One of the more enjoyable aspects of the Cinema Retro experience is that we continue to get inundated with review copies of niche market DVD and Blu-ray titles pertaining to films we've never heard of. Many of these come from Vinegar Syndrome (so-called for the nefarious affliction that attaches itself to old reels of film if they are not stored correctly.) The company has earned kudos for not only rescuing obscure titles from oblivion but releasing them in remastered versions that often include bonus extras. Much of the company's product line consists of vintage hardcore porn from the 1960s-1980s but Vinegar Syndrome also releases bizarre exploitation films from this era as well. Case in point: "The Cut-Throats", a 1969 WWII opus that is aptly described on the DVD sleeve as a cross between Nazisloitation and sexploitation genres. What is Nazisploitation? Well, it's a sordid sub-genre of low-budget film-making that took off in the 1970s and had a limited, but profitable run over the next decade. The subject matter was particularly distasteful: it involved the sexual torture and exploitation of female prisoners and concentration camp inmates as a device for stimulation. (Think "The Night Porter" without the redeeming factors.) Perhaps the most notorious of the Nazisploitation films was the infamous "Ilsa: She Wolf of the S.S." , a twisted and sickening exercise in cinematic offensiveness that should result in your crossing anyone you know who enjoyed it off your list of house guests (click here for review). "The Cut-Throats" is not a Nazisploitation film in that regard. Yes, there are women who are constantly groped but in this case the females are willing and mostly prone to doing some groping themselves. The movie was directed by one John Hayes, who apparently has a cult following for his Ed Wood-like ability to see his dream projects through despite a lack of funding or resources. This admirable quality is on display in "The Cut-Throats" from the very first frames.
The film opens on a bizarre note: a painted backdrop of a cowboy over which we hear someone warbling an old-fashioned western song. (The score is by Jamie Mendoza-Nava, who went on to compose music for other more notable "B" movies.) At first I thought I had accidentally put on some old John Ford film with the Sons of the Pioneers singing over the opening credits. Hayes's decision to open the movie with this song never makes sense in the course of what follows beyond a brief opening scene of a G.I. using a lasso. We are then introduced to the no-name cast as we see an American colonel recruit a handful of men to accompany him on a dangerous mission to infiltrate a remote German outpost and capture important documents and battle plans. What the G.I.s don't realize is that they are being duped into helping him secure possession of a chest of priceless jewels that is being hidden inside the German HQ. When the men infiltrate the compound, they quickly dispatch the German soldiers, only to find that the place is actually a bordello. The sexy females on site quickly switch allegiance and put on a bizarre stage performance consisting of singing and dancing in costume(!) Things heat up pretty quickly from that point with the G.I.s understandably lowering their resistance and bedding the young women. In one of the film's few attempts to provide some outright humor, one G.I. of German ancestry finds he is sexually stimulated by making love on a bed draped in Swastika sheets while listening to records of Hitler's speeches. Once the corrupt colonel intimidates a prostitute into showing him the hidden treasure, he considers his own men to be expendable. He uses a skirmish with a passing German motorcade as a cover to murder his own men. The film's climax finds him going mano-a-mano with a surviving German colonel as they duel over who gets possession of the jewels. (Ironically, the plot device of corrupt Americans and corrupt German soldiers vying for a fortune in stolen treasure bares a similarity to the finale of "Kelly's Heroes", which was produced the same year.)
"The Cut-Throats" is such a mess that it boggles the mind to imagine that even drive-ins or grindhouse cinemas would have shown it back in the day. However, the sexual revolution in film was a new phenomenon so any outlet horny male viewers had to ogle naked women on screen was probably assured of some financial success. The movie was clearly not made for the Noel Coward crowd. The film has an abundance of guilty pleasures, not the least of which is the fact that the film is set in "Germany". I use quotation marks because it appears this is a Germany from an alternate dimension, unless in my travels I somehow missed the nation's desert areas, where the action takes place. Then we have the main location, the German military compound which is clearly a modern housing unit that is either being constructed or deconstructed. With the house boasting a modern American facade and an empty in-ground swimming pool, one is tempted to suspect that director Hayes simply appropriated an abandoned property for the few days it probably took to film this epic. The premise is like staging a WWII action film on the same sets where "Leave It To Beaver" was shot. The editing process looks like it was achieved with a chainsaw, with abrupt cuts in abundance. There is virtually no character development beyond the most simplistic characteristics afforded the principals. Hayes did manage to find the budget for some period G.I. uniforms and weapons, as well as few German WWII-era vehicles (though one of them seems to be adorned with the Afrika Corps symbol even though the fighting is supposed to be taking place in Germany.) For cult movie purists, about the only recognizable face....well, not exactly face....I became aware of is that of Uschi Digard, whose legendary assets figure into a ludicrous sequence in which she plays the secretary to the German colonel. Upon hearing that the war is officially over, she doffs her uniform and seduces the German's young adjutant by going starkers and serving him a bottle of wine in a unique manner- by first pouring it over her trademark natural assets. The scene is representative of the entire goofy atmosphere of the production. The sex scenes feature full female nudity but never go into hardcore territory. A somewhat kinky aspect involves a scene in which two G.I's are engaging in a threesome with one of the prostitutes. One of the G.I.'s gets so carried away that he begins to caress his friend. Seeing gay sex on screen, even if played for laughs, was rather groundbreaking for 1969. Another amusing aspect of the film is the fact that some of the G.I.s and German soldiers sport hair styles that make them look like they were auditioning for The Grateful Dead.
"The Cut-Throats" will appeal only to those dedicated retro movie lovers who revel in "D" level (or in this case "double D" level) obscurities such as this. I personally enjoyed watching this train wreck of an indie film and have some grudging respect for the people involved. Back in the pre-video camera era, it was an expensive and cumbersome task to bring even a slight venture like this to reality. The Vinegar Syndrome transfer is excellent on all levels. The packaging features what I presume is the original one-sheet movie poster art which is appropriately awful. There is also an original trailer that features a narrator who seems to be doing a poor Orson Welles imitation in relating the action as though he were the voice of God. A selection of still photos are also included but they are censored with bikini tops drawn on the women so that they could be displayed in neighborhood theaters.
"The Cut-Throats" DVD is limited to only 1,500 copies.
Burton and Taylor met on the set of Cleopatra...and the sparks flew on screen and off.
The Huffington Post digs back into the past to unearth some of the more vivid sex scandals involving well known actors and actresses. We're not sure that Barry Williams going on a date with his "Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson deserves inclusion, but undoubtedly Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin, Ingrid Bergman and Errol Flynn do. Click here to relive some not-so-glamorous moments in show business history.
Last month, Entertainment Weekly re-published an interview from some years ago in which Steven Spielberg reflected back on the making of "Jaws"- and discusses the trials and tribulations of the film he thought would end his career before it even took off. Click here to read.
"The Secret Partner" is yet another unheralded gem from the cinematic past that has been made available through the Warner Archive. It's a fairly low budget British film noir that nevertheless is completing engrossing and will have viewers guessing throughout. Stewart Granger is John Brent, a successful executive at a London shipping company who we find in great distress from early in the film. It seems Brent is being routinely blackmailed by his milquetoast dentist, Beldon (Norman Bird). We don't know what he has on Brent until much later in the story, a clever device used by screenwriters David Pursall and Jack Seddon that only increases the interest of the viewer. Brent understandably despises Beldon but is intimidated enough by him that he continues to pay astronomical sums of money to buy his silence. In the interim, Brent can't explain to his wife Nicole (Haya Haraeet) why their money is disappearing almost as fast as he can earn it. She logically suspects that he is seeing another woman and their marriage very publicly goes on the rocks when she moves out. Meanwhile, Beldon himself is subject to the terrors of blackmail when a masked man with a gun demands that he follows explicit instructions to administer a drug to Brent during his next dental visit. While under the influence of sleeping gas, Brent is injected with a truth serum that results in his telling Beldon the combination of his company's safe. Additionally, Beldon follows instructions to remove Brent's office keys and make a clay impression of them. The masked man promises Beldon a payoff of 15,000 pounds if he complies- and death if he doesn't. Beldon pulls off his end of the scheme and Brent appears to be none the wiser. Predictably, the office safe of Brent's employer is rob of 130,000 quid and he is the logical suspect. The case falls into the lap of Det. Superintendent Frank Hanbury (Bernard Lee), a veteran cop who is counting the days until his imminent retirement. He questions Brent but when Brent realizes he is about to be arrested for grand larceny, he flees. Hanbury relentlessly pursues him even as his investigation leads him to believe that Brent might have been set up as a fall guy. Hanbury repeatedly interviews Nicole and discovers that she is apparently having affairs with some of Brent's most trusted friends and co-workers. Meanwhile, Brent is trying to avoid the police while he conducts his own investigation, desperate to prove he is innocent.
"The Secret Partner" is a prime example of the kind of efficient, low-profile films that used to be turned out regularly decades ago and this one is top notch throughout. It's impressively directed by the ever-capable Basil Dearden, who helmed other gems like "Woman of Straw" and "Khartoum". Granger, who should have been a much bigger star, is dashing and determined as a leading man and he plays well off of the great British character actor Bernard Lee. Lee's slow, unemotional approach to solving the case is a joy to watch, as he patiently absorbs the facts and tries not to jump to conclusions even as he smokes what must be a record number of cigarettes ever consumed by one actor in one film. The film is peppered with fine performances from an impressive supporting cast with Harareet especially enticing as Brent's sexy, estranged wife. Even the smallest roles are well-performed (keep an eye out for Paul Stassino, the ill-fated NATO pilot from "Thunderball" as a pimp!). There is also a funky if somewhat bombastic jazz score by Philip Green and some nice period photography around London. The real pay off is a surprise revelation near the end of the film that I doubt even the most astute viewer will see coming.
"The Secret Partner" is a thoroughly enjoyable film that represents the cliche "They don't make 'em like that any more!"
(The following review refers to the UK release on
Region B/2 formats)
New from Arrow Films in the
UK is Fernando Di Leo’s ‘Milano Calibro 9’ (‘Milan Calibre 9’), a crime classic
from 1972 and one of the best examples of the poliziottesco (‘Italian crime
movie’) genre. Jailbird Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) is released from San
Vittorio prison in Milan
after three years behind bars. He’s out for good behaviour, but what follows
his release is anything but. Money-laundering Godfather ‘The Mikado’ (Lionel
Stander) is convinced Ugo has hidden $300,000 he has stolen from the mob, but
despite beatings and harassment, Ugo remains silent. The hoods on his trail –
waiting for him to make a mistake and trip up – include greasy, sadistic
blabbermouth Rocco Musco (Mario Adorf). As Ugo runs afoul of the mob and the
police, he ends up on the Mikado’s payroll again, but eventually finds out that
you can’t trust anyone – not even those closest to you.
Fernando Di Leo’s crime
thriller masterpiece arrives on Blu-ray and DVD in great shape, with superb
colour and sound, and a wealth of extras. Also included in the package is a
fully illustrated collector’s booklet, featuring an insightful essay ‘Film Noir, Italian-Style: Giorgio Scerbanenco,
Fernando Di Leo and Milano Calibro 9’ by Roberto Curti, the author of ‘Italian
Crime Filmography, 1968-80’. Arrow Films’ edition contains the English language
track most fans of the film will be familiar with (with Lionel Stander dubbing
himself and Mario Adorf dubbed with a squeaky, helium whine) and the original
Italian edition (with Stander’s crime kingpin called ‘The Americano’, not the
9’ is, with Enzo G. Castellari’s ‘The Marseilles Connection’ (1973 – aka ‘High
Crime’), my favourite 1970s Italian crime movie. Both films pack a considerable
punch, emotionally and physically, and also have an underlying socio-political
agenda amid the action. In Di Leo’s film, which adapted the work of Italian
noir novelist Giorgio Scerbanenco, two police commissioners – one from the
north of Italy, one from the south – discuss and argue over the
north-south/rich-poor divide. The pair is played by actors well known to
connoisseurs of Italian genre cinema – Frank Wolff and Luigi Pistilli– and
while the scenes don’t drag, their authenticity, especially in the English
language dub, is occasionally questionable. For example, would a Milanese
commissioner of police ever use a phrase like ‘dangling dingleberries’? The
film could do without these scenes, Di Leo reckons in retrospect, but they
remained in the original cut of the film. With actors of the calibre of Wolff
and Pistilli is supporting roles, writer-director Di Leo obviously fields a
very strong cast. Gastone Moschin, the fascist agent from Bertolucci’s ‘The
Conformist’ (1970), is superb as the stoic, tough nut Ugo Piazza, an immovable
object who the Mikado’s ruffians just can’t break. Ugo ‘had it made’ but
couldn’t resist biting the hand that fed him. Now that hand pummels him, in an
attempt to find the whereabouts of the missing $300,000.
Compared to taciturn Ugo (an
indeed everyone else in the film) Mario Adorf’s performance as Rocco is like a
whirlwind. Smashing his way through life with zero regard for the pain, suffering
and hatred he generates, he dominates the film. Adorf is one of the great
European actors of his generation and the more films of his I watch, the more
impressed I am by his skill. He was great in westerns – the crazy bandido in ‘Last
Ride to Santa Cruz’ (1964), landgrabbing villain Santer in ‘Winnetou the
Warrior’ (1963 – ‘Apache Gold’) and the bandit with a spur instead of an arm in
Sergio Corbucci’s ‘The Specialists’ (1969 – ‘Drop Them of I’ll Shoot’) – but was
equally at home in comedies, such as the caper ‘The Treasure of San Gennaro’
(1966) or the Oscar-winning drama ‘The Tin Drum’ (1979). Rocco’s two humourless
henchmen, Pasquale and Nicola, were played by Mario Novelli and Giuseppe
Castellano. Barbara Bouchet was Ugo’s go-go dancing girlfriend Nelly. Bouchet’s
psychedelic dance routine (in a nightclub of the type that only ever appear in
Italian crime movies) wearing a beaded bikini, is a visual highlight. Philippe
Leroy gave a commanding performance as Ugo’s ally Chino, who’s a tough as they come, and Ivo
Garrani played aged crime kingpin, Don Vincenzo, a once-important man, now
blind and consumed by loneliness. Even the characters at the corners of Di
Leo’s drama are given life, through professional performances from familiar
The powerful score was
composed by Luis Enriquez Bacalov. It’s partly traditional orchestral
arrangements, but Bacalov also collaborated with Italian prog-rock band Osanna
on the soundtrack. Bacalov had worked with the band The New Trolls to great
success on Maurizio Lucidi’s thriller ‘The Designated Victim’ (1971) and in
fact the song ‘My Shadow in the Dark’ from Lucidi’s film accompanies a scene
between Ugo and Nelly in ‘Calibro 9’. ‘Milano Calibro 9’ was photographed by
Franco Villa in an autumnal, inhospitable Milan, with interiors at DEAR
Studios. Di Leo shot on the streets of Milan and also in such authentic
locations as the Milano Centrale railway station on Piazza Duca d’Aosta and on
the canals and bridges of the Navigli district (both of which have now been
renovated since the film was made). The pre-titles sequence, the greatest
opening scene of any Italian crime movie, introduces twitchy hood Omero Cappana
walking through SempionePark in Milan, towards a cash drop-off. The hood is
revealed in the opening shot of the film, as the camera pans down Torre Branca
(BrancaTower), an iron panoramic tower in SempionePark. The top of the tower is a viewing
point – did De Leo film some of the title sequence’s cityscape panoramas across
Milan from the
top of here? The scene is accompanied by a mellow flute motif, not unlike one
deployed by Bacalov in Sergio Corbucci’s ‘Django’ (1966) where it too is a
prelude to a savage burst of violence. The action then proceeds to Piazza Del
Duomo (Duomo Square)
in Milan where
the cash handover, a strange game of pass-the-parcel, begins. The music
develops from the flute melody, to staccato piano, relentless strings and
eventually explodes into a full-throttle prog-rock jam, as violence explodes on
the screen. When the hoods find out they have been duped in this cash exchange,
they take horrific revenge on the double-crossers. Be aware, Di Leo’s film is
very violent, and just as it begins with an act of extreme savagery, it ends
with one too, in a scene that’ll pin you back in your chair.
Sony and Eon Productions have officially announced that the world premiere of the new James Bond film SPECTRE will take place in London on 26 October. The film will also open to the public that day throughout the UK and Ireland. These territories will get a jump on the international release date of 6 November, which covers other countries including the United States.
In viewing Warner Brothers' DVD edition of the 1972 film Skykacked, I was totally prepared for another cheesy Seventies disaster film - an Airport Lite, if you will. Initially, my premonitions were shaping up to come true. The script follows the tradition of presenting the quasi-all-star cast by rote, with each actor given a few precious seconds to establish their personality quirks and telegraph what their dilemma will be once the inevitable crisis unfolds. In this case, the plot is simple enough to make The Poseidon Adventure look like The Big Sleep. Rock-jawed Charlton Heston is the pilot of a commercial airliner on which the head flight attendant (or "stewardess" in the vernacular of the day) is former lover Yvette Yvette Mimieux. Shortly after the flight takes off, a message is discovered written in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. There is someone aboard who claims to have a bomb they will detonate if the plane isn't diverted to Anchorage, Alaska. It isn't giving the store away to inform you that the mad bomber is James Brolin. Not only is this revealed very shortly into the film, but you'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb to not realize he is the bad guy - especially when the other passengers consist of pregnant Mariette Hartley, folksy musician Rosie Grier and crusty U.S. Senator Walter Pidgeon. Besides, the brainiac who designed the menu for the DVD eliminates any doubt of the culprit's identity because the still photo they used on the main menu shows Brolin holding a gun on the cockpit crew.
F.W. Murnau, the influential German director of the silent film era, is improbably back in the news again. His grave, located outside of Berlin, has been tampered with on several occasions since his untimely death in a car crash in 1931 at age 42. However, this time robbers have succeeded in absconding with the head of the deceased director. German police are looking into the possibility that the grave robbery may have been part of an occult ritual, given certain evidence found at the scene. Although Murnau's achievements in filmmaking are among the most consequential of all time and span a wide range of subject matters, he is most widely known for his adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula". Murnau's film "Nosferatu" was released in 1922 and remains perhaps the most definitive and frightening version of the tale. At the time he was sued by Stoker's widow for not getting authorization for the film from Stoker's estate. She won and prints of the movie were ordered to be destroyed. However, numerous prints survived and the film is widely shown on classic movie circuits today. For more click here
The Hound of the Baskervilles 1959 Directed
by Terence Fisher, Starring Peter Cushing, André Morell and Christopher Lee.
Arrow Blu-Ray release date: 1st June 2015
Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tale The Hound of the Baskervilles is a thrilling
story that has stood the test of time. Featuring London’s super sleuth Sherlock
Holmes, this adventure sees him travel to Dartmoor’s Baskerville Hall where Charles
Baskerville has been found dead and under mysterious circumstances. As cinema’s
most filmed character of all time - Sherlock Holmes movies have acquired
something of a unique place in history. One might perhaps think back to the
days of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in order to recapture their first
encounter of this classic filmed adventure. Hammer Studios had begun to revisit
these classic horrors and thrillers throughout the mid to late Fifties, with
filmed projects such as The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. So it was
perhaps no surprise that the studio picked up The Hound of the Baskervilles and
splashed it with their own distinctive and original blend of Hammer style.
terms of general entertainment value, the film works very well in deed. Peter
Cushing’s Holmes offers a new perspective, bold and abrasive; he provides a
genuine freshness to the role. Cushing injects a much needed character boost to
Holmes, and one which relegated Rathbone’s later portrayals into bleak
obscurity. Cushing certainly appears to relish within the role, and many have
argued in favour of his performance as being the very best presented on screen.
He is once again paired alongside his regular sparring partner, the recently (and
sadly) departed Christopher Lee. It was a nice departure for Lee, who regarded
it as one of his first major romantic leads. It was a refreshing change playing
the dashing hero type role, especially in contrast to his more regular monster appearances.
The chemistry between Cushing and Lee is quite wonderful, and their shared
screen time is something rather special and memorising. The film also boasts
some fine support, particularly from André Morell, who provides us with an
astute and wisely Dr. Watson. Morell is afforded a generous amount of screen
time in Hammer’s remake and he seems to thrive during every second of it.
is a wonderful, vintage feel about the film, it not only bubbles away with
Hammer’s unique sense of atmosphere, but it benefits from an ‘old time’ pacey
narrative. Director Terence Fisher never seems to let the film fall short; he
keeps it tight without ever letting momentum wain. There is a healthy vitality
about Hammer’s remake, helped undoubtedly by composer James Bernard's energetic
score which bristles along nicely. Despite the diversions away from Conan
Doyle's original novel, the story is respectfully handled and works
exceptionally well. It has certainly withstood the test of time andl remains a
hugely enjoyable piece of entertainment. Is it as good as Rathbone’s 1939
version? That’s a tough question, and for me, the jury is still out. I would
certainly sleep easier placing them side by side and treating them with the
equal respect they both deserve.
The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first filmed version to be shot in vivid
colour. Everything is bathed with sumptuous textures from hunting red riding
costumes to splendid tweed suits and rich wooden panelling. So with all things
considered, there was perhaps an overall expectancy that this should look
positively beautiful after being afforded the Blu-ray treatment. Well, in some
ways the upgrade works, but not without some minor troubles.
Blu-ray is still probably the best I have seen on any home video format, but
that shouldn’t really surprise anybody. However, like a lot of recent Hammer
films to emerge on the Blu-ray format, the image does remain a little on the soft
side, not perhaps as soft as The Curse of Frankenstein but nowhere near as
crisp or sharp as say Quatermass and the Pit. Whilst a great deal of the movie
takes place at night, even interior lit scenes also tend to be a little on the
dark side and lack any real vitality. Viewers may well be left questioning why
this couldn’t have been corrected or improved during the mastering process, but
it simply remains a little too bland and muted on the eye. Added to this problem
was a fairly large amount of white speckle which seemed to haunt the picture
is an area that I still find generally unacceptable, especially in consideration
of today’s technology; the process of eliminating such flecks and particles is
a fairly easy (albeit) time consuming element of restoration. Today, with any
Blu-ray purchase, there is arguably a degree of basic requirements that one
would like to expect, including a fairly good, cleaned up picture. With The
Hound of the Baskervilles, it became something more than just a minor
distraction and instead fell into the category of unavoidable hindrance, and that
is a genuine shame. If a company can produce for example, a near spotless print
of Frankenstein (1931) is there any reason why a 1959 movie shouldn’t look just
as clean? I don’t believe that’s too much to ask.
the bonus features on this disc appear to balance out and make up for the
film’s minor quality issues. Firstly there is a super new audio commentary featuring
the always reliable Hammer experts Marcus Hearn along with Jonathan Rigby. For
the purist of Hammer fans, there is also an Isolated Music and Effects track.
Listen carefully to this during the opening scenes and your ears will certainly
reveal how background conversation tracks are most definitely looped…
the Hound! Is a brand new 30 minute documentary looking at the genesis and
making of the Hammer classic, featuring interviews with hound mask creator
Margaret Robinson, film historian Kim Newman and actor/documentarian and
co-creator of BBC’s Sherlock Mark Gatiss.
Morell: Best of British is another excellent featurette looking at the late
great actor André Morell and his work with Hammer.
Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes is a 1986 documentary looking at the many
incarnations of Conan Doyle’s celebrated character and is narrated and
presented by Christopher Lee. It does have a typical television look about it
and clearly shows the limitations of video tape, on which it was clearly shot.
Nevertheless, it’s fairly enjoyable in its own right.
Notebook: Christopher Lee – an archive interview in which the actor looks back
on his role as Sir Henry Baskerville. This is a nice little piece dating back
to around 2003, wherein Christopher Lee also speaks fondly and movingly about
his friendship with Peter Cushing.
Hounds of the Baskervilles excerpts read by Christopher Lee. A couple of
passages are included in this section. Plus there is also an original theatrical
trailer (b/w) and an extensive gallery featuring over 140 images including
photos, posters and lobby cards.
packaging includes a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper and a collector’s booklet featuring new
writing on the film by former Hammer archivist Robert J.E. Simpson and
illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
you are prepared to be tolerant of the films minor imperfections – you will no
doubt be happy with the overall package. Frankly, it still remains the best
version currently open to the market.
Producer Jack Heller contacted us to say that he's a big fan of Cinema Retro. Even better, he's producing that rarest of rarities in today's cinema: a Western. "Bone Tomahawk" is his forthcoming production starring Kurt Russell. Heller says he's been influenced by the gritty feel of Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven". Well, he's at least been inspired by the best...We also love the movie poster which brings back memories of when artistry defined the way movies were marketed instead of lame, scanned in Photoshop creations. Kudos to you, Jack...We look forward to seeing the film.
Until the sexual revolution of the mid-to-late 1960s was embraced by the film industry, the subject of homosexuality was dealt with in schizophrenic manner by studios. There were some bold attempts to address the subject in a serious and sympathetic manner, but fine movies like The Trials of Oscar Wilde and Victim were relegated to art-house hell and never enjoyed a wide audience. Indeed, it was the complete financial failure of the former film that motivated, in desperation, producer Cubby Broccoli to dust off the idea of adapting the James Bond novels for the screen. In other cases, the movies were more high profile (i.e Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Children's Hour) but studios forced the directors to substantially water down overt references to homosexuality. Within a few short years, however, the situation had changed dramatically. While many characters were often presented as comical stereotypes, there were other bold attempts to address more realistic approaches to the traumas faced by gays and lesbians. Going one rung further, a few films actually took on such issues as cross-dressing and transsexuals. One of the more notable films of the era was The Christine Jorgensen Story, released in 1970. However, as well-meaning as the movie was, it was generally regarded as an exploitation movie with a good dose of shlock and some unintended laughs. (Click here for review)
Far more impressive was the 1972 British film I Want What I Want...To Be a Woman starring Anne Heywood in a daring performance as an effeminate young man who secretly desires to be a woman. Unlike the real-life Christine Jorgensen, this story is not based on fact, but a novel by writer Geoff Brown. Roy is a sensitive twenty-something man who is living a nightmarish life. He's the son of a macho, ex-army officer (the always brilliant Harry Andrews) who spends most of his time drinking with high society types while he seduces their women. Roy and his father have a fractious relationship as the old man refuses to acknowledge the obvious fact that his son looks more like the daughter he never had. He tries to force Roy into macho behavior by having him escort women on fraudulent dates and making him sit with other men in drawing rooms to argue politics over cigars and brandy. Meanwhile, all Roy wants to do is explore his feminine side. Eventually he can't resist the urge to dress as a woman and is caught in the act by his appalled father, who slaps him around and humiliates him. Distraught, Roy leaves his home to establish a new life in a far away town. This represents his first public appearance as a woman and the film conveys the anxiety cross dressers must feel when they make such a "debut". Although Heywood makes a head-turning woman, we have to remember she's supposed to be a man. As such, she gives a riveting performance and demonstrates the inevitable paranoia that might accompany such a bold lifestyle decision. Roy is convinced that everyone he passes on the street knows his secret.
wonderful, eclectic hodgepodge collection of vintage 3-D, tests, shorts,
animation and trailers has been released on Blu Ray recently by Flicker
Alley. 3-D Rarities, released on the Flicker Alley label, is for film and nostalgia buffs, alike. This is a wonderful snapshot of 3-D motion
picture photography from early tests in the 1920’s up through 1962, and arrives
in time to honor the 100-year anniversary of the exhibition of 3D films.
wasn’t just a brief fad in the 50’s but was found in sporadic use for specialized
presentations up through then. Early
surviving shorts show us wonderful glimpses of Washington DC and New York City,
with wonderful perspective. Two company
films follow, Thrills For You and New Dimensions.Thrills
for You was produced by The Pennsylvania Railroad for exhibition at the
Golden Gate International Exposition in 1940 in San Francisco. This B&W wonder gives a viewer an all too
brief look at railroading in its heyday from GG1 electrics, steam engines and
the lounge cars (although why an East Coast Railroad would promote itself on
the West Coast and not in its own territory is beyond me). New
Dimensions is an eye popping Technicolor feast of animation, produced for exhibition
at the 1940 Worlds Fair. Perfectly
synchronized with music and effects, a Chrysler is assembled one piece at a
the collection moves into the 50’s, the disc contains 3-D trailers for: It Came From Outer Space; Hannah Lee; The
Maze and Miss Sadie Thompson. Shorts include special intros for the
first 3-D film, Bwana Devil, hosted
by Lloyd Nolan (with a guest appearance by Beany & Cecil); Stardust in Your Eyes, which played
with Robot Monster and features
comic Slick Slaven, doing impressions, telling some jokes and singing a tune or
Doom Town is a very odd take
on the Atom Bomb and tests that were being done at Yucca Flats. Somewhat flippant in its tone and very
critical of this new super weapon, it only played a few bookings and
disappeared from view. Another great
short is the Casper cartoon Boo Moon,
another Technicolor visual feast.
is most noteworthy (and appreciated) is the restoration/cleanup work that has
been done on these films. Many were
transferred from the only surviving elements and had properties such as color
fade, shrinkage and other damage. The
bane of 3-D presentations was always the potential of a technical foul-up that
even one frame could produce. The images
here are extremely clean and have been color corrected and registered in place
to be able to deliver a comfortable 3-D viewing experience (and will always be
in sync when viewed from this Blu-Ray). Kudos to Bob Furmanek at the 3-D Archive for
finding these gems as well as Greg Kintz for the digital restoration. They both
deserve a big hand for their efforts.
are plenty of other shorts, including some risqué footage shot by, pre-Godfather, film student Francis Ford
Coppola, as well as a very informative, multi-page booklet with essays on every
short in there. It is certainly worth the modest price for these nostalgic
abbreviated version of the contents have just completed a successful run at New
York’s Museum of Modern Art and will be showing up in special engagements
across the country this summer.Please
for further information about this project and others.
Bonus Materials Include:
- Introductions by Leonard Maltin and Trustin Howard.
- Essays by Julian Antos, Hillary Hess, Thad Komorowski, Donald McWilliams, Ted
Okuda, Mary Ann Sell and Jack Theakston.
- 3-D photo galleries - Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), New York World's Fair
(1939), Sam Sawyer View-Master reels (1950) and 3-D Comic Books (1953).
- 3-D footage directed by Francis Ford Coppola from The Bellboy and the
- Commentary tracks by Thad Komorowski and Jack Theakston.
TO WATCH THE 3-D VERSIONS OF THESE FILMS, YOU NEED:
- 3D HDTV
- COMPATIBLE 3D GLASSES
- BLU-RAY 3DTM PLAYER OR PLAYSTATION 3 SYSTEM*
- HIGH-SPEED HDMI CABLE
For those of us who are hopelessly addicted to spy movies of the 1960s, the Warner Archive provides a gift: the first DVD release of "The Scorpio Letters", one of the more obscure 007-inspired espionage films of the era. Produced by MGM, the movie was shown on American TV in early 1967 before enjoying a theatrical release in Europe. It seems the studio was trying to emulate the strategy that it was employing at the time for its phenomenally popular "Man From U.N.C.L.E." TV series. That show had proven to be such a hit with international audiences that MGM strung together two-part episodes and released them theatrically. (Three films were released in America but a total of eight were shown in international markets.) As "The Scorpio Letters" was produced with a theatrical run in mind, it has a bit more gloss than the average TV movie, which was then a genre in its infancy. Nevertheless, it still has all the earmarks of a production with a limited budget. Although set in London and France, you'd have to be pretty naive to believe any of the cast and crew ever got out of southern California. Grainy stock footage is used to simulate those locations and there is ample use of the very distinctive MGM back lot, which at times makes the film resemble an episode of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." What the movie does provide is some nice chemistry between its two lead actors, Alex Cord, who had recently acquitted himself quite well in the underrated 1966 big screen remake of John Ford's "Stagecoach" and Shirley Eaton, then still riding the wave of popularity she enjoyed as the iconic "golden girl" from the Bond blockbuster "Goldfinger". The two play rival spies in London, both working for different British intelligence agencies, though whether it is MI5 or MI is never made clear.
The film is based on a novel by Victor Caning that had been adapted for the screen by the ironically named Adrian Spies, who had a long career working primarily in television. (Curiously, his one credited feature film was for the superb 1968 adventure "Dark of the Sun" (aka "The Mercenaries".) There is nothing remarkable about his work on "The Scorpio Letters". In fact, Spies provides a rather confusing plot. The film opens on a jarring note with a man taking a suicidal plunge from his apartment window in London. Turns out he was a British intelligence agent and the reasons for his suicide are of great interest to the higher ups in the spy business. Alex Cord plays Joe Christopher, an American ex-cop who now does work for one of the intelligence agencies run by Burr (the ever-reliable Laurence Naismith). Burr orders him to get to the bottom of the suicide case and in doing so, Joe gains access to the dead man's apartment just in time to encounter a mysterious man stealing a letter addressed to the dead agent. A foot chase ensues that ends with both men getting struck by a London double decker bus (yes, MGM had one of those laying around the back lot.) Still, Joe manages to steal back the letter the man had swiped and finds it is obviously a blackmail attempt made against the dead agent by a mystery person who goes by the name of Scorpio. From there the plot gets rather confusing and becomes one of those thrillers that is best enjoyed if you stop trying to figure out who is who and just sit back and enjoy the ride. Joe flirts with Phoebe Stewart (Shirley Eaton), who works in another intelligence agency. It appears her boss and Joe's boss are constantly trying to undermine each other in the attempt to solve major cases. Phoebe makes an attempt to seduce Joe, but he correctly suspects that she is trying to compromise him for information he knows about the case. Inevitably, a real romance blossoms but the love scenes are pretty mild, perhaps due to the fact that this film was made with a television broadcast in mind. (The plot invokes the old joke of having the would-be lovers get interrupted every time they attempt to get it on.)
Joe gets a lead that takes him to Paris where he discovers that Scorpio is the man behind a shadowy spy network that uses agents employed as waiters in an upscale restaurant. I imagine the reason for this is explained somewhere along the line but it's just one more confusing element to the script. Joe infiltrates the spies/waiters gang in the hopes of finding out who Scorpio is. Meanwhile, in the film's best scene, he is exposed, captured and tortured. There is even a modicum of suspense as there appears to be no logical way he will get out of this particular death trap. Refreshingly, Joe is no 007. He makes miscalculations, gets bruised and beaten and often has to rely on the intervention of others to save him. (In the film's climax, finding himself outmanned and outgunned, he actually does the logical thing and asks someone to call the local police for help.) Ultimately, Scorpio is revealed to be one of those standard, aristocratic spy villains of Sixties cinema. In this case he is played by the very able Oscar Beregi Jr. If you don't know the name, you'll know his face, as he excelled in playing urbane bad guys in countless TV shows and feature films of the era. There are numerous kidnappings, shootouts, double crosses and red herrings and one bizarre sequence that is ostensibly set in a French ski resort in which the ski lift is inexplicably in operation even though it's summer. Additionally, the California mountains look as much like France as Jersey City does.
Despite all of the gripes, I enjoyed watching "The Scorpio Letters". It's an entertaining, fast-moving diversion, directed with unremarkable efficiency by Richard Thorpe (his second-to-last film). Cord makes for a very capable leading man, tossing off the requisite wisecracks even while undergoing torture. Eaton possesses the kind of old world glamour you rarely see on screen nowadays. Together, they make an otherwise mediocre movie play out better than it probably should. (A minor trivia note: this represents the first film score of composer Dave Grusin, who would go on to become an Oscar winner.)
The Warner Archive DVD transfer is very impressive and the film contains an original trailer, which presumably was used in non-U.S. markets.
"Signpost to Murder", which has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive, is the kind of modest production that major studios used to routinely produce in the hopes of generating some equally modest profits in quick playoff situations. The MGM production was made in 1964 and ostensibly takes place in England. However, the British countryside is represented by small village set shot on a Hollywood back lot, along with one of the most unconvincing matte paintings ever created. Fortunately the film is a claustrophobic affair that all too obviously betrays its origins as a stage play, thus relegating most of the action to an elegant country home that adjoins a giant water mill wheel. The film opens in an asylum for the insane where we find the protagonist, Alex Forrester (Stuart Whitman), as a reformed inmate who had been incarcerated for the murder of his wife. His progressive psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Fleming (Edward Mulhare), makes a plea for his patient's release back into general society but the request is refused. Driven to severe despair, Alex clunks the doctor over the head and uses his clothing as a disguise to escape the prison. With a manhunt under way, he makes tracks for the mill house residence, which he has long admired from years of gazing out of his cell window. Once there, he secretly enters the home just in time to see it's sole resident, Molly Thomas (Joanne Woodward), sauntering around the home modeling bathing suits for a forthcoming village fashion show. (Who said timing isn't everything?) Alex gets a hold of a shotgun and forces Molly to tell visiting police detectives that all is well. In reality, she is awaiting the return of her husband from a business trip to Amsterdam- a fact that unnerves Alex. Because of the film's abbreviated running time (a scant 78 minutes), events move along at an improbably fast pace. In the course of the evening, Molly ends up using Alex as her own de facto shrink and confides that she isn't overjoyed at the prospect of seeing her husband. Turns out he's been cold and inattentive. For his part, Alex confides that he isn't even sure that he ever murdered his wife due to the shock of seeing her body in a bathtub. From that point, his memory of the evening in question blanked out. Before long, these two lonely people are making goo-goo eyes at each other and there is an implication things go even further. Molly believes in the innocence of her "house guest" and continues to hide his presence from all visitors, of which there are quite a few. In fact, for a remote country house, the place seems to have more people ambling about than Victoria Station. Events go into overdrive, however, when Alex believes he sees the body of Molly's husband revolving on the giant water wheel. Naturally, when she goes to look, the body isn't there. She assures him that it was all in his imagination, but Alex begins to doubt his own sanity and wonders if he may have murdered yet again. When Molly's husband does turn up dead, the story becomes one of those typical British drawing room mysteries in which all the principals gather in the living room while some red herrings are dismissed and some astonishing facts are revealed.
Although the production boasts some genuine and fine British character actors (Mulhare and Alan Napier among them), the film has an odd feel to it because the two leads are so obviously American. Whitman initially injects his manner of speech with a half-hearted attempt at a British accent, but it inexplicably disappears. Woodward doesn't even go that far. A simple line of dialogue explaining that she is an American would have helped, but lacking that, one can't help but be distracted by her "California Girl" mannerisms and speech. Woodward's presence in this low budget black and white production is a bigger mystery than the murder plot, given the fact that she was already a major star and an Oscar winner by this point in her career. Yet, she and Whitman do have considerable chemistry together- and if the prospect of a woman falling for a presumably psychopathic killer sounds far-fetched, just consider that major jail break in New York state in which a female prison employee helped two murderers escape because she thought they were in love with her. Under the capable direction of George Englund, the film moves at a brisk pace and is a pleasing time-killer. I suspected one major plot device from the beginning but I do admit that a second one came as a bit of a surprise. As a trivia note, fans of 1960s spy movies will probably recognize the mill house set as the exact location of the opening sequence of the "Man From U.N.C.L.E." feature film "To Trap a Spy".
The Warner Archive DVD features an original trailer in which the narrator refers to the star as "Joan" Woodward!
Fans camped out for days at Comic-Con hoping to be among the anointed who got the opportunity to attend the big sneak peak at the forthcoming "Star Wars" epic. Director J.J. Abrams was on hand along with original cast members Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. There was a good deal of sentiment on display and there was also a compilation of clips pertaining to the eagerly-awaited film. Click here for more
Way back in the 1970s while in college, I took a course dedicated to classic films. The teacher was Herbert J. Leder, an affable, if eccentric, professor who also had the distinction of having directed some films for major studios. They were all "B" movies, but they did get wide release. One of them was titled "The Frozen Dead", a 1967 Hammer horror wanna be with Dana Andrews as a mad Nazi doctor who plans to use cloning to revive the Third Reich in modern day England. As a joke, Herb showed the film one day in his "Classics of the Cinema" class. It was mildly diverting fare, no better or worse than much of what Hammer itself was releasing during this time period. A couple of years later, Fox released "The Boys From Brazil", a major adaptation of Ira Levin's bestselling thriller. The plot centered on a mad Nazi doctor who was using cloning to revive the Third Reich in modern society. I was rather shocked at the similarity of the story lines and discussed it with Herb Leder, who was dismissive of pursuing any possibility that Levin's novel might have been influenced by his "B" movie. Today, of course, the mindset would probably be different and a lawsuit, frivolous or not, would probably have been brought against all parties concerned with "The Boys From Brazil". The film version of Levin's novel was greeted with mixed reviews. I recall arguing the movie's merits (or lack thereof) with my mentor, Playboy film critic Bruce Williamson. I found the movie to be highly enjoyable and I was particularly impressed by Gregory Peck's refreshing change of pace, playing an outright villain, the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. Williamson said he felt that Peck reminded him of a drunk at a party who puts a lampshade on his head in an attempt to bring attention to himself. Nevertheless, upon seeing the film again through the Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory, my admiration for the movie remains undiminished.
The movie begins with a series of suspenseful sequences in which a determined young American, Barry Kohler, (Steve Guttenberg) in South America doggedly and surreptitiously tracks and photographs the activities of suspected former Nazis.He becomes increasingly audacious and manages to bug one of their meetings. He is shocked to learn that they have launched a plan to revive the Third Reich through the efforts of the world's most wanted man, the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, who oversaw barbaric "medical experiments" at Auschwitz. Kohler makes contact with the legendary Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier), who runs a drastically underfunded operation with his sister (Lili Palmer) that attempts to bring war criminals to justice. Lieberman is sarcastic to the young man and dismisses his information- until he suspects that he has been murdered. Lieberman then launches his own investigation, traveling internationally to interview parties who might shed light on the conspiracy. He finds that the ex-Nazis have ordered the murder of 94 civil servants around the globe who are all in their mid-60s. As the investigation continues, he suspects that Mengele has cloned DNA from Adolf Hitler and that there are now teenage boys coming of age as sons of the men who have been marked for murder. Mengele needs to replicate the exact occurrences in the life of Hitler, including the death of his father when he was a teenager. By doing so, he hopes that at least one of the 94 boys will become a leader for the revived Reich.
The premise of the plot is an unlikely one to involve the likes of Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier and James Mason, who plays another ex-Nazi who pulls the plug on Mengele's plans, thus forcing the arch villain to act independently to see his scheme through to fruition. Indeed, there are times the film seems like a dusted off vehicle for old time character actor George Zucco, who reveled in playing mad doctors. However, under the direction of Franklin J. Schaffner, the pace is brisk, the story involving and the performances are compelling. Add to all this a superb musical score by Jerry Goldsmith and it's hard to resist the movie, despite its abundance of guilty pleasures. The finale is a bizarre doozy in which Mengele and Lieberman (who is obviously supposed to be real life Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal) end up in a wrestling match in the presence of bloodthirsty hounds! Olivier overdoes the feeble old Jewish guy routine (a performance he would recreate practically verbatim as Neil Diamond's cantor father in "The Jazz Singer" a couple of years later). Nevertheless, he's fun to watch. An irony is that, although Gregory Peck gives the superior performance, it was Olivier who got a Best Actor nomination. Adding to the irony, Olivier had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor two years before for playing a thinly-veiled Mengele in "Marathon Man". There are plenty of fine supporting performances including Anne Meara in a rare dramatic role, Bond baddie Walter Gotell, John Dehner, Rosemary Harris, Uta Hagen, Denholm Elliott, Bruno Ganz and Linda Hayden. Young Jeremy Black is especially creepy as the teenage boy who doesn't realize he is carrying Hitler's DNA.
The Shout! Factory Blu-ray does justice to this opulent production that is dripping in atmosphere. An original trailer is also included.
Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor who broke through barriers to become a major international star, has died in Cairo from a heart attack at age 83. In recent months, he had been battling the onset of Alzheimer's Disease. Sharif and Peter O'Toole were virtual unknowns when they were cast as the leads by director David Lean in his 1962 masterpiece "Lawrence of Arabia". Both received Oscar nominations for the film and went on to become two of the biggest stars to emerge in the 1960s. Sharif reunited with Lean for another blockbuster, the 1965 production of "Doctor Zhivago" in which Sharif played the title role. He also co-starred with Barbra Streisand in her Oscar-winning 1968 film "Funny Girl" and appeared with her in the 1975 sequel "Funny Lady". Other prominent films Sharif appeared in during the 1960s include Samuel Bronston's ill-fated but underrated "The Fall of the Roman Empire", "Behold a Pale Horse", the star-packed production of "The Yellow Rolls Royce", "The Night of the Generals" (with Peter O'Toole), "Mayerling", "More Than a Miracle" and "Genghis Khan". Two his career missteps occurred in films he made in 1969: the critically lambasted "Che!" in which he played communist revolutionary Che Guevara and "MacKenna's Gold", a bloated Western that is more remembered for its poor rear screen projection shots than its magnificent landscapes. During the 1970s Sharif made some good films that were underrated ("The Last Valley", "The Horsemen", "The Burglars", "Juggernaut") and quite a few forgettable ones. As his boxoffice popularity went into decline, he began to appear in more obscure films or play small roles in larger productions. He increasingly concentrated on his real passion: perfecting his game of bridge. In fact, Sharif was regarded as a world-class player and wrote a syndicated newspaper column regarding techniques for playing the game. For more click here.
The Warner Archive has released the 1964 Bob Hope comedy "A Global Affair". On the surface, it's standard Hope fare from this era but there are some interesting, if bizarre, aspects to the production. Most notably, the film was done with the cooperation of the United Nations and plays at times like a promotional feature for the perpetually beleaguered institution. Hope plays Frank Larrimore, a swinging New York City bachelor who works for the U.N. He is also a passionate advocate for children and has been unsuccessfully trying to get the U.N. to adopt a program that will grant certain basic international rights to minors. When an unseen mother leaves her baby at the U.N. before a holiday weekend, the Undersecretary General (Nehemiah Persoff) orders Larrimore to act as the child's guardian for a few days. This results in certain predictable gags as Larrimore fumbles his way through the daily basics of caring for the kid. He totes her around in a pet carrier, powders her with sugar and uses kitchen towels as diapers. When word leaks out about the U.N.'s "orphan", every country makes demands that the child be brought up as a citizen of that nation. The debate escalates to an international story and Larrimore finds himself saddled with the tyke for an extended period. He is given the unenviable task of judging which nation would be best-suited for the adoption. To help him cope with the pressure, he is assigned another U.N. employee, Lisette (Michele Mercier), a lovely French girl who immediately locks horns with Larrimore about his inabilities and his hedonistic lifestyle. This is exacerbated by the frequent presence of his upstairs neighbor Randy (Robert Sterling in the kind of role usually played by Tony Randall or Gig Young), who uses the baby as a lure to bring gorgeous single women to Larrimore's apartment for wild parties. As you might imagine, Larrimore and Lisette gradually fall in love even as they seek out the right parentage for the baby. Things get complicated when female representatives of various nations attempt to seduce him in order to influence his decision. For a swinging bachelor, Larrimore seems curiously immune to feminine charms. He deftly avoids one seduction attempt after another and even calls the police to remove one such lovely, a bustier-clad Yvette (Elga Andersen) from his bed. In terms of his love life, Larrimore seems less into the world of Hugh Hefner than the domain of the Boys in the Band, given the lengths he goes to in avoiding intimacy with women. This includes cougar Yvonne De Carlo, who smokes up the screen with an impressive Flamenco dance number. Ultimately, the movie breezes to a conclusion that is telegraphed in the first five minutes of the story.
The film plays out in predictable style and, like most Hope vehicles, keeps a brisk pace this time under the direction of veteran helmer Jack Arnold. It took four writers (including Charles Lederer and Arthur Marx) to develop this sitcom-like script that relies entirely on Hope's standard shtick. Fortunately, he's up to the task. Hope's genius is that he knew his limitations and never went beyond them. He played essentially the same character in every movie he made and his ability to toss off a wisecrack was rivaled only by Groucho Marx. (When queried by a U.N. delegate about what he knows about Turkey, he quips "I know the white meat is tender!"). The film provides some mildly amusing scenarios, some concerning Larrimore's fussy landlord played by the inimitable John McGiver. The equally impressive character actress Reta Shaw has a brief bit and Barbara Bouchet has a small role as well. There are some unintentional laughs whenever Larrimore is required to remind the audience of all the good works the U.N. does for the world, which was obviously a quid pro quo for being allowed to film on the premises. This dialogue has all the natural flow of someone in a hostage video. There are also some dated jokes involving U Thant, Soviet gulags and the Cuban Missile Crisis. (There is even a cameo by Adlai Stevenson!)
In al, "A Global Affair" is much ado about nothing- but the irresistible lure of Bob Hope and the sheer number of glamorous young actresses make this black and white production a pleasant way to spend 84 minutes.
Producers Albert R. Broccoli (left) and Harry Saltzman with author Ian Fleming and star Sean Connery in a publicity photo taken before production started on the first 007 film "Dr. No" in 1962
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Eon Productions has stated on the company's web site and Facebook page that they have not granted rights for a James Bond musical production. Earlier, Merry Saltzman, one of the daughters of the late 007 producer Harry Saltzman, announced that she was staging a musical production based on the Bond films. In response to the Eon statement, Saltzman indicated that she has not sought rights from Eon nor does she believe she needs them since her stage production would fall into the category of a parody. Eon has been very protective of the Bond brand over the decades and it remains to be seen how this will be resolved. The situation does open some old wounds that many thought were long closed. Harry Saltzman teamed with fellow producer Albert R. Broccoli to form Eon Productions and produce the James Bond films. It was an uneasy relationship from day one but the two partners rode the wave of the series' phenomenal success. However, a series of bad financial investments led Harry to sell his 50% share of the franchise in the early 1970s. Instead of offering his share to Broccoli, he chose to sell it to United Artists, thus making the studio Broccoli's new partner in the franchise. This led to many problems for Broccoli as studio management changed in the 1980s and left him at odds with the new regime. In protest, Broccoli did not make a Bond film from the release of "Licence to Kill" 1989 until the revival of the series with "GoldenEye" in 1995. Despite hard feelings that ran for many years, Broccoli and Saltzman did have a reconciliation of sorts in 1981 when Broccoli invited Saltzman to the London premiere of "For Your Eyes Only". They kept in touch occasionally until Saltzman's death in 1994.
Since Broccoli's death in 1996, Eon has been run by Broccoli's daughter Barbara and her step-brother Michael G. Wilson. The pair has succeeded in reinventing the franchise, first with the casting of Pierce Brosnan as Bond and more recently with Daniel Craig in the role. The latest Bond film, "Skyfall" was released in 2012 and is the top-grossing British film in history. As of this writing, Merry Saltzman has indicated she intends to continue development of the Bond musical. It remains to be seen whether her plans will ultimately bear any fruit.
War II vet Jim Fletcher (Bill Williams) awakens in a Navy hospital bed after
languishing in a coma for two years. He
learns that he’s despised by other patients and hospital staff as a traitor,
but he has no idea what he’s supposed to have done wrong. Amnesia has erased that portion of his
memory. Overhearing that he’s going to
be court-martialed, Jim escapes from the hospital and seeks help from his buddy
Mark Gregory. But he learns from a
newspaper headline that Mark is dead, and that he is blamed for the “torture
at gunpoint, and then willingly when she begins to realize that Jim is
innocent, Mark’s widow Martha (Barbara Hale) helps the fugitive hunt for
another friend, Ted Niles (Richard Quine). Jim, Ted, and Mark were fellow prisoners in a Japanese POW camp, Jim’s
last memory before his coma. He hopes
that Niles can help him piece together what happened, and why he’s being chased
by Naval Intelligence and two mysterious killers. The mystery is compounded when Jim and Martha
grab dinner at a restaurant in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and Jim spots an Asian man whom he recognizes as Tokoyama (Richard Loo), the sadistic prison-camp guard
who haunts him in PTSD mental flashbacks.
Clay Pigeon” (1949) is an efficient little B-movie, what studios called a
“programmer” in the old days to fill the bottom half of a theatrical double bill. A trim 63 minutes long, it’s typical of the
modestly budgeted, black-and-white crime dramas cranked out by Hollywood during
and after WWII. Like TV series dramas a
decade later, these unassuming pictures provided on-the-job experience for
up-and-coming young talent who would go on to write, direct, and produce more
prestigious works. In this case, the
young talents were 35-year-old scriptwriter Carl Foreman and 33-year-old
director Richard Fleischer, here billed as “Richard O. Fleischer.” Fans of classic Hollywood spectacle fondly
remember Fleischer for “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” (1954), “The Vikings” (1958), and “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
(1970). Just as readily, Cinema Retro fans are likely to associate him
with cult favorites like “The Don Is Dead” (1973), “Soylent Green” (1973),
“Mandingo” (1975), and “Mr. Majestyk” (1975).
direction in “The Clay Pigeon” includes some compelling Noir visuals and
situations. In the opening scene of
Fletcher in close-up in his hospital bed, two anonymous hands enter the frame,
feel along the unconscious man’s face, then suddenly close on his throat. Later, Jim is chased through anonymous big
city (L.A.) streets by two menacing characters in fedoras. In their initial meeting, Martha apparently
welcomes Jim and says she’s glad to see her husband’s friend. Then, realizing that Martha has gone into the
next room not to fix coffee but to call the police, Jim lunges in and grabs the
phone. The two engage in a believably
frantic scuffle. Jim clinches with
Martha and covers her mouth, she struggles and bites his hand, and Jim knocks
this first, tense half-hour, the movie loses some of its momentum as Martha
becomes Jim’s ally and the couple take time out from their flight to picnic on
the beach and engage in some silly banter. But the final scenes pick up stride again as Fletcher is trapped by his
enemies on a speeding train -- a foreshadowing of Fleischer’s claustrophobic,
train-bound thriller a year later, “The Narrow Margin” (1950). One sequence reflects screenwriter Foreman’s
interest in social issues, as another war widow, played by Marya Marco, hides
Fletcher from Tokoyama and his gunmen. The widow is Japanese-American, and Fletcher notices that one of the
items in her apartment is a commendation to her late husband, also
Japanese-American, who was killed in action against the Nazis in Europe. It’s nice to see that the studio cast
Asian-American actors Loo and Marco in prominent speaking roles in an era in
which white actors were cast all too often as Asians. As old-movie and classic-TV enthusiasts know,
stars Williams and Hale were married in real life. Two other familiar faces in early stages of
their careers, Martha Hyer and Robert Bray, have bit roles.
Warner Archive Collection release of “The Clay Pigeon” is a
manufactured-on-demand DVD-R. The 1.37:1
image, pillarboxed for widescreen TVs, is sharp and clean, so sharp in fact
that the grainy stock footage used in the train sequence is distractingly
apparent. There are no extras, chapter
stops, or subtitles on the disc.
Disney, which now owns the rights to the "Star Wars" film franchise, has announced that it will develop a stand-alone film that centers of the life and adventures of young Han Solo, the character who has been famously played by Harrison Ford in the legendary film franchise. The movie will be co-directed by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, who were the "force" (pardon the pun) the hit films "The Lego Movie" and "21 Jump Street". The film will be written by Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan. Lawrence is the scribe who co-wrote "The Empire Strikes Back", "Return of the Jedi" and "The Force Awakens". No casting has been announced but the film is slated for a May 2018 release. Disney has been upfront about expanding the "Star Wars" universe into new segments. The studio obviously hopes that Han Solo can carry a successful tent pole franchise on his own. For more click here.
to view the Jess Franco filmography in its entirety is intimidating and
virtually insurmountable as the late writer/director had nearly 200 credits to
his name. Finding all of them on video
is nearly an impossible task, but thanks to DVD and Blu-ray, many of his most
revered titles are now available in high quality transfers. One of the most prolific directors in the
cinema, Mr. Franco, who hailed from Spain and passed away in 2013, was busy up
until the end of his life and while he openly chided the quality of his own
work (rightfully so in his later outings), he has legions of fans the world
is impossible to look at the cinema of Italian director Dario Argento, who
himself was influenced by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and Edgar Wallace, without
knowing that he was heavily inspired by his mentor Mario Bava. The colorful sets and off-kilter camera
angles are trademarks of both directors. The Girl Who Knew Too Much,
Mr. Bava’s 1963 film which is also known as The
Evil Eye and starred John Saxon, is considered by some to be the first giallo film (a subset of the Italian
horror film that is a thriller or a “whodunnit”), however another film that can
arguably don this mantle is Mr. Franco’s The
Sadistic Baron von Klaus (1962), a beautifully lensed black and white thriller
that must have been shocking to audiences at the time of its release in a
similar fashion to the reception that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) received here in the States two years earlier. Like Psycho,
Baron von Klaus has its origins in
literature. Based upon the novel The Hand of a Dead Man by David Khune, Baron von Klaus takes the monster out of
the monster and puts it into a human being. Along with Mr. Bava, Mr. Franco no doubt had an impact on Mr. Argento’s
style and themes. So-called trademarks
attributed to Mr. Argento appear in this film, such as a mysterious killer
donning black gloves; a self-appointed sleuth who attempts to unmask the
identity of the killer; the use of women as sexually desirable objects to be
possessed or dispatched with violently should they spurn the killer’s charms; and
the use of shadows. The plot involves
the titular character, Baron Von Klaus, who comes from a lineage that is cursed
by the ghost of a killer that is more than likely possessing the mind of our
poor anti-hero. Anyone born into this
family has the potential to become a murderer. This becomes a convenient excuse for Von Klaus to behave reprehensibly
and by today’s standards, the film is very tame. However, to have seen this type of story and
depiction of torture and murder in 1962 must have been extremely jarring, and
certainly must have made the audience uneasy. If Mr. Franco was willing to show them this, then they would have to be on their guard just in case he
showed them that.
Klaus’s fiancée is a wonderful woman who loves him unconditionally and cannot
come to terms with the idea that her beloved might somehow be the same person
murdering young women. A police
inspector arrests the wrong man but eventually lets him go. In some ways, this is a segue thriller,
because on the one hand it takes elements of the supernatural which were so
prevalent in the Universal and Hammer thrillers of the preceding decades and
weaves it into this story which anticipates the types of thrillers that were to
become a mainstay of Euro-horror for many years later on. An element that appears multiple times in the
film is one that has been depicted in countless other examples of the genre so
as to become a cliché: a woman takes to the dark and deserted streets alone
after hours on her way home and virtually guarantees that someone will follow
and attack her. At the time this film
was made, it’s possible that audiences simply weren’t expecting someone to do
something so foolish, yet it happens in the dark and dead of night. If the film were remade today, the casting
directors could showcase a pretty young thing sporting the ridiculous white
earbuds that are all the rage, making it more convenient that ever for a killer
to sneak up on her undetected and dispense with her before she knew what hit
the knife-in-the-shower shock murder in the aforementioned Psycho, Baron von Klaus depicts
violence in an explicit and shocking way for the time. Contemporary audiences are numbed to screen
violence in a way that viewers 50 years ago could never have imagined. The dark shadows on the walls of the neighborhood
that the killer haunts are creepy and harken back to the Val Lewton thrillers.
new Kino Lorber Blu-ray is transferred from a print that has some imperfections such as
lines that may have been embedded in the emulsion, but nothing too distracting. Overall, this is a very sharp and beautiful
Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright (1987) is one of the most entertaining Italian giallo films ever made that is not
directed by Dario Argento. This stunning
directorial debut by the man who was frequently Mr. Argento's second unit
director on previous films only gets better with age and easily lends itself to
repeat viewings despite being somewhat marred by a disappointing ending. The film is beautifully lit and photographed and
is a slasher film that one can call truly lurid in its execution, but at times
it is also very funny. It boasts a premise that is formulaic to be sure, but its
very simplicity works in its favor. Plus, the idea of being trapped inside a
building with no possible way out is one that anyone can find frightening. Stage
Fright calls to mind Lamberto Bava’s Demons
(1986) which follows a similar plot (folks who band together to ward off an
intruder and cannot find an exit) and the mammoth Metropol Theatre. In fact, Mr.
Soavi played the metal-faced punk in Demons
who handed out the invitations. He’s also the young cop in the police car
outside the theater in Stage Fright,
redubbed dialog and all. The film has
the usual charms one has come to expect of the Italian horror cinema of years
gone by: quirky character banter, quotable lines, off-the-wall camera moves,
and a phenomenal musical score, here done by Simon Boswell and Stefano
Filmed in April and May of 1986 right after Russia’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster
(one of the characters in the film even writes out a check dated April 26, 1986
– the very day of the Reactor 4 meltdown), Stage
Fright’s opening credits play over some strange sound effects, slow
footsteps, a door opening, someone forcing a mop into water, a cat meowing and
screeching, etc. The film then opens on a shot of Lucifer, the stage manager’s
black cat who happens to be running through a stage play that is in rehearsal.
His appearance cannot go unnoticed. Before the dawn arrives, more bad luck than
one can shake a stick at will befall the entire cast of this production.
Lucifer seems to be the harbinger of bad luck for the entire group. David Brandon, the photographer in Photo of Gioia (1987), stars as Peter
Collins, the director of this theater troupe of amateurs rehearsing for the
play that is opening much sooner than he lets on. Described by one of the young
women as an intellectual musical, “The Night Owl” is the story about a murdered
prostitute who comes back from the dead and rapes her own killer. Nice, huh?
Peter tries to get his cast together and in synch with the music but they’re
all over the place. Unbeknownst to him
and the others, Alicia the leading lady (Barbara Cupisti) and Betty the
wardrobe mistress (Ulrike Schwerk) sneak out in the hopes of finding treatment
for Alicia’s twisted ankle. Naturally, they go to a mental institution because
psychiatrists are doctors, too, aren’t they? Naturally, it’s pouring.
Naturally, the institution houses Irving Wallace, an actor who went crazy and
killed 16 people. And naturally, Wallace manages to escape and find refuge in
Betty’s car that very night! Amazingly, Mr. Soavi makes no effort to conceal
Wallace’s face from the audience; we know what he looks like, and he is
frightening. After the police interrogate everyone, Peter decides to use
this horrible incident to his advantage. Unfortunately, the real killer is hiding in the theater that they cannot
Reliable Giovanni Lombardo Radice, aka John Morghen, plays Brett, the perpetual
theatrical prankster with the effeminate voice. He meets his death brutally as
well through a case of mistaken identity.
The ending is truly bothersome, because it throws in the usual tongue-in-cheek
horror movie ending staple that became so prevalent in the genre’s lesser
Don’t let this one disappointment stop you from seeing Stage Fright. What the ending lacks in the way of logic is more
than made up for in mood, music, sound effects, and the constant drone of thunder
from outside the theater. All of these
elements mix to make Stage Fright a
terrific slasher film.
new Blu-ray from Blue Underground is a revelation and worth the upgrade, not
just for the beautiful image, but also for the wealth of extras that the disc
has to offer. This is the first time
that this film has been available in the United States with any extras to speak
Theatre of Delirium – Interview with Director
Michele Soavi (approx. 19 minutes). I must admit that this is first time I have
actually seen a sit-down discussion with Mr. Soavi (pronounced mic-KELL-ay
so-AHV-ay), a director who showed tremendous promise with this first
feature. His subsequent offerings have
been hit or miss and he now seems to work solely in the realm of Italian
Head of The Company – Interview with
Star David Brandon (approx.
12 minutes). This is an interview with
one of my favorite actors in the film. Mr. Brandon played Peter the stage manager, whose dictatorial style is
what holds the group of amateurs together
as they are dispensed with one by one Ten Little Indians-style.
Blood on The Stage Floor – Interview
with Star Giovanni Lombardo Radice
(approx. 14 minutes). This actor is
better known internationally as John Morghen and has appeared in a wealth of brutal
horror films for Ruggero Deodato and Lucio Fulci. Here he speaks of his experience making the
film, and his annoyance with one of the actors who was not a trained
The Sound Of Aquarius – Interview with
Composer Simon Boswell
(approx. 18 minutes). This piece shines
a light on the film’s score, which is one of my favorite scores and was once
released on the Lucertola label in a limited pressing of 1200 copies and how
Simon Boswell the composer came to score the film. The score is terrific.
The Owl Murders – Interview with
Make-Up Effects Artist Pietro Tenoglio
(approx. 11 minutes) is interesting in that Mr. Tenoglio has nearly 60 credits
to his name as a make-up artist, yet he is not as well-known as Sergio
Stivaletti who contributed effects to many other contemporary giallo films,
such as Demons (1986) and Opera (1987). I am glad that he is given his due here.
requisite theatrical trailer and poster/still gallery rounds out the
this on Blu-ray is a must for fans of this film. The dark, sub-par transfer from the Eighties
has been upgraded to a gorgeous and colorful palette which makes me yearn for
the now bygone days of Italian horror cinema.
Macnee with Diana Rigg in the classic TV series The Avengers.
The Daily Beast's Andrew McKie writes an amusing and informative tribute to the late Patrick Macnee, the dapper actor who defined British class and elegance. Macnee, who passed away on June 25, was mostly known for his starring role as adventurer and crime fighter John Steed on the long-running TV series The Avengers. But, as the article points out, there was so much more to his story, including an unconventional upbringing by his lesbian mother and her lover as well as his roguish ways that saw him expelled from Eton. To read, click here.
it opened in theaters some 55 years ago, on July 13, 1960, producer/director
Irwin Allen’s “The Lost World” promised 96 minutes of exotic, CinemaScope,
Color by DeLuxe fantasy adventure about dinosaurs and modern-day explorers in a
remote corner of the world. As difficult
as it may be for older filmgoers to remember today, and for younger ones to
even imagine, widescreen cinematography and sumptuous color were powerful draws
in that era before home theater, 500 cable channels, and streaming video. The TV set in your living room would only
pick up three or four stations at best on a small black-and-white screen. A night out at the movies in CinemaScope and
air conditioning was a big treat for most families. Talk about a lost world. Ten-year-olds were further primed by a Dell
movie-tie-in comic book with its cover photo of a fearsome giant reptile
emerging from a sinister fog: “Fantastic
adventures of an expedition to a lost land of prehistoric animals and fierce
enticements worked and Allen’s movie did good business, but its reviews failed
to match its commercial success. The
critics, who had little use for science fiction anyway in that era before the
genre became big entertainment business, derided nearly every aspect of the
film. Some of their points were
valid. By filming on studio backlots and
using stock footage to cut costs, Allen compromised the classy value of Winton
Hoch’s expansive widescreen cinematography. The script by Allen and his frequent collaborator, one-time Alfred Hitchcock
scenarist Charles Bennett, leaned heavily on conventional Hollywood plot
elements to pad out Conan Doyle’s rousing but rather dramatically thin source
material. Those might not have been
serious liabilities five or ten years earlier, but Hollywood was already moving
in the direction of greater realism, at least in terms of filming in authentic
exotic locations rather than a sound stage. Most small-town audiences probably didn’t care, but their comments
didn’t enter the permanent record. The
newspaper and magazine reviews did. Today, compared with the level of lifelike detail that modern CGI can
produce, the sets look even cruder in the jungle scenes.
for special effects purists, Allen dashed hopes that the movie would employ the
magic of stop-motion animation that had distinguished First National Pictures’
original, silent-screen version of “The Lost World” in 1925. Instead, as another way to save money and
time, the production substituted tricked-out lizards for the ingenious,
articulated model dinosaurs that Willis O’Brien had built and animated for the
1925 film. O’Brien was credited as a
“technical expert” for the 1960 film, but the work really was done by Fox’s
in-house team of L.B. Abbott, James B. Gordon, and Emil Kosa Jr. When “The Lost World” ran on TV from the
late 1960s through the ‘80s, it suffered even further: pan-and-scan conversion
ruined Hoch’s cinematography and made the artificiality of the sets even more
apparent. It didn’t help that Allen
recycled footage from the movie for his TV series “Voyage to the Bottom of the
Sea” (1964-68) and “The Time Tunnel” (1966-67). The practice confirmed Allen’s critical reputation as a crass
penny-pincher and may have conflated the movie with those childish TV shows in
the film, scientist George Edward Challenger (Claude Rains) returns from an
expedition to the wilds of the upper Amazon, where he claims to have found an
isolated plateau on which dinosaurs have survived into the present. Not having any physical or photographic proof
(his photos were lost when his canoe overturned on the return trip), and
already regarded by his staid colleagues as an egotistical gadfly, he is met
with disbelief. He proposes to launch a
return expedition, joined by his skeptical rival Professor Summerlee (Richard Haydn)
and globe-trotting sportsman Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie). As a condition for financing the quest,
newspaper magnate Stuart Holmes (John Graham) coerces Challenger into taking
star reporter Ed Malone (David Hedison) along. Malone will file breaking-news dispatches on the way to the Amazon and
beyond -- a prescient 1960 version of today’s reality TV and real-time internet
coverage of sensational “infotainment.”
to South America, as represented by the actors in close-up looking out of airplane
windows at spectacular stock aerial footage of lush jungles and cascading
waterfalls, the expedition reaches an outpost where they are met by guide Costa
(Jay Novello) and helicopter pilot Gomez (Fernando Lamas). They also have two unwelcome additions. Holmes’ daughter Jennifer (Jill St. John),
has impulsively jetted over without parental knowledge to join her boyfriend
Roxton, accompanied by her brother David (Ray Stricklyn). From the outpost, Gomez’ chopper ferries the
explorers to the lost plateau. There, a
dinosaur wrecks the helicopter, stranding them. After adventures with other dinos, giant spiders, and man-eating venus
fly-traps and voracious creeper vines, they are captured by a tribe of
cannibals. A gorgeous native girl
(Vitina Marcus) helps them escape through the perils of the Graveyard of the
Damned and the Lake of Fire (did Lucas and Spielberg see this movie as teens
and take notes?). There’s a subplot
about a dark secret in Roxton’s recent past and a hunt for diamonds, leading to
a confrontation with one of his fellow travelers in a grotto where a gunshot
rouses another dinosaur, which eats the most expendable character in the
cast. Getting rid of the monster by
dumping a cascade of lava on it, the survivors flee the plateau just before the
magma sets off a volcanic explosion.
novel and the 1925 movie ended with Challenger taking a dinosaur back to
London, where the creature escapes and causes panic (in the book, a
pterodactyl, in the silent film, a Willis O’Brien T-Rex). Allen, in another cost-conscious move (or did
he have thoughts about a sequel?), ends with a baby T-Rex, actually a gecko,
hatching from an egg, and Challenger jovially promising to take it back as
proof for skeptics.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Shout! Factory:
Robin Hood. Wealthy man of mystery.
Debonair rogue. Call Simon Templar what you will, but never cross The Saint.
A timeless figure of adventure since his creation by Leslie Charteris in 1928, The
Saint has thrilled adventure aficionados with his exploits in a variety of
media, including novels, movies, and radio—but nowhere was the dashing Mr.
Templar more indelibly realized than in his 1960s television series, presented
here in one outstanding collection: The Saint: The Complete Series. Fans of the dashing spy will finally be able to
revisit his adventures with the release of The
Saint: The Complete Series on DVD from Timeless Media Group, a division of
Shout! Factory, LLC.
the first time as a complete series, the 33-DVD box set features all 118
episodes of the classic espionage show, including first 71 episodes of the
series in black & white and the subsequent 47 episodes in their original
full color presentation. The Saint: The Complete Series also comes loaded with bonus features
previously unavailable in North American releases, including the featurette Behind the
Scenes with Sir Roger Moore as Director as well as audio commentaries on
select episodes with members of the cast and crew, including Sir Roger Moore,
Executive Producer Robert S. Baker, Associate Producer Johnny Goodman and more!
perfectly-cast Roger Mooreas Simon Templar, The Saint was not
only a benchmark in the lifespan of the character, but a stepping stone to
Moore taking on the role of an even more well-known man of action later in his
career. The Saint: The Complete Series
features superb guest stars including Oliver Reed (Tommy, Gladiator), Academy
Award-winning actress Julie Christie (Darling, Doctor Zhivago), Donald
Sutherland (The Dirty Dozen), Edward Woodward (“The Equalizer”) a bevy
of Bondian beauties (Goldfinger’s Honor Blackman and Shirley Eaton, as
well as Lois “Miss Moneypenny” Maxwell), and many more.
The Saint: The Complete Series Bonus
·Audio commentary on select episodes:
o“The Talented Husband” – Roger Moore,
Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer) and Johnny Goodman (Associate Producer)
o“The Saint Plays With Fire” – Roger
Moore, Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer) and Johnny Goodman (Associate Producer)
o“Luella” – Director Roy Ward Backer and
guest star Sue Lloyd
o“The Saint Bids Diamonds” - Roger
Moore, Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer) and guest star Eunice Gayson
o“The Happy Suicide” – Jane Merrow
o“Escape Route” - Roger Moore, Robert S.
Baker (Executive Producer) and Peter Manley (Production Supervisor)
o“The House on Dragon’s Rock” – guest
star Annette Andre
o“The Ex-King Of Diamonds” - Roger
Moore, Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer)
o“Vendetta For The Saint” - Roger Moore,
Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer), and Johnny Goodman (Associate Producer)
·Behind the Scenes with Sir Roger Moore as Director featurette
About Timeless Media Group
Media Group, a division of Shout! Factory, LLC, produces and distributes a
variety of home entertainment products, including classic television
programming, first run movies and its own award-winning military history
documentaries, along with an extensive offering of special interest DVD and
Blu-ray™ collections. Visit timelessvideo.com.
The Cinefix web site provides a lengthy analysis of the differences between Stephen King's novel "The Shining" and Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film version, which in this writer's opinion has many merits but is ultimately undermined by the miscasting of Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall. The Cinefix guys provide clips from the film and some very clever graphics in a fast-moving and cynically humorous examination of how the book and film versions depart from each other. - Lee Pfeiffer
Vinegar Syndrome continues to unearth obscure erotic movies from decades past and manages to infuse new life to them. That may not make the people who participated in them very happy but for the sizable audience devoted to retro erotica, this is manna from Heaven. One of the recent releases is also one of the strangest. Billed on the DVD sleeve as "The Flying Acquaintances", this 1973 bares the title of "The Acquaintances" on the print that the DVD was mastered from. A perusal of the bonus publicity materials indicates it was also marketed as "The Sensuous Stewardesses." Bizarrely, the film opens with a syrupy love song crooned by a Jack Jones wanna be. How this pertains to the scenario of the film itself remains a mystery. The nominal plot (such as it is) concerns a bank teller, Max (future porn superstar Jamie Gillis) who makes ends meet by moonlighting as a taxi driver in New York City. In reality, he has other reasons for this secondary job. Seems Max has an enviable ability to get female passengers in bed. All the while, he assures his wife that he is remaining faithful. In the first scene, Max picks up a stewardess at the airport and drives her home. She invites him in and tells him she doesn't have enough money for the fare but she will be happy to work it off in "trade". Max accepts, thereby leading to one of the longest and most boring sex scenes ever filmed. Not helping matters is the fact that the movie is softcore. There is plenty of female full frontal nudity but the film still balks when it comes to having the guys go Full Monty. While the stewardess is screaming in passion, the scene cuts to the apartment next door where a sexually frustrated wife is trying unsuccessfully to arouse her construction worker husband. (We know he's a construction worker because he wears his hard hat at home.) Turned on by the shrieks of joy coming from the next apartment, the wife strips naked but all her hubby wants to do is drink beer, eat chicken and watch some mindless action movie on TV. Whatever amusement this scenario might have provided is not only beaten to death, it's then disinterred, abused and buried again. The seemingly endless sequence will have your mind drifting to more erotic thoughts such as what groceries you need to add to your shopping list. Another scenario finds a young Frenchman in New York who is seduced by a comely young woman. In yet another vignette, a young male virgin is seduced by a cougar who gets it on with her girlfriend to ensure he enjoys the experience. A common theme throughout centers on frustrated women trying to entice largely passive males.
What is remarkable about this film is that it seems dated even for 1973. By then, softcore was out and hardcore was in. The film seems to be from an era where people had to get watching those old "nudist" documentaries. It is as close to hardcore as you can get, but even by porn standards, the production lacks imagination or skill in terms of execution. There are redeeming factors, however. For one, the Vinegar Syndrome restoration is highly impressive. Second, the film has a great deal of on location scenery. If you enjoy seeing New York during this time frame, the film offers a cornucopia of great images including Columbus Circle and Times Square. For those of you who like to spot retro movie marquees, it's probably buying the DVD for that purpose alone. In slowing down the frames, I spotted some great ones: "Prime Cut" playing side by side with "The Godfather" at the old Loews State in Times Square; "The Sorry and the Pity" at the Paris Theatre and other 42nd Street marquees featuring "Hannie Caulder", "The Legend of Nigger Charlie", "The Possession of Joel Delaney" and many more.
The movie includes some photos in a still gallery and the original trailer.
In days of old before every movie released was designed to be a record-breaking blockbuster, studios routinely produced modestly-budgeted fare designed for a quick playoff and modest profit. A perfect example of this is "Quick, Before It Melts!", a softball sex comedy from 1964 that must have been considered to be a bit risque in its day. Although George Maharis, then a current heart throb gets first billing, the real star is Robert Morse. He plays Oliver Cromwell Cannon, an aspiring reporter who is routinely abused by his boss, publishing magnate Harvey T. Sweigert (Howard St. John), who considers Oliver to be so inconsequential that he has to be reminded that he is engaged to his daughter Sharon (Yvonne Craig). Oliver's career is on the fast track to nowhere until Sweigert affords him an opportunity to prove himself. He is being assigned as the first staff reporter at the South Pole and will be stationed at a U.S. Navy weather installation there. Sweigert is to the political right of Sen. Joe McCarthy and sees Soviet expansion everywhere, even in the remote frozen tundras. Sweigert gives Oliver the seemingly impossible task of digging up some sort of scoop that would embarrass the Soviets. Accompanying Oliver is Peter Santelli (George Maharis), an ace photographer who is also a renowned ladies man.
Prior to leaving, Oliver visits Sharon and does his best to seduce her. She's a virgin on the verge but insists on waiting until their wedding night, much to Oliver's frustration. En route to the South Pole, Oliver and Peter have an extended stopover in New Zealand. Here they befriend two lovely young ladies- Tiara (Anjanette Comer in her big screen debut), an exotic beauty and her equally sexy friend Diana (Janine Gray). Both of the women are the polar opposite (pardon the pun) of Sharon, and they have liberated attitudes towards sex. Peter falls for Diana and Oliver is immediately smitten by Tiara. A running gag in the film is Oliver's inability to get her to tell him if they slept together during one particularly wild night in which he became so drunk he developed amnesia. Soon Oliver is a conflicted man. He wants to remain loyal to Sharon but boys will be boys and his hormones are raging. Fate intervenes when Sweigert insists they leave immediately for the South Pole. Upon arriving at the naval station, Oliver and Peter are hit with the stark reality of how unpleasant life is about to become. Enclosed in the small confines of the base with 50 below zero temperatures outside, they find themselves subjected to hazing rituals by the longtime staffers. The base is manned by Navy personnel as well as a contingent of scientists that includes Mikhail Drozhensky, a Soviet representative of a joint scientific research project. As the days turn to weeks, boredom becomes a problem and Sweigert is getting impatient for Oliver to file some type of scoop. With everyone on the base suffering from sexual frustration, Oliver and Peter con a visiting admiral (James Gregory) to get some good press by inviting down a contingent of everyday women to visit the base. Naturally, they arrange for Tiara and Diana to be among them. Upon arrival, Oliver's hormones win out and he starts to seduce the willing Tiara in a snowmobile (talk about sexual frigidity!). This leads to another running gag that must have been old in Shakespeare's day: every time they come close to consummating the deal, some distraction interrupts them. Naturally, the women become stranded at the base due to weather and the sexual high jinks continue. Peter isn't having any problem with Diana but fate prevents Oliver from sealing the deal with Tiara. The conclusion of the story has Oliver trying to file a career-saving scoop about the Soviet scientist defecting before his arch rival reporter (Norman Fell) can beat him to it.
"Quick, Before It Melts" is the kind of mid-range movie that defines mediocrity. It has a good cast but most of them are encouraged to overact by director Delbert Mann, who once directed such estimable fare as "Marty" and "Separate Tables". What led him to become involved in this drivel remains a mystery. Even more bizarre is that the screenplay was written by Dale Wasserman. Yes, that Dale Wasserman- the acclaimed writer of "Man of La Mancha" and the stage version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The film has some amusing gags including composer David Rose finding a way to insert his signature song "The Stripper" into the action. Morse is an energetic leading man but his character inexplicably morphs from Jerry Lewis nerd mode into a sophisticated Sinatra type by the end of the film. Anjanette Comer does make for a stunningly beautiful leading lady and the equally lovely Yvonne Craig gives her usual perky performance. Popular character Bernard Fox, who generally epitomizes every old fashioned cliche about the British, is bizarrely cast as a U.S. naval officer. Go figure. The film is marred by some poor rear screen projection work. The long shots were filmed by a second unit near the Bering Sea but anyone above the age of five will recognize that the closest the cast members got to something cold was an ice cream sundae at the studio commissary.
"Quick, Before It Melts" has been released as a Warner Archive title. The transfer is excellent. There are no bonus extras but the disc is region free.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of Harry in Your Pocket, a largely unheralded 1973 comedy/drama that finds James Coburn well-cast as a debonair "king of the pickpockets". Along with his partner, the elderly but equally charismatic Casey (Walter Pidgeon), Harry is intent on recruiting a couple of newcomers to train as part of an ambitious pickpocket team. He settles on Ray (Michael Sarrazin) and his new girlfriend Sandy (comely Trish Van Devere), a destitute couple that is eager to learn from the master. After some rough edges in the "training", Ray and Sandy earn their keep by helping Harry set up the sting operations. Casey decides who will be the victim, Sandy distracts that person while Harry robs his wallet, then quickly passes it off to Ray. Harry's golden rule is "Harry doesn't hold", meaning he is never in possession of the incriminating loot for more than the few seconds it takes to pass it off to his accomplice.Life with Harry is good. The team travels extensively and everything is first class. However, it isn't long before Ray suspects that his real value to the team is the fact that he is accompanied by Sandy, who Harry clearly has eyes for. Soon, sexual tension threatens to disrupt the profitable partnership.
It may seem that a film about pick-pocketing might be a complete yawn. Indeed, there isn't much that happens in terms of plot and the movie relies almost entirely on the chemistry between cast members. Fortunately, everyone is at the top of their game. Coburn is charismatic and charming, but has a hard, threatening edge that makes it clear Harry is man who is used to getting things his way. It's top flight Coburn, in terms of performance and he's well-matched by Sarrazin and Van Devere, who gets to wear some eye-popping mini-skirts to distract the potential victims. The most kudos, however, go to Pidgeon in a wonderful late career performance. As the erudite, dapper and coke-sniffing thief, he dominates every sequence- especially when he opines about the lack of a code of honor that used to be prevalent among people of his peculiar trade.
This is the only feature film ever directed by Bruce Geller, best known as the creator and chief writer for the Mission: Impossible TV series. He handles the action well and capitalizes on lush location shooting in Seattle, Victoria, BC and Salt Lake City, all set to a funky Lalo Schifrin score. If there is one dismaying aspect to the movie, it's the fact that, unlike most films and TV series about charismatic con-men from The Sting to Hustle, the victims here are not corrupt executives and politicians, but everyday working people. It's hard to cheer on the protagonists when they are depriving the guy next door of his week's wages. Nevertheless, Harry in Your Pocket is a forgotten gem of film and well worth catching up with.
Directors Brent Hodge's and Derik Murray's new documentary "I Am Chris Farley" covers the bittersweet life and career of the comedy genius who died tragically ahead of his time. Through the cooperation of his family, friends and colleagues, the film presents a complete picture of the artist who was perpetually making audiences laugh even as he battled his own personal demons. The film opens theatrically in New York and L.A. on July 31 and will be telecast on Spike network on August 11, followed by availability through on-demand outlets. For more about the production, click here to visit the official web site.
SAID—REFLECTIONS ON LOVE, UNRELIABLE MEMORIES, AND THE ATOMIC BOMB”
By Raymond Benson
Alain Resnais achieved worldwide acclaim with his documentary short, Night and Fog (1955), which revealed to
the world the true horrors of what went on in the Nazi concentration camps. For
his first feature film, Resnais turned to fiction; and yet, he maintained a
somewhat documentary approach in showing the world the true horrors of what
occurred in Hiroshima, Japan when the first atomic bomb was dropped. Beyond
that, Hiroshima mon amour (“Hiroshima,
My Love”) is an art film that not only signaled the beginning of the French New
Wave (although many film historians do not count it as an example of that
movement), it also established Resnais’ singular, enigmatic and ambiguous style
as an auteur. The director would go on to make even more thematically-mysterious
pictures (namely Last Year at Marienbad)
and become something of a French equivalent of Terrence Malick. Sort of.
Hiroshima mon amour
quite accessible, though, and it will surely stay with and haunt the viewer
long after watching the film. Primarily it’s a love story between a French
woman (Emmanuelle Riva, who returned to the limelight in 2012 with her
Oscar-nominated leading role in Amour)
and a Japanese man (Eiji Okada). The man is married, but his wife is away. The
woman is “married” to the ghost of her first love, a German officer who died
just before France was liberated in World War II. For that forbidden love, she
was ostracized and punished by the population of her small town, complete with
head shaving and shaming. This so psychologically damaged her that now, in the
present (1959), she is willing to embark on a two-night stand with a stranger.
The leading characters’ names are never mentioned, although they end up calling
each other by the city from which they hail—“Hiroshima,” for the man, and “Nevers”
(her home town in France), for the woman.
picture follows the short romance over the course of two nights and a day
in-between, juxtaposed with numerous flashbacks of the woman’s experience
during the war. Overlaid on all of this is visceral footage of the atomic bomb’s
aftermath in the city of Hiroshima, where the story takes place. Do the
characters tell the truth to each other? Are their memories real or imagined? She
might state something as fact, but then the man will say it isn’t true. And
vice versa. A facetious way to describe it the film is that it’s “He Said/She
Said in a Dreamscape.”
this doesn’t sound like a good time at the cinema, but don’t be fooled—Hiroshima mon amour is a powerful,
deeply moving piece of filmmaking that still resonates today. It explores how
we remember traumatic experiences in our lives, what we censor, and what we
embellish. The black and white cinematography, by Michio Takahashi and Sacha
Vierney (the picture was a French-Japanese co-production), is stunningly
gorgeous. The performances, especially by Riva, are outstanding. The musical
score, by Georges Delerue and Giovanni Fusco, alternates between playful and
melodic accessibility to avant-garde Stravinsky-like dissonance. And the direction,
well, let’s just say that Alain Resnais went on to become one of the most
revered French filmmakers, and Hiroshima
mon amour could very well be his masterpiece.
Criterion Collection released the film on DVD over a decade ago and they have now
seen fit to provide us with a new 4K digital restoration on Blu-ray with an
uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Criterion will always be the Cadillac of
Blu-ray restoration of old classics, and their work on Hiroshima is outstanding. All of the extras from the previous DVD
release are ported over, and there are some new supplements as well, including:
a program on the film’s restoration; a new interview with film scholar Francois
Thomas, author of a book on Resnais; and a new interview with music scholar Tim
Page about the film’s score. The previous supplements include an excellent audio commentary by film
historian Peter Cowie; interviews with Resnais from 1961 and 1980; interviews
with Emmanuelle Riva from 1959 and 2003; and an essay by critic Ken Jones and
excerpts from a 1959 Cahiers du cinema discussion
about the film, both of which appear in the booklet.
simply, Hiroshima mon amour is a milestone
of important international cinema. You owe it to yourself to see it. Maybe you
already have. Do you really remember?
Criterion Collection gave us the DVD versions of these two excellent crime
thrillers twelve years ago. The company
has now seen fit to upgrade the release to Blu-ray.
loosely on a short story by Ernest Hemingway, both versions of The Killers begin with the author’s
premise and then take off from there in very different directions. It’s
interesting to see how the respective screenwriters adapted the story and then
created two disparate feature-length tales out of it. In Hemingway’s piece, two
hit men arrive in a small town looking for “the Swede.” They terrorize the
owner, cook, and a customer in a diner in an attempt to find the guy. After the
killers leave in frustration, the customer runs to the Swede’s boarding house
and finds him in bed with his clothes on. He warns the Swede about the men, but
the Swede says he’s not going to do anything about it. The customer goes back
to the diner and, after realizing no one cares, leaves town. And that’s it.
1946 version faithfully captures the short story—even down to the dialogue—for
the first ten minutes. Where the short story ends, the movie goes on and we see
the hit men actually kill the Swede (played by Burt Lancaster in his first
starring role). Enter Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien, with third billing, but he’s
really the protagonist of the film!) as an insurance inspector—it turns out the
Swede had a life insurance policy that benefits an old lady who helped him
once. Reardon is determined to uncover the story behind it all, and the rest of
the movie follows his investigation into the Swede’s life in crime (told
entirely in flashbacks). The Swede was a boxer who got mixed up with Big Jim, a
racketeer (played by Albert Dekker), and falls in love with Big Jim’s gal,
Kitty (played by smokin’ hot Ava Gardner, in one of her first starring roles;
Gardner had been kicking around Hollywood since the early 40s—this was her big
break). As we all know, it’s not good to mess around with the crime boss’s
Siodmak received an Oscar nomination for Best Director on the picture (it was
also nominated for adapted screenplay, editing, and music score). There’s no
question that The Killers is a
seminal film noir, one of the best of
the bunch produced when Hollywood was churning out these types of gritty crime
pictures by the dozens. Siodmak’s hand is assured as he brings in all the
trademark film noir elements—expressionistic
lighting, a femme fatale, stark
brutality, a cynical attitude, flashbacks, a “man haunted by the past,” and
more. The picture could serve as a Film
Noir 101 course. Lancaster is fine and Gardner is sexy and dangerous, but
it is O’Brien who holds the movie together.
1964 version is a different animal. It was produced to be the very first TV
movie, but NBC viewed the finished product and deemed it too violent for
television. Instead, the producers released it theatrically worldwide. Directed
by Don Siegel (billed as “Donald Siegel”), The
Killers Mach II stars Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager as the hitmen, who here become the focal point
of the new story. John Cassavetes plays the Swede character, only here he is a
racecar driver named Johnny. The femme
fatale, Sheila, is played by Angie Dickinson, and get this... the crime
boss is none other than Ronald Reagan in his last film role before he became a
film begins basically the same way, but the setting is different. The two
hitmen come looking for Johnny and they kill him. Marvin’s hitman character then
takes over the dramatic action originally performed by O’Brien in the 1946
version—Marvin is the one who wants to find out why he and his partner were
hired to kill Johnny, as well as what happened to a load of stolen cash that
Johnny may have hidden.
not as important or engaging as the 1946 edition, The Killers Mach II is worth watching for Siegel’s solid
craftsmanship. NBC was probably right not to broadcast the picture on
television in 1964—given the time period, the movie is pretty brutal. Marvin
and Gulager are creepy bad guys, Cassavetes delivers his usual fine work, and
Dickinson displays her charms with aplomb. As for Reagan—well, let’s just say
it’s not too difficult to buy him as a crook. In hindsight, given that this guy
became a two-term U.S. president, his performance lends a “must-see” element to
gives us new high-definition digital restorations of both films (the 1964
version is in color and in 4:3 aspect ratio, since it was shot for television).
They look terrific. The black and white contrasts in the ’46 version are
especially sharp and unsettlingly beautiful. Almost all of the original
supplements are here—Andrei Tarkovsky’s student film adaptation of the short
story from 1956; a video interview with noir
expert/writer, the late Stuart M. Kaminsky; a video interview with Clu
Gulager; Stacy Keach reading Hemingway’s short story on audio; the Screen Directors’ Playhouse radio
adaptation from 1949 featuring Lancaster and Shelley Winters; an audio excerpt
from director Don Siegel’s autobiography read by Hampton Fancher; and trailers.
The booklets feature essays by novelist Jonathan Lethem and critic Geoffrey
O’Brien. Not sure why Criterion left off the production, publicity, and
behind-the-scenes stills, actor biographies, production correspondence, Paul
Schrader’s essay, and music and effects tracks, all which were on the original
DVD release. If those things are important to you, then you may want to hold on
for the Blu-ray restorations alone, The
Killers double feature is an excellent buy, especially for fans of film noir and crime pictures in general.
Director Joe Dante is revered by his fans not only as a
filmmaker but also because of his genuine passion for classic and cult cinema.
Dante, like so many other filmmakers and actors who became successes, was a protégé
of Roger Corman, starting out as an editor. Before long, he had progressed to directing and had a hit with his 1978 horror flick "Piranha". His deft ability to make audiences cringe as well as laugh became his trademark. More successful films followed including a segment of the "Twilight Zone" feature film, his werewolf classic "The Howling", "Gremlins", which is considered a classic by the generation who saw it as children, "Innerspace", "Amazon Women on the Moon", "The 'Burbs", "Matinee" and "Small Soldiers". In recent years, Dante has been busy operating his extremely popular web site Trailers From Hell, which showcases original movie trailers from decades ago, complete with introductions and commentaries from esteemed filmmakers and movie scholars. Dante'S most recent movie, "Burying the Ex" is specifically geared to younger audiences. It involves a twenty-something guy whose sexy but overbearing girlfriend Evelyn dies tragically in an accident. He blames himself for her death but begins dating someone else almost immediately. Things are going swimmingly with his new love until the recently deceased Evelyn comes back from the grave and demands that they resume their relationship- and she's not taking "no" for an answer. Its an amusing romp that spotlights a cast of exceptionally talented young actors. The film represents true "guerilla movie-making", having been shot on a limited budget in L.A. over a period of twenty days. "Burying the Ex" was shown at the Venice Film Festival, where it won some favorable reviews including one from the influential Hollywood Reporter. Some other critics griped that the film was too modest in its ambitions want Dante to do movies that are more reflective of his talents as an esteemed director. Indeed, Dante has ambitions to do just that, with a long-planned film biography of Roger Corman. We caught up with Dante to discuss "Burying the Ex" as well as his plans for the future.
CINEMA RETRO: What drew you to this particular project?
JOE DANTE: It's based on a short film by the screenwriter Andrew Trezza, which I haven't seen. He gave me a script a few years ago and I responded to it because I thought it was funny and I liked the characters. I also think it's a situation that the audience can relate to. I think most people have been in a similar situation. They are in a relationship that isn't good for them and they don't know how to get out of it. They stick around longer than they should. I thought that to expand on that concept and make a screwball comedy out of it was a great idea.
CR: As someone who has been involved in editing, screenwriting and even acting, did you have much input into the final screenplay?
JD: Sure. We worked on it together. It was originally a little longer than it needed to be, I thought, and so we pared it down a little bit. You know, over a period of years when you're working on a project, you can't help but doodle in the margins and try to improve it. But it's still pretty much the script that I originally read. It's better for the fact that we had a little bit longer to work on it.
CR: Is it true that you shot the entire movie in twenty days?
JD: Yes. I think of it as a return to my roots.
CR: How long were the shooting days?
JD: We couldn't go over twelve hours. There was no overtime in the deal. So we just shot until we couldn't. On a film like this it's really important that you get the shots so you don't have to go back on a location. There aren't that many locations. In fact, they're all within seven blocks of each other. You have to adjust your schedule when you're working on a low budget.
CR: What are the pros of working on an indie film compared to a major studio production?
JD: The pros are that you are pretty much left alone. There's not a zillion dollars riding on the movie so there's not that kind of panic in the executive suites. You know, worries that, God forbid, the picture might be too offbeat or have too many rough edges or it might alienate a segment of the audience. You don't have to worry about any of that because it's not that big of an outlay. Unfortunately, to get that kind of freedom, you have to give up the bells and whistles and do without some of the tools you would usually have to make the movie. You also have to do it very quickly and you have to make decisions fast. But sometimes this lends a certain energy to these movies that a long schedule, big budget movie might not have.
CR: How involved were you in the casting process? The four leads are very impressive young actors. Did you rely mostly on the decisions of the casting director, Brad Gilmore?
JD: Well, Brad has been on the movie as long as I've been. We've been looking for casts for years because this picture was gestating for such a long time. Then all of a sudden it came together. There was a certain amount of money available for a certain time frame and it meant we had to make the movie right away- and we had to make it in twenty days. So the cast came together in one week, believe it or not. Serendipitously, it happened to come together with the exact same people we wanted in the exact right roles to the point that I didn't have to do a lot of directing. To me, the fun of the movie is the cast.
CR: It's also a typical Joe Dante film in the sense that there are many homages to the cinematic past, from Dick Miller's appearance to vintage movie art. Who else would have an Italian poster for "The Pit and the Pendulum" in a modern film?
JD: Who else has one?
CR: Yes, I'm afraid that many of us who are obsessed with older films are living, breathing examples of arrested development. I suppose we hope we never really grow up. By the way, what do you think of today's horror films compared to those you honor from the distant past?
JD: I think there is a lot of talent out there. The hurdle that they have to overcome is that the audience they are making the films for is so steeped in the details of how these movies were made before that it becomes very difficult to try to surprise and shock them with something new that they haven't seen. Unless you want to go to the lengths of "The Human Centipede", there really isn't a great deal you can to shock people.
CR: I'd like to see directors, including yourself, make movies like the original version of "The Haunting", in which the horror element is suggested rather than blatantly illustrated with special effects.
JD: I think those are the kind of horror films that work the best. They're also the ones I think have the longest legs because movies that rely on showing things very clearly can date very quickly. Whereas a movie like "The Innocents" or "The Haunting" or "Dead of Night" are still intensely creepy because of things that you don't see. There are things you think you see because the director and director of photography make you believe you are seeing them. To me, that's the best kind of horror movie. Those are my favorite ones. The current ones, I think, tend not to be very psychological, although there have been some very good ones. "The Orphanage" was quite good and so was "The Devil's Backbone", for example, is a very good horror film. This genre used to be considered a "B" movie genre but it's now an "A" movie genre and some of the subtlety has disappeared.
CR: The makeup effects in "Burying the Ex" are particularly impressive, given the limited budget and production schedule...
JD: Well, Gary Tunnicliffe, our makeup guy, had his work cut out for him because of our limited shooting day. There was only so much time to put the makeup on and to take the makeup off. That had to all be coordinated very carefully so we wouldn't lose time. We also didn't shoot it in sequence so he had to have a chart to remind of how decomposed Evelyn would be. That was also hard for Ashley Greene because, when you are building a character- especially a crazy character who has mood swings- you have to be careful about what you did yesterday and how does that fit into the movie.
CR: Speaking of the character of Evelyn, do I have to even ask if her name is derived from "The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave"?
JD: I started making trailers when I first go into the business. I've always loved movie trailers. I had a collection on 35mm and there was a lot of cool stuff but it was just sitting in a vault. I was never showing it to anybody so I thought, "This is crazy. These things need to be out there." I thought that just putting them on the internet wouldn't be exciting in itself. So I thought about doing commentary tracks for about five of these trailers. So I did and I put them up on the internet where they sat unnoticed for a while. Then my friends started to see it and they would say there were movies they wanted to talk about. So it just grew. I think John Landis and Edgar Wright were among the first contributors. It just became a thing to do and now we have over a thousand trailers on our site. There are fifty different commentators, all talking about what the movies meant to them and trying to get you to see the movie. Today, when there are so many movies available to see than there ever was in my lifetime, there needs to be some curating factor that tells people that this is a good movie, that this is a movie that you never heard of, this is a director that you've never heard of, this is an actor you should know. It's very rewarding to me when people come up to me and say, "I just saw this movie that I found on this site and it's a great movie and I'm going to see other movies by this guy now." That's what it's all about.
CR: Are you still toying with the concept of doing a Roger Corman biopic?
JD: I wouldn't say "toying"...I'd say slogging, trying to get somebody to finance the movie for about the last ten years. But I haven't given up and I still think it's a great project and we're looking at all sorts of alternate ways of getting it done. It's a funny movie about Roger doing "The Trip". Everything in it is true, which makes it even funnier. We came within a hair of making it twice. I think if we can get that close twice, we can get that close again.
CR: One last question. It's regarding the recent passing of Sir Christopher Lee, who you worked with. Would you care to share any thoughts about him?
JD: It's very sad but on the other hand, the man lived to be 93 years old. He went out at the top of his game, singing heavy metal, for God's sake. He's probably more famous now than he was in his Hammer heyday because of the breadth of his career. I know he was having health problems. He couldn't travel because he couldn't bear to sit in an airplane seat. So the factor of age was really encroaching quickly but it didn't slow him down. He's still got unreleased movies. He was a real character in person and a wonderful guy to be with. He was so amusing and so the opposite of his public persona.
We don't usually cover the world of stand-up comedy on Cinema Retro but this is one for the ages: a late career burst of brilliance from George Carlin that reminds us of why his legacy is safe as one of the most innovative comic minds of his time.
Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff collectively made countless films that varied widely in terms of quality. However, they always brought dignity to every role they performed. Sadly, the two icons of the horror film genre only worked together twice.The first time in the late 1950s in "Corridors of Blood" and the second and last time in what turned out to be the final film of Karloff's career, the 1968 Tigon Films production of "The Crimson Cult" (released in the UK as "Curse of the Crimson Altar" and in some territories as "The Crimson Altar" and "Black Horror"). Karloff barely got through the arduous shoot during a particularly cold and unpleasant British winter. However, always the ultimate professional, he persevered and continued the film until completion, even after having been hospitalized with pneumonia. The result is a film that is not particularly well-loved by horror film fans but which this writer enjoyed immensely on my first viewing, which came courtesy of the Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Perhaps the film looked better to me than it should have. It's got some loose plot points and the production doesn't fully utilize the skills of it's marvelous cast, which includes character actor Michael Gough and the iconic Barbara Steele. However, given the fact that we don't get lineups of great stars like this any more, I found the entire movie to be a joy to watch (despite of- or perhaps because of- it's sometimes blatant exploitation scenes.)
Things get off to a rather rollicking start with the very first frames of the movie which depict a woman clad only in leather panties and pasties who is mercilessly whipping another sexy young woman who is chained to an altar in a dungeon-like environment. Watching the action is Peter Manning (Denys Peek), who we learn is a respected antiques dealer who runs a high end shop with his brother Robert (Mark Eden). Peter looks completely out of place in this S&M scenario, even more so when we see the others who are witnessing what becomes evident as a Satanic Black Mass ceremony, which is taking place amid other scantily-clad men and women. Peter is approached by an exotic beauty who we will later learn is the reincarnation of a notorious witch named Lavinia, who was executed by local villagers a few centuries ago. As played by real life exotic beauty Barbara Steele in a largely wordless role, the character exudes both danger and sexual deviancy. She insists that Peter sign an ancient ledger after which he is given a dagger which he uses to promptly murder the young woman who is chained to the table.
The scene then switches to the antique shop where we find Robert concerned about his brother's whereabouts. He tells his secretary that Peter had gone to search for antiques for a few days in the remote rural village of Greymarsh, which coincidentally is the ancestral home of the Manning family. The only clue he has to his brother's movements is a cryptic note he had written to Robert from a manor house in the village. Robert decides to visit the house to see if he can trace Peter's location. Naturally, he chooses to arrive at the place in the dead of night and finds the villagers are engaged in riotous celebrations for an annual festival that rather tastelessly celebrates the execution of witches in a bygone era. The locals playfully recreate pagan rituals including the execution of an effigy of Lavinia. Arriving at Greymarsh Manor, Robert finds a wild party underway with a group of young people in an orgy-like state. The girls are pouring champagne over their nearly naked bodies and there are "cat fights" intermingled with lovemaking. Robert is understandably amused and fascinated. He makes the acquaintance of Eve (Virginia Wetherell), a fetching blonde with a flirtatious nature who informs him that she is the niece of the manor's owner, a sophisticated and erudite man named Morley, who greets Robert warmly but denies any knowledge of his brother. Morley says that he can't explain how Robert received a note from Peter on Greymarsh Manor stationary but nevertheless invites Robert to stay a few days at the manor while he continues his investigation. Predictably, Robert and Eve form a romantic bond in short order and she assists him in his efforts to find Peter. Meanwhile, Robert is introduced to Professor John Marsh (Boris Karloff), an elderly, wheelchair-bound academic who is the village's most prominent local historian. Fittingly, he is also a collector of ancient torture devices.
Most of the film centers on Robert and Eve attempting to track down Peter's doings in the village and his present whereabouts. It becomes pretty obvious that either Morley and/or Marsh are hiding some explosive secrets. The only question for the viewer is whether one or both of them have been complicit in Peter's vanishing. Robert's stay at the manor house is decidedly mixed experience for him. In the evenings he gets to enjoy rare, expensive liquors as he sits around chatting with Morley and Marsh. He also gets a willing bed mate in Eve. However, he is terrified by recurring nightmares that find him in the midst of a Black Mass ceremony where he finds his brother. In these bizarre dreams, Lavinia insists that Robert sign the ancient ledger, as Peter did, but Robert steadfastly refuses because he believes he will be murdered once he does. Robert discovers that his arm has been seriously cut by a knife- a key part of his nightmare. He thus begins to suspect that these aren't dreams at all, but real experiences that are taking place when he is in drugged condition. A trail of clues leads to some red herrings until Robert and Eve discover that the manor house has a hidden room where it is apparent Satanic ritual ceremonies are taking place. From that point, key plot devices begin to fall into place with a few minor surprises along the way. The movie is a great deal of fun from start to finish and seeing both Lee and Karloff on screen together is a real treat. Michael Gough makes welcome frequent appearances as an Igor-like butler who tries to warn Robert about the dangers of staying at Greymarsh Manor and Rupert Davies has a nice cameo as the local vicar. A few other observations: Virginia Wetherell is a first rate leading lady in this type of genre film so the fact that she never achieved greater name recognition seems unjust. Also the production design is first rate, as it generally is in British horror movies of this period. Kudos also to veteran director Vernon Sewell who crafts a consistently interesting film from a script that has some loose ends and weak plot points. He also has to contend with a good amount of T&A that seems to be inserted largely for exploitation reasons. The film's dramatic conclusion is meant to be intriguing and ambiguous but comes across as somewhat unsatisfying. However, in the aggregate, the movie is a great deal of fun- largely due to the presence of Lee, Karloff and Steele.
The film has been released by Kino Lorber as a Blu-ray special edition under its American title. The company has wisely ported over some of the content of special bonus materials that were available on a previous UK-only Blu-ray edition. These include a wonderful commentary track with Barbara Steele and well-known horror film historian David Del Valle, who has also produced a number of documentaries. Del Valle is uniquely suited to conduct the discussion of the film, as he personally knew many of the legendary figures of the horror film genre and his knowledge is encyclopedic. He and Steele have a good rapport because they are old friends. Both of them, however, denounce the movie because of its missed opportunities. The main criticisms revolve around the misuse of Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff in their only film together. Del Valle feels that there isn't much for them to do other than sit around parlors sipping drinks. He points out that this was Karloff's last film and he was in poor health during its production, yet was valiant enough to complete filming- and insist that a scene be rewritten so he could rise from his wheelchair, an act of defiance and courage considering his fragile state. Steele bemoans the fact that the screenwriters didn't allow her character to share any scenes with either Lee or Karloff, although she did spend time with them off set and clearly adored both men. However, the way the story is structured simply wouldn't allow the three characters to interact without fundamentally changing the story. One can understand Steele's frustrations as an actress, however, in not having the opportunity to share screen time with these cinematic legends. Del Valle also dismisses leading man Mark Eden (who resembles young George Lazenby) as a lightweight, a charge that seems debatable. I personally found Eden to be a likable and charismatic leading man. Both Del Valle and Steele acknowledge the film has some merits but you'd barely know it by the time they get done slicing it up scene by scene. Steele also provides some very interesting discussions about her non-horror films including quitting the production of "Flaming Star" in which she was Elvis Presley's leading lady. She also discusses her work with Fellini. In all, I found myself not agreeing with Steele and Del Valle's overall assessment of "The Crimson Cult" but I did find this to be an excellent commentary track, filled with wonderful anecdotes.
Barbara Steele as Lavinia, The Black Witch of Greymarsh.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains other bonus extras. The most interesting is an interview with composer Kendall Schmidt, who relates why he receives screen credit for the musical score in the video versions of the film. (Peter Knight is still the composer of record on the theatrical prints.) Schmidt, who is now a well-regarded photographer, relates that when Orion acquired video rights to the American International Pictures library in the mid-1980s, there were many films they could not secure the music rights to. Thus, Schmidt, who was a 24 year old starving composer, was hired to re-score these films. In some cases, he emulated the original composer's scores while in most other cases he created wholly original compositions. His score suits this film well but, not having seen the theatrical version, I can't compare his work with Peter Knight's. The Blu-ray also includes both the U.S. and British trailers with their respective title differences.
It should be pointed out that the picture quality of this release is as close to perfect as you can get. Colors practically leap off the screen and the transfer does full justice to the production design. In all, I found this to be a first rate release of an extremely underrated film from the "Golden Age" of British horror productions.
In this rare interview, conducted by publicist Dick Strout in 1962, the usually press-shy Steve McQueen discusses his personal life and career. Typical of interviews of this period, it's pretty much a plain vanilla affair with rather bland questions and equally bland answers, but McQueen interviews are rather hard to come by and this does illustrate a period in which the up-and-coming actor felt it was necessary to play the publicity game in order to advance his career.
Macnee with Honor Blackman in an early episode of The Avengers.
The distinguished British actor Patrick Macnee has passed away at age 93. Macnee personified the "typical" English gentleman in scores of films and TV appearances. He rose to fame as John Steed, the star of "The Avengers", the iconic TV series from the 1960s. He initially co-starred with Honor Blackman, then later Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson. He starred in "The New Avengers" in 1976. Macnee's also had a thriving career as a character actor in feature films. He appeared as young Jacob Marley in the classic 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol", as well as such diverse fare as "The Sea Wolves" , director Joe Dante's "The Howling" and spoofs such as "Young Doctors in Love" and "This is Spinal Tap". Macnee co-starred with his old friend Roger Moore in the 1985 James Bond film "A View to a Kill". He also appeared as the head of U.N.C.L.E. in the 1983 TV movie "Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E". Educated at Eton, Macnee possessed a dry wit and a charming personality. His 1988 autobiography was titled "Blind in One Ear". For more click here.
Hey, guys, the next time you become intimidated about asking a gorgeous woman for a date, maybe polite chitchat isn't the best strategy. Consider the case of London photographer Ray Bellisario, who had a chance encounter with Brigitte Bardot in 1968. Bellisario was ballsy enough to dispense with polite talk and simply told the legendary sex symbol to "Come with me". To his amazement, she did. Bardot managed to slip away from her handlers and headed to a local pub where Bellisario took some remarkably candid photos of her. Even better for him, she agreed to spend the evening with him in his hotel room. Bellisario refrains from giving any details pertaining to that portion of the "petite affair" but admits that after she kissed him goodbye the following morning, she was gone from his life for good. But Bellisario does have some amazing memories of this unforgettable evening in the form of his photographs which he has now finally gotten around to making public. Click here for more.
Jack Rollins, who along with his partner, the late Charles H. Joffe, had produced all of Woody Allen's films between 1969 and 1993, has died at age 100. Rollins and Joffe also served as Allen's manager. Rollins had also managed Robin Williams, Diane Keaton and Dick Cavett, among other show business notables. Rollins and Joffe were hired by Allen when he was an aspiring young filmmaker. They saw more potential in him than he saw in himself. Allen said of Rollins, "He pushed me to always be deeper, more complex, more human, more dramatic- and not to rest comfortably". Indeed, with Rollins and Joffe as his managers, Allen progressed from making popular, slapstick-oriented films to writing and directing some of the most acclaimed films in recent decades, winning Oscars for his efforts. Upon hearing of Rollins' death, Allen said "He was one of the very few people in my life who lived up to the hype about him. All the stories about how great Jack Rollins was are true." For more click here.
Family, friends and colleagues are mourning the death of Oscar-winning film composer James Horner who died yesterday when his single engine airplane crashed 60 miles north of Santa Barbara, California. Horner was piloting the plane and there were no passengers. It is not immediately known what caused the tragic accident. Horner won the Oscar for his score for the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster "Titanic". He was also nominated for Cameron's "Aliens" and "Avatar" as well as "Braveheart", "A Beautiful Mind", "An American Tail", "Field of Dreams", "Apollo 13" and "House of Sand and Fog". The 61 year-old composer's other scores include "Glory", "Patriot Games", two "Star Trek" feature films and the 1990 Disney film "The Rocketeer". He was working on the score for Cameron's sequels to "Avatar" at the time of his death. For more click here.
Dick Van Patten, the popular comedic character actor, has passed away at age 86. Patten was a child actor who eventually went on to perform in 30 Broadway shows. He also proved to be a popular presence on early TV shows such as "I Remember Mama". In the 1970s, he appeared on "The Love Boat" and a decade later had a hit show with "Eight is Enough". More recently, he co-starred on "Hot in Cleveland". Van Patten also made any number of hit feature films including such diverse fare as the Clint Eastwood western "Joe Kidd" and three movies with Mel Brooks: "High Anxiety", "Spaceballs" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights". For more, click here.
It's a debate that has been raging for decades. Did government experiments with atomic bombs in the desert of Utah contribute to the deaths of John Wayne and many other cast and crew members of the 1954 film "The Conqueror"? First some background: the film was produced by Howard Hughes before he became a legendary recluse. It was a big budget production that co-starred Wayne and Susan Hayward and was directed by actor Dick Powell. The film is largely remembered today as a rare instance of Wayne's generally sound instincts betraying him. Somehow Hughes convinced the Duke to play Genghis Khan. The result was as awful as you would imagine and the movie went down as one of the worst casting decisions in Hollywood history, with even Wayne disparaging his appearance in the movie. It may come as a surprise to readers, however, that Wayne and Hughes had the last laugh, at least at the boxoffice. Despite poor reviews, Wayne's popularity was such that "The Conqueror" became a substantial boxoffice hit. That's the end of the good news. Many years after its release, it was noted that a seemingly high proportion of people involved with the movie had died of cancer, most notably Wayne himself in 1979. Rumors began to circulate that the U.S. government's experiments with atomic blasts in the precise area where the film was shot must have contributed to these deaths. The theory was that cast and crew members became contaminated with remaining radioactive fallout. At the time the U.S. was still rather naive about nuclear radiation despite the dropping of two atom bombs on Japan in 1945. The government was exploding A-bombs above ground in desert regions. Years later, this was deemed to be unsafe under any circumstances and future tests were conducted below ground. The Guardian web site has reignited the debate over whether radiation played a part in the deaths of Wayne and his colleagues. This has been examined many times before and the results are always inconclusive. However, conspiracy theories abound, as they always do when high profile people are involved. JFK conspiracy theorists routinely cite a supposedly unnatural number of deaths within a relatively short period of time in regard to various individuals who had some connection to that infamous date in history. But sometimes coincidences do occur and can be a contributing factor. Those who knew Wayne point out that he was an avid smoker and had a lung removed in 1965. His widow Pilar once told this writer that the pressure of starring in and directing his 1960 epic "The Alamo" saw him chain smoking five packs of cigarettes a day, a factor that, in and of itself, would be the most likely contributor to his death from cancer. In any event, this will be a topic long debated. Click here to read and form your own conclusions.
Released in 1966, producer Ivan Tors' Around the World Under the Sea seemed at first blush like an exercise in stunt casting: cobble together some contemporary TV favorites into a feature film and have MGM and Tors divvy up the profits. However, that perception would be entirely wrong. While the film did boast some popular TV stars in leading roles, the film itself is an intelligent adventure flick, well acted and very competently directed by old hand Andrew Marton. The film stars Lloyd Bridges (only a few years out of Sea Hunt), Brian Kelly (star of Flipper), Daktari lead Marshall Thompson and Man From U.N.C.L.E. David McCallum. Veteran supporting actors Keenan Wynn and Gary Merrill are also prominently featured and Shirley Eaton, riding her fame from Goldfinger, has the only female role in this macho male story line.
The plot finds a team of leading scientists who come together to install earthquake warning sensors on seabeds around the world. The risky mission is undertaken in the Hydronaught, a nuclear-powered state of the art submarine/science lab capable of operating at the ocean's greatest depths. The physical dangers are only part of the frustrations the team has to cope with. The presence of Eaton, as a drop-dead gorgeous scientist, on board the confined all-male environment leads to inevitable jealousies and sexual tensions. (Although Tors specialized in family entertainment, even he couldn't resist a most welcome, completely gratuitous sequence in which Eaton swims around underwater in a bikini.) Unlike many films aimed at kids, Around the World Under the Sea boasts a highly intelligent screenplay that has much appeal to older audiences. The heroes are refreshingly human: they bicker, they panic and they make costly mistakes in judgment. Bridges is the stalwart, no-nonsense leader of the group, Kelly is his ill-tempered second-in-command who tries unsuccessfully to resist Eaton's charms, Wynn is his trademark crusty-but-loveable eccentric character. McCallum's Phil Volker is the most nuanced of the characters. A brilliant scientist, he can only be persuaded to join the life-saving mission by making demands based on his own personal profit. He also allows a brief flirtation with Eaton to preoccupy him to the point of making an error that could have fatal consequences for all aboard. Each of the actors gets a chance to shine with the exception of Thompson, whose role is underwritten. The scene stealers are McCallum and Wynn, who engage in some amusing one-upmanship in the course of playing a protracted chess game. However, one is also impressed by Kelly's screen presence. He could have had a successful career as a leading man were it not for injuries he sustained in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. (Partially paralyzed, Kelly went on to serve as producer on a number of successful film including Blade Runner.)
The film benefits from some wonderful underwater photography shot in the Bahamas, Florida and the Great Barrier Reef - all the result of a collaborative effort between the three top underwater filmmakers of the period: Jordan Klein, Ricou Browning and Lamar Boren. Although the special effects were modestly achieved, they hold up quite well today. Marton wrings some legitimate suspense out of several crisis situations including an encounter with a giant eel and a Krakatoa-like earthquake that almost spells doom for our heroes. How they escape is cleverly and convincingly played out. The movie also has a lush score by Harry Sukman (we'll leave it to you to pronounce his last name.)
Warner Archive's widescreen hi def presentation is available for viewing on the Warner Archive streaming service. Click here to access the site. (Subscription required).
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE DVD FROM AMAZON, WHICH ALSO INCLUDES AN ORIGINAL PRODUCTION FEATURETTE AND TRAILER.
Since he made his one and only on screen appearance as James Bond in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in 1969, George Lazenby has discussed his dramatic experiences before and behind the cameras many times. As any Bond fan knows, Lazenby was plucked from obscurity to replace Sean Connery, who had quit the 007 series after "You Only Live Twice" in 1967. Lazenby was a well-known Australian model but he had no acting experience. Midway through the film, he told producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman that he had decided to quit the role after this one film. Not even he temptation of a mega salary could convince Lazenby to sign on for more films. He became convinced Bond could not thrive into the 1970s. Ultimately, Sean Connery returned to the role for "Diamonds Are Forever" and would be followed by Roger Moore's long run as 007. Lazenby's acting career never took off but over the passage of time, he has had the satisfaction of seeing his movie regarded as one of the best by both enlightened critics and fans. He has discussed his trials and tribulations on the film set many times, acknowledging that he was sometimes egotistical and demanding, but also denying many other rumors regarding his behavior. In this rare 1970 interview, Lazenby discusses the controversies while the movie itself was still in general release. The uncredited interview is refreshingly intelligent and Lazenby is candid and honest about his opinions. He admits his suggestions for making Bond more contemporary were justifiably ignored but also denies reports that he did not get on well with the crew. He also says that his refusal to cut his hair and shave his beard cost him a studio-paid tour of America, so he paid for his own publicity tour. The documentary is one of the few that acknowledges that the film was a major boxoffice success, despite inaccurate initial reports that it was a bomb. Given the fact that he is critical of aspects of the production, it's rather surprising that Eon Productions allocated so much footage for use in this interview.
It's easy to look back on the Blaxploitation film craze of the 1970s as a short-lived period that spawned some cinematic guilty pleasures. However, time has been kind to the genre and if retro movie buffs view some of the films that emerged during this era they will undoubtedly find more artistry at work than was originally realized. Case in point: "Truck Turner", a 1974 action flick released at the height of the Blaxploitation phenomenon. I had never seen the film prior to its release on the new Blu-ray special edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. It's a violent, brutal film filled with ugly characters and "heroes" who deserve that moniker only because they aren't quite as abhorrent as the cutthroat antagonists they face. Yet, there is something special about "Truck Turner". Amid the carnage and frequent, extended action sequences, there is real talent at work here. Most of it belongs to Jonathan Kaplan, the director who had recently emerged as yet another promising protege of Roger Corman. In fact, Kaplan had just recently completed filming another Blaxploitation film, "The Slams" with Jim Brown, before being drafted into "Truck Turner". The idea of a white, Jewish guy directing a Blaxploitation film may seem weird today but at the time, most of the creative forces behind these movies were white guys, an indication of just how few opportunities existed in Hollywood for black filmmakers in the 1970s. The movies were also largely financed by white studio executives who benefited the most financially. Yet, it cannot be denied that the genre went a long way in opening doors for a lot of talented black actors and musicians, who often provided the scores for the films. Until the release of "Shaft" in 1971 (which was directed by a black filmmaker, Gordon Parks), most of the action roles for black characters seemed to be hanging on the durable shoulders of Sidney Poitier, Jim Brown, Harry Belafonte and the great character actor Woody Strode. Suddenly, there were a great number of opportunities for black actors and actresses to display their talents on screen. The vehicles in which they toiled were often low-budget potboilers, but it did increase their visibility and name recognition. More importantly, black action characters became commonplace henceforth.
"Truck Turner" has emerged as a genuine cult movie in the decades since its initial release. The movie's oddball appeal begins with the casting of the titular character, who is played by legendary soul musician Isaac Hayes in his screen debut. While Laurence Olivier probably never lost sleep over Hayes's decision to enter the movie business, his casting was a stroke of genius on the part of the executives at American International Pictures, which specialized in exploitation films for the grindhouse and drive-in audiences. Hayes had recently won the Academy Award for his funky "Theme From 'Shaft'" and had an imposing and super-cool physical presence. He also proved to be a natural in front of the camera. His emotional range was limited but he exuded an arrogance and self-confidence that the role required. Turner is a skip tracer/bounty hunter employed by a bail bond agency in the slum area of Los Angeles. A stunning opening shot finds literally dozens of such agency dotting the urban landscape- an indication of how out of control crime was in the city during this period. Turner and his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks) agree to take on an assignment to track down a local notorious pimp and crime kingpin named 'Gator' Johnson (Paul Harris), who has skipped bail, thus leaving the agency's owner Nate Dinwiddle (Sam Laws) on the hook for the money. Turner and Jerry pursue 'Gator' in one of those requisite high octane car chases that were seemingly mandatory in 70s action movies. This one is quite spectacular and features some dazzling stunt driving. 'Gator' is ultimately killed by Turner and this leads to the main plot, which concerns his lover, Dorinda (Nichelle Nichols). She was 'Gator's partner in a lucrative prostitution business. The two pimped out beautiful young women who they keep as virtual prisoners on a large estate. Dorinda is the Captain Bligh of madams, routinely abusing her stable of girls and demeaning them at every opportunity. She is enraged by Turner's slaying of 'Gator' and offers a bounty for his murder: half of her stake in the prostitution ring. The offer draws more than a few professional assassins to her doorstep, all of whom promise they can kill Turner. However, the only one who seems to have the ability to do so is Harvard Blue (Yaphet Kotto), a soft-spoken but vicious crime boss who would like nothing more than to make easy money from a major pimping operation. With a small army of assassins, he sets out to make good on his promise to kill Turner.
Like most action movies of this genre, the plot points are predictable. As with Charles Bronson's character in the "Death Wish" films, virtually every person who befriends Turner comes to great misfortune. This kind of predictable emotional manipulation is par for the course when you're watching 70s crime films and doesn't overshadow the fact that there is a great deal of style evident in "Truck Turner". The dialogue is saucy and witty. For example, Dorinda describes one of her "girls" as "Kentucky Fried Chicken" because "she's finger-lickin' good!" and another as "Turnpike" because "you have to pay to get on and pay to get off." If you think that's politically incorrect, consider that every other line of dialogue has somebody calling somebody else a nigger. Then there's the character of Truck Turner, who - like his fellow cinematic tough ass crime fighters of the era ranging from Dirty Harry to 'Popeye' Doyle to John Wayne's McQ- seems oblivious to the fact that he is endangering an abundance of innocent people in his obsession to get the bad guys. Turner engages in carjacking and threatens the lives of people who he feels aren't cooperating fast enough. He also has a sensitive side, though, as we see in his scenes with the love of his life, Annie (Annazette Chase). She's recently completed a jail term and only wants to settle down with Turner to live a quiet, normal lifestyle. Good luck. When the contract is put out on Turner, she becomes a potential victim and is terrorized by Harvard Blue and his gang. The film concludes with some terrific action sequences, the best of which has Hayes and Kotto going mano-a-mano inside the corridors of a hospital. They chase and spray bullets at each other amid terrified patients in wheelchairs and on gurneys and in one scene, carry the shoot out into an operating room with doctors in the midst of working on a patient! The finale, which centers on Kotto's last scene in the movie, is shot with such style that it almost approaches being (dare I use the term?) poetic. The supporting cast is first rate with Alan Weeks scoring strongly as Robin to Turner's Batman. Annazette Chase is excellent as the ever-patient object of Turner's desire and, of course, Kotto is terrific, as usual, managing to steal scenes in his own unique, low-key way. The most enjoyable performance comes from Nichelle Nichols, who is 180 degrees from her "Star Trek" role. As the ultimate villainess, she seems to be having a blast insulting and threatening everyone in her line of vision. Her final confrontation with Turner makes for a memorable screen moment, to say the least.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is up to the company's usual high standards in all respects. Old Truck never looked better on screen and there are some welcome bonus materials. Director Kaplan provides a witty and highly informative audio commentary, relating how American International was more interested in the soundtrack album they would be able to market than the film itself. (Hayes provides the impressive score for the film, including some "Shaft"-like themes.). He also said that he was originally drawn to the project because he was told the film would star either Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine or Robert Mitchum! Nevertheless, he speaks with great affection for Hayes and his colleagues and points out various character actors his used in the film including the ubiquitous Dick Miller, James Millhollin, Scatman Crothers and even Matthew Beard, who played "Stymie" in the Our Gang comedies. Another welcome bonus is director Joe Dante,obviously an admirer of the film, in discussion at a 2008 screening of "Truck Turner" at the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. He's joined by director Kaplan and stuntman Bob Minor. The reaction of the audience indicates this film enjoys a loyal following. There is also a segment from Dante's popular "Trailers From Hell" web site that features director Ernest Dickerson introducing and narrating the original trailer for the film. The trailer is also included in the Blu-ray, as well as a double feature radio spot ad for "Truck Turner" and Pam Grier as "Foxy Brown". In all, an irresistible release for all retro movie lovers.
It's the most bizarre mating of two diverse talents since Ernest Borgnine thought it would a good idea to marry Ethel Merman, though hopefully this one will have a happier ending. Cult movie director Rob Zombie has announced that he will bring a Groucho Marx biography to the screen. The film will based on the memoir "Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House" by Steve Stoliar, a fan who worked for the legendary actor and comedian as his personal secretary and archivist in the last years of his life. (Marx died in 1977 at age 86). Turns out the esteemed Mr. Zombie is a life long Groucho admirer. Who knew? We look forward to Zombie directing Dame Judi Dench in a biopic of Gracie Allen. For more click here
Biker films have been around for decades.
Although most cinephiles cite Marlon Brando’s The Wild One (1953) as the first great biker movie, it wasn’t until
the mid-1960s and the release of the 1966 Roger Corman-directed classic The Wild Angels that biker films really
exploded onto the scene. Made for $360,000 and grossing close to $16 million, The Wild Angels started a cinematic
cycle trend that lasted well into the 1970s.
Noticing that other enterprising filmmakers
were cashing in on their film’s success, legendary studio American
International Pictures quickly decided that another biker flick was in order.
They gathered Corman (to produce); Wild Angels
scribe Charles B. Griffith (Rock All
Night, A Bucket of Blood, The Little Shop of Horrors, Death Race 2000) to
write and, together, came up with the next biker extravaganza, 1967’s Devil’s Angels aka The Checkered Flag.
Directed by Daniel Haller (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The
Wild Racers, Dunwich Horror), Devil’s
Angels concerns a group of rebellious, anti-establishment bikers called the
Skulls who are searching for a police-free place they’ve dubbed Hole-in-the-Wall.
They roll into the small town of Brookville and are immediately ordered to
leave by the intimidated mayor (Paul Myer). The Skulls’ leader, Cody (played by
independent filmmaking icon; the late, great John Cassavetes), informs the
sheriff (Tobruk’s Leo Gordon) that
they’re not looking for trouble and that he, his girl Lynn (the beautiful Beverly
Adams from How to Stuff a Wild Bikini)
and the rest of the posse just need a place to crash for the night. The sheriff
decides to give Cody a chance and agrees to let the group spend the night on
the beach if they promise to remain there and then leave first thing in the
morning. Cody gives his word and the bikers take off along with a local beauty
contestant (Mimsy Farmer from Four Flies
on Grey Velvet) who’s infatuated with the group. The mayor berates the
sheriff for letting them stay in town, but the lawman doesn’t budge. While at
the beach, the group gets the girl high, teases her a bit and sends her running
back to town in fright. The mayor lies by telling the sheriff that the Skulls
raped the unharmed girl and Cody is arrested. When the sheriff learns the
truth, he immediately lets Cody go, but orders him and his friends to leave
town. Meanwhile, the Skulls, who don’t like being accused of rape, decide that
the town needs to be taught a lesson. With the help of a larger group of bikers
called the Stompers, they ride back into town (against Cody’s wishes),
completely take it over and put the authorities on trial. The mayor’s lie is
revealed and he is sentenced to a public beating which Cody goes along with.
The Skulls also feel that, because they were accused of rape, they are owed a
rape. Cody is totally against this. He tries his best to stop it, but all hell
winds up breaking loose. As the Stompers and the Skulls (including Lynn) tear
Brookville apart, Cody, realizing that his Hole-in-the-Wall doesn’t exist,
quits the group and rides off alone before the state police arrive.
With only a $4 million gross, Devil’s Angels may not have been a major
hit for AIP, but it’s still an
interesting and well-done biker film which features several highly recognizable
faces from 1960s/70s cinema and television such as Marc Cavell (Cool Hand Luke), Russ Bender (Bonanza), Buck Taylor (Gunsmoke), Bruce Kartalian (The Outlaw Josey Wales) and Mitzi Hoag (Deadly Game).
Although not nearly as well-remembered as the
Dennis Hopper/Peter Fonda 1969 classic Easy Rider nor as hard-hitting as Al
Adamson’s Satan’s Sadists from the
same year, Devil’s Angels is a solidly-made,
quirky and enjoyable exploitation film that benefits most from a wonderfully
complex performance by the legendary John Cassavetes as well as an entertaining
and thoughtful screenplay by the extremely underrated Charles Griffith. There’s
also a terrific musical score written by Mike Curb and performed by Sidewalk
Productions. Not to mention a catchy theme song by Jerry and the Portraits with
additional music courtesy of Dave Allen and the Arrows.
As far as the Skulls go, they’re mainly
benign (but not as cool as the goodhearted bikers from 1976’s Northville Cemetery Massacre) andjust looking for a place to be free.
The havoc they cause (with the exception of an accidental death) is mostly
light (and presented humorously) and they’re never really violent until the
very end, so if you’re looking for an intimidating band of evil hell raisers,
look elsewhere. As for me, I thoroughly enjoy this film; always have. It’s a
fun biker flick with a strong cast and a thought-provoking story. If you’re a
biker film fanatic or just a fan of AIP/Roger Corman in general, I definitely
recommend checking it out.
Devil’s Angels has been released
as a DVD-R from the MGM Limited Edition Collection. The film is presented in
its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio and, although it’s far from Blu-ray quality,
the movie is more than watchable. Also, the audio is clear, and the DVD’s
sleeve and menu feature the original and very cool-looking poster artwork.