One of the great joys any retro movie lover can experience is to view a screening of a classic film with a world-class orchestra playing the musical score as live accompaniment. Many acclaimed orchestras are now doing just that and delighting movie lovers across the globe. Among the most impressive performances, not surprisingly, are those presented by the New York Philharmonic, which has a very popular film-related series that is as diversified as it is irresistible. On May 19, the the NYP presented a superb tribute to Charlie Chaplin with a screening of his 1931 masterpiece, "City Lights". Conductor Timothy Brock informed that audience that by 1931 silent film was already dead. The new era of sound was all the rage but Chaplin's clout and popularity were such that he could still find financing for his films despite his insistence that they would be shot and presented as silent movies. Clearly the beloved Little Tramp would have seemed out of place in the new era. Chaplin not only wrote, starred in and directed the film but he also composed it's marvelous score. Brock was approached by Chaplin's estate to see if he could reconstruct the original score based on Chaplin's original notes. Over the decades, the score had been bastardized into many variations performed by countless orchestras and musicians around the world. The task took over a year but the effort was worth it. A sold-out audience at David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center applauded wildly throughout. The evening was a triumph not only for Brock and the orchestra but also for Chaplin's legacy.
Charlton Heston fans will appreciate the fact that one of his few major films not to be released on home video has finally made it to DVD through MGM. "Number One" (released in certain countries under the title "Pro") is an off-beat vehicle for the superstar, who was then at his peak of popularity. The fact that the movie under-performed at the box-office and failed to score with critics didn't diminish Heston's status as a leading man. He would go on to star in such hits as "The Omega Man", "Skyjacked", "Soylent Green" "Earthquake", "Midway"and "Airport '75"- with cameos in the popular "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers". The poor response to "Number One" doesn't diminish its many merits - and the fact that Heston was willing to play against type in a largely unsympathetic role. For the film, he reunited with director Tom Gries, with whom he made the acclaimed 1968 Western "Will Penny". Curiously, both movies center on the same theme: a macho man who can't come to grips with the fact that he is aging and, therefore, his chosen way of life is threatened. In "Will Penny", Heston played the title character: a middle-aged cowboy who feels the inevitable aches and pains of trying to maintain a career that is clearly suited for younger men. Similarly, in "Number One" he plays "Cat" Catlan, a star quarterback for the New Orleans Saints football team. Catlan has seen plenty of fame and glory as the team's Golden Boy and the idol of the crowds. But now he is 40 years old and, although still in Herculean physical condition compared to most men his age, he's fallen victim to the constant brutalities he suffers on the field. The film opens on a particularly disastrous game in which Catlan makes some serious misjudgments about plays and bungles some key passes. The result is an embarrassing loss for the team. The Saints' gruff coach Southerd (John Randolph) isn't ready to give up on Catlin but seemingly every other team member is. Catlan is subjected to some cruel jokes and he has to contend with the fact that a much younger player (Richard Elkins) is breathing down his neck, hoping to replace him as quarterback. Things aren't much better at home for Catlan. His long-suffering wife Julie (Jessica Walter) patiently endures his mysterious absences, unpredictable mood swings and volatile temper. She is a very successful fashion designer but Catlan is "old school" when it comes to the role of wives. He wants Julie to stay home and cater to his needs. In the midst of one of their frequent fights, he even stoops so low as to cruelly tease her about her inability to conceive a baby. Still, she sticks with him even when he confesses to having an affair with an another attractive, self-made woman, Ann (Diana Muldaur). Faced with the fact that his career is winding down, Catlan reluctantly explores his options for his post-NFL life. They aren't very enticing. His best friend Richie (Bruce Dern), is an obnoxious former Saints player who brags about having gotten out of the game at age 34. He now runs a very successful car leasing business and lives a playboy lifestyle. He wants Catlan to work for him, a prospect that doesn't sit well with the aging quarterback. He also gets an offer from a computer company to work for them but the idea of dealing of being surrounded by machines in the confines of an office is repugnant to him.Ultimately, Catlan is inspired by his wife to go out on a high note. During one of their rare moments of domestic detente, she convinces him that he still has some good games in his future if he can shake off the funk and get his confidence back. The film's climactic game is the very definition of mixed emotions. Catlan performs well and has his mojo back but the movie's ambiguous final shot is anything but uplifting.
Tom Gries was a good director for Heston. He somehow managed to tamp down Heston's larger-than-life personality and afford him the opportunity to play everyday men. In "Number One", Heston is subject to the sorts of problems that plague most middle-aged men. He's nervous about his future. He often takes his frustrations out on the people closest to him. He tries to reassert his youth by exerting his sexual prowess through having an affair. Throughout it all, Heston admirably does not try to make Catlan into a hero. There is a level of sympathy accorded to him because of the emotional and physical stress he is under but his sheer disregard for others makes him more a villain than a hero. (He even refuses to give fans his autograph). Even worse is his sheer selfishness in how he deals with his wife's needs. He feels threatened by the success she is enjoying in her own career and therefore diminishes her achievements. Heston gives one of his finest performances, ironically, in what was one of his least-seen films.He gets able support from the woefully-underrated Jessica Walter, whose performance a couple of years later in "Play Misty For Me" should have assured her of major stardom (and an Oscar nomination). Director Gries also utilizes the talents of real-life football players, some of whom exhibit impressive acting skills. Diana Muldaur also excels as the siren who lures Catlan into her bed. There is an air of authenticity to the film, primarily because Gries shot much of it in front of packed stadiums. (Cinematographer Michael Hugo's work is especially impressive). Gries also captures the feel of New Orleans back in the day, capitalizing on the local scenery, jazz clubs and even getting the great Al Hirt to perform a number and do a bit of acting. About the only dated aspects of the film concern the off-the-field activities of the NFL players. Catlan complains that they are paid like peasants, which was probably true in 1969, but is a rather laughable notion today. Also, the NFL team is required to wear jackets and ties when traveling to or leaving the stadium, another rule that would be virtually unenforceable by contemporary standards.
"Number One" never found its audience in 1969 but hopefully the crisp, impressive DVD release from MGM will find help retro movie lovers appreciate its merits. The film did have at least one critic who appreciated the movie and Heston's performance. Writing in the New York Times, critic Howard Thompson wrote: "Charlton Heston, minus a
beard, a loincloth, a toga or the Red Sea, tackles a starkly unadorned role in
one of the most interesting and admirable performances of his career…If Heston
could have been better, we don’t know how." Our sentiments exactly.
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London may have been the epicenter of the sexual revolution in the mid-1960s but that still didn't make it easy to see adult entertainment on the screen. The dreaded Office of the Censor wielded Draconian power as the guardians of British morality. Hence, the only place you could see anything remotely erotic on film was through 8mm "loops", short films that ran only minutes. The closest mainstream cinemas got to playing films with nudity was through pretentious "documentaries" that exposed the sordid side of London's nightlife or life in a nudist colony. In reality, these denouncements of promiscuous sex existed strictly to capitalize on promiscuous sex and everyone knew it. Pete Walker was an enterprising young entrepreneur who tried to fill the gap for sex-starved Britons by shooting hastily-arranged, no-budget black and white exploitation films that lasted only minutes. Walker had started in the even more staid early part of the decade by hiring well-endowed, free-spirited young woman to "star" in his modest productions. There was no shortage of talent, as Briton did have a booming market in glamour magazines that featured nude models and starlets. Walker would shoot the silent B&W films on 8mm before graduating to 16mm. The final product would be sold in local book shops for extravagant prices. Walker and the store made tidy profits and the consumer could feast his eyes on some bare female flesh. Everyone was a winner.
In 1969 Walker decided to do something far more ambitious by creating a film with an actual story line and populated by people who could really act. The result was "For Men Only" (AKA "Hot Girls For Men Only"), a ribald comedy that ran a scant 43 minutes but had production values that looked like "Gone With the Wind" compared to his earlier efforts. David Kernan (who played Pvt. Hitch in "Zulu" a few years before) plays Freddie Horn, a young man engaged to marry Rosalie (Andrea Allen). However, she demands that he quit his job as fashion editor for a prominent journal because he is generally assigned to interview beautiful young models who wear barely-there new clothing lines. She's right to be jealous, as Freddie has been living quite the life, indulging in the "fringe benefits" of being around so many willing young women. Reluctantly, he applies for a job as a writer for a bland magazine that will ensure he has no exposure to the fairer sex. He is summoned from London to the countryside to meet his prospective new employer, Miles Fanthorpe (Derek Aylward). He meets Fanthorpe at a local church where he is giving a stern lecture on morality and the decay of society, which he attributes to permissive sex and increasing tolerance of homosexuality. The small crowd responds enthusiastically to his conservative, fire-and-brimstone rant. Freddie is understandably depressed at the prospect of working for such a man but the first clue that not all is as it seems occurs when Fanthorpe gives him a lift back to his manor house- in an Aston Martin DB5. Once at the house, Fanthorpe comes clean. His uses his reputation as a conservative prude to mask his real personality which is that of a sex-obsessed rogue. Fanthorpe then introduces Freddie to his staff, which consists of busty young women of loose morals who spend the entire day romping around in bikinis or sunning themselves while topless. Freddie is understandably delighted to accept the job of writing for one of Fanthorpe's publications that deals with nude models. Within minutes, he is immersed in a virtual orgy- and he understandably forgets a vitally important social engagement for that evening. Seems he has to accompany Rosalie and her parents to a black tie dinner to celebrate their wedding anniversary. The parents can't stand Freddie as it is and have warned Rosalie that he is addicted to skirt chasing. When Freddie doesn't turn up for dinner, Rosalie sets out to trace his whereabouts and ends up at the country manner where she sees the real scenario. Naturally, through happenstance even her prudish parents show up along with a local parson, resulting in a chaotic scene that culminates with a bevy of bikini girls being stuffed into the DB5 for a fast getaway. (Not even 007 enjoyed that privilege.) Although one could term the film as a "sexploitation" title, that doesn't do it justice. "For Men Only" is actually quite amusing and features some very fine comedic performances. The sexual content is quite mild but there is something erotic about seeing these lovely young actresses cavort about while scantily clad. It's like Matt Helm on steroids.
The other feature, "School for Sex", also features Derek Aylward in essentially the same kind of role he played in "For Men Only". Here he is an upper-crust type named Giles Wingate who inherited a manor house and a fortune and blew through it all by marrying a series of opportunistic golddiggers. To pay off his debts, he engages in some dubious financial tactics that end up with him being criminally prosecuted. He's spared a jail sentence and put on probation but still needs to find a way to pay for his lavish lifestyle as well as the salary for his elderly, intensely loyal butler. He comes up with an inspired idea. Since he was snookered by so many lovely young women, he decides to open a "School for Sex" on his premises. The idea is to charge beautiful young women a hefty fee for instructing them how to seduce wealthy men and ensure their financial well-being. In order to carry out the plan, he needs some female assistance. He hires the Duchess of Burwash, a widowed hot-to-trot middle-aged cougar played by Rose Alba, who main claim to fame was her short but memorable appearance as the SPECTRE "widow" who gets socked by James Bond in the opening of "Thunderball". She's a boozy opportunist but she delivers the goods in terms of instructing her students how to seduce naive men. Before long, there are more students than Wingate can accommodate. Rich families are sending their daughters for instruction, thinking they will be attending a finishing school for sophisticated young women. Instead, they will run around naked and engage in sex techniques. The film comes to an ironic conclusion as Wingate becomes a victim of his own success. "School for Sex" is described by Pete Walker as the worst movie he ever made. He blames himself for not getting a professional screenwriter and trying to keep costs down by writing the script himself. Although not as polished as "For Men Only", it still has its amusing moments and there is plenty of eye candy in the form of the lovely young ladies. The performances of Aywayrd and Alba are also very funny. The film is a bit more daring than "For Men Only" in that it does include topless sequences and a glimpse or two of full nudity.
Kino Lorber has released both films as a Blu-ray double feature edition. Both remastered prints look excellent and the special features in the package are most welcome. Pete Walker provides a new filmed interview and gives some interesting insights into the world of sexploitation films in England during the 1960s. There are also numerous Walker "loops", the early B&W silent nudie flicks as well as a trailer for "School for Sex" and alternate footage from the film featuring full nudity that was shot for the Japanese market.
In summary, it's a delightful trip down Mammary Lane for anyone who appreciates the low-brow pleasures of such "naughty" entertainment.
Pierce Brosnan in "The World is Not Enough" (1999) (Photo copyright: Danjaq/Eon)
"Shaken, not stirred". Those legendary words have been spoken many times in the James Bond films in relation to how 007 prefers his Vodka Martinis to be prepared. But as Daily Beast writer Noah Rothbaum points out in an article about the origins of that drink, it was largely the screenwriters who made Bond's instructions a catch phrase as opposed to the Ian Fleming novels on which the early movies were based. Click here to read some interesting insights into the drinking habits of the world's best known secret agent.
As the introduction explains, this is not an
attempt at a definitive guide but rather to be a companion piece to some of the
films released on the Arrow label; to extend enjoyment and expand upon some of
the cult material for fans old and new. A
significant portion of the text here has been recycled from Arrow's
already-published DVD and Blu-Ray booklets, but this is made clear from the
outset (also noted throughout where relevant) and collectors may appreciate the
comprehensive assortment here in book form nonetheless, alongside new and
Arrow Video's book provides a whistle-stop
tour of the great and the good of cult, horror and genre cinema here, arranged
nicely into sub-sections focusing on cult movies, directors, actors, genres and
distribution respectively. An overview
of the topics conjures up a nostalgic mixture of fare presented on cult TV
shows like Videodrome, or The Incredibly Strange Film Show; as director Ben
Wheatley aptly notes in his foreword, "I'm profoundly jealous of anybody
coming fresh to the back catalogue of world and genre cinema. It's mind expanding and f*****g
great." Long standing cult film fans
may well be more than happy to revisit examinations of Deep Red, Zombie Flesh
Eaters, Withnail and I, The 'Burbs and others whilst those just beginning to discover
these hidden pleasures (of whom I share Ben Wheatley's envy) are well directed
toward classic gems.
Directors like David Cronenberg, Tinto Brass,
Wes Craven and George A. Romero are deservedly examined; whilst it is glorious
to see Lloyd Kaufman (of Troma films) included in such an illustrious list, it
is a shame that no female directors are noted. This is redressed somewhat in the section on actors, with the inclusion
of chapters on Meiko Kaji and Pam Grier alongside Vincent Price and Boris
Karloff. Cult sub-genres under review
range from the well-known spaghetti western and giallo through to the less-obvious
Brazilian 1970s sexploitation genre 'Pornochanchada' and Canuxploitation
(post-1990s Canadian B-movies), amongst others. The final section on distribution is good to see, as the mechanics
behind and social context of cult cinema can often be at least interesting as
the films themselves. These chapters
provide overviews of the early days of cult and exploitation cinema, a look at
the Super-8 format, film festivals, fanzines and the more recent Asian DVD
It is a shame that in a glossy presentation
like this, clearly aimed at fans, where film posters are presented near full-page,
the decision has been made to treat images of film stills like columns of text,
split in half with a thick white line. Nonetheless, this is a very clear and accessible look at cult cinema,
with the inclusion of some less obvious subject matter alongside must-see
classics which would remiss to exclude in a companion such as this.
Among our most popular articles are those pertaining to video availability of vintage erotica (You old perverts!). Vinegar Syndrome, which has rescued countless grindhouse titles from the 1960s-1980s, has just released one of their most ambitious titles yet, "All Night at the Po-No", consisting of three DVDs packed with features and shorts that all played at the Po-No Theatre in L.A during the 1970s. Don't be immediately dismissive of all of these films, as some do show talent in the construction of reasonably compelling story lines. Surprisingly, when given an actual script to follow, some of the performers also show skill in terms of acting ability, so you can at least assure your significant other that you are watching these only for their artistic merits.
Here is the official press release:
Vinegar Syndrome presents its new ‘Storefront Theatre
Collection’, which celebrates both the strange and often homegrown productions
that played in ‘mini-theatres’ of the 70s. This special-edition 3-disc set is
uniquely packaged in 100% recycled card stock and features a heavy-duty
Throughout the early to mid 1970s, the most common way to
see underground feature films was to visit a ‘storefront theatre.’ Sometimes
referred to as ‘mini-theatres’ or ‘shoebox theatres,’ these small venues were
often converted retail stores armed with nothing more than a couple projectors
and nailed down folding chairs. And, unlike larger houses like the Pussycat
chain, the films screened in these small and cozy spaces were low-budget 16mm
efforts, affectionately known as one-day-wonders.
Hundreds of these theatres dotted the American landscape,
and with them, the most truly independent and underground filmmakers found a
place to exhibit their work.
In this first volume we focus on Los Angeles’ PO-NO
Theatre with 12 examples of LA made films, produced between 1970 and 1973.
Included titles are Huck Walker’s unrelentingly ALL AMERICAN HUSTLER, Anthony
Spinelli’s bizarre vampire comedy SUCKULA, Rik Tazi’ner’s low rent costume
saga, THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF HERCULES, as well as anonymously directed
efforts like CARNAL-GO-ROUND, SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE, HOMER THE LATE COMER, and
the experimental subjective-camera feature, EROTIC POINT OF VIEW, in addition
to five more surprise feature films featuring early genre stars like Rene Bond,
Sandy Dempsey, John Holmes, and more. All films have been scanned in 2k from
rare original theatrical prints to re-create the experience of stumbling into
the PO-NO late one evening and not leaving until dawn the next day.
Directed by: Various
1970-1973 / 740 minutes / Color / 1.33:1
Actors: Rene Bond, John Holmes, Sandy Dempsey, etc, etc…
• All films scanned and restored in 2k from ultra-rare
• Features two bonus short films
Cagney is Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., USN in “The Gallant Hours,”
available on Blu-ray for the first time by Kino Lorber. Affectionately known as
“Bull” Halsey, the movie is a biography of
Halsey told in a semi-documentary style with most of the narration provided by
Robert Montgomery, who introduces people, locations and explains the action
occurring off stage. Montgomery, a distinguished Us Naval officer in WWII, also happens to be the director of the movie
and this is his final effort on film.
movie opens at Halsey’s retirement ceremony, incorrectly stated as 22 November
1945 (Halsey retired from active duty in March 1947). Reflecting in his cabin with
his steward, retiring Chief Petty Officer Manuel Salvador Jesus Maravilla (Leon
Lontoc), the movie flashes back to the Battle of Guadalcanal as Halsey takes
command of American forces in the South Pacific on 16 October 1942. Once he
arrives on board his flag ship, Halsey forms staff and they come up with a strategy
for holding the island and defeating the Japanese. Halsey is a commanding,
straightforward man making the best of grim circumstances, but he’s earned the
respect of the men he commands. At the time the Japanese were still in a strong
position to win the war, but in spite of the odds against them, American forces
prevailed at Guadalcanal making the American victory in the Pacific a turning
point in the war against the Japanese Empire.
movie is unusual in a number of different ways. It has an unconventional score
composed by Roger Wagner, using a choir rather than an orchestra. There is some
incidental music, but according to IMDB, there was a musicians strike during
production and the score is largely sung by the Roger Wagner Chorale. The movie
predates other WWII movies like “Tora! Tora! Tora!” by depicting key figures on
the opposing side in their preparations for battle, which humanizes them in a
thoughtful and sincere way. The movie is unique for a WWII drama as it contains
no actual battle scenes, has no action scenes and relies heavily on the
characters and narrator explaining to the audience what’s going on. Suspense is
created via the radio transmissions and the actions of Halsey and his staff as
they react to the battle. Most of the scenes take place on sets recreating
aircraft and ship interiors with location shooting in San Diego standing in for
Guadalcanal and ship deck scenes. Somehow, it all works and I thoroughly
enjoyed the movie.
film benefits from beautiful black and white photography by Joseph MacDonald
which is filled with scenes of self reflection by Halsey in his spartan
quarters as he listens to radio messages and reacts to news. Cagney gives an
outstanding performance as the grizzled and outspoken Halsey and the movie includes
a wonderful cast of supporting actors with Dennis Weaver in a memorable
performance as Halsey’s aid and pilot, Lieutenant Commander Andrew Jefferson
Lowe III. Richard Jaeckel is also on hand in a brief role as battle weary
pilot, Lt. Commander Roy Webb.
in June 1960 (less than a year after Halsey’s death) by United Artists, the
movie would be one of the last for Cagney. It has been criticized by
nit-pickers for several historical inaccuracies and the viewer should be aware
that the movie takes a few liberties, but these are minor and do not detract
from the story. The film has a 115 minute running time and the Kino Lorber Blu-ray
looks beautiful and sounds terrific. The disc contains the trailer for this and
two other movies as the only extras.
Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher), an up-and-coming young Hollywood studio exec
suggests in a meeting that writers could be eliminated and “any old news story”
could be adapted to provide a movie idea—“it would write itself”—Griffin Mill
(Tim Robbins), the guy at the studio who usually takes story pitches from
screenwriters, replies, “...what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the
writer from the artistic process. If we
could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something
is the satirical tone of The Player,
which is easily my favorite film of 1992. It’s a mystery why it wasn’t
nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but the Academy did honor the film with a
Best Director nod for Robert Altman, Best Adapted Screenplay for Michael Tolkin
(also co-producer), and Best Film Editing (Geraldine Peroni). Like 1950’s Sunset Boulevard, The Player takes potshots at the movie industry and skewers—fairly
Altman obviously had a good time with this one. He had spent the 1980s on the
outs with Hollywood after the 1970s, the years in which Altman enjoyed some of
his greatest acclaim (M*A*S*H, Nashville, among others). He had reason
to exhibit a somewhat cynical attitude toward Tinsel Town, and probably could
have gone further with the acerbic jabs The
Player gives to its subject matter. Instead, Altman plays it cool and
delivers a mildly critical treatise on the way movies are made, and provides a
darned good noir-ish murder mystery as
story involves Mill, superbly played by Robbins, who is receiving death threats
from an unknown screenwriter. Mill thinks he knows who it is, and he goes to
confront the guy (Vincent D’Onofrio). There’s a fight—and Mill accidentally
kills the writer. Mill spends the rest of the movie covering up the crime,
avoiding the police investigating the case (Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett),
and romancing the dead writer’s girlfriend, June (Greta Scacchi). In the
meantime, Mill’s job is threatened by the previously-mentioned Levy, who has
begun to attend meetings to which Mill isn’t invited. The Player is part satire-comedy, part 40’s-style noir (but in color), and all bravura
directed a handful of masterpieces, and this is one of them. Although it’s not
one of his signature “ensemble” films—there are really only six main
characters—the picture arguably could be called his ultimate ensemble film because around sixty celebrities appear as
themselves in cameos (Malcolm McDowell, Cher, Burt Reynolds, Buck Henry, Bruce
Willis, Julia Roberts, Lily Tomlin, Scott Glen, Jack Lemmon, Nick Nolte,
Elliott Gould, Harry Belafonte, and many more). As a testament to the respect
with which they held Altman, these people donated their time as a favor.
movie is also known for its spectacular opening eight minutes, a crane shot
that moves around the studio lot with no cuts, similar to what Orson Welles did
at the beginning of Touch of Evil (1958).
All through The Player, there are
nods and winks to movie insider trivia. The posters on the walls of the studio
offices where Mill works are only classics from the 1930s and 40s, mostly film noir titles, slyly suggesting to
the audience what we’re watching. Altman is really saying, “You’re watching a movie, folks, and we’re going to play it
up.” This is never more evident in the fact that the first thing we see is a
clapboard, and we hear the voice of the director calling, “Action!”
Criterion Blu-ray comes with a new 4K digital restoration that looks fantastic.
It has a 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, and an audio commentary
from 1992 featuring Altman, Tolkin, and cinematographer Jean Lépine.
is a wealth of fascinating supplements. A new documentary on the making of the
film features interviews with Robbins, Tolkin, associate producer David Levy,
and production designer Stephen Altman (the director’s son). The original hour
long press conference from the 1992 Cannes Film Festival is included. There’s a
vintage interview with Altman, as well as a short documentary about the
shooting of the film’s fund-raiser scene that contains many of the cameos. A
helpful gallery of stills from the picture also helps to identify the many
cameo appearances. There are a few deleted scenes and outtakes, and a
deconstruction of the opening shot with alternate commentaries—one by Altman,
and another by Tolkin and Lépine. Trailers and TV
spots round up the extras, along with an essay in the booklet by author Sam
The Player is one for the
history books. As the original Blu-ray is out of print, the new Criterion
edition is a must-have. The film represents Robert Altman’s masterful
“comeback” to Hollywood, and it set him on an even course for the rest of his
book that claims to be a collection of the “best” of something—whether it is a
listing of movies, music, art, and so forth—has to be taken with a grain of
salt. These kinds of things are entirely subjective; although in this case, TCM
(Turner Classic Movies) does have a kind of clout and expertise in the matter.
said, we have this beautifully-designed and illustrated coffee-table trade
paperback that contains not 1000, not 100, not 50... but 52 “essential must-see movies.” TCM’s spokesperson, Robert Osborne,
explains the criteria in his Foreword—“The Essentials” is a weekly Saturday
night event on the television network in which a guest host (the likes of Rob
Reiner, Sydney Pollack, Peter Bogdanovich, Drew Barrymore, and more) introduce
a picture he or she believes is an Essential. The book is a collection of some
of these Essentials, with some sidebar comments by the various hosts who
appeared on the program.
big question is... why 52? Why not an
even 50? Why not 100? Aha! It’s meant to
be a movie-each-week. Fifty-two weeks in a year, one Essential per week.
every single entry in the book is indeed an essential must-see motion picture.
No question about it. Of the 52 included, I personally own 47 of them on DVD or
Blu-ray in my home library and have of course seen the others. Author Jeremy Arnold does a superb job presenting
the reasons why a particular film matters, and it’s not easy to vary
superlatives, which are what it takes to describe these great works of
the ones you expect are there—City Lights,
It Happened One Night, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Casablanca,
Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ in the Rain, Rear Window, The Searchers, Lawrence of
Arabia, Jaws... as well as a few
that I was particularly happy to see listed (Duck Soup, King Kong, Double Indemnity, The Bicycle Thief, Seven
Samurai, Dr. Strangelove, Once Upon a
Time in the West, Annie Hall...).
enough, although after going through the book, one can’t help but think, but what about ___? Why isn’t The Godfather an Essential? 2001: A Space Odyssey? The Wizard of Oz? A Bergman? A Scorsese? A Fellini? I found
myself scratching my head in befuddlement at the lack of some truly significant
mentions. There is also nothing more recent than 1984’s This is Spinal Tap, althoughit’s
understandable that many pictures from the 70s and beyond might not be included
because TCM doesn’t have the rights to broadcast them.
so forget about what’s missing and concentrate on what’s there. Once a reader
decides to do that, then The Essentials is
an entertaining read and, in fact, a lot of fun. Arnold does manage to mention
other titles not contained in the book that may have been influenced by one
that is. The book also has some great stills, both color and black and white.
For a preliminary “bucket list” of must-see
movies, especially for younger aficionados who might want to get a jump start
on their film history class, The
Essentials is a good place to start.
Westerns exist in a surreal alternate universe filled with new landscapes, new
faces, new music, extreme violence and a slightly askew version of the Hollywood
western story that veered into new territory literally and figuratively. The
Spanish desert locations are unfamiliar and surreal filled with gunshots that
ricochet, echo and often sound like cannons. Good and bad men are not as we may
perceive them and behave in unexpected ways. Women and children are treated
harshly and often come to an early demise. Anachronistic cowboys, lawmen,
gunslingers, bandits and outlaws use guns and ammunition that may not have
existed during the period, but somehow it doesn’t really matter. We accept the
juxtaposition whether we are aware of it or not because Spaghetti Westerns are
a fantasy version of the fantasy west created by Hollywood. Hundreds of
Spaghetti Westerns followed the release of Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of
Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and
changed our expectations for the genre.
Maria Volonte and Thomas Milian team up as unlikely allies in “Face to Face,” a
1967 Spaghetti Western available on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The movie opens
with history professor Brett Fletcher (Volonte) announcing to his students that
he’s leaving for Texas due to poor health. In his new life in the desert,
Fletcher looks pale and sickly, spending his days relaxing in the sun with his
mistress (Linda Veras). A stagecoach stops at his hotel with two sheriff
deputies escorting the bandit Solomon “Beauregard” Bennet (Milian). Fletcher
takes pity on Bennet, who takes advantage of the diversion and holds Fletcher as
his hostage and is shot during the escape. When he passes out from his wound, Fletcher
continues to help him escape.
agent Charlie Siringo (William Berger) runs into Bennet and Fletcher and seeks
to infiltrate Bennet’s Raiders by pretending to be an outlaw himself and
eventually succeeds. Fletcher is sent away by Bennet and convinced to return
back home in the East. While waiting for his train in Purgatory City, he sees
Bennet ride into town. Fletcher saves Bennet in a gunfight with about a dozen men
seeking Bennet’s bounty. Joining up with Bennet, they meet up with former
members of Bennet’s Raiders. Bennet is a sort of Robin Hood and the leader of a
large group of people, including women and children, living in the desert. The
women in the group vary from the beautiful Maria (Jolanda Modio) to Cattle
Annie (Carole Andre) who also happens to have a crush on Bennet, but both women
have very little to do other than to represent the Hollywood western tropes of
a mistress and the girl who dresses like a boy. They live a harsh life and are
treated badly, but stand by Bennet and Fletcher.
by the group and their way of life, Fletcher takes an active role as the
raiders rob a train and the passengers. Fletcher comes up with a bank robbery
plan that results in the capture of Bennet, but reveals Siringo as a traitor.
Fletcher takes over the gang running it with an intellectual ruthlessness, his
health improving as his character becomes more outlaw than professor. He leads
the group on a trek across the desert where many are killed by bounty hunters.
Bennet escapes his captors with Siringo hot on his trail and they eventually
meet up with Fletcher for a final showdown.
“Face To Face” takes place during the American Civil War, the movie does not
depict the war in any way other then making reference to it in a few scenes.
Charlie Siringo was a real man and a Pinkerton agent, too, but I suspect the
similarities end there. The movie has political overtones dealing with race,
class, gender and fascism and the 1967 release hints at the escalation of the
Vietnam War, but it can be enjoyed on its own merits as an engaging western.
by Sergio Sollima (“The Big Gundown,” “Run Man Run”), the movie didn’t receive
a theatrical release in America until 1976 which is a pity because it is one of
the better entries in the genre. Fortunately, “Face To Face” is available on Blu-ray
from Kino Lorber and it looks and sounds very good. Volonte is terrific and so are
Milian and Berger. The opening credits are reminiscent of those for “The Good,
the Bad and the Ugly” and the movie includes an outstanding score by Ennio
Morricone. The extra features on the disc include a trailer for another Kino Lorber
release and an option to watch the movie in the original Italian. The Italian
version is not in HD and looks its age, but includes English subtitles and is a
welcome feature for fans of the genre.
Carlos Tobalina was among the most prolific of adult film directors. From the late 1960s through the late 1980s, Tobalina ground out dozens of grind house porn flicks and, no fool he, appeared in any number of them as well, though often not in the sex scenes. What set Tobalina's films apart was the fact that he at least tried to instill some quality and occasional social messages into what was otherwise undistinguished fare. Tobalina, who died at age 64 in 1989, would probably have appreciated the fact that Vinegar Syndrome has been releasing quite a few of his titles in remastered DVD editions that probably look better than they did back in the day. Among these releases is a Tobalina double feature that he directed under one of his alter ego names, Troy Benny. Both of the movies have a common theme in that they star one William Margold, who apparently was quite influential in the adult film industry of the 1980s and is still appearing in sleazy movies today even though he is in his seventies. He is also a social activist, having founded the Free Speech Coalition and established a charity to look after down-and-out veterans of the porn industry. First up in the double feature is "Lust Inferno", a 1982 production in which Margold appears as a corrupt TV evangelist (is there any other kind?). Margold, who is curiously billed as "Mr. William Margold" (not even Orson Welles had that much clout), stars as Rev. Jerry, a charismatic preacher who rips off the suckers in his audience by indulging in the usual fire-and-brimstone sermons. He also "cures" invalids who he pays off in cash backstage after the event. At home, Rev. Jerry is very much a family man, but it's probably not the kind of family most of us could relate to. His wife (Rita Ricardo) is frustrated that the Rev won't indulge in intercourse with her because he believes the act is only for procreation. He does indulge in some other sexual activities with her that are entirely for his satisfaction. Consequently, she goes off to "group therapy" sessions that are actually bi-sexual orgies. Rev. Jerry's oldest daughter, Dora (Tamara Longley) does the same with her teenage friends because dad won't allow her to date anyone. (The effectiveness of that strategy seems to be dubious, at best.) Meanwhile, the youngest daughter, Lucy (Marguerite Nuit) is also finding it hard to deal with her raging hormones. She asks for- and receives- her mother's permission to adopt a disguise and seek work in the local bordello that is run by Madame Blanche (Lina Spencer). What Lucy and no one else in the family knows is that her father is Madame Blanche's best customer. He pays thousands of dollars for S&M sex sessions with Blanche's young hookers. This plot development leads to the film's ironic conclusion in which Reverend Jerry finally pays a terrible price for his immorality- but it also results in a major "Yuck" factor for the viewer. The hardcore scenes are pretty standard for the era with nothing particularly inventive going on but at least director Tobalina attempts to make a statement about the craze for supporting corrupt TV preachers. In fact, he was a bit ahead of his time. Within a few years some of the best-known televangelists would be brought down in their own sex scandals.
The most enjoyable aspect of the presentation is the recent interview with William Margold on a commentary track. Margold describes himself as a blowhard and its difficult to take issue with him. We're all for admiring anyone who takes pride in their work but Margold discusses "Lust Inferno" as though it's a major achievement. He indicates that he based his interpretation of the Reverend on Richard Brooks' 1960 film version of "Elmer Gantry" and says that back in the day he even met Burt Lancaster and correctly predicted he would win an Oscar for the role. The most amusing aspect of the commentary track has Margold, who was obviously watching a sub-standard VHS version prior to the film's restoration for DVD, complain constantly about the poor quality of the tape. He also rails against the fact that the version they are watching is missing key sequences, only to have him proven wrong when they turn up later. Margold, like most of the leading men in this peculiar branch of the film industry, was probably chosen more for his physical attributes than his acting abilities, but he seems to think that his work here is top-notch both. In fact, his performance is par for the course for porn films and there is no indication he possessed any admirable skills outside of the boudoir. Speaking of which, Margold waxes nostalgic about some of his sex partners in the movie, including one woman who became his wife and another who he continues to pine away for because he never appeared in a sex scene with her, sort of like the fisherman who gripes about "the one who got away". Regarding stock footage in the film of real life audiences at televangelist events, Margold chuckles and wonders if they ever knew they would end up in a porn film. It's also quite eye-opening to listen to Margold give the play-by-play for his on-screen antics and to provide opinions about his personal techniques for self-pleasure. Margold may indeed be a blowhard but he makes for an entertaining commentator. You have to admire Vinegar Syndrome for creating some value-added content that is both funny and insightful because it gives you an idea of what the adult film industry was like from the viewpoint of one of its veterans.
The second feature on the DVD is "Marathon", a lazy production even by the low standards one would have expected for the genre. Shot in 1982, it's a quickie that features a lot of major stars from the industry including Ron Jeremy, Jamie Gillis. Sharon Mitchell and John Holmes. The "plot" simply features a large group of swingers who attend a costume party at Gillis's apartment. Everyone is getting it on while attired in crazy costumes when a phone call alerts them that a friend (William Margold) and his wife have been injured in a skiing accident and they are both in the hospital. Deciding to provide the kind of bedside companionship that no doctor would, they all barge into the hospital suite where Margold and his wife are being treated. Here, while still in costume, they resume the orgy. The therapy works as both patients join in the action. The film is played entirely for laughs and is therefore about as erotic as a dip in a pool of ice water.
The transfers of both features look very good with vibrant colors and enough original film stock grain to make you nostalgic for the era.
Cornell Woolrich is a writer whose work was much loved
and cherished by fans of film noir. The
Internet Movie Database lists 102 credits for him for both film and TV
shows—titles including “Rear Window,” “The Bride Wore Black,” “The Night Has a
Thousand Eyes,” “Black Angel,” “Fear in the Night,” and “Phantom Lady,” He
didn’t write any screenplays that I know of. The films and TV shows were all adapted from a prolific output of
stories written under his Woolrich and William Irish pseudonyms, and under his
real name, George Hopley.
While Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M.
Cain make up the Big Three in noir fiction, Woolrich carved out a special niche
for himself. Chandler, and Hammett wrote about tough guy heroes who usually
overcame the web of evil they encountered. Cain’s heroes weren’t always so
lucky, but at least they had a toughness about them that gave them a fighting
chance. Woolrich’s protagonists, on the other hand, were just the opposite.
They were guys or gals not really equipped by experience or temperament to
handle what fate had in store for them, but who tried to do the best they could
to keep their heads above water. There was always a sense of impending,
irrevocable doom, and a surrealistic atmosphere that set his tales apart from
Nowhere was that surreal quality more prominent than in one
particular low-budget feature from Nero Pictures called “The Chase “(1946). Directed by Arthur D. Ripley and adapted by
screenwriter Philip Yordan from Woolrich’s story “The Black Path of Fear,” “The
Chase” stars Robert Cummings as Chuck Scott, a man down on his luck in Miami
who finds the wallet of rich gangster, Eddie Roman, played menacingly by Steve
Cochran. When Chuck knocks on the door
of Roman’s mansion to return the wallet, you’d think he might have been a
little leery when a peep hole opens and we get a glimpse of an eyeball peering
out, and we hear Peter Lorre’s unmistakable voice asking, “What do you want?” Lorre
plays Gino, Roman’s right hand man.
Chuck is the proverbial fly stepping into the spider’s
parlor. For being such an honest guy, Roman hires him as his chauffeur. While
under Roman’s employ he meets the gangster’s wife Lorna, a sad blonde played by
French actress Michelle Morgan. Roman is a mean guy who slaps his wife around
and likes to inflict psychological cruelty, like a kid tearing the wings off of
flies. He likes to be in the driver’s seat too. Literally. In a bit of
weirdness concocted by Yordan, Roman has separate brake and accelerator pedals
in the back of his limo so he can take over when Chuck’s behind the wheel. He
tests Chuck’s tolerance for mental torture by driving the speedometer past 120,
while trying to outrace a train on the tracks ahead. Chuck remains cool and at
the last minute Eddie hits the brake. Roman turns to Gino, who’s looking a
little green around the gills, and says: “Hey, he’s alright.”
Chuck’s main job seems to be chauffeuring Lorna around on
long drives at night. She likes to stop at the beach and go out on a pier and
stare out over the water. Chuck feels sorry for her and besides, she ain’t bad to
look at. She asks Chuck what’s out there and he tells her Cuba, and she says
“Take me.” Despite his fear that Eddie is suspicious, he takes her to Cuba by
ship and no sooner do they stop in a Havana bar for a drink and a quick dance,
when Lorna collapses in his arms with a knife in her back. He’s suspect No. 1,
naturally, but a Cuban cop (Alexis Minotis) gives him a chance to try and
explain his way out of it. And, of course, all he does is get himself into
further trouble. He knows Eddie or Gino did it, but he’s got to get some
evidence. He has to make a break for it. All of this leads up to a really
strange midpoint in the story where suddenly everything takes a wild,
Yordan’s screenplay for “The Chase” plays fast and loose
with Woolrich’s original story, and how much you’ll enjoy the movie may depend
on how much of a Woolrich purist you are. Yordan and producer Seymour Nebenzal changed
the structure of the book. The novel opens with Lorna’s murder and Chucks’
attempts to clear himself. He finds an ally in a Cuban woman whose husband was
killed by cops, and the Miami portion of the story is told in flashbacks. The
restructuring and the new ending that Yordan came up with changed the story
considerably, but by providing a new background element showing Chuck to be a
returning WW II veteran with some psychological problems, it probably seemed
more plausible to audiences in the post- war America of the mid-forties. The
returning vet unable to adapt to a corrupted civilian life became a basic trope
of the genre. “The Chase” is not pure Woolrich but in its own way, it provides an
even more nightmarish finish than the original.
“The Chase” is one of those obscure little movies that
until now has only been available in very poor copies on VHS and DVD. The
picture was so dark and murky you could hardly make out the action in the night
scenes and dialogue was obscured by noise on the soundtrack. But Kino Lorber has
released a newly restored Blu-ray mastered from 35 mm elements preserved by the
UCLA Film & Television Archive. The restored picture is excellent. Contrast
and clarity are first rate, with very few flaws. Franz Planer’s impressionistic
black and white photography is shown off to great effect. The only complaint
might be that some of the interior shots inside Roman’s mansion are now a
little too bright—somewhat jarring for a movie that takes place in the twilit
world of dreams and nightmares. The soundtrack is crystal clear, however, allowing
Michel Michelet’s lush soundtrack to be heard to full advantage.
The 1920 x 1080p disc presents the film in 1:33 full-screen
aspect ratio, and has an informative audio commentary track by Canadian
filmmaker Guy Maddin. (Maddin’s only error is to misidentify Jack Holt, who
plays an Army shrink, as Bruce Cabot). Also included are two radio adaptations
of “The Black Path of Fear,” one starring Cary Grant. Overall, Kino Lorber gets
high marks for “The Chase.” It should be in every film noir lover’s collection.
character makes an excuse for the bad behavior of Dixon Steele, a Hollywood
screenwriter played by Humphrey Bogart, by saying, “He’s a writer—people like
him can afford to be temperamental.”
in the same year as Billy Wilder’s acerbic film
noir attack on Tinsel Town, Sunset
Boulevard, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s similar assault on show business, All About Eve, Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place was nowhere near as
popular—but it was just as scathing. It may not have been a box office success,
but the picture’s reputation has grown considerably over the decades, mainly
because Bogart’s performance as a bitter, angry movie scribe ranks among his
best onscreen personas. But it’s not pretty. The guy has anger management
issues, the likes of which probably had not been seen in a mainstream film
prior to the picture’s release. Dixon Steele is a tinder box ready to explode,
and of course he does, more than once, during the course of the story. Bogart
isn’t afraid to expose a dark side of himself in his portrayal of a man who
has, as his love interest observes, “something wrong with him.”
woman is Laurel, played by Gloria Grahame (who, at the time, was married to the
director). At first she provides an alibi to the police for Steele, who might
be a suspect in a young woman’s murder. After Dixon and Laurel fall in love,
their relationship is a stormy one. As outlined in one the supplements
contained on this new Criterion disk, the “romance” mirrors that of Nicholas
Ray and Gloria Grahame’s—they also had a tempestuous bond. It was so sticky
that Grahame had to sign a contract stating she would agree to follow Ray’s
direction during the making of the film. (And talk about sex scandals... Ray later
caught Grahame in bed with his thirteen-year-old son from a previous marriage.
Grahame eventually married the
step-son after her divorce from both Ray and another spouse in-between!)
the tale revolves around an unsolved murder investigation, In a Lonely Place is really about two lost souls trying to connect.
It’s more of a melodrama than a film noir,
although the stylistic traits of the latter certainly abound. This is not a
pleasant movie; in fact, it’s quite disturbing for a picture from 1950.
Bogart’s Dix Steele is not a likable guy, and yet we watch the train wreck that
is his life with morbid fascination. Why Bogie wasn’t nominated for a Best
Actor Oscar that year is a mystery—perhaps it was because audiences may have
been turned off by the character’s mean-spirited nastiness. Nevertheless, Lonely Place is a remarkable piece of
work, not only from Bogart, but also from Grahame and director Ray.
Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray release features a 2K digital restoration
with an uncompressed soundtrack and a new audio commentary with film scholar
Dana Polan. The noteworthy supplements include a 40-minute excerpt from I’m a Stranger Here Myself, a 1975
documentary about Ray; a revealing new interview with Grahame’s biographer,
Vincent Curcio; a 2002 piece on the making of the movie, featuring filmmaker
Curtis Hanson; a radio adaptation from 1948 of the original Dorothy B. Hughes
novel and starring Robert Montgomery; and the theatrical trailer. An essay by
critic Imogen Sara Smith appears in the booklet.
you like your film noir tough, mean,
and nasty, then In a Lonely Place should
be right up your sleazy alley. At the same time, the tortured romance should
appeal to love-cynics everywhere. It’s so dark, it makes a Bogart/Bacall movie
look like a Tracy/Hepburn flick.
probably difficult for those residing in more liberated territories – where pornography
was something of a matter of fact affair back in the 1970s – to appreciate just
how uptight and repressed Great Britain was in its attitude to sex. There were,
however, voices in the crowd that had the courage to speak out against the establishment's
Draconian stance (though largely without changing very much at the time, it's
sad to say). One of the most famous and outspoken of those voices was that of model-
cum -actress Mary Millington. Hers is a name that may not mean much to anyone
outside the United Kingdom, but few of those old enough to remember her rise to
superstar status during the 70s would dispute that in the latter half of that
decade she was nothing short of a sensation. Yet how could that possibly be so in
a country where the authorities vehemently reviled and sought to crush the
adult entertainment industry out of existence? Respectable: The Mary Millington Story, an enthralling new feature length
documentary, provides the answer to that and many more questions.
brainchild of writer/producer/director Simon Sheridan (whose lavish book
"Come Play with Me: The Life and Films of Mary Millington" is absolutely
essential reading), over the course of some 110-minutes this definitive work
documents Mary's meteoric rise from underground hard-core loops through
celebrated softcore Brit sex comedies and on to a level of national celebrity
which found her rubbing shoulders with some of the most prolific figures of the
career in the adult entertainment industry had kicked off at the start of the
decade with a clutch of hard-core loops shot in Europe, among them the famous
German short Miss Bohrloch (for which
she was paid the equivalent of almost £4000 by today's money). Few of them were
easily obtainable in the UK at the time though, for distribution of such
material was illegal. But if one knew where to go such things were available
“under the counter”, or if one were prepared to chance it they could be
acquired via the slew of mail order advertisements that appeared in adult
liked to say that she was born respectable…but didn't let that spoil her life! Truer words were seldom spoken. However, that
life certainly wasn't an easy one. Though no striking beauty, she exuded a
provocative “attainable” girl next door appeal and even at the very height of
her fame never shied away from making herself accessible to her admirers. However,
said accessibility plus her unabashed, enthusiastic attitude to sex – moreover
a willingness to pose for and perform explicit sexual acts in front of a camera
– might have built her a huge fan base across the nation, but it also brought
her to the attention of the country's moral guardians. At the time Mary's
magazine spreads for publisher David Sullivan were helping him shift around a
million copies a month, and made her an obvious target for the crusaders’ puritanical
wrath. One of them was the infamous Mary Whitehouse whose ardent campaign to
sanitise British television diversified when she set her beady sights on the
porn industry. Sullivan delighted in tweaking the tiger’s tail, and among his
raft of adults-only titles was the cheekily-monikered "Whitehouse".
the mid-70s onwards Mary Millington shook the dust of hard-core films from her
shoes, and while continuing to model for magazine photoshoots – many of the
images in Sullivan’s titles pushing the limits of what UK laws would permit –
she also edged towards the less controversial environs of the silver screen,
popping up in softcore comedies such as Eskimo
Nell (1975) and Keep It Up Downstairs
(1976). It was Sullivan, when he moved into filmmaking, who really put Mary
on the map, featuring her in what was (and still is) the highest grossing
British sex film of all time, Come Play
With Me (1977). Although she didn't have a huge amount to do – she shared the
screen with a bevy of other models, who appear both in and out of their sexy
nurses uniforms – the film was always intended as a vehicle for Mary and she
was the focal point of its advertising campaign, which promised some the
strongest viewing material ever seen on British screens. This was gilding the
lily somewhat, to put it mildly. Although some fruitier footage had been shot
for overseas versions (but never saw the light of day), the British cut of Come Play With Me was in fact little
more than an amiable Carry On style
farce decorated with copious (but inoffensive) nudity and populated by a collective
of familiar British character actors, among them Irene Handl, Alfie Bass and
Ronald Fraser. Nevertheless, the film was a huge success, and went on to run
continuously at one of London's Soho cinemas for five years. Extensive
promotion took Mary to major cities across the UK, her adventures paraded in
the pages of Sullivan's magazines and increasing her popularity at a phenomenal
was the box office success of Come Play With
Me that for his next feature, The
Playbirds (1978), Sullivan planted Mary firmly centre stage, cheekily having
her play a police officer who goes undercover in the sex industry to expose a
killer. The film again starred a bunch of Brit film and TV stalwarts, including
Windsor Davies, Derren Nesbitt, Glynn Edwards and Kenny Lynch.
actors have occupied the role of Sherlock Holmes over the decades, some more suited
to the shoes of author Arthur Conan Doyle's famous consulting detective than
others. One of the finest portrayals is that by Ian Richardson. Yet, sadly, his
is also one that is often overlooked, not leastways because he played the
character just twice (in a pair of 1983 films made for television), but also
because his light was to be quickly eclipsed a year later by the arrival on TV
screens of Jeremy Brett, whose interpretation of Holmes is considered by many
to be the definitive one.
Weintraub – who produced several Tarzan movies throughout the 60s and was executive
producer on the popular long-running Ron Ely TV series –teamed up with Otto
Plaschkes (whose producer credits include Georgie
Girl and The Holcroft Covenant)
with the intention of making several Holmes adventures headlining Richardson. But
when it became apparent that Granada TV was to launch its own series starring
Brett, their plans were abandoned in a rights furore that resulted in a
substantial out of court settlement in Weintraub’s favour. The two films that
Weintraub and Plaschkes did bring to
realisation were The Hound of the Baskervilles
and The Sign of Four, two of only
four full-length Holmes novels written by Conan Doyle. Both were shot on exquisite
sets constructed at England's Shepperton Studios and include some splendid
location work utilising the likes of Devonshire country house Knightshayes
Court (doubling for Baskerville Hall) and London's River Thames (with some canny
employ of theatrical smog to abet the disguise of non-period background
The Hound of the
Baskervilles is probably the most famous of all Holmes's adventures
and one of the most filmed. Yet it is also one that largely sidelines the great
detective from the action for its middle third. The familiar plot finds our detective
investigating death believed connected to a centuries old family curse and the
legend of a demonic canine that allegedly haunts the eerie fog-wreathed
moorlands surrounding the Baskerville estate.
by Charles Edward Pogue (whose later work included David Cronenberg’s remake of
The Fly) and directed by Douglas
Hickox (whose CV includes such 70s screen favourites as Brannigan and Theatre of
Blood), like many before and since this isn't verbatim Conan Doyle. But
that certainly doesn't detract from its worth as a cracking piece of
entertainment. It's handsomely staged (the foreboding moors, awash with
swirling fog, are at night as effectively nightmarish a Grimpen Mire as ever
brought to the screen), with lush production values that completely belie its
TV movie origins. It also boasts hands down the best depiction of the spectral,
yellow-eyed titular beast to date.
however, it benefits from an endearingly charismatic central performance from
Ian Richardson; in many scenes the actor bears a startling resemblance to this
writer's favourite Holmes, Basil Rathbone. Donald Churchill's interpretation of
faithful ally Dr John Watson leans towards a bumbling nature that irks purists
and doesn't rank as one of the more noteworthy, while Martin Shaw's Sir Henry Baskerville
is hindered by horrible dubbing. Nevertheless, add in a marvellous assembly of supporting
players – including Denholm Elliott (who'd previously appeared in 1978's woeful
spoof version of the story), Glynis Barber, Ronald Lacey (as Inspector
Lestrade), Eleanor Bron, Connie Booth, Brian Blessed and Edward Judd – and
Hickox's film is markedly one of the most star-spangled versions of the
The Sign of Four is comparatively
a slightly more grounded and sedate affair, though at least Richardson's Holmes
get more screen time. Again adapted from Conan Doyle’s novel by Charles Edward Pogue,
more so than Hound it takes dramatic
liberties with its source narrative (rearranging events and introducing new,
slightly superfluous material), yet also in keeping with its predecessor it is
hugely enjoyable. Directed by Desmond Davis (Clash of the Titans), this one finds Holmes following a trail of murders
born of a broken pact between thieves relating to a treasure of precious
gemstones and jewellery.
Healy steps in as a fine Watson (though again the character is played as a
little more maladroit than his literary self) and there are strong turns by
Thorley Walters (who previously played Watson twice, opposite Christopher Lee’s
and Douglas Wilmer’s Sherlocks respectively, in 1962’s The Valley of Fear and 1975 screwball comedy The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother) and Cherie Lunghi
as the delectable Mary Morstan (who, in the novel – but not here – gets engaged
to Watson). But overall this is a less starry affair than Hound. All the same, there are nice performances from Terence Rigby
as Inspector Layton (a curious name switch, for he's clearly meant to be
Lestrade), Joe Melia as the despicable peg-legged villain of the piece and John
Pedrick as his savage sidekick.
Hound before it, The Sign of Four boasts a rich cinematic mien that bests many actual big screen Holmes adventures.
one can certainly lament that Ian Richardson made only these two Holmes movies,
that they're both exceptionally good is reward enough. And both are now available
on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Second Sight, each with a bonus audio
commentary from Holmes enthusiast David Stuart Davies. The 4K restoration for
the Blu-rays is quite honestly breathtaking; one can scarcely believe that 33-year-old
TV movies could look so good. There is, however, a caveat: the 1.78:1 aspect
ratio presentation of the two films. Back in 1983 they were shot for then-standard
4:3 television format and the decision to force fit the image to modern widescreen
TV sets has played merry havoc with the composition in some shots, at its most
injurious when the tops of heads are rudely shorn off. It’s more noticeable in The Sign of Four than in The Hound of the Baskervilles but it’s a
frequent distraction just the same. This disappointment aside though, these
releases can't come more heartily recommended, both to Holmes fans (who will
snap them up regardless of any perceived shortcomings remarked upon here) and
those who simply enjoy a good solid evening’s entertainment.
A shot from The Sign of Four in its original 4:3 aspect ratio.
The same shot as presented on Second Sight’s 1.78:1 aspect DVD and Blu-ray release.
should be noted that the Blu-ray release is coded Region B and the DVD is Region
2. The films are also being made available for download and on-demand in both
standard and high definition.
Popular character actor William Schallert has died at age 93, having been active in the acting community right up through recent years. Schallert was a familiar face to retro movie and TV fans, even if his name was not as well known. He is remembered by many for playing the harried father of teenage Patty Duke in the 1960s sitcom "The Patty Duke Show". (In a tragic coincidence, Ms. Duke also recently passed away.) Schallert was much beloved by science fiction and horror fans for his appearances in TV series such as "Commander Cody", "Space Patrol", "Men Into Space" and "The Twilight Zone".
Artist Pete Emslie's tribute to Schallert. (For more of Emslie's artistic creations, visit The Cartoon Cave.)
In feature films Schallert appeared in the cult classics "Them!", "The Incredible Shrinking Man", "Colossus: The Forbin Project" as well as the 1983 feature film "Twilight Zone: The Movie". Schallert also appeared in director Joe Dante's sci-fi homages "Matinee" and "Innerspace". He also served for two years as President of the Screen Actors Guild during the contentious period of 1979-1981 and was replaced by Ed Asner, who challenged his bid for re-election.For more about his long career click here.
In 1972, writer Grover Lewis dared to venture where many other men met their Waterloo: onto the set of a Sam Peckinpah movie in an attempt to interview the cantankerous director. The film was "The Getaway" starring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. Lewis's piece for Rolling Stone is a true classic of film journalism, detailing how the elusive Peckinpah initially avoided him at all costs, leaving Lewis to get the essence of the man from the film's supporting actors and crew. Ultimately, he got to speak with the man himself and discovers why Peckinpah was very much like the macho wildmen who were often portrayed in his films. Click here to read the original interview, now presented by the Daily Beast.
(For extensive coverage of "The Getaway", see Cinema Retro issue #3).
MGMhas released the 1970 Western Cannon For Cordoba as part of their burn-to-DVD line. This is yet another film that was written off as "run of the mill" at the time of its initial release but probably plays far better today when Westerns are scare commodities. The film is clearly designed to capitalize on movies such as The Professionals and The Wild Bunch, and while it certainly isn't in the league of those classics, it's a consistently engrossing and highly entertaining horse opera. Set in 1916, when the US was embroiled in assisting the Mexican government in suppressing "revolutionaries" who were really bandits, the plot centers on a crime kingpin named General Coroba (well played with charm and menace by Raf Vallone), who launches an audacious raid on American General Pershing's troops and succeeds in stealing a number of valuable cannons that will make him almost invulnerable to attack once they have been installed at his remote mountaintop fortress retreat. George Peppard is Captain Douglas, a hard-bitten and insolent cavalry officer in Pershing's command who is sent on a virtual suicide mission to infiltrate Cordoba's compound, blow up the cannons and kidnap the general. Imagine The Guns of Navarone with sombreros. He takes along the standard rag-tag team of tough guys which includes Peter Duel and the always-reliable Don Gordon, seen here in one of the most prominent roles of his career. That old chestnut of a plot device is introduced: Gordon has sworn to kill Peppard at the end of the mission for allowing his brother to be tortured to death by Cordoba.
The group pretends they are American sympathizers to the revolution and succeed in infiltrating the compound with the help of Leonora (comely Giovanna Ralli), who intends to seduce the general and then betray him in revenge for having raped her years before. The film is as gritty as it gets, and as in the Sergio Leone Westerns, there is a very thin line that separates the villains from the heroes. Peppard is in full Eastwood mode, chomping on omnipresent cigars and saying little. He betrays no sentiment and is almost as cruel as the criminal he seeks to bring to justice.
Director Paul Wendkos keeps the action moving at a fast clip and there is at least one very surprising plot device that adds considerable suspense to the story. The action sequences are stunningly staged and quite spectacular, and it's all set to a very lively and enjoyable score by Elmer Bernstein. Cannon for Coroba may not be a classic, but it's consistently well-acted and will keep you entertained throughout.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer
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Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Film hisotiran Bruce Crawford's 38th salute to classic
cinema and a 60th anniversary
tribute to Cecil B. DeMille's classic epic The Ten
Commandments will be Friday May 27th, at 7pm at the Joslyn Art Museums'
Witherspoon Hall theater 2200 Dodge St Omaha Nebraska.
Special guests, Miss Holly Heston, daughter of screen legend
and star of the film, Charlton Heston and actress Kathy Garver who portrayed
young Rachel in the film. Kathy is best known as Cissy from the classic TV
series Family Affair. Artist Nicolosi will have a United States Post Office
Commemorative Envelope honoring the film and Charlton Heston and the legendary
director of the film, Cecil B DeMille, unveiled at the event.
Tickets on sale May 4th at all Omaha only Hy Vee stores
customer service counters
Sony has released Walter Hill's 1975 directorial debut, Hard Times, on on DVD through their Sony Choice Collection. Hill was an up-and-coming screenwriter with Peckinpah's The Getaway to his credit as well as solid thrillers like The Drowning Pool, The Mackintosh Man and Hickey and Boggs. There is no evidence in Hard Times that Hill was a novice behind the camera, either. This is one of my favorite films of the period, though many retro movie fans probably haven't seen it. The story is set in 1933. Chaney (Charles Bronson) is a middle-aged drifter who ends up crossing paths with Speed (James Coburn), a fast-talking promoter of "street fights" (no holds barred matches between local tough guys with no rules or regulations). Needing some quick cash, the soft-spoken, low-key Chaney forms a partnership with the mercurial Speed. In his first match, they win big when Chaney knocks the local champ out cold with one punch. They gravitate to New Orleans where Speed can put together some high stakes fights. They are joined by Poe (Strother Martin) an amiable quasi-doctor (he had two years of medical school) with a penchant for opium but who is skilled at patching up bruised and beaten fighters. Chaney quickly becomes a local legend and draws the attention of a local fight promoter/kingpin who insists that Chaney fight a seemingly invincible slugger he has imported from Chicago. When Chaney refuses, the kingpin kidnaps Speed and holds him hostage until Chaney shows up for the high stakes fight. The script, co-written by Hill, is a prime example of how less can be more, at least in terms of dialogue. Bronson says very little during the film, but conveys much emotion with a nod of the head, the blinking of his eyes or a wry smile. This is evident in Chaney's relationship with a local down and out woman (Jill Ireland), who he basically sees for easy sex. When she presses him to convert their trysts into a meaningful relationship, Chaney simply walks out. No drama. No speeches. Similarly, the superb performances of Bronson, Coburn and Martin seem inspired by the Sam Peckinpah school of men sticking together no matter what. When Speed is kidnapped, Chaney initially refuses to help him. He correctly points out that Speed is responsible for his own reckless behavior that sees him make enemies of the wrong people and foolishly gamble away money as fast as he earns it. Yet, in a crunch, Chaney comes to his partner's aid. There is no fanfare between Chaney and Speed, who knows that, by appearing for the bout, Chaney has saved his life. Instead, just a quick handshake a "thank you." By de-emphasizing overtly sentimental gestures and dialogue, Hill makes the relationship between the trio even more moving.
Hill and his co-writers pack a lot of memorable scenes into the film's scant 93 minute running time. Aided by editor Roger Spottiswood (another future director) and cinematographer Philip Lathrop, Hill makes every frame of the film count. There isn't a slow moment or a meaningless line of dialogue. Clearly the highlights are the action sequences. This is Fight Club for the Baby Boomer generation. Bronson, who was in his 50s at the time, performs all of his own gut-wrenching fight scenes, along with co-stars Robert Tessier and Nick Dimitri. They are brutal affairs that will quickly convince you that these men are actually beating each other up. The stunt coordination is among the best I've seen in any film. The film's more whimsical sequences are aided immeasurably by Barry DeVorzon's addictive score.
With Hard Times, Bronson reached the pinnacle of his acting career. It's wonderful to see him reunited with Coburn, his co-star from The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. However, Coburn became even more interesting as an actor as he grew older whereas Bronson grabbed for the low-hanging fruit and began to concentrate primarily on by-the-numbers action movies. The film remains a testament to his abilities as an actor- and credit Walter Hill for bringing those out in full force.
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Peck is a Canadian fighter pilot serving with the British RAF in WWII Burma in
“The Purple Plain,” a 1954 military drama available on Blu-Ray for the first
time by Kino Lorber. After losing his wife (Josephine Griffin seen in
flashbacks) during an air raid by the German Luftwaffe in London, Squadron
Leader Bill Forrester (Peck), displacing his grief with a death wish, begins a
mission to kill as many of the enemy as possible, flying every dangerous
bombing run he can against the Japanese. He doesn’t care if he lives or dies
and has developed a reputation by members of his group as being unstable and
prone to get others killed. He insists on a short turnaround with repairs to
his Mosquito Bomber so he can return to combat as soon as possible. Time off consists
of sweating from the relentless heat and fever dreams brought on by countless
fatigued, but with an outstanding record of success, Forrester gets the
attention of his senior officer, Group Captain Aldridge (Anthony Bushell), and
the flight doctor, Dr. Harris (Bernard Lee) who believe Forrester is nearing a
breakdown. They decide Forrester should have some time off and Dr. Harris takes
him to a local village where he checks on the medical care of some of the people
and brings them food. Harris introduces Forrester to an eccentric missionary, Miss
McNab (Brenda de Banzie), and her assistant, the beautiful Anna (Win Min Than),
a local Burmese woman. Both women run the school and help the local people with
medical care, food rations and anything else they can offer. Anna is drawn to
Forrester as he shares his painful past, he begins making regular trips to see
Anna. Ultimately, they fall in love.
at the base we meet Blore (Maurice Denham) who shares Forrester’s tent and they
are joined by Forrester’s new navigator, Carrington (Lyndon Brook). Blore is an
annoying man who shares all his opinions on everything including Forrester’s
reputation as a man who gets others killed. Forrester is harsh with others
including his mechanics and the newly arrived Carrington. Their first mission
together is rather routine, flying Blore to his new assignment. Forrester has a
reason to live again and longs to rejoin Anna. The movie gets interesting and
takes a turn as a survival tale after both engines catch fire and their plane
crash lands behind enemy lines. Carrington is badly burned and must be carried
in a stretcher, but with a new found will to live, Forrester is determined to
get all three of them to safety. With no food and little water, they cross the
desolate plains of Burma by night and sleep by day.
insists they should have remained at the sight of the crash in the hope they
will be rescued. He maintains Forrester is taking another risk and is going to kill
all of them. The crossing is incredibly treacherous and the landscape is
desolate with nothing to offer other than relentless heat, craggy cliffs and
little shade. Blore grumbles and complains, but continues to carry on until he
slips down a cliff and breaks his collar bone. After seeing a plane fly over,
Blore departs while Forrester and Carrington are sleeping and heads for the
wreckage of their crashed plain to await rescue. Forrester heads out to find
Blore and return him before nightfall, but finds Blore has suffered a tragic
fate. He returns and carries Carrington on his back, more determined than ever.
Purple Plain” is an outstanding mixture of survival story, love story and WWII
adventure in exotic Burma. We never see the enemy, but the real conflict is
within Forrester and Peck is very good at doing battle with himself. We see his
change from battle fatigued suicidal risk taker, to a man who discovers life is
worth living. Bernard Lee is a welcome supporting player bringing a nice
balance to the movie and Brenda de Banzie is memorable as Miss McNab. Maurice
Denham is good as the doomed Blore and Lyndon Brook is also impressive as
Carrington. Win Min Than is beautiful as Anna, but I never quite understood her
attraction to Forrester other than her desire to nurture him. She always looks
as though she’s on the verge of tears and is almost too serious and morose at
times, but this is a minor concern. After all, she has experienced her own
Rank production released in the US by United Artists, the movie was directed by
the able Robert Parrish with outstanding cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth
and editing by soon-to-be director Clive Donner. The movie was filmed on
location in Sri Lanka, standing in for Burma. This film is a gem which rarely
played on TV when I was discovering classic movies and is a welcome release in
HD. The movie looks and sounds very good and extras include the trailers for
three other Kino blu-ray releases including Peck’s “On the Beach” and “Billy
Two Hats” as well as another Parrish effort, “The Wonderful Country.”
the most informed of Stanley Kubrick fans will know that Emilio D’Allesandro was,
in short, the filmmaker’s personal assistant, driver, builder, repairman,
cleaner, organizer, cook, amateur vet, house-sitter, pet-sitter, babysitter,
and confidante for thirty years. D’Allesandro probably knew Stanley Kubrick better
than anyone outside of the director’s own family. In many way, he was a part of the Kubrick family.
Stanley Kubrick and
a magnificent memoir that was first published in Italy in 2012. The English
translation, by Simon Marsh, is now available and is a must for Kubrick fans.
There have been numerous books about Kubrick—he’s likely the second most
written-about director after Hitchcock—but these tomes are typically about the
films themselves (analyses, the makings of, and so forth). There have been a
couple of biographies, notably one by Vincent LoBrutto, but these fail to
present Kubrick’s personal life in any substantial way—they rely on hearsay and
interviews by other people and are inadequate in that regard. Emilio
D’Allesandro knew Kubrick in such an
intimate way that he was in the perfect position to tell the world exactly what
the director was like as a man.
began working for Kubrick in 1970, just as A
Clockwork Orange was at the end of shooting and beginning the editing
stage. He therefore was behind-the scenes for all the subsequent pictures—Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal
Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, as
well as the development of discarded projects like A.I.—Artificial Intelligence, and Aryan Papers. There are chapters in the book devoted to
D’Allesandro’s work on all of these, but the bulk of the memoir is more about
the rapport and camaraderie between the two men in-between productions.
example, D’Allesandro talks about Kubrick’s love of animals—at one time there
were nearly ten dogs and just as many cats in the Kubrick household. The
filmmaker’s devotion to his animals bordered on obsessive compulsive disorder.
The same is true about his three daughters. When Katharina, Anya, or Vivian
finally grew old enough to leave the family home and go out on their own,
Kubrick was a “concerned dad” to a painful, but endearing, degree. There was a
lot of: “Oh, since you’re going to be in the city, could you possibly drop in
on Vivian and make sure she’s okay?”
author also goes into how Kubrick’s brain worked in “compartments,” that the
man was capable of multi-tasking unlike anyone the assistant had ever known.
D’Allesandro had to take it upon himself to organize Kubrick’s many-faceted
projects, ideas, and paperwork so that anyone else—and Kubrick himself—could
in opposition to the unflattering accounts in the press that speculated that
the filmmaker was a mad “recluse” or a “hermit,” the author provides solid
evidence that all this was nonsense. “In the collective imagination,”
D’Allesandro writes, “Stanley Kubrick was a kind of ogre. A misanthrope, who
lived alone in his castle, isolated from the world. Stanley was quite the
opposite: he was an altruistic man, capable of generosity without the need for recognition,
an artist who valued his privacy because it allowed him to devote himself to
what he cared about most of all: his family, his animals, and the cinema.”
Stanley Kubrick and
a beautiful picture of a genius who had perhaps the most unique arrangement for
making films in all of cinema history. The book is not only essential reading for fans of the director, but for
film buffs as well.
Following the release in March of ‘A Man
Called Gannon’ (1968), Simply Media in the UK continue to release more
Universal-International westerns, this time of 1940s and ‘50s vintage. The new
releases, out on 18 April, are ‘Calamity Jane & Sam Bass’ (1949), ‘Cattle
Drive’ (1951) and ‘Black Horse Canyon’ (1954). This trio of films are literally
‘Horse Operas’, with the accent on thoroughbred steeds and their importance and
role in the working west. Be they cattle drovers, stock breeders or outlaws,
where would any of them be without the horse? The answer, of course, is
I’ll review the DVDs in the order I watched
them. First up is ‘Cattle Drive’, a 1951 western directed by Kurt Neumann.
Chester Graham Jnr (Dean Stockwell), the spoilt, arrogant son of railroad
magnet Chester Graham Snr (Leon Ames), is accidentally left behind when the
train he is travelling on makes a water stop. Lost in the arid desert, he is
rescued by Dan Mathews (Joel McCrea), the ramrod on a cattle drive to Santa Fe.
The boy joins the trek, reluctantly at first, and eventually learns to respect
his elders, whilst also learning how to become a proficient cowhand and bronc
buster. When they arrive at the trail’s end, the boy – who has been christened
Chet by the drovers – has become so enamoured of Dan and life on the range that
he’s reluctant to re-join his father and civilisation.
As you’d expect from the material, there are similarities
here with such films as ‘Red River’ (starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift)
and ‘Cattle Empire’ (also starring Joel McCrea) and the television series that
grew out of the latter, ‘Rawhide’, which made a TV star of Clint Eastwood. On the cattle drive, there’s a chuck wagon
stocked with vittles driven by an irascible cook (was there any other type on
cattle drives?) as played by Chill Wills, as ‘old pot walloper’ Dallas. There’s
a sense of the workaday west, with the drovers routine depicted romantically,
but also to a degree realistically. The trail drivers diet of beans and more
beans will make you think of the famous campfire scene in ‘Blazing Saddles’
(1974). In a rather fanciful moment, a rogue black stallion runs off the
remuda, the herd of horses the drovers use as their steeds. But there’s nothing
fanciful about the scene where the destructive power of a cattle stampede is
depicted, after one drover accidently spooks the steers with a rifle shot.
Unusually for a 1950s western, there’s no
female lead – in fact there are no women in ‘Cattle Drive’ at all. McCrea,
always a reliable screen cowboy, and young Stockwell (perhaps known to most
from the sci-fi TV series ‘Quantum Leap’) make an appealing team. Though Dan is
the ramrod, Cap (Howard Petrie) is trail boss. Among the drovers are
troublemaker Jim Currie (Henry Brandon – Chief Scar in ‘The Searchers’) and
Charlie Morgan aka Careless (B-western star Bob Steele). Other drovers were
played by reliable stuntmen Emile Avery, Carol Henry, James Van Horn and Chuck
Roberson, who handle the ridin’ and ropin’ with aplomb. The film was shot in
spectacular Technicolor on location in Death Valley National Park, California,
and also in the distinctive hilly backdrop and red dust of Paria, Utah, which
has been used as the memorable setting for such westerns as ‘The Outlaw Josey
Wales’, ‘Ride in the Whirlwind’, ‘Sergeants 3’ and ‘Duel at Diablo’. Listen out
for the traditional cowboy ballad ‘Ten Thousand Cattle Gone’ at various points
in the film, either in orchestrations, or whistled, sung or hummed by the
cowhands. This was reputedly one of McCrae’s favourites of his own films and
his easy-going, hard-riding Dan is the epitome of a 1950s Hollywood western
hero. At one point, Dan races his horse Blaze against Currie’s steed Lightning,
but it’s Dan’s pursuit and taming of jet-black wild mustang Outlaw that
provides the film with its best moments. Outlaw himself was played by Highland
Dale, who as we shall see had a busy schedule in the 1950s.
George Sherman’s ‘Calamity Jane & Sam
Bass’ (1949) also features horse racing as a key plot component. Sam Bass
(Howard Duff), a farm boy from Indiana, arrives in the Texan town of Denton and
wins a stake by betting on Calamity Jane’s horse Thunderbolt, against the
seemingly invincible Denton Mare in a big horse race. This supposed biopic is
as romanticised and inaccurate as they come, as it depicts Bass’s descent in
outlawry. After the race, Sam manages to buy the Denton Mare and joins a cattle
drive to Abilene. En route Sam races the Mare against various cowboys’ steeds
and wins money, but in Abilene town tyrant Harry Dean (Marc Lawrence) wins a
high-stakes horse race by poisoning the Mare. The drovers have put their entire
savings, plus all the proceeds they had from the cattle sale, on the Denton Mare
to win. When they realise they have been tricked, Sam and his friends hold up
the stage that Dean is travelling on, to take back their money and an outlaw gang
Throughout the story, Sam is torn between two
women – lovely storekeeper Kathy Egan (Dorothy Hart), the sister of Denton
sheriff Will Egan (Willard Parker) and altogether livelier Calamity Jane, as
colourfully played by Yvonne De Carlo. De Carlo looks tremendous when she
arrives on screen here, in a fringed buckskin outfit and wearing bright red
lippy. She reappears at various points in Sam’s life, even saving him from jail
and lending him her horse to make his escape, as he becomes a fugitive – albeit
as an innocent victim of injustice. It’s a shame she’s not onscreen more, as Calam
is the film’s best ingredient, predating Doris Day’s more famous portrayal of
the frontierswoman by four years. Despite occasional flashes of realism, this
is an idealised Hollywood western, with colourful costumes and perfect
landscapes highlighted in magnificent photography. The big race in Abilene was
filmed at Kanab Rodeo Grounds (aka Kanab Racetrack) in Utah, with many
sequences filmed in the Kanab landscape, including Kanab Canyon and the sets at
Kanab Movie Ranch. Other scenes were filmed at the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth,
California (the bank robbery scene) and Red Rock Canyon State Park, at Cantil,
California. In supporting roles, Lloyd Bridges played cattle trail boss Joel
Collins, Houseley Stevenson was irascible cook Dakota and Norman Lloyd was
Sam’s eventual betrayer Jim Murphy (that morsel at least was based on fact). Some
of the cattle drive sequences are very familiar, as it’s stock footage lifted from
Woods plays a down on his luck con artist who teams up with retired fighter
Louis Gossett, Jr. to score a huge win against a local mob boss in a high
stakes boxing match in “Diggstown,” now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
Michael Ritchie directs an impressive cast in this entertaining 1992 comedy.
However, the MGM release never found its audience and underperformed at the box
office upon its release.
movie opens in Winfield Prison, Olivair County Georgia, where a fight is taking
place in the common area with the full knowledge of the prison guards and Warden
Bates (Marshall Bell). Wolf Forrester (Randall “Tex” Cobb) is fighting Minoso
Torres (Alex Garcia) as Gabriel Caine (Woods) helps an inmate escape. Wolf ends
up in the prison hospital after losing the fight and he and Gabe discuss their
plans as fighter and promoter after they’re released. The warden threatens Gabe
after the escape, assuming correctly that Gabe had something to do with it, but
he has no proof. The warden and Gabe trade insults as Gabe is released from
meets with and makes a deal with mobster Orestes Matacena (Victor Corsini) who
agrees to back Gabe in a con aimed at local Diggstown businessman John Gillon
(Bruce Dern) in a high stakes boxing match. Gabe’s pal and fellow con artist
Fitz (Oliver Platt) sets the stage for the con at a local Diggstown pool hall by
winning a bet including the classic Corvette belonging to Gillon’s son, a
recent gift from his father. Fitz, seeing a poster of the town’s namesake
Charles Macum Diggs, brags that Diggs pales in comparison to “Honey” Roy Palmer
which predictably angers the locals. It turns out Diggs is well known not only
as a boxing champ, but for defeating five men in one day. Gillon turns up as
does Gabe who bets “Honey” Palmer can defeat 10 men in one day.
problem now is for Gabe to convince “Honey” Palmer (Louis Gossett, Jr.), a
48-year old retired fighter, to commit to the fight. He agrees and the bet
jumps to a quarter million dollars as Gabe and Gillon agree on the terms.
“Honey” will fight 10 men in 24 hours, and all his opponents must reside within
has other unfinished business in town and has to pay a promised visit with
Wolf’s dogs. He also meets Wolf’s sister, Emily Forrester (Heather Graham in an
early movie), who is suspicious of Gabe and quickly figures out his con. In the
days before the fight, Wolf arrives in town dead, delivered by the prison in a
wooden crate. The bet jumps as “Honey” completes his fight training and the
fighters and spectators assemble for the big event. Near the end of the fight
the bet jumps to a million and a half with the property owned by Gillon on the
fights are predictable with easy and hard fought wins as “Honey” wins against
guys with names like Tank Miller and Hammerhead Hagen. By the final fight a ringer
is brought in by the prison warden, Minoso Torres, who is eager to see Gabe
lose. Gillon isn’t above using his own son to win the bet and the movie comes
to a satisfying, if predictable, conclusion.
movie is based on the novel “The Diggstown Ringers” by Leonard Wise with a
screenplay by Steven McKay. The original title of the film, “Midnight Sting,”
appears during the opening credits on this disc. My suspicion is that the
studio didn’t quite know how to market this comedy which is equal parts boxing comedy
and con artist thriller.
has very little to do in the film other than look good in shorts and disappears
completely 76 minutes into the 98 minute movie after being asked to take a recent
victim of Gillon’s thugs to the hospital. Platt has little screen time after
his comic turn setting the stage for the con in the pool hall and the movie is
basically a three man showcase for Woods, Gossett and Dern.
Kino Lorber release looks and sounds terrific with a nice score by James Newton
Howard. Extras on the disc include a making of featurette and trailers for this
and another Ritchie comedy, “The Couch Trip.” This easy going comedy is
predictable and may have benefitted from a larger role for Heather Graham, but
is recommended for the enjoyable cast.
The first African-American to direct a major film for a Hollywood studio was Gordon Parks, whose feature film debut "The Learning Tree" was released in 1969. Parks may have shattered the glass ceiling but there wasn't a tidal wave of opportunities that immediately opened for other minority filmmakers, in part because there were so few with any formal training in the art. One beneficiary of Parks' achievement was Ossie Davis, who was internationally respected as a well-rounded artist. He was a triple threat: actor, director and writer but his directing skills had been relegated to the stage. In 1970 Davis co-wrote the screenplay for and directed "Cotton Comes to Harlem", a major production for United Artists. The film was based on a novel by African-American writer Chester Himes and proved to be pivotal in ushering in what became known as the Blaxploitation genre. In reality, it's debatable whether "Cotton" really is a Blaxploitation film. While most of the major roles are played by black actors, the term "Blaxploitation" has largely come to symbolize the kinds of goofy, low-budget films that are fondly remembered as guilty pleasures. However, "Cotton"- like Gordon Parks's "Shaft" films which would follow- boasts first class production values and top talent both in front of and behind the cameras. Regardless, the movie had sufficient impact at the boxoffice to inspire a seemingly endless barrage of Black-oriented American films that were all the rage from the early to mid-1970s. The Blaxploitation fever burned briefly but shone brightly and opened many doors for minority actors.
The film was shot when New York City was in the midst of a precipitous decline in terms of quality of life. Crime was soaring, the infrastructure was aging and the city itself would be on the verge of bankruptcy a few years later. Harlem was among the hardest hit areas in terms of the economy. The once dazzling jewel of a neighborhood had boasted popular nightclubs, theaters and restaurants that attracted affluent white patrons. By the mid-to-late 1960s, however, that had changed radically. Street crimes, organized gangs and the drug culture spread rapidly, making Harlem a very dangerous place to be. It was foreboding enough if you were black but it was considered a "Forbidden Zone" for most white people, who spent their money elsewhere, thus exacerbating the decline of the neighborhoods. "Cotton Comes to Harlem" serves as an interesting time capsule of what life was like in the area, having been shot during this period of decline. Director Davis was considered royalty in Harlem. Despite his success in show business, he and his equally acclaimed wife, actress Ruby Dee, never "went Hollywood". They stayed in the community and worked hard to improve the environment. Thus, Davis was perfectly suited to capture the action on the streets in a manner that played authentically on screen. Similarly, he had a real feel for the local population. As with any major urban area, Harlem undoubtedly had its share of amusing eccentrics and Davis populates the movie with plenty of such characters.
The film opens with a major rally held by Rev. Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart), a local guy who made good and who is idolized by the population of Harlem. O'Malley is a smooth-talking, charismatic con man in the mode of the notorious Reverend Ike who uses religion as a facade to rip off gullible followers. This time, O'Malley has launched a "Back to Africa" campaign for which he is soliciting funds. It's based on the absurd premise that he will be able to finance disgruntled Harlem residents back to the land of their ancestry. The hard-working, semi-impoverished locals end up donating $87,000 in cash but the rally is interrupted by a daring daytime robbery. An armored car filled with masked men armed with heavy weaponry descend upon the goings-on, loot the cashbox and take off. They are pursued by two street-wise local cops, "Grave Digger" Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and his partner "Coffin" Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques). Davis provides an exciting and colorful car chase through the streets of Harlem, as the cops fail to snag the robbers. They also discover that O'Malley has gone missing, leading them to believe that he orchestrated the heist himself so he could keep the proceeds raised at the rally. The plot becomes rather convoluted, as Jones and Johnson learn that a bale of cotton has arrived in Harlem and its somehow connected to the crime. They assume that the stolen money has been stashed in said cotton bale, which quickly changes hands among the most unsavory characters in the community. Getting in on the action is a white mob boss and his goons who are also trying to recover the cotton bale. The cotton itself is resented in Harlem because of its historical links to slavery and by the end of the film, the bale ends up in a stage show at the famed Apollo Theater where it is used as a prop in a bizarre production that involves historical observations about the black experience intermingled with a striptease act! Through it all, Jones and Johnson doggedly chase any number of people through the streets, engage in shoot-outs and car chases and come in and out of contact with Rev. O'Malley, who professes his innocence about being involved in the robbery. The Rev isn't so innocent when it comes to other unscrupulous activities such as chronically cheating on his long-suffering girlfriend Iris (Judy Pace) and manipulating other women in a variety of ways.
The most delightful aspect of the film is the showcasing of some very diverse talents of the era. Godfrey Cambridge (who made it big as a stand-up comic) and Raymond St. Jacques enjoy considerable on-screen chemistry even if the script deprives them of the kind of witty dialogue that would have enhanced their scenes together. They make wisecracks all the time and harass some less-than-savory characters but the screenplay never truly capitalizes on Cambridge's comedic potential. The film's most impressive performance comes from Calvin Lockhart, who perfectly captures the traits of phony, larger-than-life "preachers". He's all flashy good looks, gaudy outfits and enough narcissistic behavior to make Donald Trump look humble by comparison. Lockhart seems to be having a ball playing this character and the screen ignites every time he appears. There are some nice turns by other good character actors including pre-"Sanford and Son" Redd Foxx, who figures in the film's amusing "sting-in-the-tail" ending, John Anderson as the exasperated white captain of a Harlem police station that is constantly on the verge of being besieged by local activists, Lou Jacobi as a junk dealer, Cleavon Little as a local eccentric, J.D. Canon as a mob hit man and Dick Sabol as a goofy white cop who suffers humiliation from virtually everyone (which is sort of a payback for the decades in which black characters were routinely used as comic foils). The film has a surprisingly contemporary feel about it, save for a few garish fashions from the 1970s. It's also rather nostalgic to hear genuine soul music peppered through the soundtrack in this pre-rap era. Happily, life has not imitated art in the years since the film was released. Harlem has been undergoing the kind of Renaissance that would have seemed unimaginable in 1970. The old glory has come back strong and the center of the neighorhood, 125th Street, is vibrant and thriving once again. These societal perspectives make watching "Cotton Comes to Harlem" enjoyable on an entirely different level than simply an amusing crime comedy.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains the original trailer and the sleeve is adorned with the great Bob Peak's superb poster art.
CULVER CITY, CA – April 18, 2016 – Fueled by the positive response to its programming blocks
celebrating rare classic television series,getTVhas launched an all-new weekday
schedule focusing on hard-to-find favorites. The lineup includes 14
television series to start, with more to be added throughout the cycle. The new
schedule is divided into three distinct blocks—Comedies, Westerns,
and Action/Crime—airing weekdays from 7 a.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET,
beginning May 2. In a special kick-off event, getTV will present the
two-hour premiere of the 1984 series RIPTIDE, starring Perry King, Joe
Penny, and Thom Bray, as part of the network’s Silver Screen Favorites block on
Sunday, May 1, at 8 p.m. ET.
Highlights of the daytime programming
lineup include charming long lost comedies THE GHOST & MRS.
MUIRandNANNY AND THE PROFESSOR; the Old West
epic THE RESTLESS GUN, which makes its getTV debut after
having rarely been seen on television since its original run; and a
wall-to-wall afternoon block of rarely seen, but beloved crime favorites
featuring the Aaron Spelling standout S.W.A.T; Ernest Borgnine and
Jan-Michael Vincent in AIRWOLF; RIPTIDE and HARDCASTLE
AND MCCORMICK, created by award-winning crime author and TV
producer Stephen J. Cannell;
a special 30th Anniversary year presentation of THE
EQUALIZER, which spawned the hit 2014 Denzel Washington thriller of the same name, and its upcoming
2017 sequel. The daytime series block concludes with back-to-back
episodes of the gripping police drama IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT,
starring Carroll O’Connor, based
off 1967's OscarÒ-winning Sidney Poitier/Rod Steiger movie of the same name.
have made it clear that, in addition to the classic films we’re known for, they
also want to dig even deeper into their favorite long-lost TV programs of
yesteryear,” said Jeff Meier, Senior Vice President, Programming, getTV. “This
new lineup allows us to give our audience the best of both worlds, as we
present great series during the day, and memorable movies at night.”
getTV’s all-new weekday programming lineup is as follows:
7 a.m. ET—THE THIN MAN (1957-1959)—Peter
Lawford and Phyllis Kirk star as married sleuths Nick
and Nora Charles, solving crimes and getting wrapped up in shady schemes in
this spin-off of the 1934 Pre-Code comedy of the same name. Guests
include Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Don Rickles, Marion
Ross, and more.
7:35 a.m. ET—THE JIMMY STEWART
SHOW (1971-1972)—Beloved leading man James Stewart makes
his television debut, as a small town professor in this charming family comedy
that also stars Julie Adams and John McGiver.
Notable guests include Vincent Price, Regis Philbin, Kate
Jackson, M. Emmett Walsh, and Cesar Romero.
8:15 a.m. ET—NANNY AND THE
PROFESSOR (1970-1971)—Juliet Mills stars as a magical
young nanny who may or may not be psychic, with Richard Long as
her widowed professor of an employer and top contemporary reality and
tabloid star Kim Richards in her breakthrough role as one of
Long's three kids. Notable guests include Jodie Foster in her
third TV appearance, as well as Elsa Lanchester, Ida Lupino, Lee
Meriwether, and Van Johnson.
8:50 a.m. ET—THE GHOST & MRS.
MUIR (1968-1970)—Hope Lange won two EmmyÒ
Awards for Best Actress in a Comedyas a widow who befriends the
spirit of a sea captain (Edward Mulhare) haunting her New England home.
Notable supporting cast includes game show stalwart Charles Nelson Reilly in his most significant acting role, and
notable guests include Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Bonaduce, Dom
DeLuise, Yvonne Craig, and more.
In what has been a terrible year for the loss
of great stars we all grew up with in film and music, the news of the sudden passing
of Vince Rotolo, creator of the much loved B Movie Cast podcast has hit hardest.
Vince was a huge supporter of Cinema Retro and
always mentioned it in his weekly “Sunday Service”. He would always say that Retro was
exceptional and its time that we said the same about him. Vince was such a cool
and engaging presence that he put all those he spoke to at ease. He was a fan of
the fan because he was a fan himself. I spent many great times with Vince, his
beloved wife Mary and co-host Nic Brown both here and in the States. His shows
were like listening in on a family chat about movies over Sunday lunch and I can’t
tell you the amount of times they made me laugh out loud as I listened back to
them on my commutes to work and getting many a strange look from fellow passengers.
Both myself and fellow Retro contributor Adrian Smith appeared on the cast and
would regularly phone in with comments, which Vince loved, always saying he
couldn’t believe his cast was being listened to “across the pond”.
As both Vince and the shows homely and
approachable reputation and perception grew, the B Moviecast became a world-
wide bridge for fans, with calls from all corners of the globe in his much
loved “feed-back section” on the back of undervalued movies we here at Cinema
Retro also celebrate. I will really miss Vince’s dulcet tones telling us to “Grab
a beer and a TV dinner and listen to the cast” as I will contributing to it. I
was due to participate in a couple of weeks and had only been in contact with
Vince the day before his passing. Facebook has been inundated with posts but
the one that rings truest was from Chrstopher Page when he wrote: “Vince set a
table and let us all pull a chair up just so we could chat. That is a table I
will miss terribly. I think I speak for everyone when I say, his family, Mary,
and his friends (which he made every one of us feel like), will always be in
our thoughts and our hearts.”
(Photo: Mark Mawston. )
Vince was one of us but in all honesty,
there was something about him that we all looked up to. He was like everyone’s
favourite uncle or the older brother who introduced you to cool things and I
was glad and honoured to have known him as a friend. Our thoughts go out to his
wife Mary and co- hosts Nic Brown & Juan. Sundays will not B the same
without you my friend. Ciao.
Janson-Smith passed away on Friday, April 15, 2016, at the age of 93. He was a
giant in the world of British publishing, a major figure in that arena for
nearly seventy years. Serious James Bond fans will know him as Ian Fleming’s
literary agent, the man who spearheaded the exploitation of Fleming’s 007
novels around the world from 1956 until Peter’s retirement in 2002.
a personal level, Peter’s death is a great loss. For me, he was a mentor, a
friend, a teacher, and someone I called my “English dad.” He was instrumental
in the research for my 1984 book, The
James Bond Bedside Companion, and he hired me to write the continuation
James Bond novels in the mid-90s. In short, I owe much of my career to him.
was born on September 5, 1922, in Navestock, England, which is now overtaken by
the sprawl of greater London, but he spent much of his childhood in Dorset. Peter
went to university in 1941, attending St. Edmond Hall at Oxford, where he
obtained what was then called a Wartime Degree. During the war, Peter served as
a 2nd Lieutenant in the army, becoming the adjutant of an anti-aircraft battery
that was part of the defenses for the city. He ended his military duties as a major.
Actress Honor Blackman meets with board members of the Ian Fleming Foundation in 2008. (L to R: Raymond Benson, Doug Redenius, David Reinhardt, Dave Worrall, Peter Janson-Smith, John Cork, Michael VanBlaricum.)
his release to civilian life in 1946, Peter signed on as a trainee literary
agent to A. D. Peters. He joined Curtis Brown Ltd. in 1949 as the manager of
the agency’s foreign language department, where he started selling author Eric
Ambler’s translation rights. It was Ambler who encouraged Peter to leave Curtis
Brown and strike out on his own as a literary agent, which he did in 1956.
same year, Ian Fleming phoned Janson-Smith on Ambler’s recommendation. Fleming
was unhappy with his foreign sales and hired Peter to act as his agent for the
world, excluding England and the U.S. Beginning in 1960, Peter began handling
Fleming’s British sales and all matters of serialization, including the comic
strips in the Daily Express. In 1964,
after Fleming’s death, Peter was appointed to the board of Glidrose
Publications (the company that oversaw Fleming’s literary business), and later
became Chairman. Glidrose is now called Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.
supervising the post-Fleming continuation 007 novels by Robert Markham (aka
Kingsley Amis), John Gardner, and myself, as well as the John Pearson and
Christopher Wood offshoot Bond projects in the 70s, Peter worked with a number
of respectable authors, including Richard Holmes, Gavin Maxwell, and even
Anthony Burgess (Peter sold Burgess’ A
Clockwork Orange). Peter was for some years a Family Director of Agatha
Christie Ltd., and responsible for the works of Georgette Heyer. For over
thirty years was the Executive Trustee of the Pooh Properties Trust (i.e.
Winnie the Pooh), the senior treasurer of the Royal Literary Fund, and the
president of the Ian Fleming Foundation.
Peter Janson-Smith was married three times and
had four children. His partner since 1985 was Lili Pohlmann, whom he declared was
the “love of his life.” He will be dearly missed by his family, his publishing colleagues, and his many friends around the globe.
By the late 1960s the Spaghetti Western genre was no longer a magnet for second-rate American actors. As with the Bond-inspired secret agent rage of a few years before, many big stars were burning up phone lines demanding that their agents get them over to Europe to cash in on the craze. Among them, apparently, was James Garner, whose credentials as a major and respected international star certainly provided an indication about how lucrative and popular the once lonely Euro Western productions had now become. In fact such Westerns had existed prior to the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone trilogy of the mid-1960s but it was definitely those "Man With No Name" films that shot the genre into over-drive. In fact they were a producer's dream: a compliant host government eager to get some Hollywood glamour and providing lucrative tax breaks, pre-exisiting desert towns that minimized the need to build opulent, expensive sets and efficient Italian producers who generally oversaw production and could ensure that films wrapped up on time and within budget. Garner's first and only foray into the realm of Spaghetti Westerns occurred in 1970 when he starred in "A Man Called Sledge", a film that is largely unremarkable except for Garner's presence and the fact that he plays against type as a rather despicable anti-hero.
The story opens with Sledge (Garner) and some cohorts robbing a stagecoach. The robbery goes awry when a guard on the stage is accidentally killed by a shotgun blast. Now wanted for murder, Sledge and his men rendezvous in a nearby saloon to talk strategy. His two main confederates are Ward (Dennis Weaver) and Hooker (Claude Akins). Sledge also brings along someone he refers to as the Old Man (John Marley), an aging ex-con who has informed him about a fantastic hoard of gold that is occasionally stored in a local prison camp where he had once served time. The Old Man says that periodically the gold shipment, which is heavily guarded, passes through the area and is locked up overnight so the guards can get some rest. Sledge and his men immediately begin to plan an audacious scenario in which they will cause a riot at the prison and steal the gold. In order to do so, Ward poses as a U.S. Marshal and "arrests" Sledge on the murder warrant. He brings him to the prison where Sledge has only a few hours to find a way to overcome a guard, steal the keys, liberate the other prisoners, locate the gold in the confusion and, with the Old Man's help, access the treasure behind a seemingly impenetrable vault. Although the stern, humorless Sledge fancies himself to be a criminal mastermind, most of his major decisions run into snafus. Once the riot ensues, he and his cohorts manage to access the gold, but in "Treasure of Sierra Madre" style, this only ensures that greed and paranoia now overtake the group and the thieves start killing each other off.
The film was directed by actor Vic Morrow, who does a reasonably good job of keeping the action moving at a brisk pace. The film has a more polished look than most European westerns largely because a major producer- Dino De Laurentiis- provided a larger-than-normal budget that afforded the hiring of Garner, Weave and Akins. IMDB reports that the film was shot in Italy but I'm skeptical if only because several of the locations resemble where sequences from Spanish-based westerns of era were filmed. The village where the finale takes place (atmospherically set during the Day of the Dead festival) looks an awful lot like the setting for "For a Few Dollars More". The biggest drawback with the film is that all of the characters are villains. Unlike the Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, who was a rogue with at least a semblance of conscience, Garner's Sledge is an irredeemable bad guy whose only human quality is a genuine love for a local hooker (Laura Antonelli). He's responsible for the deaths of innocent people and he uses violent threats even against the Old Man to get what he wants. In his memoirs, The Garner Files, the actor wrote about the film: ""One of the few times I've played a heavy and one of the last. I wish I could remember why I let Dino De Laurentiis talk me into this turkey, The poster says "Not Suitable for Children". It should say "Not Suitable for Human Consumption.". That's a bit harsh. The film is consistently entertaining and boasts some exciting action sequences, even if Garner's considerable charisma is completely absent due to the morbid screenplay. It's also good to see Garner in the company of Dennis Weaver, Claude Akins and John Marley, all of whom provide solid supporting performances.
"A Man Called Sledge" has been released on Blu-ray by German-based Explosive Media. Their DVDs are primarily available on Amazon Germany's site but imports often pop up on Amazon USA and eBay. The film has an excellent transfer and a selection of trailers and TV spots from the film- but make sure you don't watch them before viewing the main feature, as they give away every plot surprise.
Would you pay $50 to stream Adam Sandler's next movie for 48 hours?
BY LEE PFEIFFER
If you haven't heard of The Screening Room, you surely will. It represents a new technology championed by Silicon Valley wiz kid Sean Parker (one-time founder of Napster and President of Facebook) that would allow movie lovers to stream new films in their homes on the same day the film opens in theaters. There is a catch- and it's an expensive one. The program requires you to purchase a set-top box for $30 and then pay $50 for the privilege of streaming a new movie for a period of 48 hours. We at Cinema Retro have long railed against the extortionist price of movie theater tickets but this almost makes them look like a bargain. The Screening Room is obviously gambling that there are enough well-heeled movie fanatics out there who will find this to be yet another excuse not to get up from their living room recliners and journey out to a theater. Nick Schager, writing in The Daily Beast web site, points out that the advantages might be the ability to enjoy a new film without rude people around you texting, chatting or trying to shut up their screaming toddlers. Fair enough. But the technology would also increasingly alienate people who have already become socially alienated due to their obsessions with social media. How many times have you gone to dinner with people only to have someone whip out a mobile phone and begin breezing through E mails and instant messages? It has happened enough to me that last year I posted a plea on my Facebook page: if you find my company so boring that you can't sustain a conversation with me over a dinner table for an hour without being tempted to see who E mailed or texted you, then kindly make an excuse when I ask you to join me for a meal and spare me the indignity of competing for your attention. Remarkably, I had some people take issue with my request, saying it's part of contemporary society to engage in such behavior. To that I responded, "Well, would it be appropriate if I was a dinner guest in your house and during the meal I took out "Moby Dick" and began to read it?" Inevitably, the answer was met with silence because the logic is obvious: it would be inexcusably rude to read from a novel at a dinner table just as it would be rude to read a cell phone. New technology such as streaming movie services is wonderful in many ways but there it might diminish the collective experience of seeing movies with appreciative audiences. Even the best of screen comedies are so much better when you are joined in the laughter by others. In the case of The Screening Room, there is scant evidence that this particular program would be successful. Pay for View concerts and sporting events can command such prices but they are largely paid by groups of people who gather in the same room and share the expense of streaming the one-time event. Does anyone think they will be able to rally friends and neighbors to chip in to see the latest Nicolas Cage or Adam Sandler flick? Then there is the instinct among moviegoers to share the experience of seeing a major new film in a state-of-the-art theater with superior sound and a giant screen. It's doubtful that anyone would have bypassed the chance to see the latest "Star Wars" or James Bond flick in a theatrical environment where such movies are often attended by groups of friends who enjoy debating the merits of the film afterward.
Despite the drawbacks associated with the Screening Room business plan, Nick Schager points out that once such technology has been invented it seems unlikely it won't find a way on to the market in some format. Certainly Sean Parker knows this. Napster was founded because record companies were tone deaf to hearing about the prospects of allowing people to download music legally for a fee. Thus, Napster allowed them to download songs illegally. Suddenly it was all the rage. Instead of embracing the technology the record companies took legal action to close down Napster...but it was too late. Ironically, when the record companies finally did reluctantly embrace legal downloads, the technology proved to be the remedy for sinking CD sales. Basically, it saved the music industry. It seems likely that the ability to download and screen current movies that are playing in theaters will indeed become a normal part of the viewing experience once it's decided to price the service at a non-prohibitive level. Movie theater owners are scared...and well they should be. The film industry had long ago declared virtual war on them by taking increasingly bigger shares of ticket revenues and mandating that theaters undergo costly conversions to digital projection (though, in fairness, studios covered much of the cost if theaters implemented the new technology by the deadline date.) As I've pointed out previously, some theaters only survive by turning into semi-restaurants. The film ticket revenues can't pay the rent so the chicken wings and pizza have to fill in the slack. The Screening Room concept has also divided the Hollywood community itself. Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg are proponents and Christopher Nolan and James Cameron have opposed it.
We don't want to adopt a Chicken Little philosophy and claim that the sky is about to fall in. The demise of movie theaters was predicted when sound was first introduced on the bizarre premise that audiences weened on silent movies would not accept the new technology. In the 1950s it was advent of television that would cause theaters to close, but Hollywood studios responded with the wonders of color, widescreen productions that no B&W TV screen could hope to match. In the 1980s it was the skyrocketing popularity of the VCR that would bring an end to traditional movie-going. It's doubtful that the Screening Room technology will ever ensure the closure of movie theaters. People still like to go to movies on dates or on family outings. However, if the concept does unexpectedly take off, it could further hurt independent small town theaters that are struggling every day to survive. We at Cinema Retro will always be advocates of watching films the way they were meant to be seen: on the big screen. (Pity the poor soul who is introduced to "Lawrence of Arabia" by watching it on a mobile phone.) Home theater advances are wonderful and exciting but there is simply no substitute for the traditional movie-going experience.
A rare 35mm revival screening of Bernardo Bertolucci's
1979 controversial drama LA LUNA, organized and hosted by Cinema Retro
columnist David Savage and co-sponsored by Iconic Linx, brought near-sellout crowds to Anthology Film Archives
in Manhattan last Monday night, April 25th, including the family of the late
Jill Clayburgh (1944-2010) star of the film.
Organized both as a belated tribute to Clayburgh and an
attempt, as described by Savage, to bring the neglected film back into popular
and critical consciousness, the screening was a family affair for the beloved
Clayburgh-Rabe family, bringing together Jill's husband, famed playwright David
Rabe, their actress daughter Lily Rabe (star of the forthcoming "Miss
Stevens") and their actor son Michael Rabe. Matthew Barry, Jill
Clayburgh's co-star and son in the film, now 53 and a casting director, flew in
from Los Angeles to attend the screening and panel discussion that followed,
moderated by Savage.
They were joined by David Rabe, who was in Italy during most of the filming and
had many interesting anecdotes to share, including the fact that Bertolucci,
incredibly, broke both arms in a disastrous fall during the making of the film
and was put in casts on both arms, forcing a two-week halt in production.
Matthew Barry admitted that his acting career did not take off as he had hoped
after the release of the film, but did not appear to be looking back in
bitterness. His stories and memories of making the film brought laughter from
the crowd and communicated a lifelong love of his co-star "mother"
Jill Clayburgh, Bertolucci, character actor Franco Citti (in one of the film's
most memorable cameo appearances), and Tomas Millian, who played his real
father in the film. In the film's final scene, Milian slaps his son's face with
an unmistakable force. Unfortunately, Matthew told the audience, the director
instructed him to do it successively harder and harder in numerous takes.
David Savage and actor Matthew Barry.
Perhaps most surprising was the personal video greeting
from the director himself that preceded the screening, which brought a gasp of
delighted surprise from the audience. "There is something very unfair
about you all being able to see my face, but I cannot see yours," he said
from his living room in Rome, looking like more of a beloved grandfather figure
than a reclusive auteur. He seemed touched at the return to New York of
"La Luna," which was not greeted enthusiastically when it premiered in
1979, adding that he particularly wished he could see his young star Matthew
Barry's face as it looked now. He also saluted the rising prominence of Lily
Rabe, confirming that he's heard great things about her as an actress.
Concluding by wishing the audience, "buona visione" (literally
"happy watching"), the greeting nicely framed the film itself,
projected from a flawless 35mm print on exceptional loan from Twentieth Century
Fox Archive. The print's quality showed off the artistry of cinematographer Vittorio
Storaro -- a frequent Bertolucci collaborator and three-time Oscar winner.
Finding the print, Savage told the audience in opening remarks, took him nearly
The film was available on home video only back in the VHS
days, and has never been on DVD in the States. However, that may change later
in 2016 or early 2017 as an American home video label, wishing to remain
anonymous at present, says it has purchased the packaged media rights to the
film for the US market, and will be bringing out a Blu-ray/DVD. Further details
to come as they are made available.- Lee Pfeiffer
One of the positive elements of the Blaxploitation film genre that exploded in the 1970s was the emergence of many hitherto unknown talents. Among them was Bahamian-born actor Calvin Lockhart, who immigrated to New York and immersed himself in theater, studying with the legendary Uta Hagen. Lockhart didn't find immediate success but hop-scotched between the U.S. and Europe, where he found more opportunities on stage and in film. By the time he returned to America, the Blaxploitation rage was in its early stages and Lockhart nailed down a key, scene-stealing role in director Ossie Davis's film version of "Cotton Comes to Harlem" in 1970. He also earned the starring role the same year in "Halls of Anger", playing a besieged inner city teacher who is trying to keep the lid on inter-racial tensions. Lockhart also starred in the crime thriller "Melinda", which- perhaps because of its bland title- is not as well-remembered as lesser entries in the Blaxplotation genre. Thus, it's good news that the film has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. "Melinda" is impressive on any number of levels. Unlike most Blaxploitation movies, which were actually produced, written and directed by white filmmakers, this one was brought to the screen entirely by African-American talent: director Hugh A. Robertson, producer Pervis Atkins, screenwriter Lonnie Elder III and composers Jerry Butler and Jerry Peters. The movie also has an intense, realistic tone that affords Lockhart to give what is arguably the performance of his career.
Lockhart plays Frankie J. Parker, the morning drive DJ on a popular L.A. soul music radio station. Frankie is a showman supreme. His combination of unapologetic narcissism combined with his snarky, biting sense of humor sets him apart from the competition- and makes him a local legend among black listeners. Frankie is living the life. He makes a lot of money, drives a fancy sports car and has a bachelor pad apartment where he entertains a stream of beautiful young women. He's so in love with himself that he has the place adorned with posters and photos of himself and looks in the mirror every morning verbally express how damned good looking he is. One fateful day, however, Frankie's charmed life goes into a tailspin when he meets Melinda Lewis (Vonetta McKee), a sexy new arrival from Chicago who is very much a woman of mystery. When she resists Frankie's standard pick-up lines and shows she is wise to his well-worn methods of seduction, she becomes a challenge for him. He wines and dines her and shows her off at a high profile party aboard a yacht owned by his old friend Tank (Rockne Tarkington), a black athlete who has made good. On board, he has an unexpected encounter with a former lover, Terry Davis (Rosalind Cash), who makes it clear she still carries a grudge against Frankie because of his philandering ways. Later that evening, Frankie and Melinda return to his apartment where they finally get down to business- but she makes it clear that she is in control of the situation. Unbeknownst to either of them, the heated sounds of their love-making are being enjoyed by a shady character who has been following Melinda since she arrived in L.A. and who is know pleasuring himself outside the apartment door! The next morning, Frankie realizes that this time he is genuinely in love- and Melinda seems to reciprocate. To say much more would be to provide some unintended spoilers. Suffice it to say that Frankie learns that "Melinda Lewis" is an alias and that his new lover is the former mistress of a ruthless Chicago mob boss, Mitch (Paul Stevens) who is desperate to track her down because she has deposited a cassette tape in a bank safe deposit box that implicates him in a high profile murder. Before long, the mob links Frankie to Melinda and thinks he in cahoots with her. He is framed for a ghastly murder and pummeled and beaten by cops before he finally makes bail. Realizing he has limited time to get to the bottom of what is going on and clear his name, Frankie finds he has to enlist the aid of estranged lover Terry Davis, who becomes the only friend he can trust. The two become amateur detectives trying to get access to the bank vault and the evidence that would give them leverage over Mitch and his gang of murderous goons who are now in L.A. Things go awry, however, when Frankie is framed for yet another sordid murder and Terry is kidnapped by Mitch and held for ransom under threat of death unless Frankie delivers the incriminating evidence against him. Frankie knows that if he does, he and Terry are as good as dead so he enlists some unusual allies- the fellow students of his karate academy. It helps when the Grand Master is real-life martial arts expert and future "Enter the Dragon" star Jim Kelly. In the film's only truly over-the-top sequence, Frankie and the karate students ambush the gangsters, Before you can sing "Everybody was Kung Fu fighting", everybody is Kung Fu fighting. The film culminates with Frankie and his allies laying siege to Mitch's mansion, where they find Terry locked in a glass gazebo surrounded by rattle snakes and other dangerous critters.
Until its rather fanciful finale, "Melinda" is a realistic urban crime movie packed with interesting characters and intriguing mysteries that are revealed slowly. Like a Hitchcock film, it centers on a completely innocent man who is swept up in fantastic and deadly events beyond his comprehension. Lockhart gives an outstanding and commanding performance, turning from a carefree, narcissistic playboy to a man who is willing to do anything necessary simply to survive another few hours. He gets able support from both female leads, gorgeous Vonetta McKee as the mystery woman who affords Frankie an evening of sexual bliss that turns his life into a nightmare and Rosalind Cash, in full tough girl mode as she was the previous year opposite Charlton Heston in "The Omega Man". On the other extreme, Paul Stevens makes for a suitably slimy villain. The direction by Hugh A. Robertson is quite impressive and he overcomes the relatively modest budget by capitalizing on the street locations which he uses to maximum atmosphere and effect. "Melinda" is a superior entry in the Blaxploitation film genre. Highly recommended.
The Warner Archive DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.
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If "Another Time, Another Place" is remembered at all, it's probably for all the wrong reasons. The 1958 film afforded Sean Connery his first major leading role, even though he gets killed off a little more than half-an-hour into the story. I'm not giving away a spoiler here...you can see it telegraphed from the early moments of the movie. Connery was given "Introducing" billing, a common fallacy on the part of studio marketing departments that implied an actor or actress was making their big screen debut. In reality, Connery had been kicking around the British film industry for a couple of years prior to making this movie, but only in supporting roles. The other bit of trivia for which this film is remembered is due to a tragic real-life scandal. While co-starring with Lana Turner, Connery began to spend a lot of his free time with her off set. This didn't set well with Turner's jealous boyfriend, a mobster named Johnny Stompanato, who tried to bully Connery into staying away from Turner and got punched out by the Great Scot. Stompanato let it be known that Connery was a marked man. When filming was done, the future 007 didn't tempt fate by hanging around with Turner any longer, though things could hardly have been worse if he did. Shortly after the production was completed, Turner was being physically menaced by Stompanato and her teenage daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed him to death in order to defend her mother. The result was one of Hollywood's great scandals. The studio brass were ever opportunistic and were said to have expedited the release of "Another Time, Another Place" in order to capitalize on the sensational trial of Crane, who was exonerated on the basis of justifiable homicide.
As for the film itself, it defines what used to be quaintly termed as "a woman's picture". It's basically a feature film length soap opera set in 1945 London during the waning days of WWII. We first see Connery as daring war correspondent Mark Trevor, whose on-the-scene radio reports from hot spots around the globe leave listeners mesmerized. Among his admirers is Sara Scott (Lana Turner), a sassy New York newspaper columnist who works out of the bureau's London office. Sara is very much the liberated lady, having made a name for herself in an industry that was then dominated by men. We soon see that she and Mark secretly carrying on a torrid love affair. A complication arises when Sara's lover Carter Reynolds (Barry Sullivan) arrives from the States. Reynolds is not only engaged to Sara, but he is also her employer, as he owns the newspaper she works for. She breaks the news to him that she is now in love with another man but Reynolds seems dismissive of her statement and feels she will ultimately come to her senses and return to him. On the eve of Mark leaving for Italy, Sara informs him that she had been engaged to another man but now that won't matter- she wants to spend her life with him. Mark, however, drops a bit of a bombshell himself. Turns out he's married with a young son and intends to return to his family. Both he and Sara are clearly in love and both are heartbroken by the circumstances. Sara tries to persuade Mark to leave his wife and child to be with her. He sends mixed signals, originally rejecting the overture but later implying he would do so. With that, he leaves for Italy with his assistant, Alan Thompson (Terence Longdon), the only one in his life who knows about his affair with Sara. The following night Sara is listening to the radio when she learns that Mark has been killed in a plane crash en route to Italy, although Alan has managed to survive. Wracked with grief, Sara is inconsolable. She makes a dramatic decision to visit Mark's village in Cornwall and see the house he lived in. While doing so, she has a chance encounter with Mark's son Brian (Martin Stephens), who, in turn, introduces her to his mother, Kay (Glynis Johns). The odd and awkward encounter results in Sara becoming Kay's house guest and helping her write a book about her husband's career. The two women become fast friends, though only Sara knows they are both grieving for the same man. This is where the film is elevated from standard tearjerker to a rather compelling drama that examines the effects that infidelity can have on all of the parties involved. Both Alan and Carter Reynolds track down Sara, who- in one of the film's weakest sequences- attempts suicide off camera, apparently in an attempt to drown herself. As Kay nurses her back to health, Alan and Reynolds try to reason with her and convince her to return to New York, 'lest Kay learns that her new best friend was her husband's secret lover. Things come to a boil when Sara decides to spill her soul to Kay and tell her everything.
"Another Time, Another Place" is primarily a showcase for Lana Turner, who- under the competent, if uninspired direction of Lewis Allen- gives an earnest performance that is still overshadowed by her supporting cast members. The biggest knock about Turner's presence in the film is that she looks too glamorous. Her hair is perfect, her mannerisms are perfect and -in the film's most absurd sequence- she is fished from bay after a suicide attempt and brought to Kay's cottage for medical attention, yet she still looks like she just stepped out of a fashion display in Harrods window. Much is made over her character being a tough woman able to exist in a man's world (she even plays poker with the boys), but in reality she's just another heroine of the era who cannot seem to function without a man in her life. Turner delivers a competent performance but is hampered by the fact that she came to stardom in an era in which very mannered acting methods were in vogue, especially among the Hollywood sex symbols. In terms of portraying a realistic character, she is out-shown by the more natural acting style of Glynis Johns. The male supporting leads are also adequate, if unexciting. The major "find" of the production was Sean Connery, whose impact is somewhat hampered by the fact that he has relatively little screen time. There is little to suggest that he was a superstar in the making and he spends most of his time cooing words of love to the smitten Turner. His character does develop a bit of an edge when we learn that, at heart, he is actually a cad who is cheating on his adoring wife. He develops a conscience and sense of guilt and tries to terminate the affair but is locked into the frustrations of the age-old meange-a-trois dilemma.
"Another Time, Another Place" was shot on an obviously low budget with scenes of wartime London relegated to the back lot. Things open up a bit with some on-location shooting in Cornwall but the majority of the action takes place in living rooms, offices and kitchens. Despite the movie's flaws, it's a reasonably compelling story about inherently good people who become involved in an immoral love affair. For Connery fans, the movie affords them the opportunity to see how his raw talent was rather quickly developed into a very distinctive acting technique that would ultimately make him one of the true icons of international cinema. "Another Time, Another Place" performed disappointingly at the boxoffice and Connery seemed headed toward oblivion. A Fox contract didn't go far but he was loaned out to Disney to star in "Darby O'Gill and the Little People". Ironically it was through viewing that film that producer Cubby Broccoli's wife Dana was impressed by his raw masculinity. That would pay off for him a few years later when he sought to play the role of James Bond. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Warner Archive has re-issued the exact DVD transfer that was once available through Paramount- right down to identical packaging. The transfer is very good but there are no bonus extras.
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It's probably a safe bet that most adults have seen at least some of the notorious film footage shot during the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. However, no one has ever seen the definitive denouncement of these camps for genocidal practices because the project was stopped in its tracks in the immediate aftermath of WWII. When British, American and Soviet troops stumbled upon the seemingly endless number of concentration camps in the final days of the war, they were not prepared for what they saw. There had been frantic warnings from the Jewish community about the barbaric nature of what was occurring in these hell holes but they were generally thought to be overstated, if not impossible to believe. Such were the mind-boggling horrors that greeted them that the Allied high command ordered that the places be filmed in order to capture for posterity the types of acts that future generations would not otherwise be able to imagine. The camps were always terrible beyond description but they got even worse when it became clear that the German defenses were collapsing and Allied troops were inevitably overrunning what was left of the retreating Third Reich. Even at this late date, with defeat inevitable, the Nazi brass was determined to fulfill Hitler's extermination policies. Tens of thousands of half-dead prisoners were forced on torturous marches to other camps. It was a journey most did not survive. Those who were deemed too weak to move were often systematically murdered often just days or hours before their liberation would have occurred. However, even these barbarians could not succeed in executing the sheer number of these hapless souls and so it was that many were still alive when Allied troops marched into the camps. Even the most battle-hardened troops could scarcely believe the panorama of human misery that greeted them. Surviving prisoners, too weak to stand, had been haphazardly tossed into mountains of corpses. The ovens that incinerated others were still warm and filled with bones and ash. Warehouses of personal possessions from the doomed prisoners dotted the camps, filled to the roofs with items that were to be recycled. The ever-efficient and cost-conscious Reich even ground up the bones of the cremated and sold them wholesale to local farmers as fertilizers. Such was the horror that even General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe, personally felt the need to witness these horrors. So, too did General George S. Patton.
A joint decree by the Allies resulted in British, American and Soviet cameramen frantically filming the horrors as they unfolded. The dead and dying seemed to film every frame but there was also indescribable joy on behalf of those who knew that, with proper care, they would most likely survive. Ultimately the task of coordinating all of this footage fell to Sidney Bernstein of the British Ministry of Information. The Allies decided that a feature film should be created by Bernstein with the intention of having it widely shown to citizens of Germany to reinforce their feelings of guilt over what had been done in their name. Bernstein's vision went beyond simply providing a cinematic chamber of horrors and he wanted to construct the movie as professionally as possible. Thus, he reached out to Alfred Hitchcock to assist him as a creative consultant. Hitchcock had already left his native England for Hollywood, where he was finding great success. However, he heeded the call to return to England to work on the project partly out of frustration that he had been "too old and too fat" to have served in the British military. He viewed this as an opportunity to contribute to the war effort even though the war was now over. Hitchcock and Bernstein labored over the film project for months as the British military became increasingly frustrated. They wanted speed, not artistry. Ultimately the decision was made to take the film away from Bernstein. This was due to a number of factors. One was based on the premise that it became clear that the German public, by and large, was being sufficiently contrite over the war time crimes of the Nazis. The nation was a bombed out wreck in urban areas and the Allies wanted to rally the public to help rebuild their land. Forcing them to watch films of atrocities that many had witnessed when they were made to visit the camps after liberation was now being seen as rubbing salt in their wounds. There was also a political factor, however. Before the war had even ended, it became clear to Britain and America that the Cold War was starting with the Soviet Union. Stalin, emboldened by FDR's death and the shocking loss of Winston Churchill in elections to comparatively weak Clement Attee, was ratcheting up his drive for land grabs in eastern Europe. Britain and America needed to ensure that all of Germany didn't fall into the Soviet orbit. It was decided that attempting to drive home the subject of war crimes would only alienate the public at large. Ultimately Germany would suffer being divided into two separate nations, with the Soviets taking control of the eastern portion of the country and subjecting its citizens to another cruel dictatorship. Still, the footage of the concentration camps had to be seen somewhere, somehow. Director Billy Wilder, himself an immigrant from Germany who got out during the rise of Hitler, was approached to now helm the project. Uncredited, he oversaw production of what became known as "Death Mills". The film ran a scant 22 minutes and was originally made with a German soundtrack, as it was to be screened for select audiences in Germany and Austria. Although not long in terms of running time, it's hard to imagine that even an elongated version would better convey the stomach-turning tortures meted out by the Nazis. Wilder's film didn't bother with artistry or nuance. It was the antithesis of what Bernstein and Hitchcock had envisioned- a non-stop depiction of cruelties with no pretense of having been made by professional filmmakers.
In 2014 director released "Night Will Fall", a documentary made for Britain's Channel 4 and which ultimately would be telecast in America on HBO. Singer had amassed the disparate footage from the aborted Bernstein/Hitchcock project and combined it with "Death Mills", which had been created from the same pool of British, American and Soviet films. Singer went the extra mile, tracking down elderly death camp survivors who, to great emotional effect, are interviewed on screen, in some cases viewing footage of themselves being liberated from the camps. Cinema doesn't get much more emotional than this. The only reason some of these people survived was because they were twins and caught the eye of the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, who had a mad passion for conducting horrendous "medical experiments" on them. Mengele was obsessed with seeing if science could manipulate hereditary features through experimentation on twins. Most ended up dying and others were executed when Mengele tired of them, but some survived and were captured on screen as Allied soldiers freed these helpless children from certain death. Singer's film also puts into context the Hitchcock and Wilder associations with the project and combines a coherent time line about the use of the footage. His film also describes the sense of disbelief on the part of American, British and Soviet soldiers who generally entered these camps without the slightest idea about what they were about to experience. The effort to care for survivors was immediate and intense but many of the prisoners died even after liberation because of the sheer neglect they had suffered. Eisenhower ordered that local residents be forced to personally visit the camps. It became clear that many really didn't know the full extent of the horrors. Footage shows hundreds of villagers jovially walking down country lanes en route to a camp. The narrator points out they appear to be on the way for a pleasant day in the country. Upon seeing the thousands of dead and dying, however, most are moved to shame and tears. Bulldozers are used to control typhus outbreaks by burying piles of men, women and children in mass graves, denying them even the dignity of being identified. Children who survive often have forgotten their names and refer to themselves only by the numbers tattooed on their arms. For this viewer the most unbearable aspect was to watch scenes that don't involve people but object that represent people. In a warehouse filled to the roof with eyeglasses from victims that were to be recycled for the Reich, the narrator aks that even if one in ten prisoners needed glasses, how many had to be killed to amass such a supply. In another storage building sacks are opened containing women's hair which was being packaged and sold to German industries. There are house decorations such as lampshades made from tattooed human skin. Even shrunken heads were deemed as novelty items by SS brass. Perhaps saddest of all are the mountains of toys confiscated from children to be sent to other children in the Reich. These ghastly souvenirs bare silent witness to the cruel fates that befell the Nazi's youngest victims. In other particularly moving scenes, Soviet doctors examine victims in a vain attempt to save them. One is a young man who was shot in the head because he was caught sharing a crust of bread with another man. A young girl of about eight years old was forced to stand all day barefoot in ice and snow because her productivity was deemed to be disappointing. I fully confess to averting my eyes from the screen during much of the footage shown.
An inmate who thought she was doomed expresses her thanks to a British soldier.
"Night Will Fall" is an important and mesmerizing film and its getting additional exposure through its recent release on DVD by the Warner Archive. It's message is essential and should be required deemed viewing for any thinking, rational person. One of the reasons the Allies were intent on documenting these atrocities is because they predicted in years to come, some people would try to deny they ever occurred. Sadly that has proven to be the case. The internet, in particular, has given voice to fringe groups and kooks worldwide who have no trouble attracting fellow conspiracynuts. Some may be harmless eccentrics, such as people who still believe the moon landing was a hoax. Others, however, deal in far more dangerous beliefs such as denial of the war time atrocities inflicted by Hitler and his madmen. The existence of such people make the continuation of genocide possible and the practice is alive and well today in various parts of the world. However, we can never prove how many people were positively influenced by films such as "Night Will Fall". Clearly the majority of the world's population has thus far thwarted the rise of another Hitler, even if such dictators exist within their the confines of their own borders. It is imperative that good people everywhere keep the truth alive. Perhaps we should all heed the warning that "Those who neglect history are compelled to repeat it."
The Warner Archive DVD contains bonus extras including Billy Wilder's "Death Mills" film, the Soviet film "Auschwitz", which chronicles the liberation of the camp and the atrocities that were uncovered, and an extended contemporary interview with Prof. Rainer Schulze on the premises of the notorious Bergen-Belsen death camp where he discusses the events that transpired there.
“Robber’s Roost” (1955), a colorful western filmed in
Durango, Mexico with George Montgomery, and a host of other familiar faces from
the fifties, was a movie a decade ahead of its time. Based on a Zane Grey
novel, it tells the story of a mysterious stranger known only as “Tex”
(Montgomery) who rides into the town of Junta Grande, and joins one of two
gangs working for crippled rancher “Bull” Herrick (Bruce Bennett). Hank Hays
(Richard Boone) is the leader of one gang, and Heeseman (Peter Graves) heads up
the other. Herrick believes the best way to protect his herd of 6,000 cattle
from rustlers is to hire the two rival gangs to keep an eye on each other. “There’s
an old saying,” he says. “Set a thief to catch a thief.” Well, that sensible
adage proves to be unworkable here. Who
in his right mind would hire a bunch of cattle thieves to guard his herd? It’s
explained that Bull injured his spine when his horse rolled over on him and put
him in a wheelchair. Maybe they left out the part where he suffered some brain
damage as well.
Nevertheless, Herrick hires Tex as part of Hays’ outfit,
but somehow this tall stranger with two six-guns and an extra-wide brim hat
doesn’t really seem to fit in. For one thing, he asks too many questions. He’s
especially interested in the “Circle K” brand on the horses Hays and his men
are riding. Herrick’s sister Helen (Sylvia Findley) arrives from back East to
provide some love interest in a film overcrowded with male actors and tries to
convince Bull to sell the ranch and get his spinal injury tended to. Bull, who
got his nickname by being bull-headed, tells her he won’t leave until he gets
his cattle to market. Add to this mix Robert Bell (William Hopper) a wealthy
rancher who wants to marry Helen and you’ve got the full cast of characters. And
a full cast it is, indeed, with anywhere from six to a dozen characters on
screen in most of the scenes. Director Sydney Salkow must have needed a traffic
director to keep them from bumping into each other.
But it’s the constant butting of heads between two gangs
that hate each other, as they wait for the chance to double cross Herrick and
steal his cattle, and the mystery surrounding Tex and what he’s doing in the
middle of all this, that makes “Robber’s Roost”, in its own weird and unusual way,
rather interesting to watch. One of the
more bizarre aspects is the character played by Richard Boone, who is good as
usual playing a hard case. But for some odd reason he keeps curling his lip up
over his front teeth as if he were sucking on a lemon. Hard to know if he had
just been fitted with a bad set of caps or he thought he had to keep snarling
to look tough. Fortunately for him and us it is a distracting mannerism that he
never repeated throughout the rest of his career.
As the film progresses we learn, of course, that Tex
isn’t an outlaw like all the others, despite a wanted poster that Helen
discovers, but has tracked Hays and his gang to Junta Grande in pursuit of the
unknown men who raped and killed his wife. With so many bad guys, and Helen
thinking he’s one of the baddies, Tex has his hands full trying to bring them
to justice and save “Bull” Herrick’s herd, especially after Hays and Heeseman
finally realize their best course is to stop fighting each other, steal the
whole herd and split the profits. Golly! I guess Bull never thought that would
happen. The final climax takes place in the mountains of Durango, complete with
a lookout post that features a boulder balanced on a rocky spire, which I
suppose must be the titular Robber’s roost.
Despite the oddball touches and the somewhat implausible
plot, “Robbers Roost” is fun to watch. And, as noted at the beginning of this
review, there are two things that make this movie prophetically ahead of its
time. One is Herrick’s idea of pitting two rival gangs against each other to serve
his own purposes. It’s more like a plot from a gangster movie and I can’t think
of any westerns up until then that have a similar story line. However, nine
years later Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” (1964) would serve up the
same idea although in a slightly different and more believable way. Of course,
“Dollars” is an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo,” which was supposedly
inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest.” Zane Grey wrote “Robbers Roost”
in 1932, three years after “Red Harvest” was published. Perhaps “Robber’s Roost”
can be counted as one more film ultimately inspired by Hammett, who knows?
The other thing that sets “Robbers Roost” apart from the
films of it time is the fact that except for Tex, Herrick and his daughter,
just about all the main characters, especially Hays and Heeseman are really bad
men. They cheat, steal and kill without qualm. They would have been right at
home in a Leone or Peckinpah film, but they were far from the usual black and
white hats that populated westerns in 1955.
In addition to an unusual story line, “Robber’s Roost”
benefits by having been filmed on location in Durango, Mexico. As usual in a
Zane Grey story, the landscape is as important an element as the characters. Kino
Lorber’s Blu-ray transfer presents the 1.85:1 theatrical print in good
condition, with vibrant color and impressive detail, giving the rugged Mexican
mountains landscape real depth and beauty. The film shows some signs of wear
and tear and the original mono soundtrack is a bit on the rough side. But
somehow, it gives the movie a rugged authenticity.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics deserves kudos for presenting
films like “Robbers Roost” in high definition, giving modern day viewers a
chance to see them the way they were originally seen in neighborhood theaters. It’s
far from being a classic western on the order of “Shane” or “The Wild Bunch,”
but viewed as a film spanning the transition from the standard western fare of
the mid-fifties to the “adult” westerns of the sixties, it’s certainly worth
catching. And you don’t want to miss Boone’s final dying words, as he sucks on
his front teeth and makes a clean breast of everything, including killing Tex’s
wife. “I’m not trying to horn in with the almighty,” he says. “I just want an
edge when they line up for the last showdown.”
What more is there to say after that?
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents “Robber’s Roost”
with no frills, although there are previews for three other Blu-rays including
“The Gunfight at Dodge City” with Joel McCrea.
The Metrograph is a two-story, rather flat and
rectangular building located at 7 Ludlow Street. The theater is sandwiched inconspicuously
between a funeral parlor and an iron works foundry, a couple of blocks east of
the Canal Street entrance to the Manhattan Bridge. It’s here, where the Lower East Side meets -
or perhaps blurs - with the border of Chinatown, New York City’s cineastes will find the borough’s
brightest new twinplex – one specializing exclusively in indie, art house, and repertory
programming. Since it’s opening in March
2016, the theater has already screened an intriguing variety of shorts, foreign
films, retrospectives, and silents.
The Metrograph’s primary theater is a 175 seat room on
the ground floor, with a second more intimate screening room of fifty seats perched
on the second level. A glass window
partition allows curious filmgoers a rare peak into a projection room outfitted
with two 35mm and one DCP projectors. The second level also features the “Commissary,” a comfortable space
with a small bar and assortment of tables and couches where patrons and artists
are not only welcomed, but encouraged, to congregate before and after screenings
to discuss films and their own creative work. I was told by one Metrograph associate that the theater’s vision to completely
transform this loft space into a small café is approximately three weeks
away. The northernmost corner of the
room that overlooks Ludlow Street has been reserved as a book-selling stall
that will exclusively feature filmmaking-related texts and journals. (Click here to visit theater web site.)
On the weekend of April 8-10, the Metrograph partnered
with Subway Cinema (the 501(c) (3) non-profit that has steered the New York
Asian Film Festival since 2002) to host the sixth annual “Old School Kung-Fu
Fest.” This year’s series of wild martial
art extravaganzas was programmed to celebrate the legacy of Golden Harvest
Productions, the Hong Kong based-studio founded by rogue producer Raymond Chow and
Leonard Ho following their break with the Shaw Brothers. It was through a series of Bruce Lee films
released through Golden Harvest that martial arts-action films would make their
first successful inroads into western markets. Lee, justifiably disappointed by his treatment in Hollywood and relegated
to sidekick and second-fiddle parts, moved to Hong Kong where he would star in no
fewer than four Golden Harvest productions from 1971 through 1973. (Lee’s fifth and final film for the company, the
posthumously released Game of Death (1978)
was cobbled together from bits of footage left behind following his tragic
death at age 32).
Though only Lee’s seminal Enter the Dragon (1973) would be screened over the course of this
weekend’s festival – to a sold-out audience, of course - the “Little Dragon’s” long
shadow remains omnipresent throughout. As might be expected at any celebration of cinematic martial arts mayhem,
the program would feature eight films – seven screened from 35mm elements, one
(The Prodigal Son) via DCP – that arguably
constitute some of the finest work of Lee’s contemporaries, protégés and pretenders.
The film I was most anxious to revisit – for the first
time in nearly forty years - was Brian Trenchard-Smith’s The Man From Hong Kong (1975) (aka The Dragon Flies), featuring Jimmy Wang Yu (“The One-Armed
Swordsman”) and one-shot James Bond George Lazenby. Having brashly walked away from the role of Bond
following his single-turn in On Her
Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), the former model-turned-actor had anxiously
found subsequent film work mostly unavailable. He reportedly financed a good portion of his first post-007 motion
picture, Cy Endfield’s Universal Soldier
(1971), out of his own pocket. In 1972,
Lazenby would accept an offer to appear in the grim and disturbing Italian
Giallo Chi L’ha Vista Morire? (Who Saw Her Die?). As director Aldo Lara would later recall in a
supplemental interview accompanying the film’s DVD release:
Lazenby had already played the role of James Bond and acquired a certain
international fame. This was useful for
the producers… He had deep issues with (Cubby) Broccoli and the entire James
Bond organization… In the end, he didn’t make a lira. He was going to the casinos, staying in big
hotels, and nothing was free. At the end
he was shown the bills and everything had been deducted from his pay… he had
made nothing. His only dream was to
return to his homeland of Australia, buy a boat and sail off alone. He was happy that [this film] would earn him
the money to buy the boat. He was very
available and very nice, but he disappeared after this.”
Well, not entirely. Near broke and recently married with a child on the way, Lazenby was
wandering around London’s Leicester Square where, on a whim, he caught a
late-night screening of Bruce Lee’s Fists
of Fury (aka The Big Boss, 1971). Though sensing a window of opportunity had
opened, the actor hadn’t done his homework particularly well. Lazenby booked a flight to Singapore, only to
discover Hong Kong was Lee’s actual base of operation. He caught a second flight to Hong Kong and, following
a brief meeting with the powerful but uninterested Shaw Brothers, found his way
to Raymond Chow’s office. Though Chow also
seemed indifferent to Lazenby’s unannounced visit, the producer did have the
presence of mind to call down to Lee (“James Bond is here to see you. Can I send him down?”). Though Lee’s answer was a curt “No,” an hour
later the martial arts star emerged from his screening-room session. He asked the down-and-out Australian if he’d
care to share a luncheon with Chow and himself. Midway through that meal – and to Raymond Chow’s sputtering surprise –
Lee coolly instructed his business partner to write out a check in the amount
of $10,000. “I want George to come back
here and do a movie with me, [Game of
Death] and I know he’ll come back if he’s got my money.”
Though he had already begun work on Game of Death, production was temporarily suspended when Golden
Harvest teamed with Warner Bros. for the international breakthrough Enter the Dragon. We’ll never know exactly what role Lee had in
mind for the former James Bond since, on July 20, 1973 and only four days following
their first meeting, Lee was found dead. The executives at Golden Harvest were
devastated. Not only had they lost a
friend and essential creative partner, they now inherited the liability of having
George Lazenby on the company payroll. The
company’s chagrin wasn’t personal. The
truth of the matter was their newly signed leading man was Hong Kong box-office
dead weight: he had absolutely no
kung-fu training and couldn’t speak a word of Mandarin.
Tired of hanging around Hong Kong waiting for something
to be offered in the weeks following Lee’s passing, Lazenby returned home. In January 1974 the actor announced to
reporters that he was offered a role in The
Golden Needles of Ecstasy to be shot “in both Hong Kong and Los
Angeles.” The plot was to involve
ecstasy-producing acupuncture needles of solid gold that “are “So precious […] people in the Orient will do anything to acquire
them.” Though that film actually would see
the light of day – as the disastrous Golden
Needles – Joe Don Baker and Jim Kelly had been assigned the lead male roles
and Lazenby was, once again, left out in the cold.
"Young Billy Young" is the kind of film of which it can be said, "They don't make 'em like that anymore". Not because the movie is so exceptional. In fact, it isn't exceptional on any level whatsoever. Rather, it's the sheer ordinariness of the entire production that makes one pine away for an era in which top talent could be attracted to enjoyable, if unremarkable, fare such as this. Such films, especially Westerns, were churned out with workmanlike professionalism to play to undemanding audiences that didn't require mega-budget blockbusters to feel they got their money's worth at the boxoffice. Sadly, such movies have largely gone the way of the dodo bird. In today's film industry, bigger must always be better and mid-range flicks such as are no longer made. However, through home video releases such as Kino Lorber's Blu-ray of "Young Billy Young", it's possible to still enjoy the simple pleasures that such movies provide.
The story opens with botched robbery in Mexico committed by Billy Young (Robert Walker) and some cohorts including Jesse (David Carradine). The plan to steal horses from the Mexican military goes awry and Billy is forced to split from his fellow robbers with the army in hot pursuit. Making his way back across the border to New Mexico, he is penniless and desperate. He has a chance encounter with Ben Kane (Robert Mitchum), a tough, sarcastic older man who he encounters again in a nearby town. Here, Billy is being cheated at cards by the local sheriff, who goads him into a gunfight. Billy ends up killing him but stands to be framed for the sheriff's death. He's saved by Ben, who rides along with him to another town where Ben has agreed to take on the job of lawman. Ostensibly he is there to keep order and collect back taxes from deadbeats but in reality, he is on a mission of revenge. Some years before, Ben's son had been gunned down by a criminal named Boone (John Anderson) and Kane has learned that Boone is a presence in the new town and that he is being protected by a local corrupt businessman, John Behan (Jack Kelly). Ben makes his presence known immediately by enforcing the law in a strict manner. He's confronted by Behan, who tries to intimidate him. This results in Behan being slapped around by Kane. Behan also grows to resent the new lawman because he is flirting with his mistress, saloon entertainer Lily Beloit (Angie Dickinson). When Behan abuses her as punishment, he gets another beating from Kane. Meanwhile, Billy runs into Jesse and accuses him of having deserted him in Mexico. The two men fight it out and Jesse is later involved with the accidental shooting of the town's beloved doctor while in the employ of Behan. Kane learns that Jesse is Boone's son and holds him in jail as bait for Boone to come out of hiding. The plan works all too well. Boone turns up with a small army and lays siege to the jailhouse where Kane and Billy are holed up.
Original French lobby card.
"Young Billy Young" was compared to a TV show by New York Times critic Howard Thompson on the basis that it contains so many standard elements of westerns from this time period. There is the bad girl with the heart of gold, the evil business tycoon, the brash young gun and his wiser, older mentor, the heroes outnumbered by superior forces and a lovable old coot (played against type by Paul Fix in full Walter Brennan/Gabby Hayes mode.) Yet somehow it all works very well, thanks mostly to Robert Mitchum's stalwart presence. With his trademark ram-rod stiff walk and cool persona, Mitchum tosses off bon mots like a frontier version of 007. Even the Times acknowledged that "Mitchum can do laconic wonders with a good wise-crack". He has considerable chemistry with Dickinson, though the action between the sheets is more implied than shown. Robert Walker Jr. acquits himself well in the title role and David Carradine makes an impression even with limited screen time. The film was directed by Burt Kennedy, an old hand at directing fine westerns in reliable, if not remarkable, style and it all culminates in a rip-snorting shoot-out that is genuinely exciting. The fine supporting cast includes Willis Bouchey, Parley Baer and Deanna Martin (Dino's daughter) in her acting debut. One oddball element to the film: Mitchum croons the title song over the opening credits. If this sounds strange, keep in mind that Mitchum improbably once had a hit album of calypso music.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes the original trailer as well as trailers for other westerns, "Support Your Local Sheriff", "Support Your Local Gunfighter" and "The Wonderful Country", which also stars Mitchum.
one hundred years of turning dreams into cinematic reality, Technicolor became
only the second company to be awarded a coveted Star by the Hollywood Chamber
of Commerce.The ceremony took place on March 30.
world famous for bringing color to the movies, especially in iconic films like
Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, Technicolor has adapted to the
times. It withdrew from 35MM film
processing a number of years ago and is now firmly in the digital era. The company also holds over 40,000 patents
and its technology can be found in flat screens and other consumer
the ceremony, attended by actor Edward James Olmos and distinguished
cinematographer and ASC President Richard Crudo, Technicolor’s CEO, Frederic
Rose said the company strives to “bring a soul, a spirit, a feeling to what is
being created.” Since Technicolor is
known as a “Creative Technology Company”, Rose noted that “technology is an
enabler, it’s something that allows a director or cinematographer to stretch
the boundaries and create something that has never been seen before.”
Technicolor senior executives at the unveiling ceremony.
70% of current blockbusters and 50% of the recent Super Bowl ads feature visual
effects created by Technicolor through companies like the Mill and MPC in London. Some of their recent triumphs include providing
visual effects for The Revenant and winning an Oscar for sound mixing on
Whiplash. James Bond fans will remember
the rich Technicolor look of many of the classic films and the company has
continued that partnership in the 21st Century by creating striking visual
effects on Skyfall and Spectre as well as sound mixing on both films. (Skyfall’s audio mix won an Oscar for sound
the star was unveiled, members of the press were escorted to an expansive
conference room where examples of Technicolor’s classic film library
restoration and upscaling (from SDR to
HDR) were being played. Let’s just say a
treated 36 year-old clip looked jaw-droppingly crisp, the colors popping off
the screen. The company is also heavily
involved in next generation technologies like VR. Goggles were available to see demo reels
including an amazing clip of The Martian VR Experience, Sony’s Goosebumps and a
project for Gatorade that makes the viewer feel what it’s like to be a major
league baseball player.
was a proud day for the venerable company, but as CEO Frederic Rose promised,
“the next 100 years will be even more exciting.”
Guy Hamilton and Roger Moore on the set of "The Man With the Golden Gun" in Thailand, 1974.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Cinema Retro mourns the loss of director Guy Hamilton, who has passed away at age 93. Guy was an old friend and supporter of our magazine and a wonderful talent and raconteur. Hamilton, though British by birth, spent much of his life in France. After WWII, he entered the film industry in England and served as assistant director to Sir Carol Reed, working on the classic film "The Third Man". He also served as AD on John Huston's "The African Queen". Gradually, he moved up the ladder to director and helmed such films as "An Inspector Calls", "The Colditz Story" and "The Devil's Disciple", the latter starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier. In 1964 Hamilton was hired to direct the third James Bond film "Goldfinger" and made cinema history. Hamilton found the perfect blend of humor and thrills and the film started the era of Bondmania that would see Sean Connery boosted to the status of international superstar. He also directed the Michael Caine spy thriller "Funeral in Berlin" for Bond producer Harry Saltzman in 1967. He worked once again for Saltzman on the ambitious epic WWII film "Battle of Britain" in 1969, a highly complex film to make given the logistics of recreating dogfights in the skies over England.
Bond producers Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli reached out to Guy Hamilton again in 1971 to direct "Diamonds Are Forever", the film that marked Sean Connery's return to the James Bond series after a four year absence. The film was an enormous success but it also initiated a swing toward more overt humor, which reflected Hamilton's personal vision of the series. When this writer asked him over a dinner in London many years ago if he felt that the increase in jokes and gags was an artistic mistake, Hamilton insisted it was not, although he acknowledged that he had probably alienated some of the more traditional Bond fans. In fact, Hamilton said that his initial plans for the script of "Diamonds Are Forever" would have seen Bond in Disneyland battling SPECTRE agents dressed as famous Disney characters. Hamilton's emphasis on laughs in the Bond films perfectly paved the way for the Roger Moore era which began in 1973 with "Live and Let Die". Hamilton was retained to direct that film as well. Moore agreed with Hamilton's emphasis on overt humor and that angle would largely define the Moore films which lasted through "A View to a Kill" in 1985. Hamilton would direct Moore's second Bond film, "The Man With the Golden Gun" in 1974. He was initially scheduled to direct "The Spy Who Loved Me" but due to his residency in France, tax complications ensued regarding his ability to work for an extended period in England. Ultimately, Lewis Gilbert directed the film. Hamilton's post-Bond era movies included the Agatha Christie thrillers "The Mirror Crack'd" and "Evil Under the Sun", as well as "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" and "Force Ten From Navarone". Of the latter, I once asked him if the disappointing movie went wrong during filming. Characteristically, Hamilton told me that it had a lousy script from day one and he knew it would be a lousy movie. However, he was winding down his involvement in the film industry and agreed to do the movie because the producers purchased a beautiful home for him in Spain. He said it was truly "an offer I couldn't refuse".
As age took its toll, Hamilton made fewer trips outside of Spain. However a few years ago, Cinema Retro's Dave Worrall and Gareth Owen accompanied Hamilton to an outdoor screening of "Goldfinger" in London. He had the satisfaction of seeing how well received his movie was even after half a century. Guy Hamilton was the epitome of the British gentleman and a skilled filmmaker as well. His contributions to the movie industry, and the James Bond series in particular, are secure in film history.
For fans of "The Magnificent Seven", the sands in the hourglass have finally run out. Since the mid-1990s, there have been attempts by studio executives to bring director John Sturges' classic 1960 Western back to the big screen. There was a reasonably popular TV series based on the film that aired in the 1990s but no big screen feature film ever went into production- until now. We realize it is irresponsible to judge a film simply on the basis of its trailer. However, it is appropriate to judge the trailer on its own merits. Suffice it to say that the trailer for the new big screen version of "The Magnificent Seven" stinks-- on ice. First, it's cut in the same style that virtually every action movie trailer now follows. It's as though the creators of these trailers are in arrested development from the era of when MTV videos were all the rage. It moves at lightning speed and tells you precious little about the story. What we can glean is that the notion of a band of misfit gunfighters traveling to Mexico to protect innocent villagers from banditos has largely been altered. Apparently all of the action in the new film takes place north o' the border. Denzel Washington takes on the lead role, following in the footsteps of Yul Brynner, Lee Van Cleef and George Kennedy. (Brynner excelled in the first film but plodded through the first sequel, "Return of the Seven". Kennedy and Van Cleef registered even worse in the ill-advised sequels "The Magnificent Seven Ride!" and "Guns of the Magnificent Seven".) At least all of those films had a consistency in that the lead character's name was "Chris" throughout. This time around, Washington plays someone named "Sam Chisholm". We're told that this movie isn't a remake but a "re-imagining" of the classic film. "Re-imagining" is now often used as a justification for taking elements of a superior film and tampering with them for commercial purposes. This version seems like a cookie-cutter attempt to make some fast cash. It seems devoid of any passion or even respect for the original and is filled with wise-cracking characters who fire off one-liners while blowing things up. How can you even think about making any version of "The Magnificent Seven" without utilizing Elmer Bernstein's classic score? Well, they've apparently done it. The late James Horner provided the score for this version and we'll reserve judgment. However, the musical instincts found in the trailer are foreboding, as the action is set to a rock version of "House of the Rising Sun". After all, nothing brings out a feeling for the Wild West like "House of the Rising Sun". Maybe the final cut will feature Madonna's "Vogue", as well. The film reunites Denzel Washington with his "Training Day" co-star Ethan Hawke and that film's director Antoine Fuqua. They are all talented men but Washington long ago relegated his status as one of America's finest actors in favor of taking a quick pay check in lousy action movies and Fuqua has been associated with a number of "by the numbers" action films in recent years. We at Cinema Retro are also calling upon studios to make more Westerns so we don't want to judge the final product until we actually see "The Magnificent Seven" when it is released later this year. Perhaps we'll be pleasantly surprised- but based on this dreadful trailer, we're not counting on it.
Lean’s Brief Encounter, based on Noël
Coward’s one-act play Still Life and
adapted for the screen by Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, and Ronald Neame,
represents one of the most admired and poignant love stories ever put on
celluloid. The picture frequently lands on various “best” lists and is often
called one of the great movie romances. It is also a decidedly British picture,
one that deftly captures the zeitgeist of
immediate post-war England with a focus on middle-class values and morality of
the time. It appeared in British cinemas in late 1945 and was released in the
U.S. in 1946; thus, it was nominated for the ‘46 Academy Awards for Best
Director, Best Actress (Celia Johnson), and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Criterion Collection released the film on DVD years ago, both alone and as part
of the box set collection, David Lean
Directs Noël Coward (the collection was
also released on Blu-ray); however, until now the title was not available as a
separate Blu-ray disk. All of the supplements from the box set edition have
been ported over to this single disk version.
Brief Encounter is the story of Laura
(wonderfully played by Johnson), a respectable, happily-married woman who
happens to meet a respectable, happily-married doctor named Alec (Trevor
Howard) one day in the train station. There is a mutual attraction, and they
begin to see each other on day outings over the next few weeks. They fall in
love, of course, and the next big question is... will they or won’t they?
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2
underscoring the affair, this is lush, romantic stuff.
was Lean’s fourth collaboration with Coward (their first picture, In Which We Serve,was co-directed by both) and it’s the piece that exhibited Lean’s
growing artistry as a filmmaker. For a man who went on to make big budget epics
like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, Brief Encounter is strikingly small and intimate, and that’s the
reason it has such charm and resonance. The two leads are superb. Johnson (whom
James Bond fans may know was, in real life, the sister-in-law of Ian Fleming)
displays such controlled emotion (in a manner that is distinctly British), that
it becomes heartbreaking to watch. Howard’s conflict between desire and
responsibility is palpable. Their rapport is very real and totally believable,
even seventy-one years later.
Blu-ray disk contains a high-definition digital transfer of the BFI National
Archive’s 2008 restoration, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. There is
an audio commentary from 2000 by film historian Bruce Eder.
supplements include an insightful interview from 2012 with Noël
Coward scholar Barry Day; a terrific short documentary on the making of the
film; a nearly-hour-long 1971 television documentary on Lean’s career up to
that point; and the theatrical trailer. An essay by historian Kevin Brownlow
appears in the booklet.
Brief Encounter is the perfect date
movie. Watch it tonight with someone you love.
It is no secret that the earth is in a state
of constant and rapid change. Global
warming, economic impoverishment for a growing number of people who have few
options available to them, the threat of earthquakes in areas of the country
that are long overdue for a massive shaking – all of these are stress factors that
large segments of the population contend with daily.
The Chevron Richmond Refinery in Richmond, CA
was constructed by Standard Oil in 1901 and opened in 1902 (John D.
Rockefeller, who was a founder, chairman and major shareholder of the company,
became the richest man in the world following Standard Oil’s dissolution into
33 smaller companies). The refinery has
had its share of problems over the years, suffering explosions and fires in
1989 and again in 1999. On August 6,
2012, there was an eruption of such intensity that it displaced over 15,000
people living in the surrounding areas, residents who are still suffering the
ill effects of the disaster in the form of everything from respiratory infections
to cancer. It is this catastrophe that
begins Shalini Kantayya’s new documentary Catching
the Sun, a film that echoes a theme that is discussed at length by another
documentary that was recently released, Requiem
for the American Dream, in that the decisions made by a select few often
have vast and negative repercussions for many. Whereas the latter clearly paints a dark picture of the current state of
economic affairs in present-day US of A, the former offers a far more hopeful
view of life.
the Sun follows two people each representing two
superpowers. Wally Jiang, the president
of WesTech (a Chinese company from Wuxi, China though their website now shows
their China office as being in Shanghai) who believes that renewable energy
(RE) in the form of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells is the wave of the future, is
in a race with the US to become the dominant provider of PV solar panels which
convert sunlight into electric energy. Van Jones (author of The Green
Collar Economy and Rebuild the Dream) is a self-appointed gadfly in the US who dedicates his life’s work to improving
the lot of others through his attempts to get people on board with solar
power. In his view, this form of RE is
not just the answer to reducing the carbon footprint (i.e. pollution), but it’s
an excellent way to educate people, make them feel like productive members of
the community and therefore reduce crime and violence. In essence, give them a job, the prospect of
a decent future and ultimately, hope. Michele McGeoy, the founder of Solar Richmond, echoes his sentiment that
good jobs are an antidote to violence and crime. Paul Mudrow and Hal Aronson are both Solar
Richmond trainees studying to become photovoltaic solar panel installers. They hope that this will be their ticket to
a lucrative future.
Danny Kenny, CEO of Oakland-based Sungevity, points
out that the cost of solar has dropped 80% in last five to seven years. Oakland, unfortunately, is also home to much
abject poverty, and many young African-American males who never thought about
anything outside of their neighborhood, take classes and training on RE. Director Kantayya is obviously fascinated by
her subject, and her film does an admirable job of illustrating not only how
two countries see an opportunity for developing a nascent technology that has
yet to reach its potential, but also educating the audience on solar power in
layman’s terms. In the 1960’s, the race
to the moon by that decade’s end put the US and the then-Soviet Union (now
Russia) in a duke-it-out race wherein the US prevailed, due Americans’ resolve
to kick its nemesis’s bol'shaya
As of the writing of this review, China
reports that they have developed a way to make solar panels that convert not
only sunlight into energy, but raindrops into energy when it rains. This is a huge development as current solar
panels do not respond to anything other than sunlight.
Hopefully, the documentary will shed more
light on this fascinating subject (no pun intended).
Click here to
read more about Catching the Sun,
find screenings at nearby theaters, and also rent or download it on Vimeo.
Hawks’ 1939 adventure/drama/comedy/musical (yes, it’s all of those) is firmly
among the director’s best pictures, made at a time when aviation was glamorous,
thrilling, and dangerous. As Hawks himself says in an interview supplement, when
people heard a plane flying in the sky in those days, they’d rush outside to
take a look at it. The job of an air mail carrier, at the time, was something
for only the bravest—or the craziest—of men.
(Cary Grant, in one of his most memorable performances) runs an air mail
operation in a remote corner of South America, and part of the flight routes
traverse the Andes mountains. It’s an extremely hazardous occupation for pilots
of single prop planes, for there are often rainstorms, fog, and other obstacles
to prevent smooth flying. It’s no wonder that his team is a motley crew of
ne’er-do-wells, alcoholics, and daredevils. When Bonnie (Jean Arthur), a
touring entertainer, shows up en route to her next gig, she provides Geoff with
another peril—love. That’s something Geoff doesn’t want any part of. This set
up is classic Hawks, for, along with Frank Capra, he was a primary referee for
the war between the sexes on screen. Only
Angels demonstrates this in spades.
get even more complicated when Bat (Richard Barthelmess), a pilot with a dark
reputation, shows up with his wife, Judy (Rita Hayworth, in one of her very
first screen appearances). Judy happens to be Geoff’s old flame, and Bat was
apparently responsible for once bailing out of a plane and leaving his mechanic
to die in the crash. That mechanic was the brother of Geoff’s best friend and
employee, Kid (Thomas Mitchell).
that weren’t enough plot, Hawks throws in the exotic foreign setting of a small
South American village and its occupants, late night saloon parties complete
with pianist (a la Casablanca, three
years prior to that film’s release), hair-raising flight sequences, and
screwball comedy antics between the leads. It’s pure Hollywood, made in a year
that is often called one of the best in the industry’s history.
Criterion Collection’s new 4K digital restoration looks marvelous, and it has
an uncompressed monaural soundtrack that brings the plane engines into your
living room. Supplements include excerpts from an audio interview between Hawks
and Peter Bogdanovich, in which the director talks about his aviation pictures,
his mixed feelings about Jean Arthur, and other topics; a new interview with
film critic David Thomson, who makes a strong case for subtle homosexual
interpretations of the male camaraderie in the picture; a new documentary about
Hawks’ aviation movies featuring film scholars Craig Barron and Ben Burtt; the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation from 1939,
starring Grant, Arthur, Hayworth, Barthelmess, and Mitchell, hosted by Cecil B.
DeMille; and the trailer. An essay by critic Michael Stragow appears in the
Only Angels Have
an exhilarating look at an era long time gone, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Don’t be late for the flight!
The seemingly promising teaming of Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale, both at their most glamorous back in 1968, goes hopelessly astray in the comedy/crime caper film "A Fine Pair". The movie is the kind of lazy effort that makes one suspect the only motives for the stars' participation were quick, sizable paychecks and the opportunity to enjoy some exotic locations at the studio's expense. (Think "Donovan's Reef" without the fun.) The film opens in New York City and we find Hudson as NYPD Captain Mike Harmon, a conservative, no-nonsense career police officer who runs his precinct with the same strong-arm tactics that General George S. Patton employed to keep his troops in line. Out of nowhere pops Esmeralda Marini (Cardinale), a glamorous and almost annoyingly perky young woman who has arrived unannounced from her native Italy. Turns out she has known Harmon most of her life as he was a good friend of her late father, who was an Italian police captain. It's never adequately explained how the two law enforcement officer's professional careers intersected but it turns out that Harmon became close enough to the Marini family that Esmeralda has long considered Harmon like a favorite uncle. The absurdities start almost immediately as Esmeralda confesses that she has possession of some stolen jewels that she has stolen from a prominent Italian family, the Fairchilds, who are now on holiday in New York. She says that she has regrets about having participated in the crime and wants to break into the Fairchilds' fortress-like chateau in Austria so that she can return the jewels before they find they are missing. One would think that a streetwise New York City police captain would see this as a rather bizarre and implausible yarn, but not Harmon. On a moment's notice he decides to take a leave from his job and flyoff for Austria with Esmeralda in a quest to undo the wrong she committed by stealing the jewels. Oh, did I mention that Harmon is also married? He dismisses this by saying that he was simply vague about his reasons for taking off suddenly for a week in Austria. I'd be curious to hear about the outcome of any married man who decides to employ the same tactics.
Once in Austria, Harmon is alternately bemused and annoyed by Esmeralda's party-hearty lifestyle. She is a magnet for eccentric young men of the counter-culture, who she beds with guilt-free abandon. However, it doesn't take long before conservative Harmon is joining in the partying but there is still the slight problem of breaking into the Fairchild's estate. Harmon uses a false scenario to convince the local police chief (the marvelous character actor Leon Askin) to give him a tour of the security devices inside and around the perimeter of the mansion. While it might be a professional courtesy to share such information with a fellow police captain, one would have to wonder how the absent family would feel about strangers treading around their private property and discussing all their top-secret burglar alarm devices. Harmon is stunned by the sophistication of the anti-theft system and concerned that the mission of breaking into the home will be impossible- and Esmeralda is vague about how the original theft was originally orchestrated except to say that her accomplice managed to pull it off. Against all logic, Harmon decides to risk his life and career in order to carry on with the plot. In some of the most absurd scenes, he becomes a poor man's "Q" Branch by devising ways to use ordinary objects such as champagne bottles and mingle them with chemicals in order to gain access to the house and neutralize the alarm system. It's a plan that would have challenged Einstein, but Harmon feels secure enough to continue with the caper. He and Esmeralda decided to undertake the top secret and illegal task of mixing dangerous chemicals by doing so in the communal toilet of the tiny bed and breakfast lodge they are staying at. Even Inspector Clouseau wouldn't be that careless.
Harmon's plan requires artificially raising the interior temperature of the room the Fairchilds' safe is in to a scorching 194 degrees Fahrenheit because somehow he has figured out that this will prevent the alarms from being triggered. The entire sequence is ludicrous and seems designed simply as an excuse for Cardinale to strip down to her bra and panties, which provides the only break in the tedium. It doesn't take much skill to make a caper film sequence suspenseful but director Francesco Maselli (who also committed the sin of co-writing the screenplay) manages to bungle even this "can't miss" opportunity. There is no tension whatsoever and the scene ends prematurely with the caper successfully carried out. However, Esmeralda now has a second break-in she wants Harmon to help with. By this point, he is smitten with her and they become lovers. Given the fact that he has been a de facto "uncle" to her, the "Yuck" factor kicks in right away. Before long Harmon has changed his entire personality, ditching his conservative lifestyle for the free-wheeling, anything-goes philosophy of Esmeralda. Harmon's transformation is as likely as someone entering the voting booth with the intention of voting for Ted Cruz and suddenly deciding to pull the lever for Bernie Sanders. The remainder of the film concerns this second, equally implausible, crime plan. By this point Harmon has discovered that he has been played for a sucker by Esmeralda, who had him place worthless jewels in the Fairchild safe. While he was preoccupied doing so, she used the opportunity to steal real jewels. In fact, she had never been inside the mansion before and had conned him into giving her access. Got all that? Then please explain it to me. Harmon is so enamored that this career police captain with a distinguished career in law enforcement decides to become a professional jewel thief and give up his profession. In a "Oh, by the way..." moment he conveniently also explains that he phoned his wife and requested a divorce, which she immediately complied with. Before long, the happy couple is off to Rome for their next caper. Not even Jules Verne could come up with such fantastical scenarios.
"A Fine Pair" has more problems than poor direction and a terrible script. It's perhaps the worst-photographed major film release I've ever scene. Cinematographer Alfio Contini has a distinguished record in the movie industry so maybe this was an aberration. However, he employs some amateurish techniques that make it appear the film was photographed by an amateur who stumbled onto the set while he was on his lunch break. There are head-spinning swirls and dreadful use of the zoom lens. Contini also squanders the early sequences in New York by focusing on tight close-ups of the actors instead of the city's exotic locations. The choppy editing doesn't help and we're left with an upbeat, jaunty score by Ennio Morricone as the film's sole asset. While I've always enjoyed Rock Hudson's work in movies, he gave very few truly impressive performances ("Giant" and "Seconds" among them.) He was best suited for light comedies which he had a natural flair for which is why it's a telling sign that he's pretty awful in this film. You can almost see a thought bubble above his head with the question "What the hell am I doing in this mess?" He gives a listless and uninspired performance throughout. Cardinale is at least lively but her character is poorly written and completely unbelievable. Regarding their performances, New York Times critic Roger Greenspun astutely wrote at the time, "...the film at times seems like "Mission: Impossible" performed by the cast of "Captain Scarlett and the Mysterons"- with facial expressions that cleverly imitate life."
The Warner Archive DVD was mastered from the best elements available. Fittingly they are awful and, thus, so is the transfer. The color quality varies wildly and some scenes are so dark that it feels as though you are staring into an inkwell. Not helping matters is that the movie suffers from bad dubbing and sound mixing so that even Rock Hudson sounds like he is being dubbed by a different actor. The movie is of primary interest to loyal fans of Hudson and Cardinale and those who get a kick out of watching promising cinematic premises that turned into disasters.
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We at Cinema Retro like nothing more than to make our readers aware of emerging new talents in independent film making. Two of the most impressive young movie creators whose work we've experienced recently are Steven Piet and Erik Crary, two personal friends who teamed up to fulfill their dream of making their own feature film. The duo wrote the screenplay for "Uncle John" and Piet made his directorial debut with the movie, as well. The film is a highly stylized, oddball concoction that blends two seemingly disparate storylines that intersect logically as the movie proceeds. The story grabs you from the opening frames in which we see Dutch (Laurent Soucie), a hulk of a man staggering in a dazed condition on the dock of remote lake in Wisconsin. We see he is being followed by another man, John (John Ashton), who is wielding the oar of a rowboat that he has apparently just slammed Dutch in the head with. He's about to administer the coup de grace when Dutch falls into the shallow water and conveniently drowns. We then watch John, a man in his late sixties, struggle mightily to cover up evidence of the murder. He wraps Dutch in an improvised body bag and painstakingly drags him to his truck, loads him into it and drives to an isolated field where local farmers burn brush. Here, he buries the body under a mound of branches and pours some gasoline on top, making for a gruesome bonfire. Who are these men and why has one murdered the other? The answers are given but not until much later in the story. Meanwhile, we see that John isn't a madman. Rather, he's well-established in the small farming community and respected for his low-key personality and slow-to-anger temperament. He earns a modest living on his farm, which he's converted to a woodworking shop where he does freelance carpentry jobs for local residents. About the only excitement in his day-today activities is getting together each morning with a group of local good ol' boys for coffee at the local diner where they discuss gossip and the affairs of the day. It doesn't take long before word gets around that Dutch has gone missing. Apparently Dutch has been a loose cannon and troublemaker for decades. Recently he's found Jesus and decided to repent. As part of his self-imposed penance, he's been visiting the locals and confessing to various misdeeds he's done against them and begging for their forgiveness. As the days pass with no sign of Dutch, the group begins to speculate that maybe someone didn't decide to forgive him for a specific transgression. Through it all, John keeps a poker face and pretends he is ignorant of Dutch's fate. But as the local sheriff keeps digging around, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable and perhaps is coming to regret having committed the murder.
The script cleverly presents a completely parallel and seemingly unrelated plot that centers on Ben (Alex Moffatt), a 29 year-old designer in a hip marketing studio in Chicago. A new employee, Kate (Jenna Lyng) has been brought on board to oversee projects. On one level he resents the hiring of this new supervisor but on the other hand he's understandably smitten by her charm and good looks. Before long they begin a romantic relationship. The two stories blend later in the film when we learn that Ben was raised by "Uncle John" when his mother died and his father deserted him. He decides to visit John and introduce him to Kate. The timing of the visit couldn't be worse for John, who is becoming increasingly concerned about being unveiled as a murderer. Adding to his woes is the nagging presence of Dutch's brother Danny (Ronnie Gene Blevins), who is all-too-obviously suspicious that John is hiding a terrible secret. Danny, like Dutch, is a local trouble maker with a short-fuse and a penchant for drinking. He drops by John's farm during the visit by Ben and Kate, who remain oblivious to the uneasy banter between the two men. Director Steven Piet ratchets up the tension in this marvelously-constructed sequence in which John and Danny enact a sequence that reminds one of a Bond movie in that the protagonist and villain talk politely to each other but barely mask their hatred for one another. John knows the noose is getting tighter and fears that Danny will take matters into his own hands if he doesn't stop him first. Worse, Danny make seek to avenge his brother's murder by making Ben and Kate his victims. The only element of the film I found somewhat disappointing is the final scene which has sense of irony about it but doesn't quite deliver the payoff I had hoped for. Nonetheless, "Uncle John" is a real winner in every respect. If you enjoy Hitchcock thrillers, give this one a try. In fact, the film reminded me of Hitchcock in the sense that the Master always tried to show just how difficult it is to kill a human being and dispose of a body. In "The Trouble With Harry", the titular corpse keeps popping up around town to the dismay of the locals. In the kitchen murder sequence of "Torn Curtain" we see exactly how ill-equipped an everyday person is to kill someone else. "Uncle John" explores this territory by showing us the pain, tension and aggrevation John must endure to cover-up his misdeed.
The sheer intelligence of the screenplay of "Uncle John" is what impressed me the most. The film doesn't rely on violence or gruesome scenes of bloodletting. Instead we get realistic characters talking in a realistic manner. Uncle John is one of those complex characters we've seen in films of this type before. On the surface he is the villain who has committed a deplorable deed. However, you end up inadvertently admiring his creativity and resolve in avoiding being detected as a murderer. He is played with enormous skill by character actor John Ashton, who finally gets a well-deserved starring role. Ashton's performance is award worthy, as he captures the essence of a very complex character and makes him sympathetic even though we can't condone what he has done. He is the consummate professional, bringing both pathos and cringe-inducing murderous instincts to his portrayal. He's matched by equally excellent performances by Alex Moffatt, Jenna Lyng and Ronnie Gene Blevins, all of whom should have promising futures in the film industry. The same goes for Steven Piet, whose debut as director is rather remarkable. He has a real eye for how to set up a scene and milk it for all its worth. I should mention that the casting of the film is outstanding. Even the smallest role is expertly played. Kudos to cinematographer Mike Bove, who does wonders with lighting elements that add immeasurably to the foreboding atmosphere. There is also a fine musical score by Adam Robbi and Shawn Sutta.
The Kino Lorber DVD includes a montage of scenes from the film set to the soundtrack music, a teaser trailer, original trailer and a rather clever interview with the filmmakers conducted by their own moms. In it, they discuss the trials and tribulations of making films such as these on micro-budgets. They may not have made much money from this project but it's far superior to most of the over-produced, overly-costly mainstream fare churned out by the major studios.
“Barquero”(1970) stars Lee Van Cleef as Travis, an
ex-gunslinger living a quiet life as the owner/operator of a barge that is the
only way to cross the river at a certain spot between Texas and Mexico. When we
first see him he’s in bed with Nola (Marie Gomez), a hot looking Mexican chick
who likes to suck on cigarillos. Everything’s fine until the creepy Fair (John
Davis Chandler) shows up at his doorstep leering down at the naked Nola and
says he and two men with him want to go across the water to Texas. Travis
doesn’t like the way he’s looking at Nola and tells him “A ride across the
river is all your money’s going to buy.” They get across and Fair pulls a gun
on him and tells his amigos to tie him up.
Meanwhile, in a town a few miles to the north Remy
(Warren Oates), leader of an outlaw gang, watches from the bedroom of a
whorehouse as his gang robs the bank and shoots up the entire town. Once
they’re done shooting everything full of holes they ride south, expecting the
barge to be ready to take them to Mexico. Only trouble is Travis has a friend
named Mountain Phil (Forrest Tucker in a show-stealing performance) who is
handy with a knife. He kills the two of the desperadoes and neutralizes Fair
with the help of some “tasty” fire ants. Once freed, Travis quickly rounds up a
bunch of squatters, including Anna (Mariette Hartley) and Nola and takes them
over to the Mexican side. Remy is pretty ticked when he gets to the river and
sees there’s no barge ready to help them flee to Mexico. It’s pretty much a
standoff for the next hour of the film as both sides try to get the upper hand.
Producer Aubrey Schenck intended to make “Barquero” a
combination of the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the bloody westerns
of Sam Peckinpah. He hired Van Cleef, who was a star of two Leone westerns Oates, a member of Peckinpah’s
regular stock company, for the lead roles. He had a script by George Schenck
and William Marks that had a fairly strong premise. The idea was to set up the
clash between Van Cleef and Oates and let it explode.
It succeeds as far as it goes, but could have been much
better. Schenck originally hired TV director Robert Sparr to helm “Barquero”
but Sparr was killed in a helicopter crash scouting location in Colorado and
the job went to veteran director Gordon Douglas (“Them!” “Rio Conchos”). You
can see the Leone influence, especially when Remy starts cracking up and begins
smoking some loco weed, reminiscent of Indio (Gian Marie Volante) in “For a Few
Dollars More.” The bank robbery scene that opens the film is imitation
Peckinpah, complete with an astronomical bullet count. But it’s obvious Douglas,
capable though he was, lacked the crazed inspiration of either Peckinpah or
Leone. You would really need an inspired mad man to make “Barquero” work and Douglas
just wasn’t crazy enough. “Barquero” is
something of a misfire rather than the cult classic it could have been. Nevertheless,
it’s a treat to see two of the baddest badasses together for the one and only
time in their careers, and if you take it for what it is, it’s a wild ride.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray presents “Barquero” in its 1.85:1
theatrical aspect ratio. The picture is crisp and clear, with good color. Some
film elements are more worn that others, but overall it’s in good shape. The
only extra is trailer. Kino Lorber
deserves to be commended for the way it’s releasing these terrific
looking-Blu-Ray transfers of hard-to-find-movies like “Barquero,” especially at
a time when most of the market is heading away from actual physical discs to
on-line streaming. I hope they keep them coming.
“Kill or Be Killed” (2015) aka “Red on Yella, Kill a
Fella,” is a low budget horror-western released on DVD by RLJ Entertainment
that also attempts to be a tribute to the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s
and Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch.” The plot is about a gang of outlaws in
the year 1900 traveling 500 miles through Texas to get to a stash of gold
that’s hidden at the bottom of a well in the sand dunes of Galveston Beach. The
group is hounded on their journey by a mysterious being and one by one the gang
members get picked off.
Like Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch these outlaws are a motley
crew. Their leader, Claude “Sweet Tooth” Barbee, played by co-writer/director
Justin Meeks, is very loosely based on real-life outlaw Sam Bass. As Meeks
portrays him, Barbee is a man obsessed with recovering the hidden loot from a
previous robbery. He’ll stop at nothing
to get it. He’s abetted by a gang of cutthroats capable of anything, and he’s
willing to overlook their bloody crimes if it will help him get to the gold. He’s
even willing to go as far as looking the other way when one of his men, a
hulking brute called Blocky (Gregory Kelly), brutally rapes and murders a girl
in her early teens.
Meeks explains in the DVD’s audio commentary that Barbee
needs Blocky’s muscle, so he’ll overlook what he did. But it turns out he’s
even willing to go farther than that. When the girl’s father pulls a shotgun on
Blocky to give him his just desserts, Barbee shoots the father in the head. Meeks
points out however, that as bad as that seems, Barbee, at least, has a line he
won’t cross. He doesn’t allow the girl’s mother and little brother to be killed.
Well, I guess...
Meeks and his co-writer/director Duane Graves, came up
with a script that tries to outdo the violence and sadism of the films that
inspired it. They set out to show bad men being bad and paying for it all in
the end. The addition of the horror element provides for a little extra gore. As
far as it goes, it’s not a bad premise for a movie. But the question is how far
across the line can you let your characters go before they become so
reprehensible that the audience cannot relate to them? Peckinpah’s bunch were
men on the wrong side of the law, but he gave them a sense of honor. They were
bad but not as bad as the posse of degenerates pursuing them, or Mapache, the
bandit chief they rob a train for. Barbee and his men, on the other hand, are
on a level even lower than that.
In another scene that comes out of nowhere, our
anti-heroes try to rob a black man (whom Barbee calls “Jimmy”) with a wagon of
furs, but when they find out he has no money, Barbee tells his men to get a
rope and “put his boots in the trees.” Smells like a lynching to me. But who can tell? The scene ends with one of
the gang coming toward the man with about three feet of rope in his hands. How
do you hang somebody with three feet of rope? Were they just going to tie him
up? I went to the audio commentary hoping the filmmakers would shed some light
on what was going on and why they included such an unnecessary and repugnant scene
in the first place. But instead all they discussed was how much they spent on
the props, including a gold coin they bought on eBay. It’s just one example of
the confused direction and writing in this film.
Meeks and Graves also seem to be fond of throwing red
herrings at the audience. As the members of the gang are killed one by one in mysterious
ways, there are scenes involving a giant savage with flaming eyes, which we’re
told in the commentary, is some kind of Viking who appeared in one of their
earlier shorts. Exactly why he’s in this film isn’t explained. He only appears
in Barbee’s dreams, but how can a dream image manage to slit at least one
character’s throat while he’s sleeping? Turns out he didn’t. The explanation of
who the real killer is pretty fantastic. Like really unbelievable, man.
The cast is full of indie movie players including Michael
Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Edwin Neal (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre),
Arianne Martin (Don’t Look in the Basement 2), Luce Rains (No Country for Old
Men) and Paul McCarthy-Boyington (The Human Race). Veteran character actor Pepe
Serna (Black Dahlia) is credited with being one of the producers and also has a
part in the picture. He plays a man named Rudy Goebel who, with his wife and
son or sons (not immediately clear), runs a ramshackle boarding house. We find
him drugging his latest boarder and then shooting him in the head when he
suspects his soup has been doped. When his hysterical wife asks him how long he
can keep doing this, he smashes her head on the wooden table top several times,
killing her, and throws her, the boarder, and one son into a root cellar. What
the hell? I don’t know. You explain it to me. There are a lot of unexplained
things in “Kill or Be Killed.”
Near the end of the DVD audio commentary Meeks remarks
that it’s always “good to leave a few questions unanswered at the end of a
film, just enough so if you watch maybe a second of third time it might link
some of the gaps.” It’s too bad Meeks and Graves didn’t take the trouble to
fill in the gaps themselves. If they had, and if they had written a script that
had some sort of morality to it, “Kill or Be Killed” might have been an
impressive entry in the weird west sub-genre category. But this is the 21st
century and in the world of indie films anyone with a camera can throw anything
they want up on the screen and call it a movie. As it is, it’s a somewhat pathetic example of
ambitious indie film making swinging for the bleachers and coming up with a
foul to left field.
The RLJ Entertainment DVD presents “Kill or Be Killed” in
a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which does justice to Brandon Torres’
cinematography. He captures some nice views of the West Texas country. The
soundtrack by John Constant is imitation Ennio Morricone, but has some merits
of its own. The disc contains the usual
extras, including audio commentary, interviews and deleted scenes. I’m sure
there is some sort of audience for films like this. The gore and horror
reviewers on the web seemed to like it. It’s definitely not for everyone.
teenage boys discover a gunshot outlaw and nurse him back to health in “The
Spikes Gang,” a 1974 western directed by Richard Fleischer available for the
first time on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Lee Marvin plays Harry Spikes, an outlaw
who inspires Gary Grimes, Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith to join him as
outlaws. Harry is calm, cool and calculating, endearing himself to the boys who
have romanticized his life as an outlaw.
(Grimes), Les (Howard) and Tod (Smith) are farm boys seeking excitement and
adventure and find it in Harry who recovers from his wounds with the boy’s help.
The three boys are bored with the farm life as well as the harsh treatment they
receive from their parents. Harry offers the boys a reward for helping him, but
they turn him down instead asking to join Harry who declines their offer. The
boys, determined to get away from their life as farmers, depart on what they
believe will be a life as successful outlaws. They attempt a bank robbery in
the first town they arrive, but things go terribly wrong as they end up killing
wanted outlaws with no money or food, the boys flee to Mexico where they find menial
work cleaning and washing dishes. Life on the run is dusty, dirty and bleak and
the boys bump into Harry who takes pity on the boys who want to join him. He
feeds them, buys them new clothes, gives them money and says goodbye. The boys press
their request and Harry relents. He puts them through a sort of outlaw training
camp and is impressed with the boys shooting skills and ability to follow
instructions. When they ask Harry if they will rob the town’s bank, he states
that his money is in that bank. They plan their robbery across the border back
in the U.S. However, tragedy intervenes, leading to unexpected deaths and Will’s
confrontation with Harry, the man he had idolized.
Howard and Tod are very good as the misguided boys seeking adventure only to
find death and betrayal. They give performances full of hope for the adventure
that never happens in this gritty and realistic western. Lee Marvin is very
likable and easy going as Harry Spikes and although I wanted the boys to find
adventure with him, he’s like a scorpion. His true nature as a ruthless outlaw
is what drives him, not loyalty, friendship. or helping three farm boys find
their vision as romantic outlaws. The boys want a safe adventure with money and
success, but that only happens in the dime novels and newspaper stories they
on the novel “The Bank Robbers” by Giles Tippette, the screenplay was written by
Irvin Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. who
collaborated on several movies together including “The Long, Hot Summer,”
“Hud,” “Hombre,” “The Reivers,” “The Cowboys,” “The Carey Treatment,” “Conrack”
and “Norma Rae.” The story reminded me a bit of “The Cowboys,” if only because
of the surface similarity in both stories of an experienced man leading boys to
become men. In this case the wrong kind of man.
music by Fred Karlin is familiar as it resembles a few of the cues from his
work on “Westworld” which was released the year before in 1973. The score
doesn’t quite work in this movie and is a little too cheerful. What does work
is the cinematography by Brian West, emphasizing the bleak dusty landscapes as
he did in the Australian classic “Wake in Fright.” Richard Flescher’s direction
is top notch, emphasizing Harry’s charm and charisma with a brilliant
performance by Lee Marvin.
United Artist release was co-produced by Walter Mirisch and also features Arthur
Hunnicutt and Noah Beery Jr. There’s also a credited performance by Robert
Beatty (Carnaby in “Where Eagles Dare”) as the sheriff, but his scenes were
obviously deleted from the final cut, a not uncommon occurrence that actors
have to face. The picture looks good and plays very well on the small screen,
clocking in at a brisk 96 minutes. The only bonus feature on the disc is the
trailer for this and two other movies. Whether you’re a fan of Lee Marvin,
Richard Fleischer or revisionist 1970s westerns, this movie is well worth a look.
In 1976 Frank Sinatra hosted a CBS television special: "An All-Star Party for John Wayne". Among the guests was Charles Bronson, a man who made few public appearances and made even fewer speeches. Here he pays sentimental tribute to Wayne, who surprisingly he had never met until that evening.
Ed Mason, who ran the film fairs at Westminster Central
Hall for over 18 years has suddenly died, leaving behind him an enormous legacy
with the film fairs and the shop he had on King’s Road in London for a great
Being part of the film fairs since they started
back in September 1973, he was responsible for introducing the now-highly
collectable Belgian posters with their great art work to the UK, and kept the
world of original film memorabilia going all through his life. Ed was also responsible
for bringing over the best poster and stills dealers from Europe and America to
his London collector fairs, which also influenced the opening of many cinema shops
both in London and around the country.
In the late 1980’s and early 90’s Ed Mason
organised the first public autograph signings at Westminster, where Caroline
Munro , Ingrid Pitt and Suzanna Leigh
did their first autograph events. Others, like Dave Prowse , Michael Ripper and
Shirley Anne Field followed.
The legacy left by Ed Mason is carried on by Thomas
Bowington at Westminster, with the London Film Convention six times a year, with
it’s themed shows and annual “ Hammer Horror Film Day “, The James Bond and
Carry On specials among them. Caroline Munro , Dave Prowse and Shirley Anne
Field still attend the shows and are as popular at Westminster as they were
over 20 years ago, with many of the legendary dealers such as Martin and Philip
Masheter and Al Reuter still in attendance.
Ed Mason’s knowledge about all things film and film
memorabilia had few, if no equals. To
those who knew him he was always a most fair, reliable, kind and helpful man.
The best and most supportive of friends, a mentor, and almost a father figure