protest has been part of human society going back to Paleolithic times when the
first homo-protestapien complained "What, nuts and berries again?"
The response was most likely either "Go out and kill something,
then," or "Discover fire and I'll make a casserole." Admittedly,
I loosely translate from the original "ogg," "ugh" and
the year 1968 the earth was awash with protesters (for good reason) who had
developed protesting into an art form. The art form of choice was the protest
song. From Arlo Guthrie to John Lennon, Country Joe McDonald to Marvin Gaye,
Bob Dylan to The Plastic People of the Universe, Phil Ochs to Jimmy Cliff, the
airwaves were filled with politically charged lyrics that stirred the souls of
the youth of the world. Americans like to think they had a patent upon it but
Eastern Europe was at the forefront of something other than Vietnam, their own
had been over for more than twenty years but there still were countries in
upheaval. The Prague Spring had come to Czechoslovakia
and led to another Communist invasion. Yugoslavia was beset with protests from
ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Western Macedonia that led to concessions that
angered Serbians and Montenegrins. This caused not only a Serbian emigration
from Kosovo but also further religious tensions as Macedonians created their
own Orthodox Church and Muslim nationalism rose in Bosnia irritating Serbian
churchmen. And, of course, the Cold War was in full swing in Germany with the
Berlin Wall, just seven years old, still 21 years away from demolition. It is
in the politically turbulent year of 1968 that "Fatherland," aka "Singing the Blues in Red" begins.
meet protest singer-songwriter Klaus Drittemann (Gerulf Pannach, whose
biography mirrors his character's) as he is interrogated by officials of the
Stalinist-Communist East German government who look to convict him of crimes
against the state and exile him. Drittemann (whose name translates from the
German as "third man," make of that what you will) is a
Marxist-socialist whose criticism leads to being denied to perform any longer
and eventually, at the age of 40, gets him a one-way exit visa to West Germany
and he leaves his son and an ex-wife behind.
some people may think that a good thing with the opportunity to make a living
again and become a success in the west - there is already a record company
waiting to sign him, Klaus does not. In his, and "Fatherland's" world
view capitalism is just as terrifyingly corrupt as hard-line Communism. He is
besieged as soon as he steps into the west, turned into a celebrity and faces a
choice of signing his life away to the record company or maintaining his
ethics. At his press conference in West Berlin he is asked a number of times
about his father (Sigfrit Steiner) who was also a musician forced into exile
back in the 1950s. When he opens a safe-deposit box in a bank there (the key to
which was passed to him by his mother back in East Berlin) he discovers
personal effects from his father that turn his life upside down. He now wants
to find his father and with the assistance of Emma, a French-Dutch journalist
(Fabienne Babe) who seems to be withholding information, he begins his journey
and heads to England.
made mostly in Germany and in German, "Fatherland" is an English
film. Written by Trevor Griffiths, who collaborated with Warren Beatty on
"Reds", it was directed by Ken Loach who made a number of politically
charged films in the 1980s that ran him afoul of the Conservative Margaret
Thatcher government. That government influence extended to the film and
television industries and Loach found it harder and harder to work in the UK.
This film could be viewed as Loach's and Griffith's response. The dichotomy of
Germany's two faces (materialistic consumerism v. slapstick communism) mirrors
the divided Great Britain of the late 80s where Thatcher's Tory government of
opportunists held sway over a divided Liberal party.
eventually found partners in West Germany and France. "Fatherland" is
as straightforward as good Rock ‘n Roll music, it doesn't pull many punches and
delivers a philosophy of life that sounds pretty bleak here: "The man born
to be hanged need not fear drowning. The ones that are ruled carry others; the
ones who rule are carried by others. Any life is better than no life." But
if I delivered these lines in context it would amount to a 'spoiler' and if
"Fatherland" teaches anything it is that context is everything.
"Fatherland" has been released by Twilight Time as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. The disc contains an isolated score track and an informational collector's booklet.
Dan Haggerty, who found fame as Grizzly Adams, has died from cancer at age 74. Adams had been playing bit parts in films until he was cast as the title character in "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams", a 1974 low budget family film that went on to gross the (then) sizable sum of $45 million. The show was spun off as an NBC TV series a few years later. It lasted two seasons but made Haggerty synonymous with the role of a character who was loosely based on a real-life adventurer. Adams was a mountain man who encountered larger-than-life adventures. Although Haggerty continued to work fairly steadily in the ensuing years, he was relegated largely to low-budget and straight-to-video projects. Nevertheless, his name and that of Grizzly Adams remain pop culture icons of the 1970s. Click here for more.
World of SHAFT: A Complete Guide to the Novels, Comic Strip, Films and
Steve Aldous (Published by McFarland $35), 260 Pages, Softcover, ISBN: 9780786499236)
Review by TIM GREAVES
can be few devotees of popular 1970s cinema unfamiliar with Gordon Parks'
gritty 1971 box office hit Shaft;
even those who've not seen it will certainly have heard of it. The movie
spawned two sequels, Shaft's Big Score
(1972, also directed by Parks) and Shaft
in Africa (1973, helmed by John Guillermin), as well as a short-lived
television series. Yet the iconic title character, black private detective John
Shaft – personified on film and TV by Richard Roundtree, and gifted with a
piece of theme music (by Isaac Hayes) as instantly identifiable and iconic as
‘The James Bond Theme’ – was actually the creation of a white author, Ernest
Tidyman, whose first novel originally hit the shelves in 1970. A paragon for
many black Americans during a heated period of struggle against racial
oppression, over time John Shaft cultivated a huge fan base across the world,
with readers and viewers of multiple nationalities, race and colour thrilling
to his literary and cinematic escapades.
Steve Aldous has channelled his boundless passion for all things Shaft into a
thrilling new book, "The World of SHAFT: A Complete Guide to the Novels, Comic
Strip, Films and Television Series". At this point I should confess that despite
having sat through the movies on countless occasions, I've not seen a single
episode of the TV show, nor read any of Tidyman's seven novels (published
between 1970 and 1975, the final one concluding with the character’s demise); however,
the enthusiasm that emanates from every page of Aldous's book has certainly
inspired me to rectify that oversight.
off with foreword by David F Walker (instrumental in reviving Shaft in both comicbook
and novel form), and some background information aptly classified as "The
Shaft Phenomenon", there follows an informative chapter devoted to creator
Ernest Tidyman. We're then plunged into extensive information and commentary appertaining
to each of the man's novels (including contemporary reviews, as well as
location and subsidiary character detail), the story behind several lamentably
failed attempts to launch a syndicated comic strip in the early 70s
(illustrated with some of the original trial panels), and everything you could
want to know about the 7-episode TV show (originally broadcast between 1973 and
1974), in which the character was again portrayed by Richard Roundtree, but in
an unpopular watered-down incarnation designed to avoid offending the perceived-to-be
delicate sensibilities of armchair audiences. "Cinema Retro" buffs
will doubtless revel in the extensive detail – the only go-to quick reference
you’ll ever need – on the production of the films (though there's a slight over-emphasis
on cast and crew bio), which again includes some invaluable contemporary
critical reaction, as well as coverage of John Singleton's respectable 2000
re-imagining with Samuel L Jackson occupying the title role. The book concludes
with detailed appendices and a bibliography.
research benefited immensely from having had access to a collection of
Tidyman's original private paperwork, which provided an inestimable
resource and subsequently the backbone of the book. Adorned with an
action-packed "come on, pick me up and buy me, you know you want to"
cover (the movie poster art for Shaft's
Big Score), it has to be noted that "The World of SHAFT" is
otherwise a tad light photographically speaking, but it's nevertheless an
essential acquisition both for those already familiar with the character and
the curious who are eager to be educated. One thing's for sure: you'll
certainly depart its pages with the feeling there can't possibly be anything
left to learn – or at least worth knowing – about the legend that is John
Nominations for the 88th annual Academy Awards have been announced. "The Revenant" topped the nominations with. "Mad Max: Fury Road" was a surprise in that it received ten nominations. Sentimental favorite Sylvester Stallone has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for "Creed". Legendary composer Ennio Morricone was nominated for Best Score for "The Hateful Eight". Previous Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence received her fourth nomination (for "Joy"), making her the youngest actress (age 25) to achieve that honor. Snubs included Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott for Best Director even though their films "Bridge of Spies" and "The Martian" were nominated for Best Picture. The films "Carol" and "Inside Out" also failed to get expected Best Picture nods though the latter was nominated for Best Animated Feature. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", now the highest grossing film of all time, failed to score in any of the major categories but did get technical nominations. The James Bond film "Spectre" received a Best Song nomination for Sam Smith's "Writings on the Wall".
In the wake of David Bowie's passing, Britain has lost another revered figure at age 69- also from cancer. Alan Rickman, esteemed star of stage, screen and television, has passed away peacefully surrounded by his family. Rickman shot to fame in 1988 as the villain in the first "Die Hard" movie and went on to become one of the UK's most respected actors. For more about his life and career click here.
not sure how, when, and where Quentin Tarantino actually saw these two Japanese
films back in the day (they weren’t released in the U.S.), but the character of
a vengeful female samurai assassin was a major inspiration for the director’s Kill Bill pictures; in fact, Lucy Liu’s
character of O-Ren Ishii is so close to Lady Snowblood that it’s unclear if she’s
an homage or a rip-off. At any rate, if you’re a fan of Kill Bill, then you will most likely appreciate these low budget
cult action films.
on a Japanese manga by Kazuo Koike
and Kazuo Kamimura (Shurayuki-hime)
published in 1972 and 1973, both features star the beautiful Meiko Kaji as Lady
Snowblood, a kimono-dressed assassin who is active in the late 19th Century and
wields a mean blade hidden in an umbrella. Kaji is a popular actress in her
native country—she appeared in many B-movie action and martial arts pictures (i.e.,
the Japanese equivalent of exploitation movies) in the 70s, and then went into
television in the 80s. She is also an accomplished musical artist and singer,
having released many singles and a dozen LPs. She sings the main title song of Lady Snowblood (“Shuro No Hana”), and Tarantino used the same theme during a
sequence in Kill Bill, Vol. 1. Meiko
Kaji is perhaps the best reason to view this double feature.
first film is an origin story in which we learn that Yuki, aka Lady Snowblood, is
born to a mother who is in prison for killing one of a criminal foursome—three
men and one woman—who murdered her husband and son, and raped her. She passes
on the remainder of her vendetta to her daughter, who grows up to study martial
arts and become a vigilante. As an adult, Yuki tracks down the other three to
exact her revenge.
second picture finds Yuki as something of a hired hand of the secret police.
She must infiltrate the home of an anarchist in order to retrieve an item the
government wants—but, of course, her prey turns out not to be the true bad guy.
Lady Snowblood must switch allegiances and set things right with a lot of
swordplay, blood-letting, and Eastern-style poise.
movies are colorful and exotic in terms of photography, production design, and
costumes—the imagery of white snow splashed with red blood, mixed with the
period Japanese wardrobe and sets, exhibit a unique beauty that Tarantino
recreated in Kill Bill. Otherwise, the
two Snowblood movies are cheaply
done. The blood effects are, for the most part, ridiculous. One slash of a
throat and the blood laughably sprays like
a fire hose. The storylines are predictable, but like the manga from which they are adapted, are pure comic book pulp.
Criterion Collection presents both features on one disk. The new 2K digital
restorations look very good in that glorious and vividly garish color that is indicative
of the 70s. Each film has uncompressed monaural soundtracks, and there are new
English subtitle translations. The disk is short on supplements, containing
only new interviews with Kazuo Koike (the writer of the manga), and screenwriter Norio Osada. Trailers for both pictures
are included. The booklet features an essay by critic Howard Hampton.
for aficionados of Japanese exploitation and martial arts fare, which, in the
1970s, was the equivalent of fast food.
Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will has long posed a conundrum for film critics and historians. How do you assess a film that is brilliantly made but which promotes a hateful message? The 1934 production which was created as a love letter to Adolf Hitler and his rapidly-rising National Socialist movement has been relatively shunned at film festivals and the art house circuit over the decades. It's undoubtedly been most widely seen in classrooms and on home video. Yet the passing of time has allowed the film to be more actively shown in recent years and it is nearly always accompanied by an introduction that rightly explains its relevance both to the period in which it was made but also as it pertains to today's world. Director Riefenstahl had been a popular actress in German cinema who had caught the eye of Adolf Hitler, who was quite the movie fan (his favorites included Gone With the Wind and Laurel and Hardy.) Riefenstahl had recently become a pioneer as one of the first women to enter directing in the era of sound films. Hitler commissioned her to film the Nazi party's annual meeting in Nuremberg in the expectation that it would bolster the movement as well as increase the fanatical cult of personality that was already attached to him. Hitler had tried to overthrow the German government a decade earlier but ended up in jail. He turned this to his advantage by becoming a martyr to the cause and writing his personal bible Mein Kampf from his jail cell. By the time he was released, even those who had prosecuted him were trying to curry favor with the future dictator. Hitler ran for office and won the election to become Germany's chancellor. In reality he had most of the political power but was prudent enough to bide his time until the ceremonial head of state, Von Hindenburg, passed away from natural causes. Hitler knew that the public would not abide him disrespecting the beloved Von Hindenburg, who was regarded as a national war hero. As it had so many times in these early days of Hitler's rise, fate cooperated with his interests. Von Hindenburg passed away and Hitler went full throttle to establish himself as a virtual dictator. His first order of business was to eradicate Germany's fragile hold on democracy. The nation had come out on the losing side in WWI and was suffering terribly from onerous war reparations that had to be paid to the Allies, who were basically using Germany as a cash cow. Hitler quickly put to rest the last remnants of the loathed Weimar Republic and combined the offices of chancellor and president, thus giving himself unchallenged power over the country. He then persuaded the Reichstag to voluntarily cede most of their powers to him, thus making the series of checks and balances in the government a rubber stamp for Hitler's policies. Hitler still had important goals to fulfill. It was important to mobilize the nation as a fighting force in the expectation of war. However, he was bound by the Treaty of Versailles which mandated that Germany's armed forces number no more than 100,000 men. Hitler got around this by organizing numerous civic and political groups and turning them into paramilitary organizations. In this way he was able to train millions of Germans as soldiers even if they carried picks and shovels instead of rifles. Hitler also did some controversial "house cleaning" within his party by personally ordering the murders of SA head Ernst Rohm and his top lieutenants. The SA was Hitler's personal bodyguard but had grown to the size of an army. He worried that Rohm had political aspirations of his own and that he might orchestrate a coup. On the so-called Night of the Long Knives, the top echelon of the SA was systematically executed. Hitler appointed a more benign stooge, Viktor Lutze, as the new head of the SA. Hitler's biggest challenge was to ensure that he and Lutze could convince the rank and file SA men to stay loyal to the party and Hitler himself. This he intended to do at the Nuremberg rally, where he would give speech extolling his appreciation of the SA. The ploy worked and any dissension never spilled over into a threat to Hitler.
"Triumph of the Will" presents a sanitized picture of all these dastardly goings-on. What emerges is a nation that is completely behind Hitler and the Nazi cause. This was nonsense, of course. There were countless people who opposed the regime and over the course of the next few years they would pay dearly for their protests against the demise of German democracy. Nevertheless, as a propaganda piece the film is probably unrivaled in its impact. Although the movie was shown internationally, it didn't quite have the alarming impact one might have assumed. The Western democracies still thought of Hitler as primarily a quirky crank whose influence would be primarily confined within Germany's borders. Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was a master of using cinema as a tool of manipulation. Not wanting to alarm the Allies before Germany had been rebuilt militarily, the film was given rather non-threatening sub-titles to accommodate its international showings. Meanwhile, within Germany, the messages were more ominous. When viewing the film even today one gets the feeling that Germany was an invincible power. One can only imagine the trepidation Allied troops must have felt when they finally had to go up against what had become a seemingly unstoppable war machine. The clues were in the film. The legions of robot-like paramilitary adherents are presented as fanatical loyalists to the new dictator. In fact the "real" armed forces were featured so slightly in the film that they raised protests. To appease them, Hitler commissioned a second film by Riefehstahl titled "Day of Freedom" (also included in this set). The movie has her trademark use of imaginary camera angles but it amounts to basically a sop to the armed forces by showcasing their prowess through military training exercises. More powerful are the scenes in "Triumph of the Will" that carefully showcase Hitler as a demi-god. He is seen traveling to Nuremberg by the small plane he favored for use in his political campaign stops. (Hitler was the first politician to eschew the traditional whistle stop train tours in favor of using a plane in order to cover more territory.) The images of his plane flying through the spectacular cloud formations are truly stunning. We also watch him as he stares down at the massive rally forming in expectation of his arrival. When Hitler does arrive at the rally he is preceded by a small army of his top officials who were being formally introduced to the German people through this film. In retrospect, they formed the perfect "Rogue's Gallery" and would go on to perpetrate some of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century. Most paid for their sins with their lives though others were sentenced to jail terms in the aftermath of the war. When Hitler takes to the podium he used his trademark practice of starting his speech in a low voice but gradually rising in tone and emotion into a virtual scream. The most disturbing part of the film occurs when all of the countless thousands of participants march past the podium and pledge their loyalty, not to Germany, but to Hitler personally. The film then concentrates on the ancillary fanfare that took place during this seminal week in the nation's history as we watch torchlight parades march past Hitler's hotel balcony where he looks on approvingly. At all times Riefenstahl diminishes the notion of individualism in order to present Hitler in an almost superhuman manner. He is photographed from angles that make him seem literally larger than life.
The Synapse Blu-ray, which features a restoration by Robert A. Harris, contains some valuable extras, the most informative being a feature-length commentary track by Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, an expert on German history. Santoro's calm, laid-back manner is somewhat jolting at times, given the gravity of what we are viewing, but he provides excellent information regarding the nuances of these scenes and the fate of the individual Nazi top brass.Where the track falls a bit short is in Santoro's discussions of Riefenstahl and her legacy. He acknowledges her talents as a director but doesn't put much meat on the bone in regard to her personal life and legacy. (She lived until the age of 101 and never fully repented for her association with Hitler, nor was she ever prosecuted. She would defensively point out that she never actually joined the Nazi party, which is indeed surprising.) She would go on to make another important propaganda film for Hitler in 1938, Olympiad, an equally whitewashed account of the 1936 Olympics that were held in Berlin and which also managed to elevate Hitler as a star attraction even though he was largely a bystander. Arguably, Olympiad was the more important and effective film as it was meant to appease foreign concerns about the atrocities that were just being implemented in Germany.) Some of the slack from the commentary is addressed in excellent liner notes written by director and film historian Roy Frumkes, who delves deeper into Riefenstahl's fascinating life. Frumkes points out that the film should not really be considered a documentary because many of the "spontaneous" scenes were staged by Riefenstahl and some were shot repeatedly in order to get the desired footage. The new 2K restoration is impressive on all counts and does justice to Riefenstahl's astonishing camera angles. This presentation also boasts newly interpreted English sub-titles that accommodate the film's original German language version. It's beneficial to watch the film first then view it again with Dr. Santoro's commentary to provide context.
Compromised genius: Riefenstahl directing Triumph of the Will.
"Triumph of the Will" is indeed a major cinematic achievement- but tragically it promoted the greatest evil of the 20th century. The mind reels at what Leni Riefenstahl could have achieved had she not been compromised by her political beliefs.
Guillermo Del Toro is set to direct a long-planned, often delayed big screen remake of the 1966 sci-fi hit "Fantastic Voyage". James Cameron is behind the plans to bring the remake to reality. The film centers on a group of scientists who are miniaturized and inserted into the body of another prominent scientist in order to remove a blood clot that has endangered his life. Matters of international security depend upon successful completion of the mission but things go awry and endanger the would-be rescuers. The original film, directed by Richard Fleischer, was acclaimed for its (then) state-of-the-art special effects. The film also provided an early career hit for young Raquel Welch who was then a contract player at 20th Century Fox. Other original cast members included Stephen Boyd, Edmond O'Brien and Donald Pleasence. The remake is still in its early stages with no completed script and no casting decided upon.
Sentimental favorite Syvester Stallone brought home the award for Best Supporting Actor for his acclaimed performance in "Creed".
Major winners in last night's Golden Globe awards included Leonardo DiCaprio, Brie Larson, Matt Damon, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winselt and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose film "The Revenant" won for Best Motion Picture Drama. "The Martian" won for Best Comedy/Musical, which left a lot of people scratching their heads. Denzel Washington received a lifetime achievement award and legendary composer Ennio Morricone won for Best Score for his work on Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight". Sam Smith's theme song for the latest James Bond movie, "Writing's on the Wall" from "Spectre", won for Best Song. For a complete list of winners, click here. The tradition of host (Ricky Gervais), winners and presenters trying to look hip and relevant by incorporating profanity into their appearances remained firmly in place. For Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever's dissection of the telecast, click here.
Bowie starred in the 1976 cult film The Man Who Fell to Earth.
David Bowie, one of the most iconic rock and rollers of all time, has died after an 18 month battle with cancer. He was 69 years old. Bowie exploded onto the British rock scene in 1969 and quickly became an international sensation. Over the decades he remained relevant by constantly reinventing himself and producing a wide range of music. He even created an alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, who simultaneously built an equally enthusiastic audience. Cinema Retro readers should also recall that Bowie had a successful career as an actor as well. His first appearance on screen was as an extra in the 1969 film "The Virgin Soldiers" but over the decades he won acclaim for his performances that afforded him leading roles and the chance to play memorable supporting characters as well. His film credits include "The Man Who Fell to Earth", "The Hunger", "Absolute Beginners", "Labyrinth", "The Last Temptation of Christ", "Yellowbeard", "Into the Night", "Basquiat" and "The Prestige". He also won acclaim for his performance on Broadway as "The Elephant Man" in 1987.
Bowie kept his illness secret until the end. Just two days ago he released his latest album to the acclaim of critics and fans. He died peacefully surrounded by members of his family.
Cinematographer Carl Guthrie opens “Fort Massacre” (1958)
with a widescreen cinemascope desert vista – mountains in the background, and a
rock formation shaped like a vulture perched on a rock in the foreground. The
vulture seems to be looking down at a group of soldiers on a burial detail. Private
Robert W. Travis (John Russell), a member of the troop, in a brief bit of
opening narration, tells what happened. “C” Troop, Sixth Cavalry was ambushed
by 50 apaches and only a dozen men survived. The commanding officer was killed,
and a lieutenant is badly wounded, leaving non-commissioned officer, Sgt. Vinson
(Joel McCrea), in command. Vinson is a tough man who says he makes his
decisions based on what he thinks Army regulations call for. But before long,
as they start the 100-mile journey to Ft. Crain, his men begin to wonder if
there isn’t something deeper and darker motivating him.
McCrea gives a grim, tight-lipped performance as Vinson, the
sergeant who has command of the troop suddenly thrust upon him. His mission is
to find the main column of soldiers they were separated from or failing that to
proceed by themselves to the fort. Among the other survivors is Travis, the
chronicler of this story, a young recruit who tells Vinson that he joined the
Army to become a man. Before that he was just a 28-year-old “baby,” unable to
make any decisions for himself. Educated, he could have been a doctor or a
lawyer but couldn’t decide, so he drifted. Pvt. McGurney (Forrest Tucker) is an
Irishman who’s seen a bit of life, and has found his home in the cavalry. He has
some serious concerns about Vinson’s ability to command. Next is Pvt. Pendleton (George N. Neise), one
of the wounded men, a coward constantly challenging Vinson’s decisions. There
are several others who all play a part in the drama, with Pawnee (Robert
Caruso), the Indian scout, an important and pivotal character.
Vinson decides to lead the troop toward a waterhole
ahead, but Pawnee returns from a scouting mission to report that 20 Apaches
have stopped there. Vinson, despite the strenuous objections of his men, orders
the troop onward. They will take the waterhole from the Apaches, even though
they are outnumbered at least 2-1. It’s on the way to this fight that McGivney
tells the other men he suspects the Sgt. doesn’t give a hoot about the safety
of his men, but is obsessed with hatred for the Apaches. He informs the others
that Apaches killed Vinson’s wife and now all he wants is revenge, even if he
has to sacrifice the entire patrol.
When they get to the waterhole, a fierce battle ensues,
and the troopers are victorious. However, Travis witnesses Vinson’s cold-blooded
murder of an Apache who had tried to surrender. When Travis questions him about
it, Vinson goes off the rails, ranting that the Apaches “hate us,” and you have
to “feed them bullets.” From this moment on even Travis begins to doubt his
sanity, and we watch as a tormented man battles his inner demons.
“Fort Massacre” was directed by Joseph M. Newman (“This
Island Earth”) from an original screenplay by Martin Goldsmith (“Detour,” “The
Gunfight at Dodge City”). It’s an unusual story for a western. While there’s
plenty of action, the focus is on the inner turmoil of the tormented character
played by McCrea, a man torn between his responsibility to his men and his
fierce hatred of his wife’s killers. The central question Goldsmith poses is “Which
side will win out?” The story moves with the inevitability of a train heading
toward a collision, culminating in a battle that takes place in an eerie ancient
Indian cliff dwelling, which Pvt. Pendleton sarcastically dubs “Fort Massacre.”
And, in an ironic twist, it is Travis, the young man who could never make a
decision, who provides the film’s shattering climax. “Fort Massacre” is a film
well worth watching.
Kino Lorber has done another admirable job bringing this
Cinemascope feature to Blu-ray. The film is for the most part exceptionally
clean with rich colors and the 2.35:1 aspect ratio for Cinemascope gives us
every millimeter of Carl Guthrie’s beautiful cinematography. The soundtrack is
DTS Stereo. There’s no surround sound, and the soundtrack is not all that
dynamic, but Marlin Skiles score is heard to good advantage throughout. As
usual with these Studio Classics Blu-rays the only bonus features are some
trailers for other films in the company’s catalog. It’s too bad. Commentary on
Goldsmith’s screenplay alone would have been worth whatever the extra cost. Nevertheless,
for anyone interested in westerns, particularly the westerns of Joel McCrea
this Blu-ray is a must-have.
(or “RIFFRAFF” as it appears in the titles) opens on a rainy night at the El
Caribe aircraft hanger in Peru. The pilots, ticket agent and a passenger await
the arrival of a man who rushes to the ticket agent and enters the plane
clutching his attaché case as he finds a seat among the cargo and livestock. Midflight,
a buzzer sounds and a pilot discovers the cargo door gone. The remaining
passenger, Charles Hasso (Marc Krah), says the other man jumped. Hasso arrives
in Panama and is briefly interrogated by Major Rues (George Givot) who advises
him to remain in town for further questioning.
the attaché, Hasso makes his way to detective Dan Hammer’s office and hires him
to protect him and asks to meet later at his hotel. Before leaving he pins a
map from the attaché to Hammer’s wall hiding it in plain site among all the
other items where it remains unseen by everyone. Meanwhile, Hammer is hired by American
oil company executive Walter Gredson (Jerome Cowen, Dagwood’s boss George
Radcliffe in the “Blondie” movie series) who owns the map. He wants Hammer to
find Hasso and the map. It turns out the map is worth a fortune in South
American oil revenues.
O’Brien is terrific as Dan Hammer, an American ex-pat living in Panama. He’s as
hard-boiled as private detectives get and is soon approached by pretty blonde
nightclub singer Maxine (Anne Jeffreys), the requisite femme fatal and
girlfriend of the oil executive seeking the map. Walter sends her to watch over
Hammer and follow his progress. Meanwhile, Eric Molinar (Walter Slezac) is also
seeking the map. He has his thugs murder Hasso and traces him back to Hammer
and the oil executives.
has a friend and side-kick, a cabbie named Pop, played by Percy Kilbride.
Kilbride would soon become famous playing Pa Kettle in eight widely popular movies
between 1947 and 1955. Kilbride provides just the right level of laid back comic
relief in an otherwise dark detective thriller. Hammer also has a lazy shaggy
dog which sleeps outside his open office door and Major Rues is on hand
throughout the movie. The relationship between Hammer and Maxine is strictly professional
and Hammer quickly realizes she’s sent to spy on him, but they soon fall for
each other. Hammer takes quite a beating at the hands of Molinar’s thugs until
Maxine discovers the map while helping Hammer get cleaned up.
movie comes to a satisfying conclusion after 80 hard boiled minutes filled with
lots of snappy dialog. The 1947 RKO production was directed by Ted Tetzlaff,
better known as a cinematographer in over 100 movies and director of a handful of
movies. He put his camera skills to good use here as director creating just the
right atmosphere of light and dark and shadows. The black and white image is
well preserved on this burn-to-order DVD released as part of the Warner Archive
Collection. The disc is bare bones, but the movie is worth checking out for the
outstanding black and white photography, terrific story, great cast of
character actors and of course that great title. “Riff-Raff” is a true gem
among 1940s crime thrillers.
The annual BAFTA nominations for the best achievements in filmmaking have been announced. Top contenders are "Carol" and "Bridge of Spies" which each nabbed 9 nominations. "The Revenant" and "Mad Max: Fury Road" received 8 and 7 nominations respectively. The awards ceremony will take place on February 14th in London. The importance of the BAFTAs for the American film industry has increased substantially in recent years as BAFTA nominations are often seen as indications of which films will receive Oscar nominations. For the full list click here.
To identify editor-publisher Richard Klemensen’s Little Shoppe of Horrors as simply a
fanzine is to do it a grave disservice. Such an appellation too often denotes an enthusiastic but decidedly
If you’re a dyed-in-wool-fan of fantastic cinema and were
knocking about in the late 1960s or early 1970s, you’ve probably gambled and subscribed
- at least once – to such a fanzine as described above. One mimeographed or perhaps having suffered the
ill-effect of poor off-set printing, lousy photo-reproduction, and variable
levels of scholarship. The earliest
issues of Little Shoppe of Horrors
(henceforth to be referred to as LSoH)
may have exhibited some of these mechanical deficiencies on inception, but over
its forty-three year history the content within its pages has never been short
of brilliant. LSoH is simply without
peer and has no comparable challenger in its field of endeavor; it’s indisputably
the most venerated encyclopedia of all things Hammer and British horror.
You’ve never heard of the magazine, you say? Well, if you’ve ever bought a useful book within
the last forty years that documented the history of British horror films - or one
of the better researched biographies of such key players as Christopher Lee or
Peter Cushing - you’re tangentially in debt to LSoH. Since its founding in June 1972, the resources of the
magazine have been plundered by the genre’s finest scholars. I suppose this is only fair. Many, if not all, of the most respected writers
painstakingly researching the tradition have earned their earliest bylines contributing
to the magazine. There’s hardly a figure
associated with British horror cinema, either in front or behind the camera,
whose stories, large and small, have not been annotated and shared within this
great magazine’s pages.
The fact that LSoH has
been based since its beginning in Des Moines, Iowa, half-a-continent and one
ocean away from the Hammer production offices in London, England, is simply mind-boggling. Not a world way, perhaps, but close,
especially in the pre-internet age. What’s
equally amazing is that, with the exception of the first six issues
(1972-1980), the succeeding twenty-nine have been published in the fallow years
following the studio’s sad descent into bankruptcy and irrelevancy in 1979. So the magazine has faithfully served these
past thirty-six years as the primary torch-bearer and celebrant of the studio’s
From the glossy and colorful artistically rendered front
and back covers to the impeccable research of their stable of writers – and in
spite of an indisputably erratic publishing schedule – LSoH has remained the nexus for all things British horror. The latest, issue no. 35, published October
2015, proves the passing of time has not even remotely dimmed the magazine’s
reputation for superlative reportage.
This spanking brand new issue features a gorgeous and
colorful fold-out cover, courtesy of artist Jim Salvati and equally impressive back cover art by Bruce Timm. Hammer stalwart Peter Cushing and lead
actress Susan Denberg are evocatively rendered in an atypical mad-scientist laboratory
scene from Hammer’s classic Frankenstein Created Woman (1967). Some twenty-eight of
the magazine’s ninety-eight pages are, not coincidentally, dedicated to an exhaustive
examination of all aspects of the film’s
production; synopsis’s, interviews, set-design sketches, a bevy of rare
photographs, clippings etc. A further
twenty-three pages examines Terence Fisher’s Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) in equally acute detail. There’s also a look-back at the early fan-journal
Fantastic Worlds, part of the
magazines series “A History of Horror Film Fanzines.” As always, there’s a
plethora of book and DVD/Blu-Ray reviews, as well as a provocative interview
with actor Barry Warren (Kiss of the
Vampire (1963), Devil Ship Pirates
(1964) and Frankenstein Created Woman
(1967). The former article is the
seventh installment of the magazine’s “British Character Actors” series. There’s also the always erudite and
worthwhile letters to the editor column.
In June of 2015 we lost the great Sir Christopher Lee
and, in memoriam, the editor has exhumed an interview, courtesy of his friend
the late Bill Kelly, of the legendaryt actor. In this “open conversation” from the early 1990s, Lee reminisces about
his career and his many roles, including his iconic turn as Count Dracula in seven
Hammer productions and several more instances in continental knock-offs. In yet another segment, the author Tom
Johnson (Hammer Films: An Exhaustive
Filmography) offers an affectionate memoriam to Lee and shares both amusing
and poignant glimpses of the times their paths crossed. There are several moments when both Lee’s and Johnson’s
observations and ruminations are as laugh-out-loud funny as they are revealing.
Let’s face it. You
need this. With their in-depth coverage
of every aspect of the best – and lesser efforts – of British horror cinema, Little Shoppe of Horrors has… well, left
no headstone unturned.
CLICK HERE TO VISIT OFFICIAL WEB SITE FOR LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS.
Jim Sherlock, one of Australia's most respected film historians, provided us with this sampling of what was showing in Oz on one day in 1966. Sort of boggles the mind, doesn't it? Steve McQueen in Nevada Smith, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film One of Our Spies is Missing, Julie Christie in Darling, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in Marriage Italian Style and Doris Day and Rod Taylor in The Glass Bottom Boat (note that in Australia it had the more provocative title The Spy in the Lace Panties!). Those really were the days....
With this column we begin a new feature: showcasing original reviews from industry trade magazines from many years ago. It is interesting to see how classic and cult movies were received on the basis of these reviews which were presented to the movie theater trade prior to their general release. First up: Hammer Films' "Dracula A.D. 1972" starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. This review appeared in the October/November 1972 issue of Film Bulletin.
Cinema Retro has asked author Michael Richardson to write an exclusive article for us regarding what influenced him to write his new book "The Making of Casino Royale".
BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
The sixties James Bond spoof Casino
Royale was a psychedelic multi-storylined extravaganza of improvisation and the
constant rewriting of various screenplays, brought about after negotiations
between producer Charles K Feldman, Eon Productions, United Artists and
Columbia Pictures failed to bring about a co-production. Realising that he
would have to proceed without Bond actor Sean Connery, Feldman crammed his
picture with as many famous names as possible: Peter Sellers, Woody Allen,
David Niven, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, Daliah Lavi, Joanna
Pettet, Barbara Bouchet, William Holden and Jean Paul Belmondo to name but a
few. The cast also included several unbilled cameos such as: Peter O’Toole,
Caroline Munro, Dave Prowse, John Le Mesurier, Fiona Lewis and ex- Formula 1
racing driver Stirling Moss.
I had watched Charles K Feldman’s Casino Royale on
television many times before a friend of mine furthered my interest in the
production by pointing out the different plotlines and disjointed nature of the
screenplay. Over the years, I both researched and came across much more
information about the hap-hazard manner in which CasinoRoyale was produced,
which only wetted my appetite to learn as much as I possibly could about this
feature film that had somehow managed to get out of control. My fascination
with this craziest Bond film of all eventually brought about an exchange of
faxes with director Val Guest, who was living in California at the time. When
Guest made a flying visit to London for Christmas 2005, I telephoned him at his
London home in Belgravia just before the New Year and we discussed the
production in great detail.
Sometime later I was reading an interview with
Guest, where he was quoted as saying, ‘There’s a whole film to be made about
the making of Casino Royale!’ This made me think, though obviously making a
movie was beyond my abilities and resources, but writing a book that outlined
both the development and production of the film was certainly something I could
do. Doubling my efforts to obtain even more information regarding the film, I
read through every Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Orson Welles and David Niven
biography I could locate. However, this was just the beginning as I then began
consuming every book associated with anyone who had worked on the film
including actors: Dave Prowse, Ronnie Corbett, Peter O’Toole, Chic Murray and
Duncan Macrae, directors: Val Guest, John Huston and Robert Parrish, plus
writers: Wolf Mankowitz and Terry Southern. My quest for additional knowledge
involved the scouring of both British and American film industry publications
of the time, plus searches through many website features and on-line archives
and even obtaining the French published Ursula Andress biography, despite not
being able to read or speak the language.
The Making of Casino Royale (1967)
explores all aspects of production, including the origins of Ian Fleming’s
novel and subsequent screenplays, the casting choices, pre-production, filming
at three British film studios, location filming in England, Ireland, Scotland
and France, plus publicity and merchandising. This gives an overall picture of
how this strange psychedelic pop art movie was assembled from several different
storylines that involved no fewer than seven directors (including two second
unit directors), working from a screenplay credited to three writers, although
known to have input from at least nine other people including Peter Sellers and
Woody Allen. Eventually, I amassed enough information to
assemble a production schedule with dates for the picture, which indicates in
which order the various segments were filmed, who was directing and which major
cast members were present.
The story behind the making of this
film outlines how what was happening behind the scenes was just as bizarre as
anything happening in front of the cameras. The book also pieces together what
material was filmed and then discarded from the movie, by using reference
sources such as production stills, portions of scripts and anecdotes about the
making the film. Overall this outlines the story of a major blockbuster movie,
which got out of control to become one of the most complicated productions
filmed and the most bizarre James Bond film ever. Almost 50 years after being produced the elements that originally worked
against the sixties Casino Royale, such as the lack of a coherent storyline and
the sending up of James Bond, are now considered to work in its favour and have
assisted in making it a cult slice of sixties psychedelia.
to whet your appetite I can confirm that you will discover the answers to the
1 During development, which James Bond
actor was approached about playing the character for what would have been the
first time in June 1964?
2 During December 1965, which actress
well known for appearing in The Avengers television series was named in the
American press as being lined-up to appear in Casino Royale?
3 For his cameo role in the Scottish
Marching Band sequence, what did Peter O’Toole accept as payment?
4 Why did Sarah Miles turn down the
role of Meg, one of the McTarry daughters?
5 What did Shirley MacLaine do the
week before principal photography was due to commence that stopped production?
6 Why was Blake Edwards turned down as
a director for Casino Royale?
7 After suffering the bad experience
of having his screenplay constantly rewritten while making the film What’s New
Pussycat? why did Woody Allen agree to work with Charles K Feldman again on
8 What role was Dave Prowse originally
going to play in Peter Sellers’ nightmare?
Actor Wayne Rogers passed away on New Years Day at age 82 from complications with pneumonia. Rogers had played bit part in movies and TV series before landing his signature role as Trapper John, Alan Alda's co-star on the TV series M*A*S*H, which debuted on CBS in 1972 and ran for eleven seasons. Rogers and Alda played the roles of insubordinate, wise-cracking medics in the Korean War. The characters were originally played by Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland in director Robert Altman's Oscar-nominated counter culture feature film from 1970 that inspired the TV series. Rogers left the show after three seasons and was replaced by actor Mike Farrell, whose character of B.J. Hunnicut proved to be equally popular throughout the remainder of the series' run. Rogers later starred for the three seasons in another TV series that was inspired by a comedy feature film, House Calls, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. Major roles eluded him in the ensuing years, though he continued to play supporting parts in feature films and TV shows. Rogers eschewed acting and concentrated on the fields of real estate and financial investments. He proved to be highly successful at both. For more click here.
Alec Guinness gave so many brilliant dramatic screen performances that many
moviegoers forget that he was also one of the most accomplished comedic actors
the British film industry had ever seen. Although Guinness first gained fame
with star-making roles in David Lean's "Great Expectations" and
"Oliver Twist" (playing Fagin), the bulk of his successes in the
1950s were in classic British comedies such as "The Lavender Hill
Mob", "Kind Hearts and Coronets", "The Ladykillers",
"The Horse's Mouth", "Our Man in Havana", "All at
Sea", "The Captain's Paradise", "The Man in the White
Suit" and "The Lavender Hill Mob". By any standard, a remarkable
roster of great comedies. By the 1960s, however, Guinness concentrated
mostly on dramatic roles. Who could blame him, with prime appearances in David
Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago"? In 1965
he did make one screwball comedy, "Situation Hopeless..But Not
Serious", a WWII-era film that co-starred young up-and-coming Robert
Redford in a supporting role, but the movie didn't particularly resonate with
critics or audiences. His only other concession to the genre of cinematic
farce was "Hotel Paradis0", filmed in 1966 by writer/director Peter
Glenville, who only sporadically made movies. Glenville's most recent cinematic
excursion had been his highly acclaimed 1964 film version of Jean
Anouilh's play "Becket". "Paradiso" was as far away from
that dramatic achievement as one could imagine. It returned Guinness to a genre
that allowed him to re-tune his considerable skills at playing overt
comedy. In fact, Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956.
The film is adapted from the play "L'Hotel du Libre
Echange", whichwas co-written by Georges Feydeau (who Glenville appears as
in the film, albeit in an uncredited role.) In fact, Alec Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956. Like the play, the movie is set in the suburbs of Paris in the early 1900s. Guinness plays Benedict Boniface, a sophisticated
milquetoast who lives a comfortable existence with one glaring exceptional
factor: he is constantly henpecked by his shrewish, dominating wife Angelique
(Peggy Mount), who oversees his every move. Benedict suffers in silence, finding a bit of solace by puttering around his garden which adjoins the home of Henri and Marcelle Cotte (Robert Morley and Gina Lollobrigida).They have their own problems: Henri is a negligent husband who is more obsessed with his career as an architect than he is with the considerable charms of his gorgeous wife, who is frustrated by his neglect and who is desperate for some romantic attention. One sunny afternoon when Henri leaves for an overnight business trip to the city, Benedict summons the courage to drop in on Marcelle and express his love for her. She is shocked but doesn't lose any time in agreeing to explore the possibility of an affair with him. Fate favors the would-be lovers when Angelique announces that she, too, is leaving on an overnight trip to look after an ailing sister. Things almost go awry when an unexpected house guest, Mr. Martin (David Byng), arrives to take up the Boniface's on a long ago offer they made to have him stay with him. The trouble is that Martin, a widower, has in tow his brood of four young daughters and their enormous amount of luggage. The Benedicts are horrified and inform Mr. Martin in the most polite manner possible that they simply don't have space to lodge the entire family and that he she consider taking rooms at a hotel in Paris. Through a misunderstanding, the name of Hotel Paradiso is mentioned. This happens to be a sleazy establishment that stays afloat by catering to illicit lovers. It is precisely the place where Benedict intends to spend the night with Marcelle. However, unbeknownst to him, Mr. Martin has mistakenly assumed that Benedict has recommended the hotel as a place for him and his daughters to stay. Benedict and Marcelle meet for dinner at a local restaurant where they briefly enjoy a rather saucy stage act before realizing they might be recognized. They then head off to Hotel Paradiso where they rather awkwardly enter the bedroom in anticipation of carrying out their plans for engaging in the kinds of activity that would surely cause a public scandal if they were to be discovered. Things get complicated quickly. Every time the would-be lovers are about to get down to business, another remarkable coincidence occurs. They include the arrival of Henri, who is staying at the hotel to examine the plumbing. Then Mr. Martin arrives with his four daughters. Even the Benedict's flirty maid shows up with Henri's nephew, who is about to be seduced by the amorous domestic servant. Playwright Georges Feydeau is on hand as he silently observes the goings-on. The film quickly becomes a classically-styled bedroom farce with Benedict and Marcelle now trapped in their room and deftly trying to avoid being seen. There are countless near-misses and close encounters and the inevitable face-to-face meetings that require explaining their presence at the hotel by employing incredulous excuses. Before long, the police end up the hotel and Benedict and Marcelle are arrested, which adds another obstacle to overcome in their unconsummated love affair.
The film was greeted with tepid reviews at the time, with critics citing Glenville's propensity to direct films as though he was still working in a theater. It's true that Glenville does have a somewhat heavy hand in terms of directing lightweight comedy scenarios.However, the movie certainly plays better today simply because no one makes films like this anymore, least of all with the caliber of stars like Guinness and Lollobrigida, who was also quite adept between dramatic roles and lightweight farces. Both actors are at their best here, especially as the pace of the farce picks up pace and the coincidences and obstacles that their characters have to deal with become more incredible and amusing. There is able support from the always-reliable Robert Morley and Akim Tamiroff turns up as the hotel's sleazy manager. However, the show-stealing performance is the hilarious turn by David Byng, whose Mr. Martin is a naive eccentric with a sporadic speech impediment that comes and goes depending upon the state of the weather! It plays a pivotal role in the film's climax. The concluding sequence takes place at the opening of a new play by Georges Feydeau which the principal characters attend together. It leads to a very amusing "sting-in-the-tail" finale with ironic consequences. "Hotel Paradiso" benefits from a lavish production design and a good score by Laurence Rosenthal. It also marked an early career achievement for legendary film editor Anne V. Coates. In summary, a most entertaining film from an era in which there was a place for sophistication in cinematic comedies.
The Warner Archive DVD is region-free and includes the original trailer. The packaging also retains the wonderful original poster art by Frank Frazetta.
“He Ran All the Way” (1951) was forties’ tough guy John
Garfield’s last cinematic performance. It’s a taut, tense, claustrophobic drama
about Nick Robey, a cop-killer who takes a family hostage in a small apartment,
as he tries to figure a way to lam out of town. As Garfield’s swan song it’s a
compelling performance, and ironically there are eerie hints throughout the
film of the real life crises he was facing at the time. More on that later.
The film begins with Robey’s mother (Gladys George)
hollering at him to get out of bed and go look for work. She talks to him like
a worthless bum and the first time we see him, Robey is a harassed, seemingly
helpless character without a clue what he ought to be doing with his life. When
he leaves his apartment his friend, Al Molin (Norman Lloyd) catches him on the
street and reminds him they do have
something to do. Almost as if against his will, Robey finds himself with a gun
in his hand, as they march into a warehouse and rob a guy carrying a briefcase
full of money. The job is botched from the start. A cop shoots Molin in the
back and Robey plugs the cop and runs for it.
James Wong Howe’s stark black and white close up cinematography
showing the sweat on Garfield’s face and the look of fear in his eyes and John
Berry’s close, unyielding direction perfectly convey the rage and paranoia of a
desperate man on the run. Robey stays on the crowded city streets as long as he
can, then ducks into an indoor swimming pool where he picks up Peggy Dobbs
(Shelley Winters). He figures if he has a girl with him, he has a better chance
of not being spotted by the cops. He manages to take her home, where
unexpectedly he learns she lives with her mom (Selena Royal) and dad (Wallace Ford)
and kid brother (Bobby Hyatt).
The family, seeing that Peggy has a new boyfriend,
obligingly goes to the movies, leaving them alone. Peggy is hopelessly naïve as
Garfield grills her about the family and her life. When she turns on the radio
and they start to dance, she tells him to loosen up. “I dance the way I wanna
dance,” he snaps and turns the music off. That’s the kind of guy he is. When
the family members come back from the movies, he looks out the window and sees
them on the street talking to two men. He thinks they’re cops and he pulls a
gun on mom, pop and the kid when they come upstairs. That’s when the trouble
starts and unfortunately that’s when the story starts to unravel.
After keeping them hostage overnight, he lets the old man
and Peg go to work next morning so as not to arouse suspicion, threatening to
kill the others if they give anything away. Frankly, at this point, the
situation becomes too contrived and the characters, Robey included, too unbelievable
and too unlikeable for anyone to really care what happens to them. The Wallace
Ford Character and his wife are too cowardly, Peggy is at first too naïve and
then later too daring or foolhardy to be believable. And Robey is at turns too
much of a whiner on the one hand and too much of a thug on the other.
As noted earlier, “He Ran All the Way,” a movie about a
man hounded by authorities and grim fate, mirrors in many ways the real-life
situation Garfield was living through at the time. His career was on the skids,
he had a bad heart condition, and he was being investigated by Joe McCarthy’s
House UnAmerican Activities Committee for his involvement with the Communist
Party. Like Nick Robey, Garfield was trapped in a web of circumstances from
which he would never escape. Garfield would be dead of a heart attack a year later
at the age of 39.
This film generally gets great reviews, in part, I
suspect because it was Garfield’s last, and also because, in another ironic
twist, it was written by Dalton Trumbo, who had his own troubles with the
McCarthy Committee. He went to jail as one of the famous Hollywood 10 for not naming
names. Trumbo and co-writer Hugh Butler had to use the name of Guy Endore in
the credits as a front. Working from a novel by Sam Ross, they tried to keep
the tension high, but in the end it all sort of comes apart, and by the time
it’s over you’re sorry more of the characters don’t suffer Robey’s fate. They
just plain get on your nerves. But maybe that was the point. The world created
by Trumbo, Butler and Ross, was a world you wouldn’t want to live in anyway. Maybe
you’d be better off dead. Come to think of it, wasn’t that the point of most of
Kino Lorber has outdone themselves with this stunning Studio
Classics Blu-Ray presentation of “He Ran All the Way.” The restored transfer is
absolutely flawless. The picture is crystal clear and the crisp black and white
photography is rendered in film-like detail. Sound is mono. Unfortunately there
are no extras except for a trailer for the film and for two others, including
“A Bullet for Joey.”
Overall, I can think of several other Garfield films I’d
recommend over this one, including “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” and “Body
and Soul.” But despite its flaws, I’d recommend getting this one just to round
out your Garfield collection and to enjoy, perhaps, one of the best black white
Blu-ray discs on the market.
Derek Pykett (Published by BearManor Media £20.00), 444 Pages, Softcover, ISBN:
9781593938833 (also available £26.50 Hardcover)
Review by Tim Greaves
of the greatest films of all time were made at MGM British Studios and some of Hollywood's
most prolific names laid foot upon the stages there. In an eminently readable
trip down memory lane, “MGM British Studios: Hollywood in Borehamwood” is a bounteous
treasure trove primarily comprising interesting and amusing memories of some of
those who had the privilege to work there. Sub-titled "Celebrating 100 Years
of the Film Studios of Elstree/Borehamwood", the tome boasts a voluminous collection
of stories from those who worked in front of and behind the camera back in
those halcyon days – some names are familiar, others not so much, but all of
them have tales to tell; if nothing else, author Derek Pykett deserves an award
for his prowess in undertaking the unenviable task of assembling the wealth of
material into concise and readable form.
Following no less than five forewords (from Rod Taylor, Nicholas Roeg, Olivia
de Havilland, Virginia McKenna and Kenneth Hyman), the author provides some background
information on the six studios that operated in the Borehamwood and Elstree area
before moving forward through the decades, with mention – albeit not always
extensive – of every production that came to fruition there. Anecdotal material
is present in abundance and there are some marvellous nuggets to be found
within. Just a few standouts for this reviewer: Christopher Lee reminiscing over
some wordplay with Errol Flynn on the set of The Dark Avenger that resulted in the unfortunate (and permanent)
disfigurement to one of his fingers; Brian Cobby's amusing recollections of his
embarrassment over appearing starkers in For
Members Only (US: The Nudist Story;
and Bette Davis's pithy remarks after working with Alec Guinness on The Scapegoat – "[He] is an actor
who plays by himself, unto himself. In this picture he plays a dual role so at
least he was able to play with himself." (Try reading that and not hearing
her acid tongue spitting out the words.)
Additionally there is some terrific trivia dotted throughout, all drawn from
the files of the "Borehamwood & Elstree Post", with stories ranging
from an alleged alcohol-related motoring accident involving Trevor Howard and (in
a separate incident) Burt Lancaster's chauffeur driven car being damaged in a
collision, to an electrician being taken to court and fined the princely sum of
£1 for assaulting a colleague on set.
It has to be said that some passages leave one feeling a tad short-changed, for
example the coverage of the quartet of ‘Miss Marple’ films starring Margaret
Rutherford – shot between 1961 and 1964, and which this reviewer happens to
adore – that amounts to barely more than a page (though I was intrigued to
learn that Marple's cottage in the film, located in Denham Village, was some 20
years earlier John Mills's family home). However, one also appreciates that
given the breadth of the subject as a whole, brevity is paramount in holding
the reader's attention and Pykett's engaging and fact-laden prose keeps things
moving swiftly along, resulting in a captivating page-turner. Where the text is
a little more in depth – information focussing on producer brothers Edward and
Harry Danziger and the section devoted to the production of The Dirty Dozen, for example – there’s
some fabulous reading, also found in the slightly meatier pieces devoted to
Hitchcock and Kubrick.
The 1967 boxoffice smash "The Dirty Dozen" starring Lee Marvin was among the many classic films shot at MGM British Studios.
out with three expansive photo sections featuring shots of the sets, the stars,
the films and a wealth of behind a camera treasures (wherein fans of TVs Richard the Lionheart and Where Eagles Dare are particularly well
catered for), a pair of chronologically arranged filmography chapters, and a
reproduction of the text from a 1950s promo booklet put out but the studio to
extol the virtues of its facilities, "MGM British Studios: Hollywood in
Borehamwood" is a recommended addition to the bookshelf of anyone with
even a passing interest in the golden years of movie-making in Britain.
The contemporary horror film genre has become an endurance test for seeing how much blood and splatter can be contained in each stomach-churning release. Gone are the days when such films were populated by literate scripts and iconic stars. Fortunately, home video releases still allow us to revel in the glory days of the horror genre, which came to a gradual end in the mid-to-late 1970s. The genre reached its first peak in the great Universal Monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s before being reinvented for a new generation in "gorious colour" by Hammer studios in Britain. Then American International Pictures got on board with enormously successful adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories produced by Roger Corman and generally starring Vincent Price, who became a horror icon during this period. This era also saw the rise of Amicus, another British production house that sought to emulate the success of Hammer by often producing horror anthology tales that also starred icons of the genre. Still, by the mid-1970s, such movies were growing stale with younger viewers as a new generation of filmmakers specialized in the kind of gory tales that would have been deemed unreleasable even a few years before. The 1974 production of "Madhouse" represents the last desperate gasp of the type of horror film that had grown so popular over the previous decade. It stars two genuine legends, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, who heretofore had been denied sharing the screen together despite having jointly appeared in anthology horror flicks. Robert Quarry, who was being groomed as their heir apparent by American International on the basis of his portrayal of Count Yorga, also had a prominent role in "Madhouse". The production, however, was far from a joyous swansong for the film that marked Price's final association with American International. In fact, the entire movie was deemed such a mess by those involved that it's a testament to their talents that it was even completed. The film was a joint venture between A.I.P. and Amicus, two studios with very different philosophies about making movies. There was tension from day one and the film went into production with a hastily cobbled together script that no one found satisfactory. Indeed, having received the script on Friday, the actors were expected to begin shooting on Monday. Robert Quarry was so disgusted by the lame dialogue that he took it upon himself to ghost write major portions of the script, an act that was looked upon favorably by his co-stars who asked him to do the same for their characters.. Jim Clark, who is primarily known as a talented editor for many esteemed films, was assigned the thankless task of bringing this mess-in-the-making to the screen. He was hobbled by a disgruntled and dispirited cast as well as quarreling executives.
"Madhouse" was originally titled "The Revenge of Dr. Death", a much more appropriate title. The film opens with Price as legendary film star Paul Toombs hosting a New Years Eve party in his Hollywood mansion. Toombs has become a star largely based on his recurring role as Dr. Death, a hideous murderer who stalks his victim in a distinctive skull-like mask. He no sooner announces his engagement to a beautiful actress, Ellen Mason, (Julie Crosthwait) when he is distastefully informed by porn producer Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry) that the bride-to-be used to be one of his top stars. Disgusted by this revelation, Toombs publicly chastises Ellen and the two storm off upstairs. Minutes later, Ellen is decapitated by someone in a Dr. Death costume. The prime suspect is Toombs, who is blamed for the murder and who suffers from a convenient bout of amnesia that leads him to believe he must have been guilty of the crime. He is committed to a mental institution for years. When he is released, he is convinced by his best friend and favorite screenwriter Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing) that he should accept an offer to revive the Dr. Death character for television. Ironically the show is being produced by Oliver Quayle, who is now a reputable figure in the industry. Toombs initially spawns the offer, partly out of revulsion for Quayle but primarily because he fears that playing Dr. Death again might inspire him to commit more violent crimes. Nevertheless, Herbert, who is now also an aspiring actor, convinces Toombs that he is up to the challenge. As the show goes into production, a series of high profile murders occurs with the victims turning out to be people who have come into contact with Toombs. They include an opportunistic young actress (Linda Hayden), who tries to seduce and blackmail him and her equally opportunistic step parents. As the body count rises everyone suspects that Toombs is the killer but Scotland Yard can't pin the crimes on him. It's apparent to the viewer, however, that Toombs is the victim, not the killer. This is typical for protagonists played by Price. Even if they are murderers, it's generally the result of them having been driven insane by unscrupulous people they had trusted. "Madhouse" takes this formula to an extreme. At times it plays like "Gaslight" on steroids. You would also have to be the least adept sleuth since Inspector Clouseau if you can't spot who the real villain is practically from frame one.
"Madhouse" follows the style of recently successful Price films from the era, primarily the Dr. Phibes movies and his acclaimed hit "Theatre of Blood" which had been released the previous year. The key component is a sense of campiness, though in "Madhouse" the actors play it straight and don't give overly broad comedic interpretations of their roles. Price actually has an interesting character to play, as Toombs is a multi-faceted man with a painful past and present to contend with. He does yeoman work, giving one of his finest late career performances (he even gets to croon a love song that is played on old Victrolas!). Cushing is largely underutilized until the climax when the two stars share a terrific scene. Stuck between these two legends, Robert Quarry doesn't have much to do other than sip cocktails and make snarky remarks. Still, having these three stars on screen together makes for a delightful experience even if the material is often predictable. In fact, it's the sheer predictability of the script that makes the movie so enjoyable. This is the kind of horror flick in which nubile and defenseless young woman walk through dark houses to see what went bump in the night. It's gory and bloody in keeping up with the times, but somehow the gore is never as repugnant as it is in slasher and "dead teenager" flicks that would come to redefine the horror genre. It should also be pointed out that Price's Dr. Death makeup effects are truly impressive, as is the gimmick employed throughout the film of having clips from Price's old collaborations with Roger Corman shown as examples of Paul Toombs's career highlights. (A nice touch is acknowledging the late great Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, who appear in these sequences, in the opening credits of "Madhouse".)
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release is outstanding on all levels. It features a commentary track by horror film historian David Del Valle that is both entertaining and informative. Del Valle personally knew many of the people involved in the production and his track is like a master class in horror filmmaking. There is also a short but very good retrospective documentary about the making of the film in which Del Valle is interviewed along with another esteemed horror film scholar, C. Courtney Joyner. Both of them provide plenty of fascinating facts about the troubled making of the movie, which was renamed "Madhouse" at the eleventh hour by A.I.P. executives who had already printed publicity materials bearing the film's previous title. The Blu-ray also contains a gallery of other Vincent Price films available through Kino Lorber.
"Madhouse" may have been deemed a second rate horror film back in the day but, given the dearth of larger-than-life stars in today's movie industry, it allows retro movie lovers to revel in the onscreen pairing of two truly iconic screen legends. It also represents the type of movie of which it can be said, "They don't make 'em like that any more". I only wish they did.
Cosby co-starred with Robert Culp in the hit 1960s NBC TV series "I Spy".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Legendary comedian and actor Bill Cosby has been formally charged with sexually assaulting a woman who said she considered him a friend and mentor. The incident is said to have occurred in 2004. Pennsylvania prosecutors cite new evidence that was unveiled in relation to the case, which was first reported by the alleged victim in 2005. At the time, prosecutors chose not to file charges. Cosby has been accused of sexual assault over the decades by many women whose stories are quite similar. They state that Cosby lured them into a trusting relationship, then used drugs to immobilize them. He then allegedly sexually assaulted them. Cosby has denied committing any illegal acts and has brought a lawsuit against on of the women, model and actress Beverly Johnson, claiming that she have slandered his reputation. He has admitted in a 2005 deposition that he had obtained prescriptions for Quaaludes and would give the pills to women with the expectation of having sex with them. However he never clarified whether the women knew that was his intent and if the sex was consensual following their ingesting of the pills. Allegations of sexual abuse have dogged Cosby since the 1960s when he burst onto the scene as one of America's brightest young stand-up comics. In 1965 he co-starred with Robert Culp in the TV series "I Spy" which earned him Emmy awards and respect for breaking down racial barriers as the first African American actor to star in a dramatic TV series. In the ensuing decades Cosby has become an iconic presence in American pop culture. His 1980s sitcom series became a smash hit and ran for many years, defining the epitome of "Must See TV". Some of Cosby's alleged victims have claimed that his iconic status and powerful connections discouraged law enforcement officials from aggressively pursuing their claims. Ironically, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania for the crime Cosby is charged with would have expired in 2016. Cosby was arraigned in court today. For more click here.
time Shannara fans have reason to rejoice. Thanks to the series producers Sonar Entertainment and MTV, author Terry
Brooks' Shannara has come to life. Based upon his second novel, "The
Elfstones of Shannara," The Shannara Chronicles is an engaging new
television series that premieres on MTV on January 5. Cast with some terrific
young actors it's a good bet to be a hit with MTV fans who know nothing of Brooks' novels.
Shot on location in New Zealand, it has beautiful scenery, breathtaking
cinematography and an impressively talented and good looking cast. (Elves are
supposed to be beautiful, no?) The set design is spectacular; wait until you
see the Sacred Garden and the Ellcrys.
long time to come, on a post-apocalyptic Earth, a magical tree, the Ellcrys,
stands in the Elven city of Arborlon. For thousands of years it has protected
the Four Lands from demon invasion. As long as the Ellcrys lives, the demons
remain banished in the Forbidding. But the Ellcrys is dying. For the first time
in its history the Ellcrys is shedding leaves and with each leaf that falls
another demon is released into the world. The demons are coming...
Since its planting the tree has been
protected by The Order of the Chosen. Each year young elves vie for one of the
seven places in the Order, giving a year's service tending to the tree. This
year, against tradition, the first female elf has earned a spot in the Order.
She is Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton - Unhallowed Ground, Downton Abbey),
granddaughter to King Eventine Elessedil (John Rhys-Davies
- do I need list his credits?) and the Ellcrys speaks to her through visions.
Misinterpreting one of the Ellcrys' messages, she runs away in an attempt to
protect someone she cares about.
Shady Vale, Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler - The Carrie Diaries, Arrow), a
young man who is half-elf, half-human, is dealing with the death of his mother,
a gift she gives him on her death-bed and a mission she imparts; "Find the
Druid." The Druid she refers to is Alanon (Manu Bennett - The Hobbit,
Arrow). The gift pertains to the magical elfstones once wielded by Wil's
father, Shea Ohmsford. Wil leaves Shady Vale intent on going to Storlock to
study healing to make up for the helplessness he feels being unable to save his
mother. Instead of finding Alanon it is the druid who finds Wil but not before
Wil has been relieved of the elfstones by a beautiful Rover girl (read: thief),
Eretria (Ivana Baquero - Pan's Labyrinth). Alanon has been called by the
Ellcrys and with Wil in tow they head to Arborlon.
a Changeling demon prowls Arborlon doing the Dagda Mor's bidding. The first
leaf lost by the Ellcrys released the Dagda Mor, a powerful Elven Druid
corrupted thousands of years earlier by the Illdatch, a book of dark magic. The
Changeling's mission is to kill all the members of the Order of the Chosen. In
this way, as only a member of the Chosen possesses the ability to revive the
Ellcrys, a demon invasion will be assured…
an exciting and impressive adaptation of Terry Brooks’ equally impressive
The original three amigos: band leader Doc Severinsen, Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon.
By Lee Pfeiffer
It's almost too good to be true. After long, complex negotiations the cable channel Antenna TV has closed a deal to begin showing full length vintage episodes of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" beginning January 1. The shows will provide a fascinating time capsule that extends over Carson's thirty years hosting of the iconic NBC late night program. Full one hour episodes will air on weeknights while earlier 90 minute episodes will be telecast on weekends. In today's age of basically crass, dumbed-down interview shows, Carson's "Tonight" episodes will probably resonate better than ever. The show would present an astonishing array of guests that represented everyone from legendary actors and singers to literary figures and politicians. For a generation that grew up on the show it will be great to hear Ed McMahon once again bellow, "Heeerrreee's Johnny!". For more click here.
Alfred Hitchcock loathed having to abide by the Puritanical "Hayes Code" that, in effect, acted as a de facto censorship board for American films. Hitch devised numerous clever ways to introduce adult sexual situations into his films in a manner that made it difficult, if not impossible, for the prudes to order scenes trimmed or deleted. Hitch lost a few battles (ironically one them based on a non-sex scene involving the flushing of a toilet!) but generally managed to get one over on the would-be censors. Click here for an article from The Richest web site that examines some his tactics for including sex in his movies (although the article fails to examine "Marnie", perhaps the most sexually driven of all Hitchcock's films.)
Following its popular exhibition at Madame Tussauds in London, the six James Bond wax figures are now on display in the Hollywood branch of famed museum. Fans can pose with likenesses of Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. Lazenby's agreement to do a sitting last February made completion of the exhibit possible. The other five actors had previously had likenesses of them on display at various time periods at the museum. For more, including a link to buy tickets, click here.
The band Radiohead confirmed that they had indeed been asked to write a theme song for the blockbuster James Bond film "Spectre". However, their track was rejected in favor of Sam Smith's "Writings On the Wall". Nevertheless, Radiohead was very pleased with their effort and just made it available for fans to experience. For more on the Radiohead/Bond connection click here.
I've long had admiration for the work of actor Robert Shaw ever since he impressed me at age 8 with his chilling interpretation of the SPECTRE psychotic killer Red Grant in "From Russia With Love". Shaw could always be counted on to deliver a fine performance even if the material he chose was sometimes underwhelming. Shaw was also a talented writer and playwright, having won acclaim for his play "The Man in the Glass Booth", which was inspired by the war criminal trial of Adolf Eichmann. Shaw, like many actors, participated in many questionable films in order to enable his real passion, which was to bring avante garde movie projects to fruition, even if they only appealed to the art cinema crowd. One of Shaw's most interesting vehicles is one of his least seen. "Figures in a Landscape" was his 1970 adaptation of an allegorical novel by Barry England that abounded with reference to the (then) on-going Vietnam war. Shaw dispensed with that aspect of the novel and instead played up its more opaque aspects, particularly those that concern the two protagonists in what is basically a two-character adventure. The film opens with Shaw and co-star Malcolm McDowell on the run in an unnamed country being pursued by unnamed forces (presumably the police and/or military) for unspecified crimes. One senses they are political prisoners in a totalitarian state but this is never addressed directly. Shaw is MacConnachie ("Mac"), a middle-aged man with a colorful past that often found him on the opposite side of the law. McDowell is Ansell, a twenty-something free spirited type from London whose social values are the polar opposite of Mac's old fashioned values. When we first see the men, they are running at a high rate of speed and have to contend with the major obstacle of having their hands bound behind their backs. We never learn how they effected their escape and from whom but these are just several key questions that Shaw's screenplay goes to lengths in terms of not filling in the audience on the details. The two men, bound by their mutual need for one another, bicker and bark at each other like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones" with Mac channeling his future performance as Quint in "Jaws" by constantly attacking the younger man for being the product of a soft generation. As these types of films generally play out, Mac and Ansell are able to win some small victories through mutual efforts and begin to develop a grudging but sincere admiration for each other. (In one of the script's few instances of humor, we learn that Mac is somewhat of a prude by the way he chastises the younger generation for the sexual promiscuity afforded by "The Pill".) They finally figure out a way to free their bonds and obtain food, water and arms. However, they find themselves relentlessly pursued by a helicopter piloted by faceless, nameless men who coordinate a widespread army of pursuers on the ground The image of the helicopter haunts Mac and Ansell throughout their desperate race across a harsh landscape that contains both deserts and high, snow-covered mountains. Throughout their ordeal, the men come to know each other better though Shaw's screenplay, perhaps not coincidentally, gives his character far meatier material than McDowell gets to work with. Shaw is at his best in the quiet sequences, reminiscing about his beloved wife who waits for his return home.
The film falls short of its Kafkaesque pretensions but is never less than engaging, thanks in no small part to the skill of director Joseph Losey in keeping the bizarre aspects of the scripts from becoming too alienating for the audience. There is also superb cinematography that does justice to the magnificent, if sometimes foreboding, Spanish landscapes and a fine score by the estimable Richard Rodney Bennett. It's unclear what Shaw was trying to say in this sometimes puzzling film that at times evokes aspects of Patrick McGoohan's classic TV series "The Prisoner". This jumbled aspect of the story robs the film of some of its potential dramatic payoffs but there is real satisfaction in watching Shaw and McDowell in parts that are this meaty. We only learn enough about each character to tantalize us even further regarding how they ended up in this dilemma and it's probably best that Shaw never provides any easy answers. However, some of the men's actions and interactions cry out for a bit more clarification especially in the exciting climax when Mac is motivated to take on downing the hated helicopter even at an unnecessary risk to his own life.
"Figures in a Landscape" has been released by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray. As with most of the company's titles, this one boasts a superb transfer that does justice to the impressive filming locations. Unfortunately, no extras are included. A pity because this film cries out for a commentary track that could have covered not only the movie itself but also Shaw's remarkable career, one that never completely fulfilled its potential because of his own personal demons.
Business” features Gene Hackman and Mikhail Baryshnikov in an espionage
thriller directed by Nicholas Meyer. The Cold War is over and a former CIA agent
is called out of retirement to exchange an imprisoned Russian agent for a
captured American pilot. The movie was released in 1991 just as the Soviet
Union ceased to exist and the Russian Federation was born. Old tensions between
East and West remain and the movie tries to be a tense “Cold War” style
is Sam Boyd, a retired CIA agent who is using his skills as a corporate spy.
Mikhail Baryshnikov is Pyotr Ivanovich Grushenko, a former Soviet spy serving
time in an American prison. Sam is called out of retirement to exchange Pyotr
for the American being held by the Russians. Glasnost and perestroika indeed,
or so it would appear. Sam escorts Pyotr to the recently reunited Germany along
with a case filled with a million dollars when he realizes they are being tricked
by the Russians. It turns out the exchange is a fake and they are involved in an
elaborate double cross and money laundering scheme involving the Russians and
on their trail are the American and Russian agents attempting to get the money back
and to kill Sam and Pyotr who form an alliance and make their way through
Germany and on to Paris. It’s not exactly clear what they plan on doing once
they get there or how they plan on getting away with their lives and the movie’s
ending does little to clear things up. The main problem is that the story was
obviously meant to be a typical Cold War thriller. Nicholas Meyer does a good
job as writer and director, but it’s clear that the story just was not going to
work after the Cold War ended during production. What do you do with a Cold War
thriller after the Soviet Union ceases to exist? It was an unfortunate time to
produce such a movie.
is a great actor and Baryshnikov is generally good, but they both appear bored
and don’t really look like they’re into it. The supporting actors are almost comical
in a painful way in their attempts to play it straight, but one can predict
everything that’s going to happen before it plays out. The movie is trying to
be a kind of comic buddy movie, but it never quite works out. Géraldine Danon is on hand as a French woman who turns
out to be Pyotr’s daughter, but she serves no serious purpose other than to
launder the money through a Swiss bank to make it untraceable (I guess).
Smith is on hand as Sam’s CIA contact and is good in just about everything he’s
in. Terry O’Quinn is also on hand, but other than being the mastermind behind
the money laundering scheme, he doesn’t have much to do. The central plot is
too full of holes and none of it really makes any sense. Why not just keep the
cash and hide somewhere in luxury? Instead Sam and Pyotr keep exposing
themselves by meeting with old friends and known associates in cities filled to
the brim with spies.
movie looks fine on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray and showcases some fine on-location
work in Germany and France. The night-time street scenes in Germany are very
nicely shot and the movie is an easy going 98 minutes. The disc contains a
featurette with interviews by a very bored Hackman as well as out-takes, sound
bites and the trailer. Interestingly, the trailer attempts to sell the film as
a buddy comedy and features a scene not in the movie with the leads living in
retirement on a tropical island. I’d say catch this movie if you have to see
everything by Gene Hackman, Mikhail Baryshnikov and director Nicholas Meyer.
Writing for the superb 007 web site "From Sweden With Love", Cinema Retro columnist Mark Cerulli pays a visit to one of the most memorable James Bond villains: Putter Smith, who portrayed half of the gay hit men team in the 1971 007 flick "Diamonds Are Forever", squaring off against Sean Connery. . Smith, an acclaimed jazz musician, reminisces in part one of this recent interview. Click here to read and to view a fascinating deleted scene from "Diamonds Are Forever".
Capra was a superstar Hollywood director in the 1930s. He had a string of
critically-acclaimed and successful pictures after joining Columbia Pictures
and elevating the studio from “poverty row” to a force that competed with the
big leagues. Two of Capra’s Columbia movies won the Oscar for Best Picture, and
Capra became the first filmmaker to win the Oscar for Best Director three times, all within five years. You Can’t Take it With You was Capra’s
second Best Picture winner and his third Best Director achievement.
his films have been called “Capra-corn,” because they are usually steeped in
Americana, explore themes of social class inequality, feature casts of
eccentric—but lovable—protagonists and greedy, heartless villains, and contain stories
about the Everyman’s struggle against the Establishment. Capra was also one of
the developers of the screwball comedy, in which mismatched couples, usually
from different social classes, fall in and out and back in love.
You Can’t Take It
With You was
based on the Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, which was still
playing in New York when the film opened. It’s a story with Capra’s classic oddball
characters—this time a whole family of them—and their clash with the moneybags
banking world (a hot topic in the Depression-weary 1930s).
Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) is the patriarch of a poor but extremely happy freedom-loving
houseful of misfits that include his daughter Penny (Spring Byington as a pulp
writer and painter) and her husband (Samuel S. Hinds, a maker of fireworks),
his granddaughter Essie (a very young Ann Miller as a would-be ballerina taking
lessons from a mad Russian instructor played by Mischa Auer) and her husband Ed
(Dub Taylor as a vibraphone player and printer), a couple of other hangers-on
who create things in the basement (Donald Meek and Halliwell Hobbes), and the
obligatory comic African-American maid and butler (Lillian Yarbo and Eddie
“Rochester” Anderson). Oh, and then there’s the other granddaughter, Alice
(Jean Arthur), who is relatively normal and works as a secretary in the big
bank building owned and run by “A.P.” Kirby (Edward Arnold), who wants to buy
Grandpa’s house and land so that he can develop on it. Grandpa is the only
holdout in the area and refuses to sell. The complication comes when Alice and
Kirby’s son Tony (James Stewart, in his first major role and first for Capra) fall
in love and want to marry. Socialite Mrs. Kirby (Mary Forbes) disapproves with
such viciousness that she practically
becomes the real villain of the piece.
the Capra ingredients are all there—odd and funny characters, a conflict
between upper and lower classes, and a screwball romance. Add in a healthy dose
of Americana songs like “Polly Wolly Doodle” and you have a classic that in
many ways still resonates today as a cautionary tale of greed. As the title
states, you can’t take your money with you when you’re gone, so you might as
well have fun and not worry about it while you’re here on earth.
performances are first rate all around (although Byington received the only
Oscar nomination, for Supporting Actress), and the adaptation by Robert Riskin
is superb (despite radical changes to the third act of the play). There are
some very funny moments, such as when the Kirbys come to the Vanderhof home for
dinner on the wrong night, causing the nutty household to spring into action to
accommodate them. Familiar-face Harry Davenport has a wonderful comic turn as a
night court judge when everyone is thrown into the drunk tank for disorderly
conduct and illegal manufacture of fireworks.
yet, of Capra’s most well-known pictures of the 30s (It Happened One Night, Mr.
Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon,
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and
this one), You Can’t Take It With You is
perhaps the weakest. The problem is that it’s too long, at times ponderous, and
it takes a while to get going. I do question whether or not it really was the
Best Picture of 1938—other nominees such as The
Adventures of Robin Hood, Grand
Illusion, and Boys Town may have
been more deserving. And yet, You Can’t
Take It With You is still a very good time at the movies.
new Blu-ray release is outstanding. The film was fully restored and mastered in
4K (1080p high definition) and looks marvelous. There’s not a blemish to
behold, and the grain is welcome. The audio is Mono DTS-HD MA with several
languages from which to choose. Supplements include an audio commentary by
Frank Capra, Jr. and author Cathrine Kellison that is well-informed and
entertaining. A 25-minute documentary, “Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers...You Can’t Take It With You” features
Capra’s son and others talking about the history behind the making of the film.
The original theatrical trailer is included, and the hard-case inner booklet
features a comprehensive and studious essay by film historian Jeremy Arnold.
line—it’s a must for cinephiles, Capra fans, Jimmy Stewart enthusiasts, and
lovers of glorious black and white. Enjoy it... while you can.
"The Strangler" is a long-forgotten 1964 low-budget exploitation movie originally released by Allied Artists. It has developed a bit of a cult following among retro movie lovers who will be delighted that the film has come to DVD through the Warner Archive. The movie was designed to capitalize on the notorious Boston Strangler murders that were in the news at the time. However, what sets the movie apart from other cheap thrills productions is the fact that it is intelligently scripted and presents its villain as a highly complex character, filled with nuances and psychological tortures. Victor Buono, who had made a sensational film debut the previous year in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", gets a rare starring role as the titular character. He's Leo Kroll, a meek, obese young man who barely makes a living as a lab assistant in big city hospital. He's quiet, unassuming and superficially friendly even though he has no real friends in his life. Our first glimpse of Leo is rather startling. We see him inside the apartment of an attractive young woman who is undressing, not knowing that she has a stalker on the premises. Leo suddenly emerges and strangles her with her own stockings. We learn that Leo is behind similar serial murders of young women in the area but the police are at a dead end. Leo's private life is pure hell. He lives with his aging mother (Ellen Corby) who controls virtually every aspect of his life. She even ensures that their apartment is a shrine to herself, adorned with numerous photos of her. When the film opens, she is confined to a hospital room and expects Leo to visit her every night right after work. When he takes a night off to indulge in his murderous past time, his mother's abrasive accusations of neglect seem to bother him more than the heinous crimes he has committed. He clearly hates and resents his mother. She never fails to remind him that he is a loser: overweight, homely and friendless. She tells him that she is the only person he can rely on and trust. She also warns him against getting involved with women, saying that any girl who would date him had to be after his money. Leo also has a peculiar fetish- he likes to leave dolls at the scene of his murderS, each representing the woman he has just killed. He obtains them by winning a game of chance at a local arcade where his skill at the game seems to impress the girls behind the counter, one of whom, Tally (Davey Davison), he clearly has a crush on, which inevitably puts her on Leo's endangered species list.
There weren't many diverse roles that Buono could play in his career. Generally, the baby-faced actor was stuck portraying varying incarnations of a "man child". However, he did carve out some memorable performances playing largely comedic villains in shows like "Batman", "The Wild, Wild West" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.". He worked steadily, occasionally landing a mature role in major films such as "Robin and the Seven Hoods" and "Four For Texas" in which he appeared with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Buono, who died young at age 42 in 1982, arguably gives the best performance of his career in "The Strangler", making a man who commits despicable acts seem almost sympathetic. When he finally asks a woman he barely knows to marry him, her rejection of him is truly a heartbreaking scene. Leo ends up on the short list of police suspects but manages to elude arrest. He even demands to take a lie detector test, which he passes due to the fact that he has no feelings of guilt whatsoever. His motive for murder isn't even to alleviate the sexual repression he feels. It's simply his way of dealing with mommy issues. Each woman he slays is a stand-in for the mother he deplores. Under the highly competent direction of Burt Topper, "The Strangler" boasts some impressive performances by a largely unknown cast. The police sequences, which highlight David McLean as the over-worked cop assigned to crack the case, ring with authenticity. The B&W film also has good cinematography and creative use of lighting effect. Yet it is Buono who dominates the production with a performance that would have won critical raves if it were seen in an "A" list production. The film is consistently entertaining and at times highly suspenseful. The Warner Archive release is top-notch but lacks any extras. A commentary track on this title would be most welcome for a future edition.
In the early 1960s director John Frankenheimer emerged as one of Hollywood's most exciting talents. Consider the remarkably diverse films he made in a four year period between 1962 and 1966: "Birdman of Alcatraz", a somewhat fictionalized but extremely compelling prison drama with an Oscar nominated performance by Burt Lancaster; the classic thriller "The Manchurian Candidate" which perfectly analyzed the type of paranoia that still defines American politics today; "Seven Days in May", yet another classic political thriller that also retains its relevance; "The Train", a superb WWII film about the French Resistance attempting to thwart a Nazi's theft of priceless national treasures, "Seconds", Frankenheimer's brilliant and underrated "Twilight Zone"-like chiller and "Grand Prix", the big budget, star-packed racing extravaganza that was unlike any of his previous films (it was in color, for one). For a while, it seemed Frankenheimer could do no wrong. However, by the late 1960s, he began to stumble. His forthy comedy "The Extraordinary Seaman" was, by any rational evaluation, a complete disaster and was deemed largely unreleasable by MGM. His next major effort, "The Gypsy Moths" reunited him with Burt Lancaster, star of some of his greatest successes. However, despite having many merits, the film failed to click with audiences and critics. Suddenly, Frankenheimer was no longer the "Golden Boy" who represented the new age of daring young American directors. In the mid-1970s, he got two more bites at the apple with "French Connection II" and the terrorist thriller "Black Sunday". He delivered the goods artistically but both films did not amass the anticipated grosses and Frankenheimer was increasingly relegated to helming middling films in return for a quick pay check. He later confessed that some of his problems were self-imposed due to his dependency on alcohol. As his feature film career deteriorated, Frankenheimer found salvation through directing acclaimed, high profile TV movies that saw him win four Emmy Awards. He did have one late career theatrical hit with the spy thriller "Ronin" in 1998. He passed away in 2002, having had the satisfaction of seeing his work re-evaluated by a new generation of critics with "Seconds", in particular, finally winning the type of praise that had eluded reviewers when initially released in 1966.
One of Frankenheimer's least-discussed films, "The Fourth War", has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The movie went into production at the very end of the Cold War. By the time it was released in 1990, the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, which is probably why the audience is informed that the story takes place in 1988. Although the film is set up to be a grudge match between two military tough guys on opposite sides of the political spectrum, the central character is Col. Jack Knowles (Roy Scheider), a spit-and-polish veteran U.S. Army officer who arrives at his new command, a remote base on the border of West Germany and Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia. Knowles is a complete hard ass with Patton-like disciplinary measures he doesn't hesitate to enact for any soldier who doesn't abide by his rules. But we learn later that Knowles is a bit of a hypocrite. Seems he has a reputation for being a loose cannon who consistently defies orders and regulations in order to carry out procedures his own way. He's been booted from several commands and this is his last chance. It's an opportunity that has been afforded him by his Vietnam War buddy Gen. Hackworth (Harry Dean Stanton), whose life Knowles saved back in the day. Knowles shows his gratitude by immediately violating orders and taking a small patrol past the "no go" boundary that abuts the Czech border. By happenstance, the group witnesses a disturbing sight: a dissident is racing toward the West German border over snow covered fields with Soviet soldiers relentlessly hunting him down on horseback. The man almost makes it to freedom but is shot dead by the Soviets. Outraged, Knowles pulls his pistol and is about to initiate a shooting war. His second in command, Lt. Col. Clark (Tim Reid) realizes the international implications that would follow and convinces Knowles to holster his weapon- but Knowles is still outraged. He tosses a snowball at the Soviet commanding officer, Col. Valachev (Jurgen Prochnow). This juvenile act of protest will lead to a relentless war of wills between both men, each of whom studies the other's history. Before long, Knowles is making surreptitious nocturnal one-man missions behind the border. At first he causes mischief by holding Soviet guards at gunpoint and humiliating them. But his actions become increasingly risky, culminating in his destroying a guard tower and nearly killing the men in it. Valachev begins to respond in kind, sneaking over the border to humiliate Knowles. By this point, Lt. Col. Clark suspects that Knowles is becoming irrational and carrying out forbidden missions. General Clark dresses down his old friend and tells him that if he makes one more slip-up, he won't be able to save him from being drummed out of the military. Knowles is momentarily shaken but can't resist resuming his activities over the border.On one such "mission", he meets a desperate young woman who is trying to sneak back into Czechoslovakia. She's Elena (Lara Harris), who explains she has to rescue her little daughter who is being cared for by her grandmother. Elena explains that her mother is now too ill to take care of the child and she worries that the girl will be placed in a state home. The gruff Knowles is moved by her plight and agrees to help her in her quest- a promise that ultimately leads to dramatic consequences and a one-on-one confrontation with Valachev that could reignite the Cold War.
While "The Fourth War" is not of a caliber of John Frankenheimer's early classics, the film has much to recommend about it. The movie did not make much of an impact when it first opened and has remained under the radar screen ever since. It needs a few champions and I'm happy to be one of them. For one, it's intelligently written and presents two interesting characters, though we never learn much about Valachev. Knowles, on the other hand, is an emotional basket case hiding behind a tough guy persona. He's friendless and desperate to find meaning in life. In one poignant scene, he celebrates his birthday in his quarters, accompanied only by a bottle of booze and a kid's party hat on his head as he tries vainly to have a civil conversation by phone with a grown son who is clearly not enamored with him. He's a tragic, fascinating figure- a small scale General Curtis Lemay, who has channeled his demons into a personal crusade against communism. Scheider gives a terrific performance and gets fine support from Prochnow, Reid and Harris, whose character provides the catalyst for a clever plot twist late in the film. Harry Dean Stanton is terrific especially in the sequence in which he locks horns with Scheider. It's riveting all the way. Director Frankenheimer turns the Canadian frozen tundra into a convincing replica of the Eastern European landscape and milks a good deal of suspense from the proceedings, culminating in a spectacular, testosterone-laced battle between the two antagonists in full view of their respective armies.
"The Fourth War" is well worth a look. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks sensational. Bonus extras are the original trailer and a gallery of other trailers for Scheider films available from the company.
Long regarded as one of Roger Corman's most ambitious and poignant films, "X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" comes to Blu-ray as an impressive special edition from Kino Lorber. Corman became a legend by overseeing production of countless low-budget horror and exploitation films beginning in the late 1950s. What the movies lacked in budgetary aspects they more than made up for in terms of intelligent scripts and often creative technical processes that more than compensated for the skimpy budgets. Corman's films not only gave early breaks to a new generation of actors and filmmakers, but he also helped resurrect flagging careers of veteran actors, one of whom was Ray Milland, who stars in this film. Milland was a Best Actor Oscar winner for the 1945 movie "The Lost Weekend" but by the 1960s his boxoffice appeal had waned. By teaming with Corman on "The Premature Burial" in 1962, Milland found he enjoyed acting in horror-based flicks. They also helped him pay the bills and maintain his status as a leading man, albeit in vehicles that critics generally dismissed as "B" movies. If Milland never became a legend through his association with horror films as Vincent Price did, his presence in these movies kept him on the radar screen and allowed him to occasionally nab fine roles in major Hollywood productions such as "Love Story", "Gold" and "The Last Tycoon". The success of "The Premature Burial" led to Milland reuniting with Corman for "X" the following the year.
Original Gold Key tie-in comic book.
"X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" presents Milland as Dr. James Xavier, a respected surgeon in a big city hospital who has an obsession for exploring the greater meaning of life. He is consumed by a belief that if people could be empowered to see through solid matter, they might learn the secrets the universe. Xavier has been working under a grant to explore these possibilities and the result is a serum that, if administered as eye drops, might allow a person to obtain X-ray vision. Against the advice of his colleagues who claim the serum hasn't been perfected yet, Xavier boldly administers the drops in his own eyes. The results are positive. He finds that, to a limited degree, he can indeed see through solid matter. However, the effects are temporary and unpredictable. Xavier tempts fate by continuing to up the dosage. This results in his being able to achieve extraordinary results. He finds he can see inside the human body and uses his skill to help correct misdiagnosed patients. His boss, head surgeon Dr. Willard Benson (John Hoyt) is skeptical of his claims and his best friend, Dr. Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone) refuses to assist him in his experiments on the basis that he perceives Xavier is suffering from psychological problems based on the serum he has been taking. In fact, Xavier is slowly being driven mad. By being able to see within virtually every object and person, he finds the mental anguish to be excruciating. He can't turn it off at will and is subject to often seeing the world through blinding psychedelic patterns that result in him acting irrational. His sole ally is his colleague Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis), a colleague who seems to have a romantic interest in him. Diane attempts to talk Xavier into stopping the experiments but he feels compelled to continue in the hope that eventually he will be able to unlock the secrets of life. Tragedy strikes when Xavier's irrational behavior results in the accidental death of a friend. Because he flees the scene, he becomes wanted for murder. By this point, the serum has wreaked havoc on his eyes, which now look surrealistic. To hide them, he wears an omnipresent pair of over-sized sunglasses. Desperate and alone, Xavier meets a carnival barker, Crane (Don Rickles), who soon understands the extraordinary power he possesses. Crane, an opportunist, convinces Xavier to appear at the carnival and use his power as a money-making gimmick. Xavier is appalled but consents out of financial necessity. However, when Crane begins to exploit sick people, Xavier flees the scene. Diane tracks him down and the two hurry to Las Vegas where Xaveri's X-ray vision results in him winning big. However, he doesn't know when to quit and suspicious casino staffers challenge him, turning his triumph into a debacle.The film's conclusion finds Xavier in a high speed car chase across the desert, pursued by police vehicle and helicopters. He stumbles on a religious revival meeting being held in a tent by a charismatic, fanatical preacher (John Dierkes), whose sudden influence over Xavier results in the film's controversial and shocking final scene.
"X" is a fine film on all counts. Corman, who not only produced but also directed, never allows the fantastic premise of the story to drift into the area of the absurd. To his credit, Milland plays his role with the dignity he would have afforded to an "A" list part in a big budget film. He gives a fine and compelling performance, as does everyone in the supporting cast including Rickles, who reminds us that he was once a dramatic actor before honing his skills as an insult comic. The intelligent script aspires to deal with issues that go beyond the standard horror/sci-fi film format. In this respect, it should be viewed on par with another similar film, "The Incredible Shrinking Man". The movie also benefits from creative special effects, a fine score by Les Baxter and impressive cinematography by the legendary Floyd Crosby.
The film's final frames are still the subject of debate among retro movie lovers today.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is joy to view, not only because of the excellent transfer, but also due to the inclusion of two separate commentary tracks. On the first Corman discusses the film in detail, and with great affection. He also talks about his long term relationship with American International Pictures, a studio that allowed him virtually complete creative control over his productions. The result was a mutually beneficial partnership that lasted many years as the studio and Corman helped define each other. The second audio commentary track is by film historian Tim Lucas, whose knowledge not only of this specific film but of the genre itself is highly impressive. Not surprisingly, his grasp of the minor details involving the film's production exceeds that of Corman himself, who admits on his track that time has made his memory of certain aspects of the movie a bit hazy. (He incorrectly states that this was Don Rickles' first feature film, when, in fact, it was his fourth, having appeared in such high profile movies as "Run Silent, Run Deep" and "The Rat Race".) Both Corman and Lucas discuss in detail the film's controversial final frames, which I will not discuss here for fear of providing a spoiler. There is also a welcome video interview with director Joe Dante, who professes his love for the film from the first time he saw it as a kid. Dante also points out that the movie was originally titled simply "X" and remained so even in the print itself. He informs us that the subtitle "... The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" was added at the last minute for the print campaigns only. A segment from Dante's popular web site Trailers From Hell presents the movie's original trailer with an introduction and commentary by another contemporary director, Mick Garris. The trailer also appears separately and when viewing it, one becomes of aware of how American International included the film's only humorous sequence simply for use in sexing up the trailer. It involves Xavier and Diane at a house party where Xavier finds his X-ray vision allows him to see everyone naked. Refreshingly, his ethics don't outweigh his libido and he does what any other guy would do: he keeps gawking. The trailer emphasizes this brief sequence as only an American International production could do. Another bonus included on the Blu-ray is the film's original prologue, a rather bizarre and pedantic slog that resembles those creaky old science documentaries that baby boomers were forced to watch in school auditoriums. The seemingly endless piece is boring and bland and Corman used excellent judgment in cutting it. Nevertheless, it makes for fascinating viewing today.
"X" was an important early success for Roger Corman. That it still stands the test of time as fine entertainment today is a testament to his skills as a producer and director.
Sam Spiegel was one of the most revered and accomplished producers in Hollywood history. His achievements included such classics as "On the Waterfront", "The African Queen", "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia". His body of work, though not nearly as extensive as that of some other producers, was notable in the sense that Spiegel thought big and shot for the moon when it came to bringing to the screen stories that spoke to the human condition. Following the triumphant release of "Lawrence" in 1962, Spiegel did not make another film for four years. When he did, the movie - "The Chase"- turned out to be a star-packed drama that won over neither critics or audiences. Spiegel had a more ambitious idea for his next production, a screen adaptation of the best-selling WWII thriller "The Night of the Generals" by Hans Helmut Kirst. Spiegel had the inspired idea of reuniting his "Lawrence of Arabia" co-stars Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. They were reluctant to take on the project, but they certainly owed him. Both were virtual unknowns until Spiegel gave them the roles that made them international stars. Spiegel also added to the mix an impressive cast of esteemed British actors ranging from veterans such as Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray to up-and-coming young actors Tom Courtenay and Joanna Pettet. He chose Anatole Litvak to direct. Litvak had been making films for decades and had a few notable hits such as "Sorry, Wrong Number", "Anastasia" and "The Snake Pit". Spiegel being Spiegel ensured that the production benefited from a large budget and an appropriate running time (148 minutes) that would allow the story to unfold in a measured process.
"The Night of the Generals" is certainly a unique spin on WWII films. There are no battles or major action sequences, save for a harrowing sequence in which the German army systematically destroys part of the Warsaw Ghetto. Instead, it's very much a character study populated by characters who are, indeed, very interesting. The film opens with a tense sequence set in occupied Warsaw. The superintendent of an over-crowded apartment building accidentally overhears the brutal murder of a local prostitute in a room upstairs. From a hiding place he witnesses the killer walk past him. He does not see the man's face but recognizes his uniform: he is a general in the German army. The man keeps this information to himself on the logical assumption that divulging it might mean his death sentence. However, under questioning from the army investigator, Major Grau (Omar Sharif), he tells the shocking details of what he witnessed. From this moment, Grau becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Grau may be a German officer, but he is a pure cynic when it comes to the Nazi cause and the brutal methods being employed to win the war. He can't control the larger picture of how the war is being waged but he can control what is in his jurisdiction: bringing to justice the man who committed this one especially savage murder. Grau soon centers on three suspects. The first is General von Seiditz-Gabler (Charles Gray, channeling his future Blofeld), an effete, well-connected opportunist who is in a loveless marriage to his dominating wife Eleanore (Coral Browne). Then there is General Kahlenberg (Donald Pleasence), a man of slight build and low-key personality who has some eccentric personal habits that may include murder. Last, and most intriguing, is General Tanz (Peter O'Toole), a much-loathed and much-feared darling of Hitler's inner circle whose ruthless methods with dealing with civilian populations disgust his colleagues. Tanz has been sent to control or obliterate the Warsaw Ghetto.
The screenplay (which includes contributions by an uncredited Gore Vidal) is a bit disjointed and cuts back and forth to the present day in which we see a French police inspector, Morand (Phillippe Noiret), investigating the case twenty years later as he tries to tie together Grau's findings with dramatic developments that occurred during his handling of the case. Morand also appears in the war era sequences, having befriended Grau, who does not seem at all disturbed when he learns that Morand is actually a key figure in the French Resistance. Grau becomes particularly intrigued by General Ganz. He is an elitist snob who is devoid of any humor or compassion. A workaholic with seemingly no human weaknesses, Tanz is ostensibly under the command of his superior officer, Gabler, but it becomes clear that his political connections make him the top general in Warsaw. Major Grau interviews all three suspects and finds that any of them could be the murderer. When he becomes too intrusive, he is conveniently promoted and transferred to Paris, presumably to shut down his investigation. However, as the fortunes of war decline for the Third Reich, the top brass is eventually moved to Paris and Grau resumes his investigation when he discovers that prostitutes are being brutally murdered there as well. There is a parallel story that accompanies that of the murder investigation. It centers on Corporal Hartmann (Tom Courtenay), a young soldier who has been reluctantly acclaimed to be a national hero. It seems he was the last surviving member of his unit after a bloody battle. The brass used him as a propaganda tool, bestowing medals on him for heroic actions. In fact, he is a self-proclaimed coward whose only goal is to stay alive through the war. Hartmann confesses this to his superior, General Kahlenberg, who is amused by his honesty. He assigns him to be General Tanz's personal valet and orders him to show Tanz the history and sights of Paris. Neither he nor Tanz wants to partake in the venture, but Gabler orders Tanz to take a few days vacation, largely because he despises the man's presence. The scenes in which Hartmann tries to appease the mercurial Tanz without making any missteps are fraught with tension and suspense. Tanz is a fascinating character, presumably devoid of the vices most men have. However, in the course of their time together, Hartmann realizes that Tanz is somewhat of a fraud. He surreptitiously drinks to excess and changes into civilian clothes in order to meet with prostitutes in seedy bars. Although Tanz chews out Hartmann for every minor infraction, he seems to come to respect the younger man's professionalism. This sets in motion another complex plot development that also involves Hartmann's secret romance with General Gabler's free-spirited daughter Ulrike (Joanna Pettet).
Just trying to summarize the various plot strands of "The Night of the Generals" in this space is fairly exhausting. Oh, did I mention that another subplot involves Field Marshal Rommel (a cameo by Christopher Plummer) and the July, 1944 plot on the part of rebellious German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler? Nevertheless, although the various story lines become quite complex, they are all tied together eventually in clever and compelling ways. The film is part "Whodunnit", part political statement and part war movie. The movie moves back to the present for its intense conclusion as Inspector Morand is finally able to solve the crime and attempt to bring the culprit to justice. When the killer is revealed it's about as shocking of a development as the revelation that the butler did it in one of those old British film noir mysteries. Still, director Litvak (who shares the producer credit with Sam Spiegel because he owned the screen rights to the novel) keeps the action flowing briskly running time and elicits outstanding performances from his cast. O'Toole, who would later capitalize on playing larger-than-life characters, was at this point in his career still very immersed in portraying introspective, quiet men. He is quite mesmerizing as General Tanz and quite terrifying as well. Sharif is, at least on the surface, badly cast. I'm not aware of any Egyptians who became prominent German officers. Sharif has the map of the Middle East on his face and lingering remnants of his native accent. It's to his credit that he overcomes these obstacles and gives a very fine performance as the charismatic investigator who doggedly pursues his suspects with Javert-like conviction. All of the other performances are equally outstanding, with Courtenay especially impressive- and one has to wonder why the very talented Joanna Pettet never became a bigger star. The international flavor of the cast gives the film a Tower of Babel-like effect. Some of the actors attempt to affect a quasi-German accent while others speak with British accents, and then we have the French and Poland-based sequences with even more diversity of languages. Still, if you could accept Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood speaking "German" in their native tongues in "Where Eagles Dare", you won't find this aspect of "The Night of the Generals" to be particularly distracting. I should also mention the impressive contributions of composer Maurice Jarre, cinematographer Henri Decae and main titles designer Robert Brownjohn (remember when films even had opening titles?) In summary, the film-which not successful with critics or the public- is a thoroughly intriguing experience and affords us the joy of watching some of the best actors of the period sharing the screen.
"The Night of the Generals" has been released as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The transfer is gorgeous, giving full impact to the impressive cinematography and lush production design. There is also an isolated score track, the original trailer and an informative booklet by film historian Julie Kirgo, who examines Sam Spiegel's attempts to rebuild his career in subsequent years only to find that he was out of place in the new Hollywood.
Director Michael Winner was never the darling of critics except for his breakthrough films in the mid 1960s which evoked the sensibilities of England's emerging mod movements and a humorous, if cynical, view of society. He later morphed into more populist fare, directing the kinds of action films and moody horror flicks that seemed predestined to alienate critics but please mainstream audiences. Winner hit pay dirt with the release of his 1974 urban crime thriller "Death Wish", a film that perfectly mirrored the frustration of everyday Americans by the perception that crime was spiraling out of control across the nation and that traditional authorities were hamstrung in their efforts to stop the bad guys. The film was loathed by liberals (as well as the author of the source novel, Brian Garfield, who accused Winner of bastardizing and dumbing down his work.) However, as director William Friedkin recalled to this writer, he had never experiences a more visceral reaction to a film by its audience as he did when seeing "Death Wish". Audiences cheered every vigilante shooting committed by the movie's protagonist, Charles Bronson, who had just endured a family tragedy caused by muggers and rapists. Ironically, Winner's greatest boxoffice success was followed by the rapid demise of his clout in the film industry. A series of lazy and largely uninspired efforts followed and he ultimately faded from the industry by the early 1980s, relegated to directing vanity projects that few have ever seen. In his later years, Winner emerged as an omnipresent force on British television, where he appeared as a crusty conservative political commentator who was delighted to take pot shots at Labour, using the kind of insensitive vernacular that made old world pundits cringe but which delighted TV producers. He also became one of England's most temperamental and feared food critics and parlayed that into a successful TV career, as well. Somewhat lost in the shuffle was the fact that Winner occasionally made good movies in his heyday. When Cinema Retro co-publisher Dave Worrall and I visited him at his London mansion ten years ago, we found Winner to be initially in the kind of mood we fully anticipated: cranky, short-tempered and cynical. However he changed his tune when he saw that we were there for a serious evaluation of his films. He expressed his gratitude and said that few people ever bother to examine his cinematic achievements, preferring to accept his new personas as pundit and food critic.
"Scorpio", released in 1973, was one of two collaborative projects Winner made with star Burt Lancaster (the other being the under-rated 1971 Western "Lawman"). The movie was not particularly successful when first released but plays far better today, thanks in large part to a great cast that includes Alain Delon, Paul Scofield and Gayle Hunnicutt. Winner's intelligent direction also plays a major asset. The espionage thriller was a product of its time, though screenwriters David W. Rintels and Gerald Wilson seemed almost prophetic in paving the way for the kind of paranoid spy movie that has been de rigueur ever since. The movie was in production in the wake of the Watergate scandal, an event that seemingly was minor at the time but would lead to the exposure of what Carl Bernstein has termed the "criminal presidency" of Richard M. Nixon. By the time "Scorpio" was in theaters, Nixon was fighting for his political life. Ultimately, he would resign amid the debris of an administration that saw 40 of its members serve jail terms for a sweeping array of crimes that were so widespread in scope that they still boggle the minds of historians. (The resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew during the scandal due to unrelated corruption charges was treated almost as a minor event.) The end result of all this is that public trust in the institution of government was greatly eroded and gave rise to the increasingly paranoid fear that anything even involving the government- particularly the CIA- should be inherently distrusted. The film centers on a CIA agent named Cross (Burt Lancaster), who is said to be aged 50 in the script but who, in reality, was aged almost 60 at the time the film was made. Cross is a shadowy figure who ranks as one of the agency's top operatives. He finds himself inexplicably marked for death by his own boss, McLeod (John Colicos), who has passed the word that Cross is a double agent for the Soviets. McLeod, boxed in by legal sanctions against performing assassinations, outsources the mission to kill Cross to Jean Laurier, a freelance killer who goes by the code name Scorpio. Making matters murkier is the fact that Cross and Scorpio are friends and colleagues, with the older man acting as a kind of mentor for the up-and-coming French operative. Initially, Scorpio intentionally bypasses opportunities to kill Cross because he believes that his friend is innocent of the charge of treason. However, he eventually relents under pressure by McLeod to carry out the assignment. This leads to a cat-and-mouse pursuit that extends from Washington, D.C. to Vienna, where Cross uses his ingenuity and old friends and contacts to outwit and keep ahead of Scorpio and his team of accomplices from the agency. Cross finds an unlikely haven in the apartment of Zharkov (Paul Scofield), a top Soviet agent who is as cynical about his own government as Cross is about his. The two men are the best of enemies. They have thwarted each other in the past, but both men have a healthy respect for each other. They realize that they are each regarded as expendable dinosaurs by a younger generation of bureaucrats who are more interested in advancing their careers than they are in political ideologies. Zharkov houses Cross in his Vienna home while Cross makes plans to try to smuggle his wife Sarah (Joanne Linville) out of Washington D.C. so that she can join him on the run. Trouble is, she is under constant surveillance by the CIA, which is hoping to track down Cross through any communications he attempts to make with her. Things heat up when Scorpio tracks Cross to Vienna, thus setting in motion several high voltage situations in which the old friends attempt to kill off each other.
"Scorpio" is one of those espionage films that becomes so complex that it is almost impossible to follow. I could never figure out whether Cross was being framed or whether he might actually be a traitor, though I presume one is to assume the former scenario. Unlike the recent acclaimed feature film version of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", which was not only incomprehensible but also a complete bore, "Scorpio" allows the viewer the luxury of ignoring the nuances of the plot and simply sitting back and enjoying the outstanding performances and action sequences. The re-teaming of Lancaster and Scofield, who co-starred in John Frankenheimer's 1965 classic "The Train", was an inspired idea. The two do outstanding work, particularly in a quiet sequence in which the old war horse agents get drunk and debate Zharkov's reluctance to disown his belief in communism. Delon makes for a charismatic, if icy, killer and his scenes with Lancaster have a good degree of tension. Michael Winner takes ample advantage of the exotic settings and provides at least one doozy of a memorable action sequence set in an enormous Vienna construction site where the seemingly ageless Lancaster outdoes himself in terms of stunt work as he attempts to elude his would-be assassins. The film also has a "sting-in-the-tale" ending that probably would surprise viewers who are most astute than I in terms of following the key plot points and complex relationships between the characters. I admit that I was left baffled. It should be pointed out that the movie also features a fine score by the late, great Jerry Fielding.
Lancaster, Winner and Delon on the set.
;Twilight Time has released the film as a special edition Blu-ray, limited to only 3,000 copies. The transfer is beautiful; riight up to this company's high standards. Bonus extras include an isolated score track, the original trailer and a highly engaging commentary track by film historians Nick Redman, Lem Dobbs and Julie Kirgo, who also writes the accompanying, highly informative liner notes. On the track, Redman astutely points out that "Scorpio" represented a bygone era in cinema during which studios made plenty of mid-range films that they hoped would generate modest profits. This is in contrast to today's insane practice of gambling an entire's studio's financial health on one or two over-blown productions in the hope they will be blockbusters. Dobbs, for his part, amusingly makes a mea culpa, admitting that he always considered Michael Winner to be a hack director. However, compared to many of today's filmmakers, he practically looks like a master of his craft. Redman also provides some very interesting facts about the sad, final days of Michael Winner, whose "golden years" were marred by a myriad of potentially deadly health problems caused by eating an infected oyster!
"Scorpio" is a film that makes me appreciate all the more how much I miss stars like Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield. The movie may not be a classic but it presents them with meaty roles and they don't disappoint in terms of delivering terrific performances.
Feature: 60 Years of the Gill Man is, essentially, a
seventy-four minute valentine to Universal-International’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Beginning with their lavish staging of The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Universal was Hollywood’s
uncontested House of Horrors, the motion-picture industry’s preeminent fright
factory throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Their films brought to the screen the
most enduring visages of this golden age of horror. The studio made familiar faces – and
occasional bankable stars - of their contract players and talent for hire: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, George
Zucco, Basil Rathbone, Lionel Atwill, John Carradine, Evelyn Ankers, Maria
Ouspenskaya, and Lon Chaney Jr.
But the trademark old castles and foggy moor scenarios
on which the old Universal films were staged were largely gone by the early
1950s. In the years prior to England’s
Hammer Studios breathing colorful - and sexy - new life into the gothic-horror
genre, the creaking-door chillers of times past had been supplanted by new
atomic-age monsters and belligerent visitors from the farthest reaches of
outer-space. Universal, re-christened as
Universal-International following a company merger in 1946, proved adaptable to
the change. The studio would produce
nearly as many classics during the silver-age of 1950’s science-fiction as it
had with its gothic-horrors.
The most successful and iconic of all the Universal
monster-movies of the 1950s was, without rival, Jack Arnold’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon
(1954). Arnold and producer William
Alland had worked previously – and successfully - on the sci-fi classic It Came from Outer Space (1953), so the
studio wasn’t being incautious when they invested $600,000 of those earnings on
a second collaboration. Photographed in
glorious black-and-white, principal shooting was scheduled for the Universal
back-lot and on the freshwater bayous of Wakulla Springs outside Tallahassee, Florida.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon
was one the biggest box-office successes of 1954 bringing in an estimated three
million dollars on its first year of release.
The popularity of the film spawned two successful sequels,
Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). The original film was such a phenomenon that
its pop-culture status was unusually acknowledged - and cross-promoted - by
rival studio 2oth Century-Fox. In a
famous sequence from Billy Wilder’s The
Seven Year Itch (1955), Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell are seen walking out
of a theater screening of The Creature
from the Black Lagoon. As the two
stroll along curbside, Monroe’s dress billows upward from a rush of air through
the sidewalk’s subway grate.
In a supplement from Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill Man, producer-writer Sam
Borowski offers that his affectionate documentary on the history and legacy of
the Gill-man was a labor-of-love. Borowski
recalls first meeting documentarian Matt Crick in lower Manhattan on what was otherwise
a solemn occasion. Both men were in
attendance at a memorial processional following the attack on the World Trade
Center, September 11, 2001. Having long
pondered a tribute to this much-loved monster-series, the producer admits it
was only after Crick signed on that the laborious process of pulling together the
bits of fragmented memories, ephemera and vintage celluloid would commence.
They had a rough-cut of the film assembled as early as
2004, and it was rumored that their documentary would be featured as a
supplement on Universal’s The Creature
from the Black Lagoon “Legacy Collection” release of 2004. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen; even
though the back cover of that DVD set oddly features an attribution credited to
the film (then sub-titled “50 years of the Gill-Man”). In 2005, the filmmakers began to showcase
this early cut of the film at indie-cinemas and various film-conventions but,
as far as I’m aware, this 2015 issue on Blu is its first appearance on any home
The biggest difficulty with the making of such a
documentary was that it was a late-starter. By 2001 there were few very people who had worked on the original film available
to chat with. Producer William Alland,
director Jack Arnold, and co-screenwriter Harry Essex had all passed way in the
1990s. With the exception of the
talented (and still lovely) Julie (aka Julia) Adams, nearly the entire cast had
passed on: gone from consideration were actors
Richard Carlson, Whit Bissel, Richard Denning, and Antonio Moreno. Borowski and Crick did manage an
illuminating interview with co-screenwriter Arthur Ross prior to his passing in
2008. Ross offered he was brought in
late on the first project, originally titled, Black Lagoon, to oversee the writing of a second draft. In one vignette Ross takes credit for
bringing the palpable sense of humanity to the otherwise startling-in-appearance
The two featured stars of this documentary – and, aside
from Ross, the only ones to share first-person, if entirely anecdotal commentaries
- are Julie Adams and Ben Chapman. Adams
is most certainly the more well-known of the two. Signed by Universal in 1949, the actress
worked near-continuously in the television and motion-picture industry until
the late 1980s when offers became less forthcoming. Adams was doubled in many of her water
sequences by Ginger Stanley, a strong swimmer and cast member of Florida’s
Weeki Wachee Springs Water Show. Stanley
is also on hand here to generously share her experiences with the filmmakers.
Though his name does not even appear in the film’s
credits, Ben Chapman was the tall actor who donned the creature-suit for all
scenes on shot on land. (Ricou Browning,
who appears later in the tribute but doesn’t offer much in the way of
commentary, doubled as the creature in all of the film’s marvelous underwater
sequences). Chapman’s enthusiasm for
having played in such an iconic film is infectious. A frequent guest on autograph-show circuits
and monster movie conventions, Chapman was the friendlier and more out-going of
the two surviving Gill-men, always available to chat or take a smiling photograph
with fans young and old. Chapman, a
Universal contract actor, recalls he was twenty-five years old when he got the
part. His casting was the result of
brawny western star Glenn Strange having turned down the role. Strange, beloved amongst horror film fans for
playing the shuffling, stiff-armed monster in House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, passed on the role as he
wasn’t a particularly strong swimmer.
Rudolph has had an interesting Hollywood career. He was a protégé
of Robert Altman, for whom he worked as assistant director, and then went on to
write and direct his own oeuvre of
quirky, art-house pictures for four decades. Like Altman’s films, they are ensemble productions often using a stock
company of actors. Stylistically, though, they are much more lyrical, almost
pretentiously arty. Thematic elements in Rudolph’s movies nearly always involve
romanticism and fantasy, and the good ones such as Welcome to L.A. (see Cinema Retro review), Remember My Name, Choose Me, Made in Heaven,and Trouble
in Mind,were critically acclaimed
and modestly successful.
Love at Large, unfortunately, is
not one of the good ones. The movie seems to be in search of a story as it
follows private investigator Harry Dobbs (Tom Berenger, mugging a lot and using
an odd, gravelly voice) on a bigamy case, but the path is really a labyrinth of
possible love affairs for nearly all of the main characters. While Harry’s in
the process of breaking up with his current girlfriend (Ann Magnuson), he meets
a hot client (Anne Archer, whose beauty does not make up for the extremely
mannered performance of a “mysterious dame”) with whom there’s a chance at some
hanky panky. He’s also in competition with a feisty, sarcastic female private
eye named Stella (Elizabeth Perkins, who delivers the most believable and
honest performance in the movie), with whom Harry just might be in love. Each
of the women also has her own individual journey of seeking romance. It’s all
on the level of a soap opera.
was experimenting with this one, and the result doesn’t really work. It
attempts to be a movie about relationships and the “meaning of love” (a
favorite topic of Rudolph’s) overlain with a highly stylized neo-noir detective plot—a lighter Trouble in Mind, perhaps. The problem is
that the noir aspects, and the case
Harry is investigating—cries out to be much more than it is. If it had been a further
developed, gritty crime plot that actually elicited suspense, the picture might
have jelled. Furthermore, the hunt-for-love story, really the backbone of the
movie, resolves abruptly and unsatisfactorily for three of the five sets of
couples involved. With the sometimes laughable performances and the odd tone
with which the actors have been directed, Large
at Large is a head scratcher. It might have been much better in the concept
stage, but the movie doesn’t realize its potential.
said, the writer/director’s permeating quirkiness is interesting enough to
warrant a viewing. And any movie that
casts rocker Neil Young as Archer’s sinister and violent boyfriend is worth
seeing for the novelty factor. (Ted Levine, Annette O’Toole, and Kate Capshaw
also appear in the picture, completing the list of familiar movie faces from
the late 1980s.)
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of Love at Large looks very good with its colorful Oregon countryside
locations and Portland bars and hotels. The transfer is clean and blemish-free.
There are no supplements on the disc other than trailers of other Kino Lorber
the mid 1960s James Bond was everywhere – it was the beginning of the “movie
tie-in” era and when Thunderball was released, Bondmania exploded with numerous 007-flagged consumer items from
dive masks to racing sets, men’s cufflinks and beach towels...
almost every movie has a “marketing partner” of some type – tires, toys, cars,
watches, etc. (Try walking into a store
today and avoiding the Star Wars logo!) But for a while, Bondmania has returned – especially in Europe.
now, we all know what watch Bond wears. (Hint: it ain’t a Rolex anymore…) In Paris and London, Daniel Craig’s chiseled
face stared down from massive Omega billboards and store displays for their
beautiful (but pricey) Spectre edition watch.
also publishes Lifetime, a glossy,
high-end magazine aimed at serious watch enthusiasts. The current issue is devoted to Spectre with
in-depth coverage of the film and products related to it. Definitely worth picking up from their
the world is thirsty work so Heineken, a longtime 007 marketing partner,
returns with specially designed packaging and a number of promotional items
like a bottle opener and bottle-shaped flash drive.
vodka of choice in Spectre is Belvedere. Loo7k for their special 007 bottles
and their limited edition Martini set. If anyone needed an excuse to try a martini, this is it!
favorite bubbly is back for Spectre as well – Bollinger Champagne. Their elegant
007 limited edition Bottles are expensive – (145 Euros at the Paris Airport)
but they look like true objets d’art… and of course the beverage they contain
is precious. No wonder Bond drinks it! If one really has money to burn, Bollinger also offers the Spectre
limited edition Crystal Cooler that would look at home deep within a volcano
crater or on an upscale holiday dinner table!
you’re ready for a cloo7se shave, Gillette is inviting consumers to experience
“Bond Moments”, no Walther PPK needed, just a ProGlide razor in a Holiday Gift
Pack, which curiously offers no 007 branding in the U.S.A market.
However, in the UK, the packaging at least features the Spectre film logo though its relationship to the film is tenuous at best.
Blofeldish? The iconic Spectre ring is available on the official Bond website
for a not unreasonable $216.
Doulton caused a stir with the Jack the Bulldog figurine, which sat on M’s desk
in Skyfall. They created a limited edition
to tie in with that film. Now Jack is
back – in a slightly charred form in keeping with his appearance in
Spectre. Fortunately it’s available on
the Royal Doulton website!
quick and by no means comprehensive listing of Spectre products would not be
complete without mentioning THE ultimate 007 tie-in that only a very few fans
will be able to own. Probably the most
exclusive Spectre product of them all – the achingly beautiful Aston Martin DB9
GT “James Bond Edition”. Only 150 of these
were made and all were sold in a flash – even at a $237,007 price. The folks at Aston were feeling generous, so
for that money, they’ll throw in an Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra. Not a bad deal at all!
is just a smattering of available Spectre products. The European market has many other
participating brands – chief among them beautiful and tres expensive 007 pens
and lighters from luxe French manufacturer, S.T. Dupont; bespoke clothing and
more. Everything but radioactive lint…
The year 1969 represented major breakthroughs in cinematic freedoms, as evidenced by the big crowds who swarmed theaters to see erotica as "Sweden, Heaven and Hell". Although such films could probably be shown on the Disney Channel today, back in the day the softcore flicks marked the first time that "X" rated films were accepted as mainstream fare instead of fodder for guys in long raincoats. Suddenly, couples could brag about seeing these movies, which shortly thereafter gave way to even more sexualized celluloid. A few years later, the hardcore classics "Deep Throat" and "The Devil in Miss Jones" played continuously for years in the same theaters on 42nd Street. Cinematic sex was now here to stay, to the disgust of many and the delight of many more. - Lee Pfeiffer
Many Cinema Retro readers write to tell us that they like the fact that we shine a new light on older, under-appreciated movies and re-evaluate them after the passage of time. In this instance, I can't re-evaluate "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" because I had never seen it prior to its release on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory. To say that the film was subject to a string of bad luck is an understatement. It might be more appropriate to consider if it was literally cursed. First some background: the Lone Ranger had been a pop culture hero for many years in comics, on the radio and on screen. The 1950s TV series starring Clayton Moore made the character iconic and forever associated with "The William Tell Overture" which was played each time he rode into action. The 1978 revival of "Superman" as a big screen adventure was a boxoffice smash and elevated its unknown lead- Christopher Reeve- to genuine stardom. It wasn't the first time that a relatively untested leading man carried a major movie to boxoffice success. Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif did so with "Lawrence of Arabia" and George Lazenby managed the feat with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". Producer Jack Wrather was inspired by this history and when he acquired the feature film rights to The Lone Ranger character (for an eye-popping $3 million), he decided to cast unknowns as the Lone Ranger and his loyal sidekick Tonto. After an exhaustive search, he thought he struck gold by casting Klinton Spilsbury and Michael Horse. Both were hunky young men who were adept at riding horses and managing the physical challenges of starring in a big budget action film. The film was to be directed by William A. Fraker, the legendary cinematographer who had earned praise for his direction of "Monte Walsh" a decade earlier. For his cinematographer on "The Legend of the Lone Ranger", Fraker hired another legend, Laszlo Kovacs. Other top talent quickly signed on including esteemed screenwriter William Roberts, who had written the screenplay for "The Magnificent Seven". Composer John Barry was signed to create the score and a main title theme. Jason Robards joined the cast as President Ulysses S. Grant and Christopher Lloyd took a rare dramatic part as the villain. Things were looking promising. However, the bubble was about to burst.
While the film was in production, it reaped a mountain of bad publicity when the producers forced the beloved Clayton Moore from making any further public appearances at autograph shows and charity events where he had been making the circuit dressed in his original Lone Ranger costume. Moore fought the order in court and ultimately prevailed but the damage had been done. An outraged public had an "in" for the new Lone Ranger long before production had ever wrapped. During filming, a stuntman almost died and leading man Klinton Spilsbury insisted on shooting the film in sequence to help with his understanding of his character and motivations. Shooting in sequence can be a costly proposition but the producers complied. However, in viewing the rushes, they decided that Spilsbury was something short of dynamic in the way he delivered his lines. They hired actor James Keach to dub him through the entire film, a fact they tried to keep secret but which leaked out immediately even in the pre-internet era. (Ironically, Keach delivers his dubbed lines in a bland, monotone manner that makes one wonder just how bad Spilsbury could have been.) By the time filming wrapped, the film had been tarnished but Universal, the studio releasing the movie, was still optimistic. However, the bad luck continued even in post-production. The film's technical aspects proved to be challenging and the movie's December 1980 release was bumped to Memorial Day in May of 1981. The good news is that President Ronald Reagan had agreed to attend a special screening of the movie prior to general release. Shortly before this was to occur, he was wounded in an assassination attempt and was unable to attend (the "The Gipper" was considerate enough to send a video greeting to attendees.) When the film opened to the public, response was poor from both the public and critics, who denounced the movie as the second major Western bomb in a row, following the disastrous opening of "Heaven's Gate" the previous fall. The movie quickly became the butt of jokes. Johnny Carson quipped that on opening day, Tonto put his ear to the ground and said "Kemosabe, me hear very few people heading toward the theaters!". Carson rarely weighed in on criticizing films and, as he was one of America's top barometers of pop culture, the sarcasm only reinforced the notion that the film was a bomb. Themovie had the dubious distinction of sweeping The Razzies, the awards for the worst achievements in movie making. Klinton Spilsbury couldn't overcome the stigma of having been dubbed. His name was mud in the industry and to this date, he has not acted professionally again. (Though, bizarrely, he did become an acting teacher in Vancouver for a time.) Michael Horse fared better, however, and carved out a satisfying career as a character actor that extends to this day.
In watching the movie today, its problems remain apparent, though it is entertaining in a goofy sort of way. Some screen heroes such as Batman can look cool in a mask but The Lone Ranger simply looks likes a throwback to a bygone era of entertainment when kids would be less demanding about the corn quotient served up by their idols. The film would probably have benefited from some self-awareness that the entire premise was outdated but the movie-makers made the mistake of playing the entire affair completely straight. In fact, the film is almost devoid of any humor at all. Another problem is that the story takes so long to tell how the Lone Ranger and Tonto ended up meeting and becoming blood brothers that it takes a full hour before audiences even get to see the Lone Ranger. The story leading up to this is compelling, with young John Reid witnessing his parents slaughtered by a marauding band of cutthroats. His life is saved by a Native American boy his own age named Tonto, who brings Reid back to his tribe. The Indians adopt Reid and teach him the basic skills of survival. Before long, he is feels very much a part of the tribe- until an uncle inexplicably arrives from Chicago (!) and takes him back to the big city against his wishes. The action then jumps to years later. Reid is aboard a stagecoach heading West when it is attacked by a group of robbers. In an exciting, well-filmed stagecoach chase sequence, Reid displays his heroics, saves his fellow passengers and falls head over heels for lovely Amy Striker (Juanin Clay), who is the niece of the nearest town's newspaper. When Reid and Amy arrive, they are greeted by the uncle, who is on a one-man crusade against a local evil land baron named Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd, surprisingly good in a non-comedic role.) Cavendish has amassed a paramilitary force, bribed the local sheriff and kept the town's population in fear as he acts as a de facto dictator. For his efforts, the uncle is murdered. Reid joins the Texas Rangers along with his brother and a posse sets off to track down Cavendish. Along the way they are lured into a canyon and in another rousing action sequence, they are all killed except for Reid, who is badly wounded. Coincidentally, Tonto happens upon the scene and recognizes an amulet that Reid is wearing which Tonto gave to him when they became blood brothers. He nurses his old friend back to health and Reid becomes determined to bring his brother's killers to justice as-- wait for it- The Lone Ranger! It's never explained how he gets the fancy duds and mask but we do see the origins of how he adopts Silver as his wonder horse. Before long, the Lone Ranger is bellowing "Hi Yo, Silver!" and riding with Tonto to infiltrate Cavendish's compound. Turns out Cavendish has a lot in common with today's political fringe nuts: he wants to secede from the union and establish a country called New Texas. His scheme is ambitious: he intends to hijack a train carrying President Ulysses S. Grant (Jason Robards) and hold him hostage until his demands are met. The execution of the plan is a highlight of the film, as is Robards' amusing performance as Grant. The scenes in which he matches wits with Cavendish over a sumptuous dinner brings to mind similar obligatory scenes from the Bond movies. The action-packed finale features the U.S. Cavalry joining the Lone Ranger and Tonto to free Grant, who gets into the action himself. By another coincidence, Grant's train had been carrying Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickcok and General George Armstrong Custer, so you can imagine it's gonna be a bad luck day for Cavendish.
There is much to criticize about "The Legend of the Lone Ranger". The producers and director seemed oblivious to the fact that a guy in a white hat and black mask shouting "Hi Yo, Silver!" would come across as incredibly corny to modern audiences if it wasn't played with at least a dab of self-awareness and humor. Alas, it's played straight- as is the use of the "William Tell Overture". It's as though the filmmakers had entered a time warp and thought they were out to please audiences from the 1940s. Another major weak link is the musical score by the esteemed John Barry. The instrumentals are fine but Barry has concocted a title theme called "The Man Behind the Mask" that is crooned by Merle Haggard. To say it's unintentionally hilarious would be an understatement. Not helping matters is some awful narration that describes the action in a corn pone drawl that sounds like it would be more at home in "Blazing Saddles". Yet, for all it's flaws, I enjoyed the film because of its sincere attempt to bring to life an iconic American hero, no matter how outdated the concept might have seemed. There are also some very impressive action scenes and some incredible stunt work. Alas, it wasn't enough to save the movie from its disastrous fate. Hollywood is so devoid of new ideas that the concept was, of course, recently revived as the equally disastrous Johnny Depp version of the Lone Ranger. Can't we let the guy rest in peace?
The Shout! Factory Blu-ray boasts a decent transfer but there is a good deal of grain in some of the sequences. This could be the way the film looked on original release, as it was criticized in some quarters for its sometimes muddy cinematography, which was particularly surprising since director Fraker was one of the best cinematographers in the business. The Blu-ray cries out for a commentary by film historians who could discuss the movie's interesting back story, but alas, only a trailer is included.
There have been countless tributes to Frank Sinatra on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Here is some great footage of Sinatra recording Ervin Drake's superb and haunting "It Was a Very Good Year" in 1966 when Sinatra was arguably at the peak of his career.
is the third excellent release of a Harold Lloyd film by The Criterion
Collection and it’s a welcome addition to sit on the shelf along with the
previous two (Safety Last! and The Freshman). I mentioned in a review
of one of the previous releases how wonderful it was that Criterion was
re-issuing Lloyd’s catalog. Most of his work had been unavailable for many
years; I grew up with Chaplin and Keaton, of course, but with Lloyd, not so
much. It’s a pleasure to discover him in this way.
Speedy was Lloyd’s final
silent film, released in 1928. Although he usually made his pictures in
Hollywood, this time he wanted to shoot in New York City. Bruce Goldstein,
director of repertory programming at New York’s Film Forum, explains in an
interesting supplement, “In the Footsteps of Speedy,” that Lloyd took his leading lady Ann Christy and canine
co-star King Tut on the railroad across country to make the movie. Quite a bit
was shot there, but in the end, though, nearly half the picture was also made
on the streets of Los Angeles, doubling for New York—and the matching up is
sometimes not very convincing. Still, it’s revelatory to see New York as it was
in 1928—Times Square, Washington Square, Sheridan Square, Brooklyn and Coney
Island—it’s all here, exactly the way it was. The establishing shot for Manhattan
was that of the Woolworth Building, because at the time that was the tallest and
most famous structure! Fascinating stuff.
story concerns Pop Dillon’s horse-drawn streetcar, the last one of its kind in
the big city, the tracks of which the railroad baron wants to demolish to make
way for progress. Pop’s daughter Jane (Christy) is engaged to Harold “Speedy”
Swift (Lloyd), who takes it upon himself to make sure Pop’s livelihood isn’t
taken away or at least insure that he’s fairly compensated. Why Harold is
nicknamed “Speedy” is not really clear... he’s the usual “Glasses”
character—naive, enthusiastic, positive—who works at one job and then another,
happily trying to make ends meet so he can marry Jane.
of the movie is a sightseeing tour of New York—the Coney Island scenes are
especially enjoyable, since Speedy and Jane ride many of the classic attractions
that don’t exist anymore. King Tut, the stray dog who picks Speedy to be his
master, is adept at many tricks and serves as a terrific little sidekick.
biggest draw, though, at the time of the film’s release, was the appearance of
Babe Ruth in a minor role as himself. Speedy is a baseball enthusiast—a plot
point that never really amounts to much—and he has a chance to give the Babe a
ride in his taxi (Speedy’s current job). The Babe invites Speedy to see the
game at Yankee Stadium, where our hero is able to avoid the cops who are after
him for traffic tickets. Babe Ruth had already appeared in a couple of films,
in one as himself and in another, a work of fiction called Babe Comes Home, as a baseball player very much like himself. Speedy came at the right time—1928 was the second year in a row the
Yankees won the World Series.
Speedy is certainly good
fun, although for my money I think both Safety
Last! and The Freshman are better
pictures. There are plenty of chases and slapstick bits, but the “thrill”
stunts Lloyd is known for are not in this one. Here’s hoping Criterion
continues its releases of Harold Lloyd classics, especially Grandma’s Boy, Girl Shy, and The Kid Brother.
movie looks terrific in a new 4K digital restoration from elements preserved by
the UCLA Film & Television Archive; there’s a musical score by Carl Davis
from 1992, synchronized and restored and presented in uncompressed stereo (and
it sounds great!). A new audio commentary is by Goldstein (see above) and
Turner Classic Movies director of program production Scott McGee. In addition
to the Goldstein documentary mentioned earlier, there is a selection of rare
archival footage of Babe Ruth, presented by David Filipi, director of film and
video at the Wexner Center for the Arts. A new video essay featuring stills
from deleted scenes is narrated by Goldstein. There’s also a cute collection of
Harold Lloyd’s home movies, narrated by his granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, as
well as a newly restored Lloyd short from 1919—Bumping Into Broadway, with a 2004 score by Robert Israel. The
booklet contains an essay by critic Phillip Lopate.
must-buy for fans of silent comedy and for those who want to enrich their lives
with the genius of Harold Lloyd.
The conventions of the gangster movie are rigidly defined,
critic Robert Warshow observed in a famous 1948 essay. At heart is the character arc of the socially
deviant protagonist, whether Rico Bandello, Tony Montana, or Michael Corleone:
“a steady upward progress followed by a very precipitate fall.”
In Brian Helgeland’s excellent biopic “Legend” (2015), currently
playing in limited theatrical release, the twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray
(Tom Hardy, in a dual role) are already on the upward curve of Warshow’s
character arc in the 1960s London underworld as the film begins. “Reggie was a gangster prince of the East
End,” Reggie’s future wife Frances (Emily Browning) muses in voiceover. “Ronnie was a one-man mob.” In the first scene, the dapper Reggie
derisively brings tea to two rumpled detectives who are staking him out, the
senior of whom, Inspector Nipper Read (Christopher Eccleston), is determined to
bring him down. The mentally disturbed
Ronnie is behind bars, but a prison psychiatrist is intimidated into clearing
his early release. The doctor’s honest
assessment when Reggie comes to escort his brother home: “Your brother Ron is
violent and psychopathic, and I suspect he’s paranoid schizophrenic. To put it
simply, he’s off his fucking rocker.”
The Krays control the run-down East End and wage sporadic turf
battles with their rivals, the Richardson brothers’ “Torture Gang” in South
London. When the Richardsons are sent up
the river, the Krays’ extortion-based empire expands to swallow their
territory. Reggie opens a posh
nightclub, Esmeralda’s Barn, whose clientele of slumming celebrities impresses
sheltered teenager Frances on their first date: “Oh look, is that Joan
Collins?” she asks breathlessly. It
is. Reggie’s financial advisor Leslie
Payne (David Thewlis) tries to convince him to move into legitimate business,
but the big money from the rackets is a powerful inducement to remain on the
other side of the law, especially when the twins seal a trans-Atlantic
partnership with Meyer Lansky through a Mafia intermediary (Chazz
Palminteri). The homosexual Ronnie hosts
orgies that attract a varied following, including a politically powerful Peer,
Lord Boothby (John Sessions). Scotland
Yard begins to close in, but the vested establishment pulls strings all the way
up through the Prime Minister to protect Boothby from public scandal, and
Read’s superiors order him to curtail his investigation. Ronnie murders a rival mobster in a pub, and
Read thinks he’s finally got a case, but the key witness refuses to identify
Kray in a lineup for fear of her family’s safety.
Hardy’s performance is a remarkable, Academy Award-worthy
achievement. Part of the credit goes to
the superior facial prosthetics that transform Hardy into the thuggish,
bespectacled Ronnie, but even more credit goes to Hardy’s own talent and
physicality. The actor gives each
brother a distinctive posture, gait, and voice. The tricks used to put both characters on the screen simultaneously are
seamless, notably in a long fight scene where the twins slug each other to a
pulp with fists and champagne bottles. At the same time, with one actor in the dual roles, Hardy and Helgeland
underscore the fact that beneath the surface, both brothers are very much alike
in their propensity for violence. Reggie
is simply better able to control himself. This shared volatility becomes more apparent in the second part of the
movie, the downward curve of Warshow’s arc, as Reggie becomes increasingly
unhinged because of a personal tragedy. When he bloodily stabs an underling, Jack “the Hat” McVitie (Sam
Spruell), to death, the murder unravels the Krays’ enterprise. As the closing credits note, the brothers
were sent to prison in 1968. The
real-life Ronnie died in 1995, Reggie in 2000.
Cinema Retro fans are likely to get a charge out of the movie’s
1960s costumes and cars, the stream of oldie hits on the soundtrack (when’s the
last time you heard “Soulful Strut” or “The ‘In’ Crowd”?), and the scenes of
music divas Timi Yuro (Duffy) and Shirley Bassey (Samantha Pearl) performing at
Reggie’s club. Pearl doesn’t sing
“Goldfinger” in her cameo as Bassey, but there’s still a one-degree association
between “Legend” and 007 that should interest Bond fans: Helgeland’s script was
based on a 1973 biography of the Krays by John Pearson, who also wrote two
superlative books in the Bond canon, “The Life of Ian Fleming” and “James Bond:
The Authorized Biography.” The film’s
supporting performances are outstanding, with Thewlis and Spruell in particular
nearly giving Hardy a run for his money. The movie suggests a host of comparisons with other gangland classics,
including the British productions “The Criminal” (Joseph Losey, 1960) and “Get
Carter” (Mike Hodges, 1971), which bookended the actual Kray era; Martin
Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1989), from which Helgeland clearly draws inspiration;
and Helgeland’s own “Payback” (1999); in that film, Mel Gibson’s character
Porter and Gregg Henry’s manic Val seem like early foreshadowings of the
Reg/Ron duality. If “Legend” inspires
you to watch or re-watch those pictures, all the better.
If I have a quibble with the film, it’s with the title “Legend,”
which isn’t very evocative of a gangster saga. Worse, it poses the risk of confusion with a very different movie,
Ridley Scott’s 1986 fantasy-adventure with Tom Cruise and Mia Sara. “The Krays” might have better done as a
title, except that -- in fairness to Helgeland, I should point out -- it was
already taken as the title of a 1990 movie by Peter Medak, with Gary and Martin
Kemp as Ronnie and Reggie. The Medak
version filled out the details about the twins’ early lives more thoroughly than
Helgeland does, and it’s not a bad film itself, if not as riveting and stylish
as “Legend.” It’s currently streaming on
“The Gunfight at Dodge City” (1959), now out on a Kino
Lorber Blu-ray, tells the story of Bat Masterson during his time as sheriff in
the famed Kansas cattle town. It recounts how he was forced to leave Hays City
after a shooting incident with a Union Army sergeant and join up with his
brother Ed (Harry Lauter), the deputy marshal in Dodge. Ed doesn’t like being
deputy marshal much because the real authority in town belongs to Sheriff Jim
Regan (Don Haggerty), who runs the town the way he likes it, enjoying the
profits therefrom. He decides to run against him in the next election.
Ed has a fiancé, Pauline Howard (Julie Adams), the
starchy daughter of the town preacher. Bat takes an interest in his brother’s
fiancé, which she seems to encourage, mainly because nobody thinks she and Ed
will ever really get married. Bat also forms a business relationship with
another woman, Lily (Nancy Gates), the owner of the Lady Gay Saloon. He buys an
interest in the saloon, and becomes her partner, not noticing that she may have
more than business on her mind.
Another complication arises in the form of Dave Rudabaugh
(Richard Anderson) a gunfighter with a grudge against Bat. When Ed is killed,
Bat mistakenly believes it was Regan or his henchman (Tim Carey) who killed
him. He can’t prove it so instead of gunning him down he decides to take Ed’s place
and run against Regan in the election.
The rest of the story goes about resolving the
Masterson/Regan conflict and settling the romantic triangle situation. Bat also
learns who really killed his brother, although when told the killer’s identity
it hardly seems to matter to him anymore. And frankly long before you get to
the finish of this dull western, you’ll hardly care, either.
The story, only loosely based on some of the facts of
Masterson’s life, is all over the place, with no central focus to hold your
interest. McCrea, in his mid-fifties when he made this picture, seems to be phoning
it in. Joseph Newman’s direction is by-the-numbers, with little interest
generated in several scenes that should have crackled with tension. The script
by Martin Goldsmith and Daniel Ullman contains more fiction than fact and seems
more interested in the romantic aspect of the story more than anything else.
Julie Adams comes off the worst in “The Gunfight at Dodge City.” Having to play
an uptight preacher’s daughter, she comes off snobbish and brittle, a far cry
from the many radiant female characters she played during her long career.
Bat Masterson was one of the most interesting legends
of the Old West. Besides being a buffalo hunter, a gambler, a gunfighter and a
lawman, he was later in life a sports columnist for New York newspapers, a regular
Times Square celebrity, and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. Too bad the filmmakers
didn’t try to add some of the real Masterson’s pizzazz to the dull character in
Kino Lorber did a first rate job transferring the
cinemascope print to Blu-ray. The presentation is flawless, with vibrant color
and good black level. The mono sound is crisp and clear. The only extras on
this release are preview trailers for other KL Studio Classic releases,
including Anthony Mann’s “Man of the West.” If you are a Joel McCrea fan you’ll
probably want to add this one to your collection, but if you’re looking for a
factual biopic of Bat Masterson or even just a good, entertaining western, look
Somehow I missed Norman Jewison’s Other People’s Money when it was released in 1991, but now courtesy
of the Warner Archive Collection, I was able to catch up with this minor but enjoyable film.
Based on Jerry Steiner’s play of the same name, with a
screenplay by Alvin Sargent, Other People’s Money is mostly notable as Gregory Peck’s last major
screen performance. Peck turns in one of his signature honorable roles as
Andrew Jorgensen, a successful but principled businessman who is ultimately more
invested in his employees and
maintaining integrity than in enlarging his company’s bottom line. That’s why
he and his wife Bea (Piper Laurie), along with manager Bill Coles (Dean Jones),
are determined to keep New England Wire and Cable out of the ruthless hands of
corporate raider Larry the Liquidator (Danny DeVito). Way out of their depth,
they call in a secret weapon, savvy New York lawyer Kate Sullivan (the
wonderful Penelope Ann Miller) to outwit and out-beguile Larry. As Bea’s
daughter, Kate has added incentive to stay a step ahead of her opponent and
keep the company intact.
Devito excels at creating despicable but lovable
characters and gets a rare lead role in this film. He plays Larry like he
stepped out of Guys and Dolls, only
this eccentric millionaire gambles with stock and shares rather than dice. The
love of Larry’s life is his computer system CARMEN which provides him with
potential corporate conquests, but the target of his lust is Kate. Despite
their contrasting physiques, DeVito and Miller exhibit an unexpected chemistry
and their sexually charged repartee really crackles. Unfortunately these more modern sequences
blend awkwardly with those set at the factory, making the other half of this
film feel overly dramatic and sentimental. Even so, it’s a treat to see Peck
deliver an impassioned speech to the company’s shareholders and to enjoy Piper
Laurie in a sympathetic role. I just wish their material had same thread of
humor and fun as that afforded to DeVito and Miller.
Norman Jewison’s lengthy filmography includes multiple
classics and a handful of stage to screen adaptations Fiddler on the Roof(1971), Jesus
Christ Superstar (1973) and Agnes of
God (1982). He’s mastered every genre but the disparate tones in this film
never quite gel in a completely satisfying way. Jewison’s expert skill is still
evident, however, in the polished style and the accomplished performances, thus
making Other People’s
Money a slight but worthwhile film. The only bonus material on this
Warner Archive disc is the theatrical
trailer, but the feature transfer looks slick and for this out of print film.