Kino Lorber has released the 1945 film "Hangover Square", directed by John Brahm, as a Blu-ray special edition. George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) is a sensitive,
talented composer who has been working very hard, perhaps too hard, on a new
concerto for piano. A well-known conductor (Alan Napier) thinks it’s a worthy
piece of music and is going to debut it at Symphony Hall once it’s finished.
The conductor’s daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe) not only adores George’s music,
she adores him as well. Sounds like an ideal situation, but in this 1945 20th
Century Fox film noir, you know things are not going to work out very well. You
see, George has a problem. He has blackouts that are caused whenever there are
loud dissonant noises around him. And when he blacks out he kills people.
The film actually starts with a murder scene. We see
George stabbing an antiques shopkeeper to death and setting the place on fire
(fire is a major motif in the film). He escapes before the police can catch him
and walks through the foggy London Streets to his home on Hangover Square,
where he finds Barbara and her father trying out his unfinished concerto. He’s
forgotten what he just did but when he sees a newspaper headline (they printed
them fast in those days), he has a bad feeling that he might have done
something naughty. He tells Barbara about his misgivings and decides to go see
Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders) a forensic psychologist who works for the
police. Middleton does some tests on George’s clothes and the knife he found in
his possession and tells him there’s no evidence of any connection with the
murder. But he’s still concerned about George having these weird blackouts. He
tells him he needs to get some rest, relax, and get away from that damned
concerto for a while. Turns out to be the worst doctor’s advice ever.
George goes out to unwind at a local music hall and gets
an eye full of Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell), a singer/dancer and a
card-carrying member of the International League of Femmes Fatales. In fact,
she’s probably president of the local chapter. George is flattered when she
pays a little attention to him after finding out he’s a composer. She’s trying
to make a name for herself on the stage and needs some new songs. She coaxes
George to write some tunes for her. Being a totally naïve sucker who never had
much experience with women, other than the decent Barbara, he’s totally out of
his league with Netta, who has several other guys on leashes, including her
piano player and a handsome playboy type she meets one night while in George’s
One night, amidst this abuse, he’s walking home in that
perpetual 20th Century Fox fog and a horse- drawn wagon carrying
steel pipes hits a ditch and the loud cacophony of the pipes hitting the ground
sends George off into another one of his spells and you know what happens. What
I like about “Hangover Square” is that there is no explanation for why George
has blackouts whenever he hears discordant sounds. It’s just how it is.
Something in his brain is screwed up and, I suppose, being a musician, he’s
sensitive to sound. If they did a remake today, you’d have tons of psychobabble,
and flashback scenes of how his parents abused him when he was a baby, blowing
loud duck calls in his face in the bathtub or something similar. There’s none
of that. There’s the gimmick of the loud noises and flashbacks and that’s it.
Anyway, George starts neglecting the concerto and Barbara
and finds himself consumed by Netta and her insatiable demands for music. That
might have been okay, except every time he tries to get close to her, spend
some time alone with her, she’s always busy, or has a headache (or has a date
with another guy). Frustration builds up and explodes when George goes to her
apartment and asks her to marry him so he can devote all his time to her and
discovers she’s actually going to marry that slick playboy rat. Bad mistake. I won’t
tell you what happens next and it’s not what you think. Not right away. There’s
actually still a lot of the movie left. A lot of it is taken up with George debuting
his concerto. The soundtrack score, including the concerto for “Hangover Square”
was written by the inestimable Bernard Herrmann. There’s music throughout the
film, with scenes of Laird Cregar at the keyboard actually playing some of it.
The big scene at the end features 10 minutes of the concerto, a significant
piece of film music in its own right.
hindsight, the most enjoyable thing about Manhattan
Murder Mystery was Diane Keaton’s return to co-star with Woody Allen in what
will most likely be their last screen appearance together. Released in 1993, Murder Mystery was Allen’s obvious
attempt to regain public favor after an acrimonious split with Mia Farrow and
the surrounding uproar of allegations and custody battles. Keaton’s presence
served to remind us that the old chemistry between the two actors could still
generate sparks, and it did.
critics at the time commented that the pair could have been playing the characters
of Annie and Alvy (from Annie Hall) sixteen
years later, now settled in an imperfect, but comfortable, marriage. In fact,
much of the plot of Manhattan Murder
Mystery was originally a part of Annie
Hall! That 1977 classic, co-written by Allen and Marshall Brickman,
contained not only the Annie/Alvy love story but also a murder mystery the
couple attempts to solve. Eventually that was all thrown out of Annie Hall (thank goodness!). Years
later, Allen and Brickman decided to resurrect the discarded plot elements and
fashion a brand-new script in which a couple like Annie and Alvy—now middle-aged—get themselves embroiled in
(Allen) and Carol (Keaton) live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (where
else?) and meet their apartment building neighbors, Paul (Jerry Adler) and
Lillian (Lynn Cohen). The next day, Lillian has died of a heart attack. Larry
and Carol notice that Paul doesn’t seem too broken up about it. Furthermore,
Carol discovers an urn full of ashes in Paul’s kitchen, even after Paul has
said that Lillian was buried in their “twin cemetery plots.” Enter Larry and
Carol’s friend Ted (Alan Alda), who encourages Carol’s imaginative speculation
that Paul murdered his wife. Larry’s client, Marcia (Anjelica Huston), gets into
the act as well, and the foursome embark on exposing Paul’s nefarious scheme
that involves a series of lies, a mistress, and his wife’s twin sister.
plot is far-fetched, but Allen treats the material as a farce anyway. It works well
enough. Much of the fun of the picture is watching Allen and Keaton as their
characters do astonishingly stupid things, such as when Carol, thinking Paul is
out of the building for a while, sneaks into his apartment to snoop. Of course,
Paul returns, forcing her to hide under the bed and lose her glasses at the
has included references to cinema history that are a lot of fun—clips from
Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944)
and Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1947)—inform
the story with thematic and visual motifs. There are laughs, to be sure, but Manhattan Murder Mystery does not rank
among Allen’s best comedies. It’s enjoyable fluff, and perhaps that was all it
was meant to be.
Time’s limited-edition Blu-ray (only 3000 units) looks very nice in its 1080p
High Definition transfer, showing off Carlo Di Palma’s colorful cinematography
and New York City landmarks that are always a treat in a Woody Allen film. The
audio is 1.0 DTS-HD MA, with an isolated score and effects track. The
theatrical trailer is the only supplement.
for a lightweight romp around the Big Apple, Manhattan Murder Mystery will please fans of Allen and, especially,
wasn’t what audiences expected from a “Martin Scorsese Picture.” A period
“costume drama” with no violence, bloodshed, or curse words? And yet Scorsese
himself described it as one of his most violent films.
is true, perhaps, when one considers the emotional
violence that occurs between the characters in this beautifully-rendered,
but curiously lifeless adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel about New York high
society and manners in the 1870s.
many ways, The Age of Innocence is
one side of a Scorsese coin that includes Gangs
of New York on the other. They both take place in Manhattan in roughly the
same time frame (Gangs is in the
1860s) and focus on two extremes of the social ladder—the upper crust in Age, and the lower class in Gangs.
story is simple—Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a member of New York’s
high society set. He’s a quiet, introverted, but good-looking man who could
probably have any lady he wants. But he has settled on May Welland (Winona
Ryder), a straight-laced younger woman who is practically his equal in
temperance. Enter May’s cousin, Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has come
home from Europe after a bad marriage and—shocking!—is
planning a divorce. In high society of the time, that was tantamount to marking
a woman with a scarlet “A.” Newland becomes infatuated with her and almost
calls off the marriage to May. The gossip mill begins, and lives roll into
turmoil. Does Newland end up doing the right thing by dropping Ellen and
keeping his promise to May? Do we care? In the interest of a no-spoiler review,
I won’t answer either question.
lies the main problem with The Age of
Innocence. While Day-Lewis is easily one of our greatest modern actors, his
role here does not give him much to do but to look forlornly at the two women
in his life. Yes, there is torment in his soul, and the two female leads go
through the same sentiments—but revealing
those emotions was forbidden by society. It was what people did not say to each other that contained the
weight of conflict. It was all kept inside. And, thus, it’s all kept inside the
In my critique of the 90th annual Academy Awards ceremony, I criticized the Academy and host Jimmy Kimmel for wasting valuable air time on an elaborat (and unfunny) comedy sketch that deprived viewers from seeing some of the honorees who had received Oscars earlier at a ceremony hosted by the Academy's Governors. Among them was one of the world's finest and most enduring actors- Donald Sutherland, who surprisingly never received a nomination despite giving movie lovers a rich selection of characterizations ranging from those found in screwball comedies to intense dramas. Sutherland delivered a humorous, classy and gracious acceptance speech that viewers never got to see. However, we found this clip of his entire speech that was made available by the Academy. In fairness, the Academy argues that by giving their honorary awards away from the main ceremony, it allows the recipients to speak at length and not be bound by artificial time demands. That's a valid point. However, our guess is that most of the honorees would happily deliver shorter speeches in order to have their moment of glory shared with viewers around the globe.
"There's got to be a morning after" went the strains of the Oscar-winning song from the 1972 film "The Poseidon Adventure" and that somber warning always pertains to coverage of the Oscar events show itself. After last year's abysmal event that saw awful comedy bits, offensive omissions of major stars from the memorial tribute and the historic snafu in which the wrong film was initially announced for Best Picture, there was no where to go but up. Much of the success or failure of these shows rests on the back of the host. I thought it was going to be a mistake to bring back Jimmy Kimmel, as I was generally unimpressed with his performance last year. However, the second time was the charm- or almost. (More on that later). In general, this year's telecast was more tightly structured and moved at a faster clip even though it still ran about three-and-a-half hours. Helping matters was the fact that there was an exciting and highly diverse selection of films competing in the key categories and they boasted some brilliant performances by an eclectic array of actors. Gone are the days when viewers had to suffer through the mandatory opening musical production number, which was generally measured in terms of how misguided it proved to be. Kimmel started off with a witty dialogue that was surprisingly and refreshingly light on the political barbs in spite of the fact that the White House had just gone through a couple of miserable weeks that had brought out a surrealistic number of self-imposed scandals and crises.I had thought there would be so many quips about this that I expected to see President Trump's name listed among the key contributors to the show. (There were, however, some deep digs at Harvey Weinstein, who does not have a political base that can be offended.) However, I was relieved that Kimmel kept himself in check because I'm among those that think major awards shows should try to stick with the subject at hand: the work and the personalities involved in creating it. With Kimmel having decided to follow the old adage and "Leave the messages to Western Union", it fell upon others to promote diversity and equality. Great efforts were made in both areas with Best Actress winner Frances McDormand movingly calling for all female nominees to stand up. It was a moment that illustrated how fast and furiously Hollywood is moving to finally provide opportunities to females in the industry. Similarly, there were many minority artists on stage as presenters, performers and winners. I was glad to see triple-threat Jordan Peele, the director, writer and producer of the ingeniously quirky "Get Out", become the first African American to win the Best Original Screenplay award.
The awards dispensed during the show all went to worthy winners, though I would have liked to have seen "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" take home the Best Picture prize. Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand were popular, if predictable, winners based on their superb performances. "The Shape of Water" took Best Picture, as did its director Guillermo del Toro. The elaborate presentations for Best Song just emphasized the strengths and weaknesses of each of the nominees in this category, as the songs themselves ranged from pleasant to dreadful, which is often the norm. The show was moving along swimmingly until Jimmy Kimmel took viewers and participants on a major, ill-advised detour just as he had last year by introducing an elaborate gag in which people in an adjoining movie theater were used as unknowing props when Kimmel brought an array of celebrities from the Oscars ceremony next door to surprise them. Incredibly, it was a variation of the same awful shtick he pulled off the previous year. There's something rather condescending about bringing in a boatload of rich people to dispense candy and hot dogs to the grateful masses. It's like watching benevolent nobles toss some trinkets to their loyal serfs. Worse, the gag ate up valuable air time that could have been used for more appropriate purposes. Earlier in the show Kimmel made a snide remark about showing some of those honored with Oscars being dismissed with "blink-and-you-miss-them" clips from a ceremony that had been held previously. He correctly needled the Academy for pointing out that these artists and technicians, who would have once been allowed on stage at the "real" event, were now excluded. But his hypocrisy was revealed when he launched his dopey sight gag later. If you think I'm being a grump then ask yourself if it was more appropriate to spend time showing Kimmel and company tossing food to audience members or have the opportunity to see and hear Donald Sutherland accepting the Governor's Award for lifetime achievement.
The segment that honors artists who passed away in the last year should also be retired. Although sensitively presented and well-edited, the number of inexcusable exclusions is now almost downright offensive. Yes, it's great to honor those who make the cut (I counted three personal friends in the montage of artists who have left us in the last year), but if you can't extend the segment for even another few minutes in order to include other worthy honorees, then let's just eliminate it altogether. (The Academy does provide a more comprehensive tribute on their web site. Click here to view).
In viewing the first half hour of the 1970 British May/December romance Say Hello to Yesterday, I was sorely tempted to hit the "eject" button the DVD player and pass this title along to one of our other reviewers who might not have such an immediate disdain for the film. Why did I have such a visceral reaction? Because I could not recall a romantic film that featured such an irritating, annoying leading man, in this case played by Leonard Whiting. From the very opening sequence which introduces him as the somewhat estranged son from London who drops in, unannounced and uninvited, on his birthday to visit his working class mother and father. The reception he receives is a rather cool one. He accompanies his dad as the older man makes his daily trek to some rather Orwellian-looking dead end job in an industrial plant. At first, your tempted to to sympathize with this unnamed lad, given his father's constant criticisms about the way he is leading his life. The elder man accuses his son of being a shiftless grifter who can only enjoy the bright lights of the big city by mooching off of friends and acquaintances. The younger man dismisses the criticisms and remains so perpetually cheerful and jolly that you soon begin to resent him, too. The scenes depicting the young man's strained home life give way to his taking a commuter train back to London. On board is a forty-something, attractive woman (Jean Simmons), whose character also remains unnamed during the course of the story. (For the sake of convenience, I will very creatively refer to them as "the man" and "the woman"). A brief introduction to her home life makes it clear that she is a typical suburban housewife with a successful husband and a couple of kids. Outwardly, you can see she lives a comfortable life and doesn't want for materialistic things. However, her body language conveys the fact that she is not satisfied with her lot in life, as she coldly bids her husband goodbye. She's off to spend an entire day in London, ostensibly to go shopping and to have tea with her mother. Yet, the viewer can immediately sense that her real purpose is to temporarily escape her rather mundane daily routine.
On board the train, the man, who is in his about twenty years old, is chatting up an attractive girl his own age when he spots the woman sitting in a crowded passenger compartment, surrounded by stuffy businessmen. He is intrigued by the fact that she obviously wants to smoke but has been consigned to a non-smoking compartment. He is amused by the fact that she is trying to unobtrusively peel the "No Smoking" decal from the compartment window. He is also immediately infatuated by her, despite their age difference. (Who can blame him? She's Jean Simmons!) Soon, they meet cute but she isn't interested for good reason. The man comes across as an obnoxious case of arrested development, badgering everyone in the compartment with juvenile and cynical quips. She finds him slightly amusing, but when she discovers he is following in her footsteps around London shops, she becomes exasperated- especially when his flirting ritual includes causing an embarrassing commotion in a department store. Soon, she is running through the streets of London with the man in pursuit and a posse of good samaritans chasing him down, thinking he intends to harm the woman. In the end, he finally catches up with her and uses his charm to begin to win her over. By this point in the story, credibility goes out the window. The woman is obviously cultured and intelligent and it defies reason that she would put up such a grating would-be paramour simply because he's young and hunky. The man is the human equivalent of nails scraping on a blackboard. Yet, I persevered, if only because the performances by Seberg and Whiting were so engaging. A strange thing happened along the way: I became increasingly engrossed in the story and fate of the characters. Whiting is on hyper-ventilation mode most of the time but in the few sequences in which he talks calmly to the woman, he tells poignant and moving stories about his tragic past. Yet, she suspects- and so do we- that these may be tall tales, because it seems this modern Walter Mitty is also a compulsive liar. Nevertheless, his infatuation with the woman flatters her, even though she repeatedly attempts to escape his company. Yet, even buses and taxis won't deter him. (He catches up with the taxi and jumps on the running board in an act that is supposed to be charming but would strike most women as the action of a potential serial killer.)
The film was clearly inspired by David Lean's 1946 masterpiece Brief Encounter, in which two everyday people begin to fall in love after a chance meeting at a train station. The resemblance ends there, however, as the man in this story is a far cry from the sober, sane and classy character played by Trevor Howard in the Lean production. The plot consists of the woman alternately accepting the man's company, then trying to repel him. She is outraged when he secretly follows her to her mother's apartment and barges in to introduce herself. In an amusing plot twist, the mother (wonderfully played in a wry turn by Evelyn Laye) thinks the young man is her daughter's lover. She not only accepts this but encourages her daughter to carry on with secret liaisons with him, confessing to her astonished daughter that she, too, had enjoyed an affair decades ago. ("It was a long war", she says ruefully). Ultimately, the man and woman do decide to consummate their one-day affair, though by this time the woman is still of decidedly mixed emotions. She feels a sense of guilt. As with the straying married woman in The Bridges of Madison County, she recognizes that her husband is a good man and that the "crime" of being dull shouldn't justify a sexual affair with a man she has just met. In the film's best sequence, they gain access to rental flat and go through the always-awkward process human beings have to engage in when they bed a lover for the first time. This prolonged sequence is the heart of the movie and leads to emotional rollercoasters for both the man and the woman, as he tries to persuade her to leave her humdrum existence for the fun, yet insecure, life he would provide. By this time, I found myself completely engaged in the story line and caring about how matters would be resolved.
Director Alvin Rakoff is to be credited for the sensitive handling of this material. He also deserves high praise for shooting mostly on location, which provides some stunning views of London in 1970. Simmons and Whiting are both terrific and the latter can't be blamed for the fact that his character never really matures beyond the state of a "man-child". The film features a lush musical score by Riz Orolani and some chirpy pop love songs that make The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" seem cutting-edge. Nevertheless, the film does boast some superb cinematography by the late, great Geoffrey Unsworth and it's a rich looking production throughout.
Scorpion Entertainment has released a first-rate special edition DVD of this modest film that most retro movie lovers probably never even heard of. Film historian Tony Sloman does yeoman work on the commentary track with Rakoff, who is refreshingly candid about his criticisms of various aspects of the movie, including the title, which he disdains to this day. Rakoff tells some marvelous anecdotes that sometimes divert from the film at hand, but are nonetheless interesting. They involve frustrations that emerged when working with Bette Davis, who felt she didn't need any direction. He also recounts getting fired from films because of creative differences with the powers-that-be. He is nonetheless proud of Say Hello to Yesterday, though he admits to cringing at some of the man's over-the-top comedic antics. He rightly lavishes praise on Jean Simmons, pointing out that although "cougars" might be all the rage today, it was considered daring to present a love story in 1970 in which a young man is involved with an older woman. Rakoff says that Simmons was self-conscious because she felt she had "bad legs", thus she shows only a glimpse of them above her boots. He also bemoans the fact that Whiting should have had a very successful career in films, but it inexplicably petered out shortly after this movie was released. Rakoff also tells interesting stories about filming in London and points out a brief walk-by cameo done by Rod Steiger, much to Tony Sloman's amazement. Both men are rather astounded at how sparse the traffic and crowds were in the London of this era- a far cry from the teeming masses that populate the city today. The special edition also includes the original trailer.
Say Hello to Yesterday is in many ways a flawed film but it is nonetheless a highly engaging one. Recommended, especially if you are as enamored of retro British cinema as I am.
Orchids for Miss Blandish premiered in London in 1948, it created controversy
that extended all the way to British Parliament. The Monthly Film Bulletin called the movie “the most sickening
exhibition of brutality, perversion and sex ever shown on a cinema screen.” The Saturday Pictorial called it “a
piece of nauseating muck.” The Observer’s
reviewer wrote: “This film has all the morals of an alley cat and the sweetness
of a sewer.” Some politicians were also offended. The Parliamentary Secretary
to the Ministry of Food said that the film “was likely to pervert the minds of
the British people.” Eventually, the British Board of Film Censors was
compelled to offer an apology for approving the film’s production.
Attempts to release the movie in the United
States by distributor Richard Gordon were met with threats by the New York
Censor Board as well as the Customs Department to confiscate it. Gordon had to
bring the movie into the country through New Orleans but it would still take three
years of bargaining and the removal of 12 minutes of objectionable scenes to
obtain approval for exhibition. Nevertheless, the edited version was still greeted
with harsh reviews. Time called it,
“ludicrous claptrap from a claptrap novel.” The
New York Times chastised it as “an awkward attempt on the part of the English
to imitate Hollywood’s gangster formula.”
The critical disdain has never stopped. In
the multi-volume reference work, The
Motion PictureGuide,Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross
write “This a sick exercise in sadism (and) is about as wretched as they come.”
The annual Halliwell’sFilm Guide summarizes the movie as “hilariously
awful (and) one of the worst films ever made.”
The movie is based upon the 1939 novel of the
same name by British author James Hadley Chase that was called everything from pulp
trash to borderline pornography. When it was published in America three years
later, it received equally terrible reviews with many critics accusing the
author of plagiarizing William Faulkner’s 1931 novel, Sanctuary. The novel concerns the daughter of a wealthy Kansas City
businessman who is kidnapped by the notorious Grisson gang, led my Ma Grisson
and her psychopathic son, Slim; she is subsequently subjected to repeated rapes
by Slim while in a drug-induced stupor. (Note: when Robert Aldrich directed his
film version in 1971, he changed the name from Grisson to Grissom for The Grissom Gang.)
After several attempts to film the novel were
aborted by the BFFC, producer George Minter signed playwright St. John Clowes
to write a script that eventually was approved. The script eliminated much of the
novel’s sleaze but, as it turned out, not enough. Clowes, who had directed one
previous film, also signed on to direct. Casting proved to be difficult because
of the novel’s notoriety. After several Hollywood actresses refused the role,
Minter signed British actress Linden Travers who had played Miss Blandish in
the London stage version which had been a huge success in 1942. (As in the
novel, Miss Blandish’s first name is never revealed.) For the role of Slim
Grisson, Minter hired Hollywood actor Jack La Rue whose most famous role had ironically
been as the gangster/rapist called Trigger in The Story of Temple Drake, the 1933 film version of Sanctuary. Due to that film’s infamy, La
Rue’s career had subsequently stalled and he had been reduced to playing bit
parts until he accepted the role of Slim Grisson.
Clowes changes the setting of the story from
1930s Kansas City to 1940s New York City and converts the sordid tale into a
love story. Slim Grisson is still a killer but is also a sensitive gangster who
has always had a torch for the heiress. Instead of being held prisoner and
sexually abused, Miss Blandish chooses to voluntarily stay with her captor and
become his lover. The other members of the Grisson gang remain murderous thugs who
become furious over Slim’s refusal to demand ransom from his paramour’s father;
this will lead to carnage within the gang. Mr. Blandish also undergoes some
changes from a cold patriarch to a caring father who longs for his daughter’s
return. Dave Fenner, the private detective of the novel, becomes a
wise-cracking reporter who discovers the culpability of the Grisson gang and
becomes their target. Meanwhile, the police are determined to end the gang’s
reign of terror. With all of these forces against their alliance, the lovers’
plan to escape to another country is doomed.
Regarding the controversy, the film contains numerous
scenes of depraved criminals committing acts of brutality along with periodic
scenes of suggestive sexual interludes among various characters. What particularly
shocked British gentry was the suggestion that an aristocratic woman would not
only voluntarily elect to have a sexual relationship with someone beneath her
social class but would actually enjoy it. This was simply unacceptable. Also, the
film’s depiction of a gang of killers with no redeeming qualities angered
social reformers who believed that lawbreakers were products of their
environment and could be rehabilitated if taken away from such milieu. Furthermore,
many British film critics disapproved of the popularity of Hollywood gangster
films and resented the idea of a home-based film emulating this despised genre.
Thus, the condemnation of the film was at least in part due to factors other
than the quality of the movie.
There were so many fine films released last year that it's difficult to call any clear cut favorite for the Oscars. Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" seems to have the momentum, but one should not underestimate "Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri", a British film that perfectly captures the look and feel of a small town American community. Like Guillermo's movie, "Billboards" presents a superlative role for a mature actress, this time in the form of Frances McDormand, who gives the performance of her career as Mildred, a no-nonsense independent woman who has recently divorced her philandering husband, who is carrying on with an air-headed beauty young enough to be his daughter. Mildred is trying to juggle her threadbare financial existence by working in a charity shop and scrounging to put food on the table for her teenage son. However, she is obsessed with a family tragedy that permeates every moment of her day. We learn that she had another teenage child, a daughter, who was killed seven months ago when she was accosted on a remote road, raped and horribly murdered. When we first meet Mildred, she is all-to-apparently carrying the weight of that incident on her broad shoulders and she is obsessed with finding her daughter's killer. She's fed up with what she feels is lack of progress on the part of local police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), who she suspects has let the case go cold. Willoughby maintains he and his small department are doing all they can but there are few clues to follow up on. Mildred decides to take drastic, if unorthodox, action by renting out three billboards that sit abandoned on a road rarely traveled by locals since a highway rendered it superfluous. She puts up insulting messages to the chief in the hope it might shame him into being more assertive in solving the case. The tactic unleashes a backlash of bad will in her direction. Willoughby is a popular figure in the town and any sympathy Mildred's tragic situation has elicited from her neighbors vanishes overnight. She becomes the object of everyone's anger and she can find solace only among a couple of loyal friends. Her main antagonist is Dixon (Sam Rockwell), one of Willoughby's deputies. He's an uncouth hard ass who is determined to defend the department's honor by taking on Mildred personally through harassment and insults. The end result is to bring the simmering tensions to a boil in a spectacular, if misguided, act of violence on the part of Mildred.
I don't want to divulge too much more about the plot because the main strength of writer/director Martin McDonagh's screenplay is its sheer unpredictability. Every time you think you know where the plot is heading, McDonagh takes you in a different direction. Friends become enemies, enemies become allies. McDormand is a cinematic force of nature in the leading role. She's not entirely sympathetic, as she uses her barbed-wire wit to attack friend and foe alike. We later learn there is an additional emotional burden on her that can never be resolved: she feels a sense of personal responsibility for her daughter's fate. Refreshingly, the three main characters are not presented as stereotypes. If Mildred is the protagonist we are rooting for, she is also a flawed human being who seems at times to be devoid of any feeling of rapprochement even when Willoughby offers her every imaginable olive branch. He's a decent man with his own family and he's also carrying his own secret burden. Dixon, however, is initially presented as a bumbling Deputy Barney Fife-like character but with a sadistic streak. The interactions between these characters make for some fascinating scenarios that are brought to life by three actors who give the performances of their careers. (McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell are all up for Oscars.) The film is also peppered with some truly remarkable performances by a supporting cast that seems cherry-picked to perfection. Among them is Peter Dinklage, who provides some much-needed humanity and gentleness.
I don't know how Three Billboards will fare at the Oscars, but it's my choice for Best Picture. Martin McDonagh has provided us with a highly original and compelling work (and it has a great soundtrack, too).
was the film that convinced audiences and critics alike that Jane Fonda could
act. After appearing throughout the Sixties in glamour-girl and comic roles (Cat Ballou, Barbarella) that barely scratched the surface of what this talented
actress could do, along came They Shoot
Horses, Don’t They?, which featured a tough, cynical, mean-spirited, and
take-no-prisoners Jane Fonda as Gloria, a down-on-her-luck contestant in a
Depression-era marathon dance contest. The showy role resulted in her first
Best Actress Oscar nomination.
picture also awarded Sydney Pollack his first Directing nomination; in fact,
the film received a total of nine Oscar nominations, including Adapted
Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Susannah York), and Supporting Actor (Gig
Young, who won); but it did not, curiously, land a Best Picture nod. It
dance marathon contests in the early 1930s were an American display of
spectacle and madness. On the one hand, they provided cheap entertainment for
audiences who wanted to watch the progression of misery as dancers remained on
their feet (aside from occasional ten-minute breaks for food and very rare
longer breaks) for hours, days, weeks… until one couple was left standing. On
the other hand, it provided some kind hope for the contestants themselves, as
the payout was a whopping $1500—a big chunk of change in Depression-stricken
(Fonda) matches up with Robert (Michael Sarrazin) by default. There’s also
Alice (York), a Jean Harlow wannabe, aging former Navy man Harry (Red Buttons),
and married couple James and pregnant Ruby (Bruce Dern and Bonnie Bedelia). The
proceedings are MC’d with ringmaster showmanship and a canny sense of sardonicism
by Rocky (Young, who is marvelous in his award-winning role). “Yowza, yowza,
yowza!” he calls into the microphone, as the contestants go through hell in the
guise of showbiz.
the picture was released in 1969, it provided a social commentary that was a
metaphor for life itself—that we’re competing in a never-ending marathon of
hardship until you either drop out, drop dead, or win the big prize. The final
irony is that the big prize isn’t such a big prize after all. Not a feel-good
movie, to be sure, but certainly a thoughtful statement on the human condition.
Pollack’s direction is superb, an early indication of the long career he would
have in Hollywood.
The year 2017 was a particularly gratifying one in terms of watching a virtual tidal wave of impressive young talent emerge both on screen and behind the cameras. It was also a year in which the major studios finally afforded a good number of talented females plum leading roles. The one constant, however, is that while the major studios became even more obsessed with tentpole franchise films based on comic book characters, it fell to the smaller, more creative independent films to remind us of just how wondrous cinema can still be. Case in point: "Lady Bird", which has received numerous major Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress. If you think the movie is the biography of President Lyndon Johnson's wife, known affectionately by one and all as "Lady Bird", you're in for a rude awakening. The film marks the directorial debut of 34 year-old actress/writer Greta Gerwig, and she has come through with flying colors. The film is a bittersweet comedy/drama set in the early 2000s and centering on Christina McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a senior in a Catholic high school who dreams of grand achievements that include leaving her hometown of Sacramento, California and heading east to the Big Apple where she wants to attend college and begin making her mark on society. She is fiercely independent, self-confidant (a bit too self-confidant), highly intelligent and in possession of a sarcastic wit that all too often strays into the realm of outright cynicism. So desperate is Christina to establish her own unique identity that she insists upon being called "Lady Bird", although the name doesn't seem to have any significant meaning beyond Christina thinking it has some sort of profound impact.
When we first meet Lady Bird, she is grappling with the challenges that senior year presents to most kids her age. She is eager to move into adulthood but not quite as well-equipped to do so as she might imagine. She's likeable, funny but also somewhat narcissistic. She is trying unsuccessfully to cope with the fractious relationship she has with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a hardworking nurse who often seems tone deaf to her daughter's dreams and ambitions. At a time when a teenager's quests in life are usually encouraged by their family, Lady Bird gets a daily dose of reality tossed in her face. Her mother eschews her plans to apply to notable universities on the east coast, reminding her that they are literally living on the other side of the tracks from most of Lady Bird's more affluent friends. Indeed, the family is barely clinging to vestiges of the lower middle class. Lady Bird has a hands-off relationship with her brother (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend (Marielle Scott), who was invited to live with the family when she fell on hard times. Both indulge in the goth look that would make them seem at home in the Addams Family mansion. It puts a chasm between them and Lady Bird, who argues often with them and her mother. The only respite or sympathy she finds in the household is from her adoring dad, Larry (wonderfully portrayed by acclaimed playwright Tracy Letts). They share a gentle, humorous relationship that masks over the fact that he's got a world of trouble of his own, having just been fired from his job. (In one of the film's most disturbing scenes, the ever-desperate Larry goes on a long-shot job interview only to find himself competing with his own son). However, the core of the film focuses on the mother/daughter relationship and captures it in a way most mothers and daughters can relate to. They are both fundamentally decent people who care for and love each other but neither is particularly open to seeing life from the other's viewpoint. They spend most of their time caught up in emotionally-shattering debates and verbal duels. Lady Bird needs her dreams to be nurtured. Her mom understandably wants some recognition that she is working herself to death just to keep a roof over everyone's heads. At school, Lady Bird finds more frustrations. Her school adviser seems immune to reading her desires for higher education. Her frumpy but sweet girlfriend Jule (a marvelous Beanie Feldstein) is someone who has already thrown in the towel in terms of achieving her life's ambitions. Lady Bird angles for a good role in the senior class stage musical but finds nothing but irritants. She's determined to have sex before she graduates but her hunky first boyfriend turns out to be too good to be true. She latches on to a creepy intellectual (Timothee Chalamet, an Oscar nominee this year for "Call Me By Your Name") and ends up losing her virginity on the basis of his deception.
Greta Gerwig's script and direction are pitch perfect. One assumes the only logical reason that the film is set in the early 2000s is because that's when she attended high school. If that's the inspirational motive for the setting, fine with me. It allows us to revisit the last time period in which people still conversed with one another instead of gazed endlessly into a cell phone. Gerwig also gets a star-making performance from Saoirse Ronan, who won acclaim for her performance in "Brooklyn" a few years ago. However, it is this role at the tender age of 23 that stands to make her a major player in the film industry. She is matched by Laurie Metcalf, who has justifiably snared a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Even the minor roles are wonderful enacted. The film bristles with domestic tensions but ends on a beautiful and poignant note. "Lady Bird" is a film by women and about women, but it's appeal extends to anyone who appreciates great movie making.
Husbands and Wives was released in
September 1992, the news was full of the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow/Soon-Yi Previn
scandal, which had recently broken. The studio, Tri-Star, seemingly rushed the
release of the film to capitalize on the gossip, and, as a result, the picture
did pretty good box office (better than Allen’s previous two films). Although
the public found out about Allen’s dalliance with Farrow’s adopted daughter a
little later, Farrow discovered it at some point during the filming of Husbands and Wives. Talk about what must
have been a tense set...!
so this is a case in which a reviewer can’t look at a movie without the
real-life baggage encroaching on the evaluation. In fact, I’ll argue that it’s
impossible not to do so.
said, Husbands and Wives is one of
Woody Allen’s greatest—albeit darkest—works. It might be his most insightful,
honest, and disturbingly analytical treatise on affairs of the heart,
especially as they apply to American—and specifically New York City—upper and
upper-middle-class men and women.
a “reality TV” approach to the way it’s shot and directed, with hand-held
cameras and a narrator/interviewer (the voice of Jeffrey Kurland, the costume designer of the film!), who elicits
commentary from the characters outside the main action of the story. This was a
revelation at the time, since the concept of reality television had been only teased
on MTV during the 1980s and had not fully developed as a primetime phenomenon.
Allen’s regular director of photography, Carlo Di Palma, provides a gritty,
jerky, documentary feel to the proceedings, and it works beautifully.
(Allen) and Judy (Farrow) are married with no children. He’s a college
professor in literature. Their best friends Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally
(Judy Davis) are a couple that announces at the beginning of the film that they
are getting divorced. They’re both ostensibly okay with that, but Judy and Gabe
are shocked and upset. Jack and Sally, throughout the film, begin to date
others. Jack sees Sam (Lysette Anthony), a much younger aerobics teacher who is
intellectually incompatible with him. Judy matches Sally with Michael (Liam
Neeson), although Judy has the hots for Michael herself. Sally is too neurotic
and so-not-ready for dating again that it doesn’t work out with Michael.
Meanwhile, Gabe becomes infatuated with a very
young college student, Rain (Juliette Lewis), who has a history of dating
this a film fraught with art-imitating-life syndrome, or what? Without
revealing how these romantic and not-romantic liaisons work out, let’s just say
that Allen consistently shows us ugly truths about lies, trust, and compromise.
Is it a comedy? Yes and no. There are laughs, but mostly this is a biting, dark
satire that is more akin to the works of, say, Jules Feiffer, than Woody Allen.
There are moments of sheer brilliance, and others that are too close to the
headlines for comfort.
the most revelatory statement in Husbands
and Wives is that Gabe, Allen’s character, refuses to take his involvement
with student Rain any further after one kiss (that she asks for on her birthday) because it’s “not right.” It’s
amazing that Allen’s character
performs with wiser moral integrity than Allen himself did in his personal
life, considering that the movie was written and made while he was courting a
much younger woman. Ironic, if anything.
Davis received a much-deserved Academy Award nomination for Supporting Actress
for her performance. Pollack (director of such works as Tootsie and Out of Africa),
too, is exceptional, and it’s a wonder why he never got more recognition for
his occasional acting stints. Jack and Sally’s story is the most engaging piece
of the film. Allen’s script, a striking piece of work, was nominated for
Time’s Blu-ray release looks and sounds exemplary, with its 1080p High
Definition transfer and 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The only
supplements are the theatrical trailer and an isolated music and effects track.
The essay in the booklet is by critic Julie Kirbo.
to only 3000 units, Husbands and Wives is
a collectors’ item that explores the hurricane that can exist within a relationship,
and one that blew up in the tabloids.
Joe Dante's addictive "Trailers from Hell" web site presents the original trailer for Jerry Lewis's 1964 madcap comedy "The Disorderly Orderly", one of his best solo efforts. The trailer has a commentary track by John Landis, who provides a lot of fun facts in the brief running time. For instance, he informs us that the film was shot at the famed Greystone Mansion, which was also where key scenes from the film "Westworld" were shot. On top of that, there are snippets of Sammy Davis Jr. singing the title song...
the old saying goes, “You can’t go home again.”Having seen Scream And Scream
Again decades ago, I remembered it as being thrilling and suspenseful... now,
47 years (!) after its release, not so much.The story is a hodgepodge of sci-fi and social commentary as a brusque
police inspector (Alfred Marks) and a curious doctor (Christopher Matthews)
investigate the brutal deaths of several young women, eventually connecting them
to a scientist (Vincent Price) who is creating synthetic humans using body
parts from unwilling live donors.Christopher Lee is the head of British Intelligence, whose agency is – I
think – secretly funding the experiments.A subplot with a sadistic official (Marshall Jones) from a fictional Eastern
European nation (think East Berlin) in collusion with the Brits is also in the
mix. (In an interview years later, even Vincent Price admitted he didn’t know
what the film was really about!)
directed by Gordon Hessler, who made a number of Price Edgar Allen Poe films
including The Oblong Box; Scream And Scream Again is a time
capsule of late 60s England:there are
several nightclub scenes featuring the then-popular Welsh band Amen Corner
singing away, with audience members gamely trying to look hip… one guesses the
object here was to contemporize things: “Look
Kids! No more stodgy castles!” Still,
there is a lot to recommend the film – the opening sequence of a hapless jogger
running through London, waking up several times to find more and more of his
limbs being removed is as effective now as it was in 1970, and Hessler’s use of
hand-held camera to put the audience IN the action was innovative for its time.Another standout sequence is a wonderful
faceoff between a nattily dressed Lee and Jones in Trafalgar Square. (Jones’
knit pom-pom cap remains a bold wardrobe choice for a hulking villain!)
Price and Lee are at the top of their game and if you’re a Christopher Lee fan,
there are many loving close-ups of his sneering visage. Unfortunately the
wonderful Peter Cushing is used in only one scene – blink and he’s gone.According to filmmaking lore, Vincent Price
insisted on doing his death scene (sinking into a vat of acid) himself.The harsh chemicals used in the fluid caused
him serious sinus problems for years.
Twilight Time DVD release is welcome for overcoming some longtime rights issues
and returning the original music to the film. The colors are crisp in 1080p HD
and the DVD is loaded with extras including a 23-minute documentary, Gentleman Gothic: Gordon Hessler At AIP, which
features an interview with Hessler, who passed in 2014, as well as film historians
discussing his work.There is also a
still file, radio spot, original trailer (which erroneously identifies actor Marshall Jones as the iconic Peter Cushing!) and a subtitled interview with German
actress Uta Levka, who played the impersonal “composite” nurse in the
film and an illustrated booklet with liner notes by historian Julie Kirgo.It’s safe to say, this will
forever be the definitive release of Scream and Scream Again!.
This is a region-free, limited edition of 3,000 units. Click here to order.
Gilbert on the set of the 1977 James Bond blockbuster The Spy Who Loved Me with production designer Ken Adam and producer Albert R. Broccoli at Pinewood Studios, London.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Cinema Retro mourns the news of director/producer Lewis Gilbert's death in London at age 97. Gilbert was a good friend to our magazine and gave what is probably his last interview to our correspondent Matthew Field several years ago. It ran in three consecutive issues of Cinema Retro (#'s18, 19 and 20).
Gilbert had a remarkable career that began early in life as a music hall performer and an actor in small roles in British films. During WWII he served in the RAF, producing and directing documentaries for the military. His first feature film as director was "The Little Ballerina", released in 1947. Gilbert toiled through directing low-budget, often undistinguished films, honing his craft along the way. He earned praise for his 1958 WWII-themed espionage film "Carve Her Name with Pride" and had a major hit in the WWII genre with the release of the 1960 film "Sink the Bismarck!" As Gilbert's clout in the industry rose, so, too did his production budgets. He directed the 1962 adventure film "Damn the Defiant!" (UK title: "H.M.S. Defiant") starring Alec Guinness and Dirk Bogarde followed by the 1964 Cold War thriller "The 7th Dawn" starring William Holden. He rose to even greater prominence by producing and directing the 1966 anti-Establshment comedy "Alfie", a major early hit for Michael Caine that was accorded great critical praise and numerous Oscar and BAFTA nominations. Gilbert proved to be eclectic in his abilities to move between genres. He was a seemingly unlikely choice to direct the 1967 James Bond epic "You Only Live Twice" starring Sean Connery, which was set in Japan, but the film was an enormous boxoffice success. Ten years later Gilbert returned to the Bond genre to direct Roger Moore in two back-to-back 007 films, "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker". Both films were major international hits. Gilbert had also directed the 1970 big-budget screen adaptation of Harold Robbins' bestseller "The Adventurers", but it was a troubled production that flopped with critics and the public. In 1971 he directed a popular, small-budget teenage love story, "Friends" which featured original songs by Elton John early in his career. Four years later he directed the film's sequel, "Paul and Michelle". In 1980 he directed the sophisticated comedy "Educating Rita" which won Oscar nominations for Michael Caine and Julie Walters, followed by "Shirley Valentine" in 1989.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Stephen Spielberg directs another winner with "The Post", which covers in spellbinding detail the legal and political intrigue leading up to the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Then, as now, the New York Times and the Washington Post were locked in a professional competition, as the two symbols of the gold standard of American newspapers. The film begins with a brief segment set in 1966 in the battle zones of Vietnam as we watch military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) on a Pentagon mission to personally evaluate how the war is unfolding on the ground. Ellsberg is reporting to President Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). The U.S. military presence which began modestly under presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy has been ratcheted up to new heights, with LBJ's administration pouring increasing numbers of troops and resources into beleaguered South Vietnam to thwart the invasion from the communist north. Ellsberg shares his findings with McNamara and they are not encouraging. He sees the U.S effort as stymied and incurring increasing costs in blood and treasure with only incremental, temporary gains on the battlefield. McNamara informs Ellsberg that he shares his conclusions but continues to assure the American public that things are going swimmingly and that victory is inevitable. Disillusioned, Ellsberg continues his services to the Pentagon while stateside and contributes to the massive study of the war that ultimately became known as the Pentagon Papers. He concluded that while the Johnson administration concurred the best America could hope for was a costly stalemate in Vietnam, the American public would continue to be mislead by the president and his key military personnel. Ultimately, Ellsberg- at great personal legal risk to himself- managed to photocopy the massive report and leak it to the New York Times, which began printing key aspects of the papers. The publication became an international sensation but the Times was served with an injunction by a judge to cease publication while the courts considered whether further aspects of the papers could be suppressed due to the fact that they were considered Top Secret documents by the Nixon administration.
With the Times fighting the administration in court, Washington Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) senses an opportunity to capitalize on his rivals' court-imposed inertia. The Post's assistant editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) suspects the leaker was Ellsberg, an old acquaintance. He gets Ellsberg to photocopy the papers he had originally given to the Times and turn them over to the Post- but this puts in play a legal and ethical dilemma. The Post is owned and run by Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), a Washington socialite and heiress who inherited the newspaper from her revered late husband. The unspoken feeling among even her staffers is that a woman is not fully capable of running such a business. Indeed, the Post is facing financial hardships and Graham makes the difficult decision to raise capital by selling shares in the company. Bradlee imposes on her to take the moral initiative and allow the Post to print excerpts from the Pentagon Papers while the Times is precluded from doing so. The brilliant script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer follows in painstaking detail the risks that Graham had to evaluate by doing so. The threat of inevitable legal action by the Nixon administration to keep the Papers suppressed might scare away investors and lead the Post into insolvency. Against this is Bradlee's compelling argument that a free press must reveal the lies that the American people have continued to be told by the current president and his military brass. (Note: although Nixon wasn't president when the Pentagon Papers were completed, he had good reason to keep them under wraps because he was continuing to follow the same practices as Johnson's administration and had made a campaign promise that he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War when, in fact, he intended to keep escalating it).
Spielberg manages the difficult task of turning "The Post", which is enhanced by a typically fine score by John Williams, into a suspense-packed Cold War thriller despite the fact that we already know the outcome. It's no small feat and he's enabled by superb performances by Hanks and Streep, who plays Graham as a woman on the razor's edge of landmark historical decision. Ultimately, she decides to go for broke and defy the president by publishing the Papers in the hope that the Supreme Court will side with the Post on the basis that the American people have a right to know when they are being lied to by their elected officials. Nixon is only seen as distant figure through the White House windows but his presence looms large over the drama. When Graham finally gives permission to get the presses rolling with the story, it's the kind of rousing scene that draws cheers from audiences. Nixon would survive this scandal and go on to win a massive re-election victory the following year, but the publication of the Papers forced him to ultimately sue for peace and begin withdrawing American troops. Ironically, he would lock horns with the Post once again when the Watergate scandal unraveled in its pages- and lead to his political demise. It's all hinted at in the film's poignant epilogue.
At a time when the bastion of America's democracy- its free press- is once again under intense attack by politicians who may have a lot to hide, Spielberg's big wet kiss to the nation's "fourth estate" comes as a welcome reminder that real heroes aren't confined to battlefields but also can be found in the mundane settings of newsrooms.
"The Post" has been nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress (Meryl Streep).
2018 is the official centenary of Mickey Spillane, we at Cinema Retro thought it would be a good idea to examine this
excellent digest of the author’s works on the silver screen and on television.
and filmmaker Max Allan Collins (probably best-known for writing the graphic
novel Road to Perdition, the basis of
the 2002 film, but also author of 100+ other books) is the literary executor
for the estate of Mickey Spillane. Not only has he co-written this excellent
“bedside companion” on Spillane’s big-and-small screen adaptations, Collins has
co-authored/finished manuscripts originally begun by Spillane before his death
in 2006 at the age of 88. Co-author James L. Traylor has also had a long career
of writing critical analyses on crime authors and novels. One can be confident,
then, that in Mickey Spillane on Screen,
the authors know what they’re talking about.
Spillane wrote many popular hard-boiled—very
hard-boiled—crime novels published over five decades. His most-famous
character, detective Mike Hammer, first appeared in Spillane’s debut novel, I, the Jury (1947). Noted for its atypical
(for the time) sex and violence, the novel was not initially a success in
hardcover; but when it was published in paperback a couple of years later, it
became an international best-seller. Further Mike Hammer novels appeared, along
with books featuring other characters such as Tiger Mann and Morgan the Raider,
and stand-alone pulp fiction titles.
also had a love/hate affair with Hollywood. The first adaptation of I, the Jury was released in 1953
(featuring Biff Elliot as Hammer), directed by Harry Essex and produced by
Victor Saville, with whom Spillane had a long business relationship. Saville
would go on to produce three more pictures based on Spillane’s properties
(including one non-Hammer movie, The Long
a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction scenario, Spillane was also an actor—and he
played his own character, Mike Hammer, in the 1963 adaptation of his novel, The Girl Hunters, directed by Roy
Rowland. This U.K. production co-starred none other than Shirley Eaton, a year
before she appeared as the “Golden Girl” in the James Bond blockbuster, Goldfinger. Spillane’s first big screen
role was as himself in the crime drama, Ring
of Fear (produced by John Wayne’s production company) in 1954. Older
readers of Cinema Retro may remember
the Miller Lite TV commercials in which Spillane spoofed himself.
you know that there was a TV pilot made in 1954 by director Blake Edwards,
starring Brian Keith as Mike Hammer? This is a revelation I learned in reading Mickey Spillane on Screen.
Unfortunately, that pilot wasn’t picked up, but it was made available in a now
out-of-print DVD box set that Collins put together entitled The Black Box Collection—Shades of Neo-Noir
(2006). Perhaps you can find a copy on eBay or Amazon Marketplace.
book, which is illustrated with scenes from the films, is divided into sections that cover a brief biography of Spillane, the feature
films, and television adaptations. The latter, of course, examines the many
episodes (and TV movies) of the very popular Mike Hammer series (1984-1998) starring
Stacy Keach. The critiques and background stories behind the movies and
television series are thorough and spot-on. I agree with the authors that the
1955 Robert Aldrich masterwork, Kiss Me
Deadly, is perhaps the best Mike Hammer interpretation we ever got.
recommended for aficionados of crime films and television, Mickey Spillane on Screen is especially a love letter for the
author’s fans. Happy 100th Birthday, Mickey!
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water illustrates just how far the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has evolved when it comes to recognizing major achievements in film genres that were once generally ignored when it came to Oscar recognition. The once-gentrified Academy would occasionally bow to popular sentiments and nominate blockbusters like The Exorcist, Jaws and The Exorcist for major awards but no one ever truly expected them to win. More often than not, horror and sci-fi-oriented movies were generally recognized in the categories of special effects to the exclusion of recognition for picture, director, screenplay, etc. As a new generation that was weaned on the artistic merits of these genres came of age, the Academy began to reflect their values and at last the artists who created great works in these areas were afforded attention. The Shape of Water is a cinematic oddity that is admittedly an acquired taste, so it speaks well for the Academy that del Toro has been nominated for Best Director and Original Screenplay (with Victoria Taylor) as well as Best Picture.
If you haven't seen it, do so, because the greatest asset of the movie is that you never know in what direction the script will veer. The film is set in the early 1960s with Sally Hawkins as the protagonist, Elisa, a cleaning lady who is employed at a top secret government facility that is dedicated to Cold War espionage research. Elisa lives a lonely existence and she is suffering from a severe handicap: she is a mute. She shares a modest apartment above an old world movie theater with Giles (Richard Jenkins), an aging gay graphic designer and artist who is living on the financial edge, having lost full time employment and trying to subsist on a decreasing number of freelance assignments. He and Elisa are the closest of friends and he acts as combination parental figure and intellectual companion who has learned to communicate with her with ease. Elisa's life takes a dramatic turn when she discovers that government agents have brought an extraordinary find into the facility: a creature that resembles a human in form but which has gills and lives underwater in a river in South America. The creature, which we will refer to as a merman (no, his name isn't Ethel), is being examined and routinely tortured by short-sighted government agents led by Richard Strickland (a mesmerizing Michael Shannon), a mean-spirited who quickly decides the creature has no real value in terms of helping to win the Cold War and advocates having him destroyed. Elisa secretly makes contact with the merman and takes pity on him, sneaking him food and helping to ease his pain. She realizes he is an intelligent creature who has human qualities and vulnerabilities. With his execution imminent, she organizes a daring rescue for the merman, assisted by Giles and her best friend and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). This unlikely trio of misfits orchestrates the plan in a manner that is both ingenious, amusing and very suspenseful. By now, Elisa is madly in love with the merman and thereby introduces perhaps the first inter-species romance seen in a major film. Call it Creature from the Black Lagoon by way of Hunchback of Notre Dame. I won't divulge much more except to say the performances are truly superb and Hawkins, Jenkins and Spencer have all been justifiably nominated for Oscars along with Alexandre Desplat for his impressive score.
There are a few nitpicks I can make, primarily that del Guillermo throws in some superfluous sex scenes. We know Elisa is a lonely soul, but is it necessary to demonstrate that by having scenes of her masturbating in the bathtub? Similarly, a scene of Strickland playing tyrannical husband to his obedient, attractive wife includes an out-of-left-field tidbit in which she plops out one of her breasts, thus leading to a scene in which he makes love to her in a manner that most women would consider to be sexual assault. Not to be a prude, but such gimmickry seems reek of crass commercialism rather than ingredients that add measurably to the story,
The Shape of Water is a moving and genuinely beguiling love story unlike anything the Academy would have considered honoring had it emerged decades ago. It's not for everyone but even those who don't warm to the premise will admire the outstanding performances and production values.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
(This review originally ran during the film's initial theatrical release in 2017)
BY MARK CERULLI
so could have been a by-the-numbers genre movie: “Sensitive boyfriend goes to meet hot girlfriend’s parents in secluded
country home and mayhem ensues…” and that’s exactly what happens in Get Out, the new thriller from
writer/director Jordan Peele, but in a totally unexpected way.
filmturns every horror trope on its
head while tackling racist stereotypes along the way. Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as Chris, an
aspiring young photographer who happens to be black. His beautiful, Ivy League-ish girlfriend,
Rose (Allison Williams from HBO’s Girls)
is bringing him home to meet her parents for the first time – a momentous
occasion in any new relationship but even more so when it’s interracial, a fact
the movie meets head on. Once at the
family estate, Chris feels that something is truly off – from the mind-gaming
father (Bradley Whitford) and his spooky psychiatrist wife (Catherine Keener)
to Rose’s hostile brother (Caleb Landry Jones). Their all black staff goes out
of their way to tell Chris how happy they are to be there, which just makes him
more uncomfortable. And then there’s the
family gathering Rose forgot to tell him about, where cousins and uncles leer
at Chris as if he’s on display, making clueless, subtly racist comments in a
perfect sendup of East Coast liberal elitism. Chris gamely endures all this while Rose seems genuinely mortified – but
it’s all an act! Chris has been brought
there for a sinister purpose and after Rose’s mom slyly hypnotizes him, that
purpose is revealed and Get Out moves
into high gear.
Peele, who made his name acting and writing in comedies like MAD TV and Keanu, deftly blends laughs and horror, all leading up to a truly innovative
climax as Chris desperately tries to escape. Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario) is
spot on as a budding artist trying to navigate a difficult social
situation. Allison William’s Rose is
appropriately seductive and Milton “Lil Rel” Howery is hysterical as Chris’
loyal wingman, Rod, a TSA Agent who investigates when his friend goes
missing. Produced by genre hitmeister
Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, Split,
The Purge), Get Out is a mystery
thriller that truly delivers while skewering today’s pervasive racial
stereotypes. It’s also is a stunning
directorial debut for Jordan Peele, who will doubtlessly be able to work in
whatever genre he chooses.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
The most over-rated of this year's Best Picture Oscar nominees is director Paul Thomas Anderson's "Phantom Thread", a bizarre, off-putting drama that succeeds in presenting unusual characters in offbeat situations. It's a film saturated in atmosphere and intriguing plot scenarios that ultimately never delivers on presenting satisfactory conclusions to any of them. Daniel Day Lewis, in what is his self-described final screen appearance before entering retirement, is Reynolds Woodcock, a London dressmaker who has become a legend in his own time. The House of Woodcock designs top-line dresses for the international jet set as well as royals from around the globe. He prides himself on his obsession with his work and he runs the business with his humorless, equally dedicated sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Their design house is run like a military base with discipline and dedication expected of their devoted, if not too happy, employees. The only vices Reynolds allows himself are short-term relationships with women, which he enters into with charm and intensity only to inevitably discard his lover when he tires of her. The film opens with the story's leading female character, Alma (Vicky Krieps) relating in flashbacks how she became the object of Reynolds' desires. He meets her in a small country bed and breakfast where she is working as a nondescript waitress who he finds charming. That evening, he takes her to a lavish dinner and then brings her back to his house where she understandably presumes he will attempt to bed her. Instead, the quirky Reynolds immediately orders her to stand for a fitting in order for him to make her an exquisite dress. More bizarrely, this promising first date is further detoured by the arrival of Cyril who begins to assist in the measurements of the dress, though it's clear she resents the younger, more attractive woman. Why? The implication is that she might have an unhealthy sexual interest in her own brother but, like so many of strands of this "Thread", nothing concrete is ever presented regarding the origins of Reynolds' and Cyril's strange relationship. It's one of several promising story scenarios that are presented in a confusing and sometimes incomprehensible manner, while others are hinted at but dropped altogether. At times it feels as though Anderson simply tore up the last twenty pages of his script during production.
Over their courtship, Reynolds proves to be a charming, highly intelligent beau. Alma is obviously from humble origins but the script fails to tell us anything about her life, background, or even nationality (she speaks with a rather exotic accent that is difficult to pin down). Soon, she moves into Reynolds' apartment building, which doubles as his design studio. She begins to learn the clothing trade from the bottom up, resenting after a while that her status as the boss's lover doesn't get her any perks. She's treated the same as the rest of the obedient staff. Soon, Alma begins to see disturbing personal traits in her lover. He has many eccentricities. He requires complete silence at breakfast while he contemplates his design work The slightest deviation from his standards can result in him erupting in anger. The film traces these outbursts and how Reynolds and Alma alternate between having a fractious and loving relationship. Ultimately, they marry- but that is only the beginning of the psychological agony they will both endure before finding a bizarre scenario that pleases them both, based on the "Munchausen syndrome by proxy" (Google it) that involves a peaceful coexistence established through poisoning by mushrooms. If it sounds weird, the premise seems even weirder when played out on screen.
Throughout most of "Phantom Thread" I was duly impressed by the superb production design (the film is set sometime in the 1950s but doesn't specify exactly when) along with the wonderful classical/original score provided by Johnny Greenwood. Then there are the mesmerizing performances. Lewis is predictably superb but the real find is Vicky Krieps, of whom much more should be heard in the near future. Like Woodcock's design creations, every aspect of the film looks perfect so it's disappointing that director/screenwriter Thomas never allows the plot to come together in a satisfying manner. The key plot point involving mushrooms is a bit wacky and doesn't fit in with the general tone of the movie. It's like having Godzilla appear at the finale of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and there's no getting around the fact that poisoned mushrooms makes this feel like a watered down premise of that seen in "The Beguiled".
There's much to admire in "Phantom Thread" including the lush cinematography (also provided by an uncredited Paul Thomas Anderson). Anderson enjoys a loyal following among critics and film fans who enjoy the quirkiness of his scripts and direction. Consequently, I wonder if that devotion extends to overlooking the obvious flaws and tangled, unsatisfying aspects of his work, of which there are plenty in "Phantom Thread". This may not be the case of the emperor having no clothes, but at a minimum, he is scantily clad.
Mill Creek Entertainment has released a DVD of two Dean Martin romantic comedies from the 1960s, "Who Was That Lady?" and "How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life.
Of the two features, "Who's That Lady?" is the far superior entry. Based on Norman Krasna's play "Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?", the modestly-budgeted B&W production offered an undemanding role for Martin, who was coming off acclaimed dramatic performances in "The Young Lions" and "Some Came Running" following his breakup with Jerry Lewis. Tony Curtis gets top billing in the film playing David Wilson, a chemistry professor at Columbia University in New York City. Before the credits finish unspooling, we see him caught in a compromising situation when his wife Ann (Janet Leigh) catches him in the act smooching with one of his students. She storms out and makes preparations to file for divorce. David pleads with her to reconsider but she won't hear of it. In desperation, David turns to his best friend Mike Haney (Dean Martin), a charismatic bachelor and serial womanizer. He also happens to be a screenwriter for CBS television and possesses a fertile imagination. Mike hatches an audacious scheme to get David off the hook. He gets a pistol from the CBS prop department as well as a custom-made faux F.B.I. identification card made with David's photo on it. The two men then tell Ann that both of them have been secretly moonlighting as F.B.I. agents for years and that the girl David was kissing was a suspected spy who he had been ordered to flirt with in order to win her confidence. Ann is initially skeptical but the appearance of the gun and I.D. card changes her mind. Suddenly, she is greatly impressed with her husband, who she now regards as a macho man. However, the lie turns into a giant headache when a real F.B.I. agent (James Whitmore) gets a tip that David has a phony ID from the agency. Adding to David's woes is Mike's insistence that they play upon Ann's gullibility by going out on more "missions" that involve seductive women. The house of cards eventually comes crashing down in a frenzied climax set in the bowels of the Empire State Building where David and Mike are mistaken by Soviet spies as real agents and kidnapped.
"Who Was That Lady?" is a pleasant time-killer that relies primarily on the deft comedic performances of the three leads, each of whom delivers the goods. There's great chemistry between Curtis, Martin and Leigh (the real-life Mrs. Curtis at the time) and the film boasts an impressive supporting cast aside from the always-impressive Whitmore. John McIntire is there along with Simon Oakland and Larry Storch as the commies. Barbara Nichols and Joi Lansing add some laughs as a couple of busty, bubble-headed Marilyn Monroe-type who Mike earmarks as dates for him and David- a plan that ends disastrously. The film, directed by George Sidney, is best in the first half when the action and characters are set in the real world. However, the film delves into slapstick elements that prove to be more distracting than amusing. Still, "Who's That Lady?" is a generally funny effort, even if it's an undistinguished one- and you get to hear Dino croon the catchy title song.
Sam Fuller is one of these iconic directors that
independent film makers like Quentin Tarantino andRobert Rodrigues idolize for being a maverick
who frequently got away with making movies his own way, even if the studios
that employed him didn’t always like it. But even though he preferred to make
hard hitting, semi-expose movies like “Shock Corridor” and “The Naked Kiss,”
Fuller also knew which side of the bread was buttered and could make a movie
that both he and his studio bosses knew could be a commercial success. “Hell
and High Water” (1954), released by 20th Century Fox, is one of those. Made at
the height of the Cold War, it capitalized on America’s fear of the atom bomb,
the Red Menace, and catered to the belief that private individuals can sometime
be more effective than government at solving the world’s problems.
A group of such individuals, scientists from around the
world, want to investigate suspicious activities on an island in the North
Atlantic by the Chinese communists (though their nationality is never
mentioned).They hire former submarine
commander Capt. Adam Jones (Richard Widmark) to take them to the island in a
rebuilt Japanese sub (the kind that Captain Jones calls “a sewer pipe”). The
scientists suspect that the island is being used as the site for the building
of an atom bomb and are scheming to start WW III. Fuller had a hand in writing
the screenplay as well as directing and so Capt. Jones is your typical Fuller
hero. He’s tough, he’s brash, he’s honest, and he’s cynical. He agrees to take
the idealistic scientists to their destination but only because they’ll pay him
50 G’s to do it.
He assembles some of his old crew, including Gene Evans
(a Fuller regular), and Cameron Mitchell, the sub’s sonar man. The lead
scientist in charge of the expedition is Professor Montel (Victor Franken), who
is fond of saying: “Every man has his own reason for living, and his own price
for dying.” Just for the sake of spicing things up a bit, the old professor
brings along an assistant-- a sexy young French female scientist played by
Bella Darvi. Darvi’s personal story is both interesting and tragic. She was
discovered in Monaco by Darryl Zanuck and his wife Virginia. Mrs. Zanuck
thought she had star potential and even created Bella’s screen name. Darvi is a
combination of Darryl and Virginia. She made only three Hollywood movies before
a sex scandal involving Zanuck broke out, causing Virginia Zanuck to split.
Darvi’s career never really took off and after the scandal she returned to
Europe where she eventually committed suicide at age 42.
But to return to our story, of course, the presence of a
woman on board a salvaged Japanese sub manned by a bunch of horny, sweaty guys
is a totally believable thing and isn’t going to cause any sort of plot
complication. But then believability isn’t a word you’d associate with “Hell
and High Water.” Especially not when the sub encounters another submarine, (Chinese?
I guess, who knows for sure) demanding to know what the hell they’re doing
there. What follows is the usual cat and mouse sequence you find in most
submarine movies. After a torpedo is fired at them, they dive for the bottom.
The torpedoes on Jones’s sub don’t work because they didn’t have time to get
them in working order before they started out. They stay there trying to not
make any noise so they don’t get pinged by sonar. The other sub lands a few
hundred yards away and they try to outwait each other. Finally, Jones and his
men have had enough and the captain orders the ship to make a break for it.
He’s got a new plan. He rams the “sewer pipe” into the other sub and sinks it.
Hooray, the good guys win. But wait. This is supposed to be a peaceful
scientific expedition. What about all the Chinese sailors (or whatever they are)
killed on the other sub? Wouldn’t that be like an international incident?
Wouldn’t that actually be an act of war itself that might lead to WWIII, just
the very think they were trying to prevent?
“Junior Bonner,” (1972) may not be director Sam
Peckinpah’s greatest film, but in many ways it’s one of his most honest. There
are no outlaws with guns blazing in a suicidal battle with the Mexican army (“The
Wild Bunch”) . No down and out tough guys scrounging their lives away in
Mexican dives on a quest to get the head of a dead man worth $1 million (“Bring
Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”). No CIA contractors skulking around San
Francisco’s Suisan Bay with telescopic rifles (“The Killer Elite”). None of that.
Instead “Junior Bonner” is the story of a modern day, every day rodeo cowboy
fighting an honorable and impossible battle against the forces that are
changing the people and the land that he knew—changing them for the worse.
Steve McQueen, in one of his most realistic, understated
performances, plays the Arizona cowboy who’s been riding the rodeo circuit a
little too long, and he knows it. He’s the son of former rodeo star Ace Bonner,
and he returns to his Prescott, Ariz., home in time for the town’s annual
Fourth of July rodeo festival. At the last stop on the circuit he got “throwed”
by a bull named Sunshine and his goal is to have a rematch with Sunshine in
front of his home town crowd. In a way he’s fulfilling one of the precepts of
the Peckinpah canon laid down in “Ride the High Country,” in which Joel McCrea,
as an aging former lawman, says “All I want to do is enter my house justified.”
Peckinpah rather brilliantly presents the theme of
changing times in the early scenes of the film, when JR drives his big old
white Cadillac convertible and horse-carrying trailer to his father’s home and
finds it is now a tumble-down shack about to be demolished by a wrecking crew.
The land it is on is being bulldozed into a gravel pit. After going inside the
house and finding nothing but an old picture in a busted frame of Ace in his
heyday, he drives out to the pit and asks if they know where Ace is. “Never
heard of him,” they tell him. And, in a scene reminiscent of “The Grapes of Wrath,”
when he tries to drive out of the pit he gets into a head-to-head confrontation
with a bulldozer operator who won’t let him pass. For a minute it looks like JR
might take him, but instead he’s forced to back up.
We next meet JR’s young brother, Curly (Joe Don Baker), a
real estate developer who’s selling off his father’s land to build a trailer
park. When JR finds out he only paid $15,000 for four sections of land, he’s
not too happy about it. And when Curly offers to bring him into the business because
he doesn’t want his older brother to “end up like the old man,” JR does what
any good Peckinpah cowboy would do. He knocks him through a picture window.
The film features two veterans playing JR’s parents,
Robert Preston as Ace and Ida Lupino as Elvira Bonner. Ace in his old age, is something
of a clown, a dreamer and the town drunk. His current ambition is to go to
Australia to punch cows. Elvira is the disillusioned wife and mother who knows
the best days of their lives are over and is just trying to hold on to what’s
left. Preston had just the right amount of charm and personality to make Ace a
convincing character and Lupino, who had been working steadily in TV after
years as a successful actress and director, is both touching and beautiful in
her return to the big screen. Also on hand are Ben Johnson as Buck Roan, the
man who runs the rodeo, as well as familiar faces such as Bill McKinney (“Deliverance”)
and Don “Red” Barry (in westerns too numerous to mention).
Peckinpah filmed the movie on location during the actual
Prescott Rodeo event, utilizing the local color and many non-actors, giving the
picture an authenticity that can’t be duplicated on studio sets. It’s that
direct simplicity that makes “Junior Bonner” work. In the end, it’s the story
of people coming to terms with the truth of who they are and facing the consequences
It's no secret that director Christopher Nolan is a major league James Bond fan. However, the Oscar-nominated "Dunkirk" director has put the kabbosh on rumors that he will be directing the next, as yet untitled, James Bond film which is scheduled for release in November, 2019. Appearing on BBC Radio 4, Nolan expressed his admiration for the series and its producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, but said that he felt the series is in good shape and that it wouldn't be the proper time for him to take the helm of one of the productions. However, he did reiterate his desire to direct a Bond film down the road. There is speculation that Nolan wants Daniel Craig to complete his final film in the series before he considers joining the franchise. It is presumed that Nolan would only come on board when its time for the next dramatic reboot of the Bond series, which occurs after the next film, which Craig has vowed will be his last mission On Her Majesty's Cinematic Secret Service. Click here for more.
UPDATE: Danny Boyle said to be on short list to direct next Bond film.
in 1977, Scalpel is one of only two films bearing the director credit John
Grissmer. A decade apart, the other is 1987’s marginally less satisfying Blood
Rage. Which isn’t to suggest that Scalpel itself is particularly good, because
it’s not. It is, however, the better of the pair.
surgeon Dr Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) is in a bit of a quandary. His
wife is some while dead and his father-in-law, who despised him, has just
passed away bequeathing a fortune to Reynolds’ daughter Heather (Judith
Chapman). The problem is that Heather disappeared after witnessing Reynolds
committing a dreadful crime and she hasn’t been seen for over a year. And
Reynolds wants that money! A solution presents itself when he’s out driving one
night and almost runs over Jane, a stripper who’s been savagely beaten up and
is laid unconscious in the road. Whisking Jane off to the hospital where he
works, Reynolds hatches a scheme to refashion her smashed face to replicate that
of the missing Heather. As she recovers he makes her a proposal: successfully
pass herself off as Heather until the cash is signed over and they will split
it down the middle. It sounds perfect. But with $5 million at stake there’s
trouble ahead and Reynolds’ cunning plan is about to be derailed by an
circulating under the title False Face – which arguably has less exploitation
value plastered across a marquee than Scalpel, but is technically more
pertinent – John Grissmer’s debut film is a bit of an oddity. Although on first
run it feels mired in a pervasive grubbiness, when you step back and analyse it
that’s more down to the sickly yellow glaze that bedecks the entire movie (the
artistic intent of cinematographer Edward Lachman) than anything particularly
disturbing content-wise. In fact, a fleeting flash of nudity and a splash or
two of graphic bloodshed aside, Scalpel could almost pass as a TV production. This
impression is enforced by the headlining presence of prolific actor Robert
Lansing, whose work on television (in a fistful of made-for-TV movies, but
mostly in episodes of a myriad of series) outweighed his big screen appearances
14 to 1. Nevertheless, he’s on excellent form here as the nutty surgeon with as
much of a fixation on his daughter – the manifestation of incestuous desire may
be fairly tame but it’s scarcely subtle – as he has on lining his pockets with
ill-gotten millions. Judith Chapman meanwhile is every bit his equal in the
contrasting roles of Jane and Heather and there’s some very efficient split
screen work served up on those occasions that she’s called upon to share the
screen with herself.
Grissmer also penned the script, based on an original story by Joseph
Weintraub, and if it’s not exactly thrill-a-minute stuff it certainly manages
to keep one engaged enough through a number of (mostly predictable) twists,
although for my money it badly fumbles the ball in the penultimate act with a
daft sequence in which one of the main characters descends into gibbering
you don’t go in expecting to be wowed, you shouldn’t come away too
disappointed. But the bottom line is that it’s always pleasing to see a movie
brought back from the brink of obscurity – for every naysayer there’s always
going to be someone else rejoicing – and for that reason alone Scalpel is well
worth a look.
this instance it’s the ever reliable Arrow Video breathing new life into the
borderline obscure and the package they’ve put together for Scalpel is very decent
indeed. There are two versions of film to choose from, one faithfully retaining
the original, rather off-putting yellowish-green hues of the
aforementioned cinematography, the other being Arrow’s own newly tweaked version
with the colour grading adjusted to attain a more naturalistic look; although
staunch traditionalists will favour the former, the latter makes the film more
palatable by far. Whichever you select, there’s the option to watch in the
company of a commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith. 45-minutes’
worth of all-new interviews with director John Grissmer, DOP Edward Lachman and
star Judith Chapman, a slideshow gallery of stills and artwork, plus a vintage
trailer combine to constitute the bonus goodies. A reversible sleeve and
collector’s booklet may be par for the course now with Arrow releases, but
they’re never less than welcome.
Cinema Retro's Mark Mawston takes you on the red carpet for the 2018 BAFTA Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London with some up close and personal photos of the celebs. (All photos copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved).
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at the festivities.
"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" took the top honors for Best Film and Best British Film at last nights BAFTA awards. The film also won best original screenplay for writer/director Martin McDonagh. Frances McDormand was awarded Best Actress and Sam Rockwell received Best Supporting Actor. Allison Janey won Best Supporting Actress for "I, Tonya". Gary Oldman, the odds-on favorite, won Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour". Guillermo del Toro received Best Director for "The Shape of Water". For complete list of winners, click here. For coverage of the ceremony, click here.
Mill Creek Entertainment has released a Jerry Lewis triple feature consisting of "3 on a Couch" (1966), "Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River" (1968) and "Hook, Line and Sinker" (1969). The films represent a mixed bag as Lewis entered middle age and tried to blend a more mature screen presence with his traditional persona of a lovable goofball.
"3 on a Couch" is leaden farce directed by Lewis, that presents him as Christopher Pride, an aspiring artist who wins a contest sponsored by the French government that will afford him to spend a month in Paris to contribute to a high profile project that could greatly enhance his career. Christopher is understandably over the moon about the prospect and shares the good news with his fiancee, Elizabeth (Janet Leigh), who he wants to join him on the trip. However, Elizabeth has a problem: she is a psychiatrist who is overseeing three emotionally vulnerable young women who are trying to cope with romantic relationships that have ended in heartbreak for them. They are completely dependent on her to cure them of their fear and loathing of men and Elizabeth can't justify taking off for a month because they have become so dependent upon her as both a mother figure and a confidant. Frustrated, Christopher devises an outlandish strategy in conjunction with his best friend Ben (James Best). He decides to adopt disguises as three different men, each of whom will attempt to woo one of the vulnerable young women and therefore restore their faith in the male of the species, thus allowing them to sever the ties to Elizabeth's therapy sessions. If you think it sounds absurd, wait until you see it all play out on screen. Christopher's alter egos consist of a fitness fanatic who will appeal to one of the patients who jogs and works out non-stop. Another is Ringo, a Texan who wears a ten-gallon hat and who perpetually chews on an unlit cigar while acting like a case of arrested development. The third persona is a fey, Truman Capote-type who lives with his protective sister (which also affords Lewis to play that role in drag.) The preposterous scenario doesn't hold up for a second, especially when each of the young women falls head over heels for these zany types, including the guy who appears to be gay. Go figure. The farce allows Lewis to indulge in his obsession with playing roles in various over-the-top disguises, none of which are the slightest bit amusing. The sight of Lewis in drag trying to shimmy out of stockings and corset is more disturbing than funny. The climax finds Christopher and Elizabeth being feted at a bon voyage party in her office as they prepare to sail for Paris. Predictably, all three young women decide to show up to see Elizabeth off, which ensures that Lewis has to frantically keep switching disguises to interact with each "girlfriend" so they don't catch on the ruse. The scene is ridiculous on several levels, the most obvious being that hundreds of people seem to be able to miraculously fit into this tiny office space. Lewis seems to have been inspired by the famed stateroom scene from "A Night at the Opera" but despite the frantic goings-on, the whole shebang falls flat as a pancake. Lewis plays it straight when in the role of the artist but chews the scenery mercilessly as the alter-egos. Likewise, James Best, who Lewis directs as though he is also on steroids. The three young women- Gila Golan, Leslie Parrish and Mary Ann Mobley- are reduced to air-headed females who define their entire lives by finding the right man. Only Janet Leigh retains her dignity and seems to be acting in a completely different film. The whole enterprise is excruciating throughout.
"Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River" seems to afford more promise. For one, it's based on a source novel by Max Wilk, who also wrote the screenplay. The film was also shot in England, which gives a Lewis production a refreshing change of pace. The movie's highlight is its opening credits sequence in which a nattily-clad Lewis jauntily walks through the streets of London, thus affording some good views of the city while a sappy title song unspools. Lewis plays George Lester, a self-made rich guy, who encounters a pretty young woman during his walk. She's Pamela (Jacqueline Pearce), who is quickly wooed by George and ends up marrying him. We then see a montage of what married life is like for her as George squanders his money taking them to exotic locations around the world in hare-brained schemes designed to develop new products that ultimately end in failure. Pamela decides to file for divorce, claiming that George's obsession with his business has left her feeling lonely and neglected. She's also being wooed by her divorce attorney, Dudley (Nicholas Parsons), a swanky, Savile Row-type who wants to succeed George as her next husband. Distraught, George decides to please his wife and win her back by converting their beloved country manor house to a combination Chinese restaurant and swinging discotheque. She is appalled, even though the place becomes a sensation and allows George to earn some much-needed money. The rest of the film centers on George's frantic and incredible strategies to win back Pamela and thwart his rival Dudley at the same time. Suffice it to say that Lewis once again gets to dress in outrageous disguises but, as in "3 on a Couch", none are amusing. The promising pairing of Lewis with Terry-Thomas as a con man he enlists in his scheme also falls flat as the plot meanders and plays out boringly under the leaden direction of Jerry Paris, who fared far better as a sitcom director. The only bright spots are a fine performance by Jacqueline Pearce and the occasional appearances of two of England's best comedic actors, Bernard Cribbins and Patricia Routledge. "Goldfinger" beauty Margaret Nolan appears as a dental assistant but is given nothing funny or memorable to do.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
There was great trepidation in the film industry about whether director Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk" would be able to attract large enough audiences to recoup its considerable production costs. After all, most movie-goers are young people and the most popular kinds of features are superhero epics and gross-out comedies, not historical epics. To the surprise of many, "Dunkirk" did indeed prove to be a major hit, grossing over $500 million worldwide.This proves that the intelligence and taste of younger movie-goers should not be underestimated and also that Nolan himself enjoys the kind of loyal following that few directors can brag about. His name on a film will draw audiences that might be immune from a certain movies if not for his involvement. "Dunkirk" has also won critical acclaim and is nominated for numerous Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. It's to Nolan's credit that he sought to bring this story to the screen during an era in which the average person is probably unacquainted with its historical significance, at least outside of Europe. That may be a sad reflection on society but it's all the more reason why Nolan should be commended for bringing the heroic saga to the spotlight.
"Dunkirk" relates the ominous period of time early in WWII when the British sent the bulk of its army as an expeditionary force into France to help stem the German invasion. At the time it was assumed that France had the strongest army in Europe. The recently -constructed heavily fortified Maginot Line was designed to be an impenetrable barrier to the German forces. Hitler decided to outflank the Allies by invading France through the back door in Belgium, plowing his tanks through the seemingly impassable Ardennes Forest, thus completely bypassing the Maginot Line and rendering its heavy artillery useless. The result was a rout for the Alllies and the bulk of the British army, along with French units, found itself trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. German forces could have moved in for the kill but made a major mistake by giving their exhausted units some down time, feeling that the Allies had no way to escape. Churchill issued an edict that called up any available vessel to make a desperate journey across the Channel under heavy fire and air attacks to rescue as many soldiers as possible. These gallant civilians pulled off the impossible by doing just that and rescuing the bulk of the 300,000 British troops on the beaches. French troops also made it out and joined the Free French units stationed in England under the command of DeGaulle. All of this makes for a highly compelling story but only fragments of it end up in Nolan's often admirable film. He provides virtually no historic context to the action seen on screen, which covers the battle from the viewpoint of individual soldiers as well as a small boat captained by an every day middle-aged Brit (Mark Rylance, in excellent form), his teenage son and his good friend. Aside from an opening series of captions informing the audience of the bare bones facts, no other overview of the dramatic occurrences is provided.
The film presents the battle scenes in spectacular and intense detail. You can feel the fear and confusion among the stranded troops and individual soldiers who attempt to use any means necessary to hitch a ride on the few overcrowded British Navy vessels that were available prior to the arrival of the civilian "fleet". The scenes inside the cockpit of the British Spitfire, one of only a few available in the battle to combat the constant German air attacks, are especially riveting. When a pilot has to ditch his plane in the ocean, he finds his cockpit is jammed and he may well drown. It's this type of harrowing scene that allows Nolan to ratchet up the suspense. However, it's Nolan the scriptwriter who undercuts the production on numerous occasions by failing to provide any emotional core to the film, with the exception of the scenes involving Rylance, which are genuinely moving. The rest of the characters are just relatively anonymous combatants of which we know nothing about personally. We can relate to their dilemma but unlike the similarly-themed "The Longest Day", we have little emotional resonance in them beyond the fact that we simply want them to survive. Nolan also fails to capitalize on the arrival of the civilian fleet, one of the most inspiring moments in military history, as it not only spared 300,000 lives, but also saved England- and thus the world- by allowing its fighting men to be able to resist Hitler's aggression. Nolan provides only a few fleeting shots of numerous boats approaching the Dunkirk beaches but the type of soaring emotional moment you might expect is rather watered-down.
There's much to admire in "Dunkirk". It's a big, ambitious war movie the likes of which we rarely see today. The aerial combat scenes are extraordinarily exciting and frightening. The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is outstanding and Hans Zimmer provides a thundering, impressive score. More importantly, it attempts to commemorate a battle in which the British people turned a massive defeat into a tremendous victory. It's good filmmaking, but it never soars as high as you might expect and want it to.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Director Luca Guadagnino's "Call Me by Your Name" has been winning plaudits from critics and has earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The lyrical love story between two closeted gay men is set in Italy in 1983.Timothée Chalamet plays Elio, a 17 year-old Jewish-American high school student who is also of Italian heritage. He lives a seemingly idyllic life in a villa located in rural Italy. He's a brilliant student, able to converse in multiple languages and also displays stunning musical talents.His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor of archaeology who annually invites a graduate student to spend six weeks at the villa to assist in cataloging materials pertaining to excavations of historical finds. This year's student is Oliver (wonderfully played by Armie Hammer), a hunky, charismatic American who arrives at the villa and takes over Elio's bedroom, thus evicting Elio to an adjoining room. Whatever resentments Elio is feeling about being summarily moved from his own bedroom vanish when he lays eyes on Oliver. Elios, we learn, is hiding a secret: he's gay. Despite the fact that he is a popular figure in the small, intimate circle of his high school friends, he is actually a lonely, frustrated person with seemingly no outlet for romantic desires. He plays the game of acting straight and even has an attractive French girlfriend, Marzia (Esther Garrel) but he only has eyes for Oliver. Elios suspects Oliver may also be gay but ponders whether certain subtle gestures are actually acts of flirtation or just figments of his imagination. His doubts grow when Oliver predictably becomes the object of desire among local young women- and Oliver seems to be enthused about capitalizing on their intentions. Much of the early stages of the film concentrate on Elios trying to decipher Oliver's sexuality and whether he should make an overt pass at him. Ultimately, his question is answered when the two spend an afternoon together in the countryside. What follows is a carefully choreographed scenario in which the two try to maximize their time together without raising suspicions of those around them. Within a short time both realize that their relationship is one of genuine love, not just lust. They also realize that it is inevitably doomed as the clock ticks down to the day Oliver must return to America.
"Call Me by Your Name" (which boasts a grand total of twenty producers/executive producers) is a highly emotional love story that unspools over a leisurely running time of 132 minutes. That would ordinarily seem overlong but the laid back pace keeps in-synch with the lazy atmosphere of the Italian setting, where no one seems to be in a hurry and everyone is enjoying la dolce vita. The running time also allows director Guadagnino to fully develop not only the two main characters, but the supporting figures as well. It's a marvelous collection of diverse people, thanks to screenwriter James Ivory and source novelist Andre Aciman. The film succeeds on all levels. The acting is superb throughout with even minor roles expertly portrayed. The real triumph is that of Chalamet, who delivers a finely-tuned portrayal of a teenager who not only has to cope with the usual psychological challenges of being on the verge of adulthood, but who also must suppress his sexuality. Both his father and mother (Amira Casar) defy stereotypes in scenarios such as this by being progressive and sympathetic to their son. Both can instantly see the mutual attraction between Elios and Oliver and conspicuously try to afford them the maximum amount of time together. The film has numerous scenes that are highly moving and emotional, one of which is a long talk between father and son in which Elios's dad delivers a life-affirming talk to Elios that makes it clear he is accepted and loved for who he is. It's superbly enacted by Michael Stuhlbarg, who probably should have received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. There is also a wonderful score that incorporates classically-styled works with contemporary rock. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is tantalizing enough to make you book the next flight to Italy. What is refreshing about the film is the lack of contrived crisis points one would expect to see pretentiously introduced into the story. Instead, everyone in the film is a good person. No artificial crisis is introduced aside from the inevitable parting of the lovers, which does pack a tremendous punch in a "Bridges of Madison County" kind of way. The film's haunting final image of Elios is extraordinary. You must stay through it and not leave the theater, even as the credits role over the image.
After decades of gay characters being either ignored completely in films or used as objects of ridicule or derision, it's satisfying to see we've finally reached a point where a same-sex love story can be presented in a mature, intelligent manner that will appeal to mainstream audiences. "Call Me by Your Name" is the epitome of an art house movie but with the strong reviews and word-of-mouth it is generating, the film is exhibiting significant cross-over appeal. Highly recommended.
1980s were a decade of many cultural phenomenon such as the teen angst film,
the splatter horror film, the zombie films, and of course the teen sex comedy.
Bob Clark’s Porky’s (1981) was a huge
success both financially and artistically. To this day it’s still one of the funniest
movies ever made. Many of today’s best-known actors cut their teeth in such
fare: Tom Hanks attended an out-of-control Bachelor
Party (1984) and even Johnny Depp and Rob Morrow checked into a Private Resort (1985). Stanley Donen,
best known for directing Singin’ in the
Rain (1952), Funny Face (1957), Charade (1963), and Arabesque (1966), followed up the boring and disastrous Saturn 3 (1980) with Blame It on Rio, a peculiar entry in his
otherwise illustrious career. Jennifer (Michelle Johnson) is a pulchritudinous seventeen-year-old
who lusts after her father Victor’s (Joseph Bologna) best friend Matthew
(Michael Caine), a man roughly twenty-five years her senior (in reality there
is a thirty-two year difference between Caine and Johnson). The situation can
only be characterized as “creepy” and “inappropriate” since she has known him
her whole life and refers to him as “Uncle Matthew”.
the start we know that Matthew and his wife Karen (Valerie Harper) are
estranged when Karen drops a bombshell that she’s going on vacation by herself which
forces Matthew and their daughter Nikki (Demi Moore) to fly to Rio by
themselves with Victor and Jennifer. Almost from the outset Jennifer is pining
for Matthew, hitting the beach in nothing but a bikini bottom, her abundant
assets in full display to the dismay of her father. Despite Matthew’s vehement
protests, she insists that she loves him and only wants to be with him. Men her
own age simply don’t appeal to her. It becomes obvious by the film’s end that
Matthew is starting to fall for her (he’s still married to Karen), but one of
the biggest problems with the film is its characterization of Jennifer. Ms.
Johnson, who was hired by Mr. Donen following his discovery of her in W magazine, portrays Jennifer as she was
written: immature and unstable. By the film’s end, Jennifer commits a truly
awful act that is glossed over in the standard Hollywood fashion. It turns out
that she may be a little more dangerous than Matthew ever would have imagined.
Rio, which opened on Friday, February 17, 1984 just after
Valentine’s Day (yes, 34 years ago, Good Heavens), boasts a fairly provocative
advertising campaign featuring a woman’s rear view donning a bikini and it
became frequent viewing on cable television following its theatrical run. The
film is a loose remake of the 1977 French film Un Moment D'égarement (In a Wild Moment) by Claude Berrie, made years
before he made Jean de Flourette and Manon des Sources, which director Donen
and his then-wife Yvette Mimieux had seen and decided to option for a remake. Ironically,
it was made yet again in 2015 with Vincent Cassel and François Cluzet and
directed by Jean-François Richet and retained the original titre français.
Michael Coate of the Digital Bits website has once again assembled film historians, including Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer, to weigh in on a classic movie: in this case, the original "Planet of the Apes", which marks the 50th anniversary of its initial release. Click here to read their observations about the film and its legacy.
Time/Life has been releasing a treasure trove of golden oldies relating to classic TV series. The latest comprises of four episodes of "The Jackie Gleason Show" that have been unseen since their original air dates in 1968-69. Gleason had become an icon by the early 1950s. His variety show for CBS was a national sensation and it was on there that he introduced "The Honeymooners" as an occasional sketch of varying lengths. He would later turn the scenario into a classic stand-alone sitcom that lasted for thirty nine glorious episodes. Gleason had numerous incarnations of his variety series. By the mid-1960s, he was still as king at CBS, which also laid claim to Ed Sullivan's equally popular variety show. Gleason used his clout to relocate his show to Miami Beach ("The sun and fun capital of the world!", he would assure his audience every week.) Gleason's love affair with the city helped increase tourism and paved the way for a burgeoning film and TV industry there. He always assured his audience that they were the greatest in the world, and it's hard to argue with that. Even his lamest sketches and jokes on the variety show bring down the house. A one man show business powerhouse, Gleason also succeeded on the big screen, in stage productions and also as a composer and conductor of romantic tunes that saw his albums improbably sell millions. Gleason revived "The Honeymooners" in the latest incarnation of his variety series, albeit with the roles of the female characters were recast. Gone were the beloved Audrey Meadows who played Alice, the wife of Gleason's Ralph Kramden. So too was Joyce Randolph replaced as Trixie, wife of Ralph's best friend, Ed Norton (Art Carney). In their place were Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean. Again, the "Honeymooners" sketches would vary in length but were a key ingredient in maintaining Gleason's high ratings.
The Time/Life release showcases "The Honeymooners" in three of the episodes. Gleason, like Howard Hawks, was unapologetic about recycling plots from his earlier works. Thus, one of the "Honeymooners" sketches is a loose remake of an episode from the 1950s in which Ralph mistakes a dog's dire health report from a veterinarian for his own diagnosis. The sketches are reasonably funny but the recasting of they key roles of the wives simply doesn't work very well, as we are so used to seeing Meadows and Randolph in these roles. Also, the cramped Kramden apartment looks cavernous on a Miami soundstage in color. The rest of the variety show episodes follow a pattern: Gleason is introduced and strolls on stage, dressed to the nines and looking like a million bucks. He chain smokes cigarettes as he jokes with the audience, then participates in bantering with his first guest. On these programs, Red Buttons appears in three of these opening acts with Gleason. Other guests include Frankie Avalon singing a kitschy version of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", Milton Berle in a long, belabored comedy bit with Gleason that seems endless and unfunny, Phil Silvers in a rare stand-up appearance, future "Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson, Edie Adams, Morey Amsterdam, Jan Murray, and, most amusingly, Nipsey Russell and an impossibly young George Carlin. The humor is clean and mainstream. Despite the tumultuous political situation going on during this period, there are just a few lightweight cracks about outgoing President Johnson and incoming President Nixon. The most politically incorrect jokes pertain to Gleason's penchant for self-deprecating remarks about his girth Today, he wouldn't be allowed to refer to himself as fat, but would probably have to say he's "vertically challenged." The episodes don't have consistent running times because the famed June Taylor Dancers, who performed on every show, are nowhere to be found, presumably due to rights issues- although they are mentioned in every introduction. The quality of the episodes is very good and one is impressed to realize just how few commercials viewers were subjected to in the good old days. Today, a show seems to consist primarily of ads with a few breaks for entertainment content. Although much of the humor in this set is rather dated and predictable, it is admittedly irresistible to watch all these great talents at various stages of their careers. We don't have variety shows any more in the traditional sense and we certainly don't have anyone of the stature of Jackie Gleason, who was a true "Man for All Seasons".
The late Joe Sarno was a pioneer in the "art" of producing, writing and directing New York sexploitation films. What set Sarno apart from many of his peers is that he attempted to bring a degree of integrity to his work by providing reasonably compelling story lines. This was especially true in the 1960s when the mainstreaming of adult films was becoming the norm in big cities, even as rural America was seemingly in a frenzy to do battle with the people who made them. Vinegar Syndrome has released a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD of one of Sarno's most ambitious projects, "Red Roses of Passion". Filmed in New York in late 1966, the film had a checkered theatrical release over the next couple of years. The B&W film is unusual for adult fare of the era because it delves into a plot that centers on the supernatural. Carla (Patricia McNair) is a rebellious young woman who is living with her cousin and aunt. She is bored to death by her aunt's conservative lifestyle and her cousin's plain vanilla boyfriend, who is always held up as the epitome of the responsible man to have in your life. Carla certainly wants a man in her life...seemingly any man but each time she sneaks a potential lover back to her room, her aunt thwarts her plans for an erotic evening. Carla's friend Enid convinces her to visit a fortune teller she has been frequenting, Martha. Carla complies and is suitably impressed when Martha is able to divulge personal information about Carla she could not possibly have known otherwise. Still, Martha is a strange one: humorless, dominating and demanding. Carla realizes that Martha is the mistress of the Cult of Pan, an erotic secret society that meets to engage in sex rites. A group of young women don see-through lingerie and indulge in all sorts of exotic rituals culminating in sipping "The Wine of Pan" and rubbing roses on each other. The combination of the two rituals brings the women to orgasmic pleasure before they offer themselves to "Pan"- who is, in reality, Martha's creepy brother who hides behind a curtain until it's time to preside over an orgy in which he is the only male. When no other women are around, Pan considers his own sister to be fair game.
In a scenario worthy of a "Twilight Zone" episode, Carla asks Martha if she can do anything to mitigate her aunt and cousin's prudish behavior. Martha instructs her to put some drops of Pan's Wine into their tea, which she does. Soon, a mysterious messenger arrives delivering a single rose to her aunt, who immediately begins rubbing it all over her body in a sex-crazed frenzy. Her daughter is appalled- until she gets the urge to do the same. Before long, the women are bonafide nymphomaniacs. Worse, they compete with each other to seduce the delivery man, who is, in fact, Pan. At one point mom and daughter engage in a rolling cat fight, clad only in their bras and panties. Before long they are having threesomes with men and trawling the back alleys to have sex with any available male. The action spills over back into their home where orgies become regular occurrences in their living room, giving an all new meaning to what a shag rug really means. Carla, meanwhile, is suffering pangs of guilt. She tells Martha she never meant to ruin the women's lives and pleads to have the spell broken. Martha said she can do so- but only if Carla agrees to be one of Pan's sex slaves forever.
After falling under Pan's spell, mother and daughter are compelled to compete with each other for lovers.
"Red Roses of Passion" isn't a hardcore sex film but it's content was pretty edgy for 1966- especially with scenes of mom and daughter both seducing the same lover (even "The Graduate"'s Benjamin didn't manage that with Mrs Robinson and her daughter at the same time.) The Satanic aspect of the script makes for a genuinely entertaining experience, thanks in no small part to the crisp cinematography of Anthony Lover (that's his real name. Honest.) One must view a film like this in context. Sarno had virtually no money, no professional actors and had to confine most of the shooting to interiors because the complications of filming on the streets of New York were too fraught with difficulties. Some of the performances are predictably amateurish but others are surprisingly effective. Sarno kills plenty of time by lingering too long on some of the rituals of the scantily clad women flaying each other with single stem roses but in the aggregate the movie is an impressive achievement. I should also mention that the music (not credited) also adds to the atmosphere with a strain that sounds similar to "The Third Man Theme" used sporadically to good effect.
The only bonus feature is a video interview with Sarno biographer and friend Michael Bowen, who provides plenty of interesting detail about Sarno's prolific career and the early days of shooting adult films in New York.
The Vinegar Syndrome transfer is excellent and it's too bad Sarno isn't around to enjoy seeing a first class presentation of his impressive "B" movie.
This is a limited edition of only 2,000 units. Click here to order from Amazon.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
By Raymond Benson
"Pray for Rosemary's Baby..."
tag line for Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror classic is an example of brilliant
marketing.Until it was created,
Paramount’s head of the studio, Robert Evans, admits not knowing how to sell
the picture.Yes, it’s a horror film,
but not like anything we’ve seen.Yes,
it’s produced by William Castle, the schlock-meister who was famous for B-movie
scare flicks utilizing gimmicks such as the selling of insurance policies in
the theater lobby for patrons who feared they’d be scared to death.But the film is also an ingenious thriller
outside of the horror genre; a crime story, in many ways, about a cult that
drugs and rapes a woman for fiendish purposes.The subject is taken seriously, despite an undercurrent of dark
humor.It was also very adult and frank
for its time, and it had the potential to offend some audiences.Indeed, how does one sell that in the late
sixties?The tag line intrigued enough
people that it worked, for Rosemary’s
Baby was a hit and the picture still resonates today.
was Polanski’s first American film, and it remains an essential entry in his oeuvre.His early trademark style was doing a Hitchcock but taking it a few
steps farther into more bizarre, creepy-crawly, and supernatural territory.That’s on full display in Rosemary’s Baby.We’d had devil movies before, but nothing as
realistically-portrayed as this one.It
certainly held the reign of Satan movies until The Exorcist came along five years later.In my book, it’s the better of the two.AFI is well justified in naming Rosemary’s Baby in their “Top Thrills”
top ten list.
brilliantly directed and written, a good deal of credit for the success of the
film goes to the excellent cast.Mia
Farrow has never been better as Rosemary.John Cassavetes is dead-on as the frustrated actor/husband who literally
makes a deal with the devil.Ruth
Gordon, the multiple award winner for the picture, is a revelation.She brings much of the necessary comic relief
to the proceedings, for the film is an exemplary model of tension-building to a
usual, the Criterion Collection does a magnificent job.Polanski approved the new, restored digital
transfer, and it looks marvelous. Extras include a new documentary featuring
interviews with Polanski, Farrow, and Robert Evans.Original novel author Ira Levin is showcased
in a 1997 radio interview and original drawings and other prose in the enclosed
booklet.Also of interest is a
feature-length documentary about the film’s talented jazz composer, Krzysztof
John Gavin, a long-time Hollywood star who gravitated into a career in politics, has died at age 86 following some bouts with ill health. Gavin, a former U.S. Naval Intelligence officer, entered the acting profession in the mid-1950s, an era in which Hollywood studios were looking for beefcake type leading men. Gavin fit the bill with his handsome looks and impressive physique. It wasn't long before he was scoring prominent roles in major films such as "A Time to Love and a Time to Die" and "Imitation of Life". Alfred Hitchcock cast him as the heroic leading man in his 1960 "Psycho" and he was seen on screen the same year playing Julius Caesar in "Spartacus". Despite his good looks and competent acting skills, however, the major roles began to dry up. Gavin would still score some prominent parts in major productions like "Thoroughly Modern Millie" but most of his leading roles were increasingly found in "B" movies and low-budget European films. Gavin seemed to land a major break when producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman signed him to play James Bond following George Lazenby's departure from the series after only one film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in 1969. The plan was for Gavin to star in the next two 007 films, "Diamonds are Forever" and "Live and Let Die". However, United Artists head of production David Picker had second thoughts about the deal and against all odds convinced Sean Connery to return to the role for "Diamonds are Forever". When Connery made it clear he had no interest in continuing in the role beyond the one film, the producers bypassed Gavin again and offered Roger Moore the role of Bond in "Live and Let Die".
Despite his near-miss with the Bond franchise, Gavin had a fascinating second career in the offing. He was partially of Mexican heritage and had followed U.S-Mexican political and trade relations closely. When Ronald Reagan took the office as President in 1981, he was impressed by Gavin's background and the fact that he had served for two years as president of the Screen Actors Guild, a union that Reagan once served as president of. He appointed Gavin as U.S. ambassador to Mexico. The move was met with derision in Mexico and America, with concerns being cited that Gavin's background as an actor meant he would simply be attractive window dressing instead of a legitimate diplomat. It mirrored concerns Reagan had to endure from critics who felt his career in Hollywood would make him a lightweight President. In his role as ambassador, Gavin was criticized by the Mexican government for his frequent absences from the country. He also caused stirs by calling on the government to crack down on the drug trade, corruption and the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S. He was championed in conservative circles in America for doing so. He received high marks for some of his economic policies with Mexico even though he was still often a lightning rod for controversy. Gavin left politics in 1986 to enter private business, where he enjoyed considerable success. He is survived by his wife, actress Constance Towers, and children, stepchildren and grandchildren. For more click here.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Who would have imagined that amid the debris of over-produced super hero movies, Winston Churchill would emerge as a major figure in films released in 2017? The woefully underrated "Churchill" (click here for review) was first out of the box, chronicling the British Prime minister's tumultuous inner-grappling with the pending D-Day invasion, which he supported but dissented from Eisenhower and Montgomery as to where and when the great armada should land. (History happily proved his instincts wrong.) Brian Cox gave a magnificent portrayal of Churchill that was largely overlooked by critics and the public. Churchill's specter also looms largely over Best Picture nominee "Dunkirk", as it was he who ordered the evacuation of stranded British troops by an improvised "fleet" of private vessels, small and large. The second Churchill biopic, "Darkest Hour", has won raves for Joe Wright's direction, Anthony McCarten's script and the towering performance of Gary Oldman as Churchill. The role is one that any fine actor would relish but there are dangers in portraying the man, as the line between accuracy and playing a cartoon version is a thin one. Oldman succeeds brilliantly, capturing Churchill's many character flaws as well as his strengths. The movie confines itself to Churchill's uneasy ascension to being Prime Minister, a lifelong dream achieved under less-than-optimum circumstances. His successor, Neville Chamberlain (a superb Ronald Pickup, who bears an astonishing resemblance to the man) has been removed from office for failing to adequately stand up to Hitler's advances through Europe. (It was Chamberlain who had met with Hitler and proudly waved a meaningless treaty that promised "Peace in our time.) Churchill is no one's first choice to lead the nation in the coming struggle. He's regarded by his peers as temperamental, eccentric and questionable in terms of wisdom, with his disastrous WWI campaign at Gallipoli still haunting the nation. Furthermore, King George VI had little confidence in the decision to elevate Churchill to PM, but relented and gave approval only when it became clear that there was little choice.
The film traces Churchill's dilemma in those early days of the war. Things looked grim, indeed. Churchill knew it was essential for America to enter the conflict but, prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the nation was in isolationist mode. In one of the most poignant scenes in "Darkest Hour", Churchill pleads over the phone with FDR for assistance, but the president explains his hands are tied by a congress that wants to remain neutral. The biggest crisis he faces is that France is rapidly falling to advancing German forces, leaving the cream of the British army stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk and awaiting annihilation. The movie painstakingly chronicles Churchill's inner struggles in dealing with the crisis. His first instincts are to resist until the end, giving his famous speech that the British people will fight on no matter where the enemy confronts them. However, he is under severe pressure from Chamberlain and Halifax to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler, an alternative that disgusts him but which seems practical to Parliament. The film gains tension even though we know how it all played out in the end. Churchill comes up with a desperate plan to enlist every available ship in the private sector to form a mini armada across the Channel to rescue the stranded troops. Before the operation can be completed, however, Churchill begins to cave and consider the option of a peace plan. This is where the script goes off kilter with a completely fictional scene in which Churchill gets a sudden desire to read the will of the people about their resolve to fight on. He jumps out of his limousine and makes an impromptu ride on the London Underground, chatting with astonished passengers and being reassured they support his strategy not to negotiate with Hitler. The scene is emotionally moving, but preposterous and more than a bit corny. Making matters worse, Churchill is only supposed to be on the train for a single stop but the journey seems longer than the one experienced by the people traveling to Siberia in "Doctor Zhivago". Bolstered by the resolve of the public, Churchill walks straight in to Parliament and gives an impassioned speech that rallies friends and foes alike. His judgment is ratified by the ultimate success of the Dunkirk operation, which turned a bitter defeat into a triumph.
The historical hokum presented in "Darkest Hour" is frustrating because it undermines the entire film. Why create a scene that so simplifies history when the real life scenario was even more dramatic? Nevertheless, there is much to admire in the film aside from Oldman's superb performance. Every supporting actor delivers the goods, with Ben Mendelsohn particularly good as King George. Unfortunately, Kristin Scott Thomas is largely reduced to a figurehead as Churchill's wife Clemmie. In "Churchill', the character, played by Miranda Richardson, engaged in constant contentious situations with her husband, which mirrored their real-life marriage. In "Darkest Hour", Clemmie simply smiles a lot and reassures ol' Winnie that things will be just fine. Despite the film's flaws, "Darkest Hour" is an engaging and admirable effort that should be seen. It has many virtues aside from the fact that it's probably sent the sale of cigars soaring.
("Darkest Hour" is nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture).
The Daily Mail has a fascinating feature that explores the film sets still standing in the desert region of Almeria, Spain, where countless movies were shot over the decades. Although the region is largely associated with the "Spaghetti Western" genre that came into full bloom in the 1960s with Sergio Leone's "Man With No Name" trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, many other major films were shot in the area. They include "Lawrence of Arabia", "Cleopatra", "Play Dirty", "100 Rifles", "El Condor" "How I Won the War", "Patton" and "The Hill", to name but a few. While some locations have faded due to abandonment and neglect, others are still thriving and host hoards of film-crazy tourists.
a film that’s been in public domain for decades and is available on dozens of
different poor-quality DVD labels and free to download from Internet, it’s
somewhat surprising that The Criterion Collection would pull out the stops to
offer an undoubtedly pricier option to own the movie with this lavish 2-disk
extravaganza of gore. (There is a precedent, however—Criterion did the same
thing with the out-of-copyright Carnival
get me wrong… this is a very welcome roll-out. What’s unique about Criterion’s
excellent package is that it features a new 4K digital restoration of the
original theatrical release (not the previously go-to “30th
Anniversary Edition” released years ago and that had been recut a little), and
it’s supervised by co-screenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R.
Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner (sadly, director George Romero is no
longer with us, or there’s no doubt he would have been involved). There’s also
a new restoration of the monaural soundtrack, that was supervised by Romero, and Gary Streiner, and presented
uncompressed. There are also two separate audio commentaries from 1994
featuring Romero, Russo, actor Judith O’Dea, and others.
this means is that you’ll be viewing the most pristine, best-sounding,
razor-sharp edition of Night of the
Living Dead that you’ve ever seen.
you don’t know the film, where have you been? It’s one of the most iconic
low-budget, independently-produced horror films ever made. The shoestring
budget was $114,000, and Romero utilized unknown stage actors, as well as
extras from nearby Evans City, Pennsylvania, where the exteriors were shot. It
basically kick-started the “walking dead” genre, although that term and the
word “zombie” is never used in the movie. They’re referred to as “ghouls.”
1968, the picture was ground-breaking, daring, and controversial. Many critics
trashed it for being too gory, even though it’s in black-and-white. Some
countries banned it. Released just prior to when the MPAA ratings were unveiled
in the USA, it was exhibited unadulterated to kids at a Saturday matinee—which
most likely provided a lifelong set of nightmares for these poor individuals.
After the ratings were instituted, the film was rated “X” for some time, until
eventually this was downgraded to “R.”
envelope-pushing aspect was the casting of African-American Duane Jones as the lead. This was unheard-of in those days
unless it was a Sidney Poitier Hollywood movie. This gave the film a
not-so-subtle subtext about racism, since Jones is battling all-white ghouls as
well as his all-white fellow survivors trapped in an abandoned house. Romero
always said he didn’t intend it that way—he cast Jones simply because he “gave
the best audition.”
story is simple—due to radioactive fallout from a satellite that exploded in
space, the dead are rising and feasting on the living. It’s a national
emergency. A small group of very frightened and often irrational men and women,
and one young teenaged girl, are holed-up in a farmhouse while the ghouls spend
the run-time of the movie trying to get at them.
yes, it’s scary, suspenseful, and contains many scenes daring you not to turn
your head away.
release contains a treasure trove of supplements. The crown jewel of these is
the early 16mm work print edit of the film, originally titled Night of Anubis. There are several new
features, including interviews with directors Guillermo Del Toro, Robert
Rodriguez, and Frank Darabont about the movie, of John Russo discussing the
genesis of the picture at the industrial film company where the filmmakers were
working, and pieces with Gary Streiner and Russell Streiner. Particularly
interesting are the new interviews with some the ghoul-extras as they are
today, a piece on the film’s style, and—particularly instructional for film
students—a documentary on how Romero and team turned low-budget inadequacies
into assets. There are archival interviews with Romero and actor Judith O’Dea,
and others. An audio interview with the late Duane Jones is exceptionally
poignant and enlightening. Then there are the trailers, the radio spots, the TV
spots, and an essay in the booklet by critic Stuart Klawans.
again, The Criterion Collection has rolled out a red carpet, this time for
living dead people, and the results are outstanding. Highly recommended.
Athena Video has released "The Rise of the Nazi Party", a three disc DVD set comprised of all ten episodes from the acclaimed British documentary series that was telecast in the USA under the title "Nazis: Evolution of Evil". The fascination with Adolf Hitler and his criminal regime seems to only increase with time. While the documentaries cover well-worn turf, what makes this presentation notable is that the narrative concentrates on the inner workings of the Nazi party and the interaction between its key figures. The series uses dramatic recreations of major events interwoven with an abundance of actual newsreel footage and photographs. Clearly, a sizable sum had been spent on production values. The series interweaves contemporary footage of German locations with the historical films. While the notion is somewhat innovative, the shifting between old and new scenes can be somewhat distracting. That's about the only gripe, however. "The Rise of the Nazi Party" is a fascinating look at how a group of misfits, scoundrels and sadists rose to dominate one of the world's great nations. The series begins with the aftermath of WWI and correctly points out that the greed of the victorious Allied nations ironically helped nurture the rise of right wing extremism practiced by Hitler. The Allies insisted that German pay reparations for the war and the notorious Treaty of Versailles placed such onerous financial burdens on the German people that it risked turning the entire nation into a Third World country. The staggering debt was seen as a cash cow, particularly by Britain and France, the Allied countries that had suffered the most from the conflict. (Incredibly, Germany only recently made the final payments on its war debt.) Because WWI was such a senseless conflict caused by so many vague factors, the German people resented having the entire blame placed on them. As the financial situation in Germany worsened, hyperinflation devalued the German mark to the point where a loaf of bread could cost millions. Simultaneously, as the documentary points out, the Germans suffered another indignity when France sent armed legions to Germany's industrial region to occupy the territory and appropriate the revenues from factories. It was amid such a period of crisis that Adolf Hitler first became known. A decorated hero in the war, Hitler resented the military brass that had signed the Treaty of Versailles and in some warped fashion believed that a cabal of influential Jews were behind the strategy. His inexplicable but rabid anti-Semitism would characterize the entire Nazi movement. Even in its dying days, Hitler had the Nazi regime allocate enormous resources to continue his attempts to exterminate an entire people.
The documentary traces Hitler's first association with fringe groups who were calling for an overthrow of the weak Weimar Republic, a democratic government that had been imposed by the Allies but which had lost the confidence of the German people. Within a short time, the charismatic Hitler becomes the leader of the dissidents and moves to unite the fractions among them into the National Socialist Party. His first attempt to take the nation in a violent coup fails and he is imprisoned. However, behind bars he turns himself into a martyr to his cause by writing his influential memoir, Mein Kampf. When he emerges from jail, Hitler realizes the way to power is to bide his time and go through legal means. The Nazis grow in numbers and in strength but the everyday German doesn't believe they can ever win national offices. They were wrong. During the pivotal election cycle, the average German is lethargic and stays home from the polls while Hitler's fanatical followers turn out in droves. The Nazis become a major factor in the German political landscape. Ultimately, Hitler is appointed Chancellor under the aging but beloved President, von Hindenburg. Knowing that taking action against this national icon would backfire, he bides his time until von Hinderburg's death. He then appoints himself supreme leader of the nation, citing the need for a strong man with extraordinary powers to take on the many crisis facing Germany. The German reichstag all but votes themselves out of any meaningful power beyond being a body of "rubber-stampers" for Hitler's legislation. Within a short period of time, Hitler makes good on his promises. He authorizes massive public work projects that not only wipe out unemployment but also result in the nation having the most modern road system in the world. Worker's wages are raised and the average person's living standards rise appreciably. Hitler becomes a beloved icon. However, the dark side of this success is Hitler's calculated ability to split the population into "us" and "them", the latter being "undesirable" minorities, especially the Jews. He passes the Nuremberg Laws that effectively deprive German Jews of all civil rights- and it only gets worse from there. By rewarding Aryans with a good lifestyle, he correctly gambles that the average German won't do much to protest the persecution of the Jews. By the time he is committing wholesale genocide, many Germans are repulsed but are powerless to stop him. Hitler's obsession for expanding Germany's borders into Czechoslovakia and Austria are achieved without firing a shot, despite having blatantly violated the Treaty of Versailles. However, he miscalculates the Allies with his invasion of Poland, as evidenced by France and England declaring war. Hitler's fate is ultimately sealed when he makes the ill-advised decision to declare war on America in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He is now fighting an industrial giant with seemingly unlimited resources. This factor, coupled with his betrayal of the Soviet Union, it is only a matter of time before Germany is defeated.
The documentary also explores Hitler's love life (or lack thereof) and his obsession with his half-niece, who ultimately committed suicide, possibly because of his dictatorial control over her life. The show also delves into the rise of Hitler's top right hand men: Himmler, Goering, Goebbels and others. Among them is Ernst Rohm, an early supporter of Hitler who built his private body guard, the Brownshirts, into a major military force that virtually equaled the German army. In a sign of the backbiting that would characterize the Nazi brass, Hitler is manipulated by others into believing that Rohm is planning a coup. Thus, Hitler personally leads a raiding party on Rohm and his top men at a vacation resort where they are holding a conference. (It was actually a ruse for Rohm and his homosexual lovers to engage in sexual activities that Hitler felt were appalling for a true Aryan to participate in.) He orders his old friend to be executed. It would serve as a boiler plate for the inner rivalries and paranoia among his confidants that would dominate is reign as Fuhrer. (In the dying days of the Reich, both Himmler and Goering would betray Hitler by each presenting himself as the new Fuhrer and hoping to sue for peace.)
The purpose of the series is not to present the history of WWII. Certain major elements are covered in detail: the Holocaust, the disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union, the attempted assassinations against Hitler, the manipulation of Chamberlain at Munich, etc. However, other key events such as the invasion of Poland, the Hitler/Stalin pact and the fall of France are barely mentioned. The episodes are mostly concerned with the psyche of the Nazi brass. All of it is set to the pitch perfect narration of Joseph Kloska, who provides the necessary tone of gravitas. (Inexcusably, none of the actors who are seen throughout the entire series merit even a mention in the end credits.) There are the usual "talking heads" who provide analysis of the subject matter and these scholars are particularly interesting throughout. The final episode, "Aftermath", is one of the most compelling as it explores the breakout of the Cold War in the immediate aftermath of Germany's defeat. The Nuremberg Trials are covered in considerable detail and the episode bluntly addresses the decision by the United States to recruit notorious Nazi war criminals and whitewash their pasts in order to benefit from the technological knowledge these people had in the areas of science and espionage. (Wernher von Braun, who developed the first rocket technology, had the blood of thousands of slave laborers on his hands yet his indisputably built America's space program.)
The entire series is compelling throughout and will provide new perspectives for even the most devout WWII scholars. The set includes a booklet that features biographies of key Nazis along with a useful timeline of their rise and fall from power.
If there is a lesson to be learned from all of this, it's that when people in democracies are too lethargic to vote or become involved in the political process, the worst elements of society may one day seize power.
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I initially saw "Cops and Robbers" on its theatrical release in 1973. Strangely, I retained no memories of the film whatsoever except a few bars of the catchy title theme song by Michel Legrand. I say "strangely" because, upon watching the film's Blu-ray debut through Kino Lorber Studio Classics, I found the movie to be terrifically entertaining. Perhaps it's because terrifically entertaining films were a dime a dozen back in the 1970s that this particular movie didn't resonate with me at the time. Nevertheless, watching it today, it has a great many pleasures, not the least of which is two leading actors who were not familiar faces at the time, thus allowing the viewer to not have any preconceptions about their mannerisms or previous roles. The film was shot in New York City during a long period of urban decay. Poverty and crime were rising and the infrastructure was crumbling as the city came perilously close to declaring bankruptcy. It's a far cry from today's New York but at the time one benefit of all this chaos was that it inspired filmmakers to take advantage of the somber landscape and use it as fodder for some memorable films. Michael Winner's "Death Wish" and Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" administered the cinematic coup de grace, painting a picture of Gotham as a foreboding urban jungle. This was always overstated, of course, as there was never a period in which New York was in danger of losing its reputation as the most exciting city on earth. However, the grime and grit certainly did much to tarnish its reputation for a good number of years.
Among the films that represented this era was the little-remembered "Cops and Robbers", which is an offbeat entry in the genre of "dirty cop" movies that became popular during the 1970s. The twist is that, unlike the exploits of larger-than-life cops such as Dirty Harry or Popeye Doyle, this film centers on the day-to-day frustrations of two every day patrolmen - Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna)- trying to cope with the frustrations of risking their lives for a salary of $43 a day. We watch as they car pool from their cramped suburban housing units to Manhattan, a daily trek of seemingly endless traffic jams that they must endure in the sweltering heat. (Yes, kiddies, most of us working class clods didn't have air conditioning in our cars in the 1970s.) Their familiar grind includes wrestling with mentally unstable people, watching fellow officers getting shot and having an ungrateful populace take them for granted. With wives and kids to provide for, they are at the end of their ropes. One day, Joe casually confesses to Tom that he recently walked into a liquor store in full uniform and held the place up at gunpoint. He only got a couple of hundred dollars, but was amazed at how easy it was to get away with- largely because everyone assumed the culprit was someone disguised as a New York City police officer. After all, although corruption was widespread even in this post-Serpico period, it was mostly carried out discreetly through payoffs and freebies. New York City cops did not commit overt robberies while on the job. Tom is initially appalled, but is also mesmerized by the prospect of using their positions of trust to carry out an even grander robbery: one that would put them on East Street for the rest of their lives. Using a disguise, Tom visits the domain of a local mob kingpin and discloses he and his partner are genuine members of the NYPD- and they want his help to work out a scam that will net both cops $1 million each. They are told to rob untraceable securities in the amount of $10 million, for which they will be paid a $2 million "commission". Tom and Joe create a daring plan to gain access to a major finance company on Wall Street on the very day that the Apollo 11 astronauts are receiving a ticker tape parade. Knowing the employees will be distracted, they enter the premises on the premise of checking out a minor matter. They bluff their way into the inner sanctum of the company president and hold him hostage while his secretary escorts Joe to a vault and gets the appropriate securities. As is the case in most good caper movies, things initially go well but unexpected snafus arise that threaten the cops' getaway. To say more would be to spoil the fun but suffice it to say that the climax of the movie finds them trying to collect the $2 million from the mob in the middle of Central Park- where both sides try to double-cross each other. The result is a wild car chase seems to doom not only the cops' getaway but the cops themselves.
Director Aram Avakian, working with producer Elliott Kastner, makes the most of the New York locations, eschewing studio sets for real places. This adds immeasurably to the realistic feel of the production. Both Joe Bologna and Cliff Gorman were exceptionally well cast and are completely convincing as urban cops. Bologna was starting to ride high on the heels of he and his wife Renee Taylor's success with "Lovers and Other Strangers" and "Made for Each Other". Gorman was primarily known for his acclaimed stage performance as Lenny Bruce but also won kudos for his role in William Friedkin's 1969 film production of "The Boys in the Band". He's so good in this film, you wonder why major stardom eluded him. There is also an abundance of good character actors including Dolph Sweet, Joe Spinell and Shepperd Strudwick. The witty screenplay is the work of Donald E. Westlake, a noted crime novelist who would later turn his script for the film into a successful book. Westlake only makes one creative misstep. It is essential in most crime movies that feature charismatic cads as anti-heroes that their victims are established as villains who don't deserve the sympathy of the viewer. From the classic caper flick "The Sting" to the long-running British TV series "Hustle", the targets of the con men must always be deemed to be cads. In Westlake's screenplay, the victims of the errant cops are every day, working people. Joe's stickup of the liquor store (seen over the opening credits) terrorizes innocent people. Their protracted plan to rip off the Wall Street firm similarly puts non-criminals in harm's way (although Westlake throws in a twist that is designed to water down the victim's plight). Watching the film through a modern viewpoint, when police corruption is no longer considered to be an acceptable part of every day life, the movie's disturbing celebration of officers who are violating their sacred duty to protect the public seems more distasteful today than it did at the time of the film's release. Even viewed within the context of the era, we can certainly sympathize with the cops' frustrations, but their turning to crime makes a mockery of most police officers who resist taking that path. Nevertheless, if you can overlook the sociological factors and accept the film as pure entertainment, it works wonderfully well.
The Kino Blu-ray is top quality and includes the original trailer as well as an interview with the late Joe Bologna, who provides some witty and interesting insights into the making of the movie. There is also a trailer for the similarly-themed crime caper comedy "Bank Shot" starring George C. Scott. (also available from Kino Lorber).
Kino Lorber has released a DVD of the acclaimed 2014 German documentary "From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses", based on the book by Siegfried Kracauer and directed and written by Rudiger Suchsland. The film traces cinematic achievements during Germany's brief fling with democracy between the two world wars. In the aftermath of the nation's disastrous defeat in WWI, the Weimar Republic was established, bringing democratic reforms to the country. It was a tumultuous period. Germany was virtually bankrupt after the war and the Allies, particularly France and England, soaked the nation with onerous damages that made it seem almost impossible for the country to ever recover. A dual-class system arose with those who were economically well-off and those who were the working class tradesmen and women who would toil for long hours often under inhumane conditions just to survive day-to-day. It was during this troubled era that German cinema rose to grand heights with a new generation of filmmakers who advanced the medium from being one of mere entertainment to being a reflection of social problems and values. For the first time, the impoverished lower classes were being championed. Ultimately, things began to turn around and a middle class emerged but fate was to intervene. A banking crisis and massive inflation, combined with the shock effects of the 1929 Great Depression, took its toll on the workers. Socialist and communist filmmakers made stirring movies that advocated a rising of the masses in protest, much as Russia had done in 1917. Meanwhile, the rich remained largely unaffected and Berlin became the center of a creative renaissance the likes of which modern Europe had never experienced. The city drew millions of visitors from around the world to revel in the new-found freedoms. Seemingly everyone was partying and there were major achievements in the theater and film. Progressive values were reflected in those films, as Germany was now a society in which females were suddenly liberated to live lifestyles that would have previously been considered Hedonistic. Homosexuality was out of the closet and gays and lesbians could live openly. The new freedoms would not last for long, however. The economic turbulence reflected by "the masses" would cause the population to veer to the hard right and National Socialism. The rise of Hitler would result in the repression of artistic freedoms and being gay meant imprisonment or death. The tumultuous era was chronicled by Christopher Isherwood in his "Berlin Stories", which, in turn, would form the basis of "Cabaret".
Rudiger Suchsland's remarkable documentary (German language, English sub-titles) chronicles the rise and fall of the one brief shining moment in which such talents as Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau, Josef von Sternberg, Robert Siodmak and others revolutionized cinema and having it emerge as a major art form. The documentary affords us generous samples of the kinds of eye-popping visuals that are even more impressive today, given how primitive the tools were that these directors had to work with. Movies suddenly dealt with realistic issues, often in surrealistic ways. Some of the movies proved prescient regarding the fate that was in store for Germany. "Metropolis" chronicled the angry rise of oppressed masses in a futuristic society while "M"- ostensibly a crime thriller about the hunt for a serial killer of children- displayed brutish justice meted out by gangs who put the accused on trial in kangaroo courts. Not all cinematic fare was grim during this era, however. Hollywood-style musicals became popular and there emerged a new genre that was distinctly German: the "Mountain Films", natured-based stories that capitalized on the nation's vast beauty and the obsession with physical fitness. With the rise of National Socialism, many of the most talented German filmmakers saw the writing on the wall and emigrated to America, where they had long, fruitful careers. When Hitler assumed power, he engaged in the same tactics dictators and would-be dictators follow today: attacking and later controlling the free press and then turning the media over to propagandists who immediately quashed the great cinematic achievements of the Weimar era. Now films would reflect the state-run point of view and would be used to suppress and oppress society's "undesirables". The documentary only briefly covers the ascendancy of Hitler and his henchmen, instead concentrating on the movies made in the Weimar years. It's a remarkable film that serves not only as warning about the fragility of freedom and democracy, but also as a vehicle to experience these great works of art, most of which are fortunately available on home video.
The Kino Lorber release has an excellent transfer and contains the trailer for the documentary.
The following news items were found in The Hollywood Reporter on January 24, 1968:
Director Peter Yates, assistant director Tim Zinneman, cameraman Bill Fraker and several key crew operators to San Francisco for final pre-production on Warner-Seven Arts' Bullitt
Lee Marvin will star in Monte Walsh, based on the Jack Schafer novel. Marvin will reportedly receive $1 million against 10% of the gross.
Sammy Davis Jr. set to portray a key figure in the Rhythm of Life musical number in Universal's roadshow production of Sweet Charity. Assignment marks the first screen song and dance role Davis has played since he appeared in Porgy and Bess. (Note: this was not true. Davis performed song and dance numbers in the Rat Pack films Oceans Eleven and Robin and the Seven Hoods-Ed.)
David Karp yesterday turned in the first draft screenplay of Viva Che!, 20th -Fox's forthcoming drama based on the life of revolutionist Ernesto (Che) Guevara. (The film was released under the title Che!- Ed.)
MGM has set an April starting date for the King Brothers production of Heaven With a Gun, a big scale western starring Glenn Ford to be shot at the Culver City studio and on location.
MGM's The Dirty Dozen rolls into its seventh consecutive month of performances in Los Angeles this week when it moves to the Tiffany Theatre on Sunset Boulevard.
Director James Goldstone has set May 1 for start of filming on his next Universal feature, Winning starrig Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Picture was originally slated to begin production in March, but start date has been pushed back to accomodate Newman, currently editing A Jest of God which he directed for Warner Seven-Arts. (A Jest of God was released under the title Rachel, Rachel- Ed.)
James Caan getting his choice of roles after appearing in Games
John Wayne used to smoke five packs of cigarettes a day before his operation; now he chews tobacco.
Richard Burton and Audrey Hepburn rumored to appear in Song of Norway in 1969. (They didn't- Ed.)
Premature Burial (1962) is the third of Roger Corman’s eight
film cycle of Technicolor extravaganzas loosely based on the writings of the
legendary masters of literary mysteries Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.Corman had previously successfully partnered
with Samuel J. Arkoff and James Nicholson of American International Pictures, the
trio having mutually enjoyed a tidy profit on their relatively modest
investment on two earlier Poe efforts, Fall
of the House of Usher (1960) and The
Pit and the Pendulum (1961).Corman
and the producers would eventually come to loggerheads regarding a fair and
equitable split of the The Pit and the
Pendulum box-office receipts – a not unforeseeable dispute as Arkoff,
Nicholson and Corman were all notorious for their penny-pinching proclivities.
In Corman’s recollection both Usher
and Pendulum brought in nearly two
million each in rentals on a “negative cost of some $200,000.”Corman was rankled by AIP’s tough contract clauses
so, as a true independent filmmaker, decided to finance his third Poe adaptation
through Pathé Lab who, in Corman’s own words, had “helped back some AIP
productions and did their print work.”
This time around Hollywood’s most industrious maverick would
lose his gambit.Upon learning of
Corman’s brash decision to leave the fold, AIP chose to leverage some economic
muscle.They contacted Pathé and threatened
to pull all of the company’s subsequent lab work from them should the deal with
Corman proceed.Arkoff and Nicholson then
brazenly and effectively bought out Pathé’s interest in Corman’s new project, this
time a liberal retelling of Poe’s short story of 1844, The Premature Burial.
Premature Burial is a visually stunning film and a worthy
successor to Corman’s two earlier efforts.There’s absolutely no reason why it wouldn’t be as all three films share
several key behind-the-camera talents.The
most notable returnee is Director of Photography Floyd Crosby, on hand for his
third atmospheric rendering of a Poe film.This time around he works in perfect tandem with the Goth styling’s of
set designer/art director Daniel Haller.There are also some fresh faces on set as well.Film editor Ronald Sinclair took the cutting
reins from Anthony Carras on Poe film no. 3, with the lush orchestrations of
Ronald Stein replacing the more avant-garde and jazzy styling of Les Baxter.Corman’s assistant director on this new
project was a young and ambitious transplant from the east coast, Francis Ford
The single most crucial element missing from The Premature Burial is, of course, the
most obvious: Vincent Price.Stories
vary on Price’s non-participation in the project.Corman recollects that, upon learning he was
about to go rogue, “AIP, aware of my intentions, locked Vincent into an
exclusive contract.”Other film
historians discount this, noting that Price’s three film contract with AIP had already
ended with The Pit and the Pendulum.Price and his wife took off for Europe in the
spring of 1961 where he was to appear in two Italian peplums – a genre all the
rage in 1961.Though Milland turns in a
worthy, professional performance as the emotionally wrought and self-haunted Guy
Carrell in The Premature Burial, he
wasn’t able to capture the elegant, self-tortured mania that Vincent Price
easily brought to similar roles.When The Premature Burial brought in only
half the rentals following its release in the spring of 1962 – this extreme
financial fall-off despite having enjoyed the same budget as the two earlier
Poe adaptations - AIP wisely chose to bring Price back into the fold.The independent Price was happy to return as
he was offered a long-term, non-exclusive contract by AIP, thereby allowing him
to keep his options open.
Lorber has released Mario Bava’s “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” (1970) in a
handsome, restored Blu-ray edition as part of its extensive “Mario Bava
Collection.”The disc will please
devotees of the late Italian director, whose wide range of genre work is
evident in this and the fifteen other Blu-rays that Kino Lorber has released in
its series, from the celebrated Gothic trappings of “Black Sunday” (1960) to
the Bond-era burlesque of “Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs” (1966).Bava is revered by his enthusiasts as one of
the pre-eminent directors of horror and giallo in the 1960s Italian cinema, but
like other workaday filmmakers in the busy European studios of the time, he
made pretty much every kind of picture there was to make, riding successive
surges of popularity for horror, sword-and-toga epics, westerns, thrillers, and
sex comedies. “Roy Colt and Winchester
Jack” was the third of Bava’s three Italian Westerns -- a genre that paid the
bills, but one that Bava wasn’t especially fond of, as Tim Lucas notes in his
audio commentary for the Blu-ray.Of
Bava’s approach to “Roy Colt,” Lucas relates: “On the first day of shooting,
when he learned that no one was particularly enamored of the script, Bava threw
his copy into the nearest mud puddle and said, ‘Screw it, let’s have fun
the film, Roy (Brett Halsey) and Jack (Charles Southwood) are leaders of an
outlaw gang.The two partners split up
when Roy decides to try his fortune on the right side of the law.Going straight, he pins on a sheriff’s badge
and agrees to retrieve a cache of buried gold for Samuel (Giorgio Gargiullo), a
devious banker.In the meantime, Jack
continues to rob stages and saves a pretty Indian woman, Manila (Marilu Tolo),
from bounty hunters after she kills her abusive husband.Manila encourages Jack’s romantic advances
but shrewdly charges for her favors.Another outlaw, the Reverend (Teodoro Corra), follows the trail of
Samuel’s gold, and the storyline eventually settles into a familiar Spaghetti
Western pattern.The three rivals --
Roy, Jack, and the Reverend, with Manila as a fourth wild card -- alternately
help and double-cross each other to reach the promised riches first.
commentary suggests that “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” began as a
straightforward action script by Mario di Nardo, and then turned into a comedy
when Bava suggested that he and the actors “have fun instead.”Bava’s decision to send up his material may
have been partially influenced by the success of 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid,” but it also coincided with a fundamental change in the genre
itself.With the success of another 1970
Italian Western, Enzo Barboni’s “Trinity Is My Name,” the genre began to skew
from violent, sometimes operatic stories of revenge and betrayal to lowbrow
farces that were geared (it’s said) to the tastes of working-class audiences in
the poorer sections of Italian cities and towns.The staple elements of these Spaghetti
lampoons included slapstick brawls, rather cruel visual jokes ridiculing
physical and mental infirmities, childish sexual innuendo, and infantile
delight in gastric embarrassments.Dubbed prints of Barboni’s movie, its sequel, “Trinity Is Still My
Name,” and other comedy Spaghettis traveled overseas to drive-ins and
small-town theaters in the U.S., arguably preparing the way for Mel Brooks‘
wildly popular, fart-laden Western parody, “Blazing Saddles,” in 1974.“Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” incorporates
the usual characteristics of the comedy Spaghettis, notably in a rudely
gratuitous scene built around a gunslinger’s extreme facial and verbal
tics.More sophisticated audiences are
likely to squirm, but at that, thanks to Bava’s sure visual sense and a capable
cast, his film is easier to bear than most Spaghetti farces.Pictures like “It Can Be Done, Amigo” (1972),
“Life Is Tough, Eh Providence” (1972), “The Crazy Bunch” (1974), and “Shoot
First, Ask Questions Later” (1975) are guaranteed to try the souls of all but
the most dedicated genre fans.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition of “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” features a
superlative 2K restoration from the original 35mm negative.Other extras include the original Italian
voice track with English subtitles, a partial English track, and the
aforementioned commentary by Tim Lucas with a wealth of information about the
film, Bava, and Italian cinema in general.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
This year is a special anniversary for fans of classic film
& British comedy as it’s 60 years since the first classic Carry On
production, “Carry On Sergeant”, was released in 1958.
The Carry On films have their own distinct style that is
totally unique, beloved by many, and an important part of Britain’s comedy, film,
and cultural heritage, and 2018 marks 60 years since the first Carry On film.
"Carry On Sergeant" laid the groundwork for the
most prolific British film series (yes, more than James Bond). Without this
successful first film, there simply wouldn’t have been all the films that
followed in its path.
British film company Anglo Amalgamated distributed the first
12 Carry On films starting with "Carry On Sergeant" in 1958 and
ending with the much-loved Hammer Horror parody "Carry On Screaming"
To celebrate the British comedies, Art & Hue has created
a stylish pop art collection featuring the classic films and their stars.
Along with the classic film posters, Sid James, Kenneth
Williams, Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, and Barbara Windsor (Dame
Babs) have all been transformed into pop art icons by Art & Hue, in a
choice of three sizes and 16 colours.
Blue Underground’s double-feature Blu Ray issue of Code 7… Victim 5 and Mozambique is a generous release considering
the company chose to simultaneously issue both films as standalone DVDs.Both films are among the earliest big screen
efforts of notorious exploitation producer Harry Alan Towers.Both were adapted from Tower’s own
semi-original scenarios (under his usual pseudonym of “Peter Welbeck”) and both
were penned by the Australian screenwriter Peter Yeldham with British director Robert
Lynn at the helm.
Both men had been working in television and, like Towers,
were now gingerly testing the waters of the international movie business.The films, modest thrillers financed by
Tower’s UK Company “Towers of London,” nonetheless share a continental roster
of technicians and actors.The films are
serviceably entertaining as thrillers, but are most ambitious in conveying a
jet-setting ‘60s ambiance.The fact that
Towers brought his international crew to southern Africa to film is the most
notable feature of both efforts.
“Africa is changing,” the ruthless drug smuggler Da Silva
sighs to a shady Arabian client in Mozambique
(1964).“The best days are
gone.”Indeed they were… or soon would
be.Just as location shooting was being
completed on this fictional thriller set in the tiny, East African province of
Mozambique, a coalition of real-life indigenous anti-colonialists and communist
guerilla fighters were combining to upset centuries-long Portuguese rule.As a decade-long bloody civil war would soon
follow in the wake of the filming of this Technicolor/Technoscope drama, it’s unlikely
that any subsequent team of filmmakers from British or continental Europe would
be warmly welcomed in the years going forward.
The South African locations of this disc’s companion film
Code 7… Victim 5 are cosmopolitan and
glittering in presentation; conversely the photography of the plaintive Mozambique
countryside captures a far more sober and undeveloped region.Aside from breathless images capturing
beautiful oceanside views - sightlines unblemished by tourist constructions -
the countryside of Mozambique circa
1963 is revealed as poor and agricultural.
The two films offered on this disc do share similarities
aside from their exotic African settings.Not the least of these is that both films open with very public
assassinations of characters mostly tangential to the film’s plotlines.Code 7
opens with the daylight murder – by a team of menacing clown-faced assassins –
during Capetown’s New Year’s Eve Carnival parade.Mozambique
opens similarly with a mysterious assassination atop the winding, ancient stone
stairwells of old Lisbon.
American actor Steve Cochran plays Brad Webster, a down-on-his-luck Cessna
pilot.We first encounter Webster as he
trawls about Lisbon’s bleak waterfront in search of employment.His blacklisting as a pilot-for-hire is
understandable as his previous assignment didn’t go all that well.Both of his passengers were killed in a crash
of his piloted small craft, leaving Webster the lone survivor.
For better or worse, his fortunes change following a
desperate, alcohol fueled fight in a waterfront saloon.Faced with a probable sixty day jail sentence
for vagrancy and public fisticuffs, Lisbon authorities mysteriously offer Webster
an alternative.A certain Colonel Valdez
residing in Mozambique is looking to hire a small-craft pilot on the down
low.The police offer Webster one-way airfare
from Lisbon to their colonial territory should he choose to accept the deal.
He does.Once aboard
his Lufthansa flight to Mozambique,
the sweating heavily, PTSD-afflicted Webster meets the comely blond Christina
(Vivi Bach).Christina too,
coincidentally, was also sent a one-way ticket at the behest of the mysterious
Colonel Valdez.So begins an improbable
romance between this middle-aged and craggy American and a beautiful young
woman in her twenties.In truth, actor
Cochran is perhaps a bit too long-in-the-tooth to pull off this charade as a
dashing hero and paramour.
It has been reported that Steven Spielberg will remake the classic Oscar winning 1961 film adaptation of the Broadway smash "West Side Story". Not many facts are known except that Spielberg is currently working with a casting director to find young talent for the starring roles. The original version won ten Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director (Robert Wise). For more click here.
In the opening scene of Republic Pictures “The Man Who
Died Twice,” (1950) a car drives along a mountain road and two cops in a patrol
car remark that it’s nightclub owner T. J. Brennon (Don Megowan) passing by.
Next thing you know the car goes off a cliff and explodes in flames. Then a
woman (Vera Ralston) gets out of a cab in front of her apartment building and
looks up at the balcony where two men are fighting. She shrieks in horror as
one of the men comes plummeting down and lands on the sidewalk at her feet. Splat!
She watches as the other man climbs up a fire escape ladder to the roof. But
not before a third man appears on the balcony and the guy on the fire escape
shoots him. Vera Ralston faints from all the excitement and falls on the
pavement next to the fallen corpse.
The cops show up almost immediately, revealing that the
two dead men are members of the narcotics squad and the unconscious woman (whom
they just leave lying there on the concrete until the ambulance arrives) is
none other than Lynn Brennon, wife, now widow, of T. J. Brennon, the guy who
went over the cliff. All this in just the first few minutes of this low-budget
70-minute crime movie directed at a frantic pace by Joe Kane, veteran of
countless Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies., and penned by Richard C. Sarafian,
who would later be best known as the director of “Vanishing Point” (1971), the
ultimate car-chase movie.
“The Man Who Died Twice” is a pulpy story that borrows a
lot from other crime and gangster movies of that era. It’s a coincidence, I
suppose, that this film was released the same week as Don Siegel’s “The
Lineup,” but the similarities in the two films are pretty striking. The
McGuffin (Hitchcock’s term for the thing everybody’s after) in both films is a missing
stash of heroin. In both films, dangerous drug dealers want their drugs back
and will stop at nothing to get them. In both films two of the more interesting
characters are a couple of gunsels who arrive from out of town to get the goods
back for their employers and in both films the heroin is stuffed inside a doll.
It makes you wonder if Serafian and Stirling Silliphant, who wrote “The Lineup,”
had some kind of competition going to see who could turn out the better script
using the same story elements. Silliphant wins that one hands down.
The gunsels In “The Lineup,” are played by Eli Wallach
and Robert Keith. Gerald Milton and Richard Karlan handle the roles of Hart and
Santoni in “The Man Who Died Twice.” While not quite on a level with Wallach
and Keith, they do a good job as the two killers. Milton is particularly nasty in
a casual kind of way in a scene in their hotel room when he hears a cat meowing
outside the door. He goes out in the hall, picks it up and puts out on the
window sill and then shuts the window. Karlan yells, “Hey, what’s the matter
with you. It’s three stories down.” Milton keeps calling his wife back home only to be disturbed by the fact
that she’s never there when he calls. He tells Karlan that one time a bartender
pal gave him the number of a hot babe, if he ever wanted a good time. Half-drunk
he put the number in his pocket and didn’t look at it until the next day and
found it was his home phone number!
Vera Ralston as Lynn Brennon was only 35 at the time this
film was made but she looks tired and bored. She was an ice skating star back
in her native Czechoslovakia when Republic Studios chief Herbert J. Yates
brought her to the U.S. and tried to make her a star. She made over 20 features
for Republic but despite Yates’s efforts audiences did not really accept her, and
she quit acting after “The Man Who Died Twice.”
The leading man in this B-movie extravaganza is Rod
Cameron, who has about as much charisma as a side of beef. Better known for his
westerns, he plays Bill Brennon, T.J.’s brother, who had sent him a telegram
asking for help, which was unusual because he and Bill hadn’t spoken in 15
years. But you know how it is, when your brother sends you a wire saying he’s
in trouble, you gotta do something about it. Right?