay in the booklet is by critic Sara Smith.
of these supplements are very good, but the reason to run out and buy this
Blu-ray release is the film itself. Odd
Man Out is a landmark crime picture with wonderfully eccentric Irish
characters, lush atmosphere, and film
noir traits galore. Highly recommended.
It's a little late in the day to extol the virtues of the Papermill Playhouse's production of "Hunchback of Notre Dame" which has its last performance on April 5, but since the show is being groomed for Broadway, it's relevant to point out that the production is simply magnificent. (The play premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego last fall before moving here.) Upon entering the Papermill, we took our seats in front row, center....generally the best in the house. However, there was concern because the entire stage now had a massive new floor temporarily built on top of it. The result of this was the "new" stage not only extending practically into our seats but also having the effect of "elevator shoes"....it was a good foot above where the normal stage rose. My concern was that everyone would have to crane their necks to see what was going on directly in front of them- and indeed some of those attending who were not very tall found it necessary to sit on their coats in an attempt to elevate themselves enough to see the action. Whatever grumbling may have occurred was subdued because of the sight that stood before our eyes: a massive, ingenious example of production design that ranked among the most impressive I had ever seen. Clearly, we knew this would be a memorable theatrical experience- and it was. The reaction became even greater when we first see Quasimodo, who is hanging on a rope attached to a set of descending giant bells. The effect is breathtaking and the reason for the new stage floor would become apparent, as massive edifices as wheeled in and out of scenes throughout the production. The staggering weight would have crushed the existing stage floor.
The new show, under the inspired direction of Scott Schwartz,is a unique production that combines the key elements of Victor Hugo's classic 1831 novel with songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz that appeared in Disney's animated film version and, in the process, reworks the original German 1999 production of this musical. (Peter Parnell wrote the book for the new version.) It should be mentioned that, although this production boasts memorable songs from the Disney film, this is not a feel-good experience and kids may well walk away more upset than entertained. (It notably is not recommended for kids under age 12, per a disclaimer on the show's advertising.) That's because Hugo's book presents us with one of the most tragic protagonists in literary history: Quasimodo, the deformed illegitimate son of a Frenchman of good standing and a Gypsy girl, both of whom die shortly after the baby is born. The infant's uncle is Dom Claude Frollo, the top priest at Notre Dame cathedral. He is appalled by the disfigurement of the child that he has taken into his care, but he is also ashamed. He raises the boy within the confines of the bell tower, where young Quasimodo receives an education but has been completely isolated from the bustling city of Paris, which he can only observe from the tower. His sole function is to chime the enormous bells on schedule. One day, Quasimodo slips into the streets to experience the annual "Feast of Fools", a one-day event during which the city's most undesirable elements are allowed to run rampant and indulge themselves in any vices they desire. Quasimodo no sooner enters the crowds than he becomes the object of cruel mockery and torture for the amusement of others. He is rescued by the one person who shows him an act of kindness: the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda. She escorts him back to the cathedral where she is initially met with disdain by Frollo, who informs her that gypsies are not welcome in the church. However, he can't help but be smitten by her beauty and changes his tune when he makes a blatant attempt to seduce her. She rebuffs him and the humiliated Frollo plots to have her arrested on charges of witchcraft. Esmeralda goes into hiding and receives protection from Frollo's own Captain of the Guards, Phoebus de Martin, who becomes a wanted man himself because of his desire to save Esmeralda from the clutches of Frollo. In the course of the story, Quasimodo proves himself to be smarter than anyone had anticipated...and a man of great courage, as well. He not so secretly loves Esmeralda but realizes their relationship can only be platonic. Yet, he risks his life to in attempt to save her from the death sentence Frollo has condemned her to suffer.
As you might surmise from the synopsis, "Hunchback" is a morbid affair. Yet, it is a stirring production that doesn't need artificial sentiment to rouse the emotions of the audience. The cast is simply brilliant. Ciara Renee is radiant as Esmeralda and Andrew Samonsky makes for a dashing hero as her protector/lover. However, the two most impressive performances are given by Michael Arden and Patrick Page as Quasimodo and Frollo, respectively. Arden is simply amazing. He walks on stage as a handsome young actor and in front of our eyes turns himself into the afflicted Quasimodo without the benefit of a mask or makeup. He achieves this by contorting his face and maintaining that effect through the entire play (in addition to jumping on bell ropes and performing acts of derring-do"). Page is also highly impressive, playing a man decades older than his actual age and possessed of a voice that is truly a thing of beauty. There are at least thirty other actors and extras, making this the largest cast I've seen in a stage production in many years. If there is a criticism of this ambitious show, it's that there isn't a single standout song. They are all good, but none of them are great. Most are designed to advance the drama as opposed to having audiences hum them while exiting the theater.
The Papermill Playhouse is arguably the most acclaimed regional theater in the nation. This production of "Hunchback" proves why. My bet is that this production will find a home on Broadway. When it does, make sure you catch it.
(For more about the history of this musical, click here)
Rudolph directed two forgotten horror flicks in the early seventies before joining
Robert Altman’s team; he served as Altman’s assistant director and in other
positions for several years. In the interim, Altman produced Rudolph’s third
feature film, Welcome to L.A., which
premiered in 1976 and was released to the general public in the spring of 1977.
best work is obviously inspired by Altman’s method of telling the personal
stories of an ensemble of quirky and neurotic characters over a sprawling
canvas (M*A*S*H, Nashville, A Wedding, Short Cuts, for example). Rudolph’s Welcome to L.A. does just that, only this
writer/director’s style is even more loosey-goosey than Altman’s. Rudolph’s
approach is much more poetic, slower, and dreamier. More serious, too, I might
Carradine plays Carroll, a character much like the guy he played in Nashville—a songwriter who is coolly
arrogant and a cad, but all the women love him anyway. He’s been living in
England when his agent and former lover, Susan (Viveca Lindfors), hooks him up
with singer/musician Eric (Richard Baskin, who wrote all the film’s songs); so
Carroll comes back home to L.A. He doesn’t get along with his millionaire
father (Denver Pyle), but manages to seduce his father’s girlfriend,
photographer (Lauren Hutton). Throw in the realtor of his rented house (Sally
Kellerman), a seriously-disturbed and unhappy housewife (Geraldine Chaplin), and
a wacky housekeeper who vacuums topless (Sissy Spacek), and we’ve got a real
merry-go-round of one-night-stands (in fact, one of the songs beats us over the
head that they’re “living in the city of the one-night-stands”).
are other men, too—Harvey Keitel is quite good as Chaplin’s husband, who
happens to work for Pyle and has his sights set on some co-stars, and John Considine,
who is married to Kellerman—he, too, manages to have dalliances with other
female cast members. The entire movie’s “plot,” as it were, is how all of these
characters will hook up with the others in the space of a few days.
what the movie is really about is
loneliness. These people are middle-to-upper-class Hollywood types and they’re
caught in the malaise that Los Angeles of the mid-seventies had become (and
Rudolph’s filmmaking smacks of the 1970s in look and feel—not that this is a
bad thing). The picture seems to be saying that even if you’re rich and
beautiful/handsome and talented, you still need love and connection—but
unfortunately, the one-night-stand mentality is a dead end, as many of the
characters learn. And Carradine’s character, something of an omniscient
angel/devil, floats through this world caring about nothing but himself, but
therein lies a central truth—this guy is the unhappiest of them all.
film is beautifully shot, and if you can get past the somewhat now-pretentious
and arty device of people looking into mirrors and delivering soliloquies, you
may be impressed with the mise-en-scene.
Some folks, I remember, criticized Baskin’s songs and singing as being
annoying; on the contrary, I’ve always found the movie’s soundtrack to be very
well done. After all, the point of the picture is that it’s a musical journey
through vignettes that dramatize the lonely search for interconnection.
film is available as an MGM burn-to-order title. A card before the movie claims that the transfer was made from the “best
sources possible,” which means they probably used an existing print rather than
negatives to strike the DVD. Colors have faded significantly and the image
looks rather drab, which is unfortunate.
Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Rudolph, or Altman, and you want to experience
something different that was hitting the art house circuit in the
mid-seventies, take a look. I would place Welcome
to L.A. near the top of Alan Rudolph’s idiosyncratic, but usually quite
and sexy housewife Ellen (Gigi Darlene) likes nothing more than taking out the
trash in her neglige. Unfortunately this turns the janitor into a rapist, who
gets his comeuppance when she kills him in self-defence. Instead of telling her
husband what happened, Ellen goes on the run and finds that the world is a
cruel place to sexy outlaws. Ellen moves from abusive situation to abusive
situation before coming perilously close to being caught by a detective. Is
Ellen a victim, or does her penchant for nudity mean she really is a "Bad
Wishman is a somewhat fascinating character. Almost fifty by the time she
directed her first film, she started out with "nudie cuties"; tame,
often comical films mainly shot in nudist camps. These films, including Nude
on the Moon (1961) and Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls (1963) feature
the kind of corny plot-lines and creaky acting that would have seemed dated in
1940s B features. However, working outside the studio system and therefore not
worried about the Hollywood Production Code, what Wishman could do was shoot
boobs. Lots of boobs. The nudist camp film had grown in popularity in both the
US and Europe during the late 1950s and no matter how bad these were, they
would always make money. As her films became more violent and exploitative they
became known as "roughies". Women were generally the victims of male
aggression and subjugation, and there was a focus on rape and violence. Bad
Girls Go to Hell (1965) falls into this latter category, and it is often
hailed as one of the sleaziest films ever made. What was perhaps unusual was
the fact that Wishman was a female director working in a very male-dominated
genre. Her films can be seen as more than just sexploitation, and Wishman gives
her female characters a sense of power and freedom. Despite the degradation
they go through, the women in her films often win out over the men. Sadly, in
this particular film, the ending suggests that women will always be victims, and
it could even be their own fault. Doris Wishman was a controversial filmmaker,
and this film is unlikely to win her many feminist admirers. She went on to
achieve permanent infamy with the pair of films Double Agent 73 and Deadly
Weapons (both 1974), featuring the uniquely-endowed Chesty Morgan killing
men with her enormous assets.
DVD of Bad Girls Go to Hell has been put out by Apprehensive Films, and
the print is the same found on Something Weird's earlier release. It is a
surprisingly good picture for such a low budget grindhouse film. It is a real
slice of the greasy underbelly of 1960s American life. The soundtrack is also
fun, featuring some great 1960s instrumental pop. This DVD features an awful
short film which has nothing to do with Doris Wishman, and left this reviewer
confused as to it's inclusion. Also featured are some trailers for other
Apprehensive Films DVDs, mostly of the obscure exploitation variety and again,
not related to this film at all.
eleven-year old Indian girl is sold by her father to a thirty-year-old man for
a cow and a rusty bicycle. Torn from her mother’s arms the child is taken home,
beaten, raped and turned into a slave, all the while being abused and taunted
by the local villagers because she is from a lower caste. She runs away and
tries to go home, but is looked upon as an outcast. In a society where women are considered lower
than cattle, she grows up enduring terrible punishment, including more
beatings, rapes and eventual homelessness. She is kidnapped by bandits falls in love with the bandit leader and becomes
a legend known throughout India as “Bandit Queen,” stealing from the rich and
giving to the poor. She kills the 21 men she accused of gang-raping her, and
surrenders to authorities before a crowd of 10,000 supporters. She serves 11 years
in prison and when freed, runs on her popularity as a champion of the poor, and
is elected to Parliament, only to be assassinated by a member of a higher caste
at age 37.
is the story of Phoolan Devi, played as an adult by Seema Biswas, and although
it sounds like something that happened hundreds of years ago in a dark age of
ignorance and cruelty her story took place in India, between 1963 and 2001. She
was 37 years old when she died. Some of the things that happen in Shekar
Kapur’s biographical film “Bandit Queen” (1994) were disputed by the Indian
government, which sought to have the film banned. Even Devi sued to block the
film’s release, claiming it made her look too much like a “sniveling woman.”
But if only half the incidents portrayed in the movie are true, it is not only an
unflinchingly realistic drama of a woman’s guts and determination to survive
and overcome unbelievable adversity, it is also a searing indictment of a
nation whose laws and culture create an environment where such things can
happen. One can only hope that the situation in the rural areas of India, where
this story occurred, have improved by now.
indictment starts at the top, by attacking the mindset and religious beliefs
that permit a social system that divides people into upper and lower castes.
The film begins with a quote from a sacred Hindu text that states: “Animals,
drunks, illiterates, low castes and woman are worthy of beating.” The
powerlessness of women is shown when the 11-year old girl’s mother can only
watch in sorrow as her daughter is taken away and again when the bridegroom’s
mother can only sit silently outside the room listening to Phoolan’s screams as
her son beats and rapes the child.
film is deliberately infuriating and at times difficult to watch. And if all
Kapur wanted to do was create a diatribe against India’s caste system, and
extol the virtues of its central character, it wouldn’t be much of a film. But
his theme is larger. As he explains in audio commentary provided on the disc,
the central vision that guided him through what he admits was a challenging and
difficult movie to make, can be summed up in two words: oppression and
survival. No matter how difficult Phoolan’s circumstances became, she never submitted
to it willingly. Through everything she maintained an inborn defiance, and a
spirit of rebellion that got her through it all, though at considerable cost.
the middle of the film she falls in love with her bandit gang co-leader, but by
now she cannot stand the touch of a man. At first all she can do to respond to
him is to hit him and let him hit her back. He understands her psychology and
eventually breaks through to her. But by
now her mind is saturated with revenge and blood lust because of all the
hardships she endured and the climax of the story comes when she orders the massacre
of the 21 higher-caste men in a village who raped her. Significantly, in almost
a Sam Peckinpah-ish touch, Kapur has a naked baby standing at a well crying in
the midst of the carnage. It’s a telling image.
Time has released a limited edition BluRay of “Bandit Queen.” The image is for
the most part sharp and clear though some night scenes had too much grain,
which are probably in the original film elements The only special features are
the director’s audio commentary and a separate track containing the score by
composer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. There is also a booklet containing an
informative essay by Julie Kirgo.
film has ever presented such a realistic, disturbing, and uncompromising
portrayal of oppression and survival than “Bandit Queen.”
Just in case you thought the good folks at Vinegar Syndrome only release version of vintage porn flicks, it may come as news that they are also providing another valuable social service: remastering long-forgotten grind house "classics". Case in point: "The Muthers", a 1976 gem that plays out like the ultimate Tarantino fantasy. It's a combination of several genres: Women in Prison ("W.I.P", for the initiated), chop socky, sexploitation and blaxploitation. It doesn't get any better than this if you were weaned on this glorious type of sleaze that played routinely on 42nd Street. Directed by cult "B" movie favorite Cirio Santiago, "The Muthers" is yet another low-budget flick from the era that was filmed in the Philippines. The movie opens with a memorable introduction to the titular characters. They are Kelly (Jeannie Bell) and her equally sexy sidekick Anggie (Rosanne Katon, Playboy's Miss September in 1978), who are female pirates with an all-male crew ("You go, girls!"). We see them aboard their high speed, armed vessel as they raid a tourist boat and grab the booty. (Since these are good pirates, no one gets hurt). We know the pirates go by the name of The Muthers because their vessel is adorned with a big sign that reads "The Muthers", in what must have been the first case of branding for high seas pirates. When they return to their Hole-in-the-Wall-like village, they are informed that Kelly's teenage sister has gone missing. They start trawling the waterfront bars and learn that she has been abducted by a human trafficking ring. Working with a government agent who wants to bring down the head of the ring, a notorious crime kingpin named Monteiro (Tony Carreon), Kelly and Anggie volunteer to be captured. They are brought to Monteiro's jungle prison camp, which is guarded by a virtual army of heavily-armed thugs. Here they find dozens of young women being kept in brutal conditions. They are forced to perform manual labor and are simultaneously being groomed for sale to a procurer of girls for international brothels. Kelly manages to get a fleeting glimpse of her sister before she learns the younger girl has made a desperate attempt to escape into the jungle- a strategy which goes tragically awry.
While in the camp, Kelly and Anggie meet Marcie (Trina Parks), another beauty who is regarded as a long-time veteran prisoner who knows all the ropes. Marcie introduces them to Serena (Jayne Kennedy), who is the privileged mistress of Monteiro (who also sleeps with his male guards). Anggie resents Serena for selling out in return for her soft lifestyle at the camp and derisively refers to her as a "house nigger". But Marcie informs her that Serena often provides what human compassion she can towards the prisoners. Ultimately, Kelly, Angie and Marcie enlist Serena in an audacious plan for them all to escape. They do so but Monteiro and his goons are in hot pursuit. As the women hide in the jungle, they face death from the elements, starvation and dangerous critters. In the film's best scenario, Marcie is bitten in the chest by a deadly snake. As Serena sucks the blood out, Marcie gets the movie's best line of dialogue: "Just like every other snake I've met-- won't leave my tits alone!" Although Parks, Kennedy and Katon frustrate male viewers keeping their clothes mostly intact, Bell delivers the goods with two (not one, but two!) gratuitous topless bathlng sequences. She also saunters around the tropical location clad in a long-sleeve turtleneck shirt, the absurdity of which is overshadowed by the fact that she is conspicuously bra-less. The film climaxes with double crosses, a big shootout between the "good" pirates and Monteiro's forces, with machine gun slinging chicks also going hand-to-hand with the villains. (Yes, everybody is kung-fu fighting.) At one point in the movie, Bell gets to swing vine-to-vine a la Tarzan. As low grade action films go, it doesn't get much lower or better than this- and it's all set to a typically funky '70s disco score.
Jeannie Bell displays why the questionable choice of wearing a long-sleeve turtleneck in the tropics has its good points.
The Vinegar Syndrome release has undergone a 2k restoration from the original 35mm negative, making it yet another one of their titles that probably looks infinitely better today than it did upon its initial release. An appropriately cheesy trailer is also included that doesn't even credit the actresses, though perhaps they consider that to be a positive.