Lewis with Beverly D'Angelo and Clint Eastwood in the hit 1978 comedy Every Which Way But Loose.
Acclaimed character actor Geoffrey Lewis, and father of actress Juliette Lewis, has died at age 79 of natural causes. Lewis had a long and impressive list of major films and TV appearances to his credit. He was frequently cast by Clint Eastwood in the iconic actor's productions including High Plains Drifter, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Every Which Way But Loose, Any Which Way You Can, Bronco Billy, Pink Cadillac and their last collaboration, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Although Lewis was often cast as earthy, hillbilly-types, he could also excel at playing sophisticated characters as well. Other major film credits include The Wind and the Lion, Heaven's Gate, The Lawmower Man, Maverick and the TV movie version of Salem's Lot. He primarily worked in television and had amassed a seemingly endless number of appearances on major series over the decades.
Cage is a workhorse and may be one of the busiest actors today. In an era where
big name actors might release a single movie per year, Cage typically comes out
with three, four or even five. At any given time he may have over a half dozen
movies in various stages of production. Cage is a good actor, often a very good
actor, and has made some very entertaining movies that stand up to repeat
viewings. I enjoy much of what he does from the over-the-top supernatural action-horror
movies “Ghost Rider” and “Drive Angry,” to the adventure-mystery “National
Treasure” franchise and his voice work for about a half-dozen animated movies.
His list of credits and genres is vast and, if his movie output is any
indication, he’s a very busy guy. This can be a good thing for Cage fans, but
may result in a mixed bag for movie fans when an actor has too much exposure.
Fortunately for Cage, he’s pretty good in just about everything he does.
“Outcast,” Cage plays Gallain and he’s teamed with Hayden Christensen as Jacob.
Gallain and Jacob are 12th century crusader knights who are becoming
increasingly weary of killing as they travel from the Middle East to the Far
East. We witness the ruthlessness of Jacob through the eyes of his mentor
Gallain as he kills the members of a defeated Moorish army that refuses to
surrender. Even women and children are not spared Jacob’s murderous wrath. When we meet Jacob again three years later, he’s an opium addict searching for
his former mentor as well as redemption for his past sins. He finds this
redemption as the protector of a princess and her younger brother who is the
rightful new king. Both are fleeing the terror of their older brother and
warrior, Prince Shing, played by Andy On, who was passed over in favor of his
younger brother for the throne and murdered his dying father, the king. Shing
is very similar to Jacob in his bloodlust and this is what his father wishes to
avoid in a new king.
relationship between Jacob and the young king is right out of the classic American
western genre playbook. While this movie is no “Shane,” it is an interesting
melding of American and Chinese action adventure and, fortunately, everyone
speaks perfect English. Jacob agrees to safely transport the princess Lian,
played by Chinese model/actress Liu Yifei, and her younger brother Zhao, played
by Bill Su Jiahang. The boy forms the expected bond and the princess falls in
love with their protector as they make their way to safety while fleeing the
older brother who has sent out an order to kill his younger siblings. The young
king begs to learn how to use a bow as expertly as Jacob and they pause for a time.
During this training we see a flashback of a young Jacob undergoing training by
his mentor, Gallain, who we have not seen since the opening scenes. Cage
eventually returns and he turns out to be the near mythical “white ghost” referred
to throughout the first part of the movie.
As with any major film star who dies young, Jean Seberg has become a cult of personality to some film fans, partly due to the fact that she died in Paris from an overdose of barbiturates at age 40 in 1979. Her death was ruled a suicide but conspiracy theories still abound because she was deemed a political radical by the FBI due to her association with far left wing causes and her support of the Black Panther party. On screen, however, Seberg's characters were generally not radical, although her breakthrough film did find her as the female lead in Godard's classic 1960 crime flick Breathless. Still, there were some hints of Seberg's liberated woman persona in her early career. One such film was In the French Style, a largely forgotten 1963 production based on Irwin Shaw's novel. Shaw wrote the screenplay and the film was directed by Robert Parrish, a respected veteran of the movie industry who never enjoyed a career-defining major hit. (The closest he came was directing segments of the bloated 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale.) The movie opens in Paris with Seberg as Christina James, a 19 year old free spirited girl from Chicago who has come to the City of Light to hone her skills as a painter. In the process of trying to acclimate herself to the metropolitan lifestyle, she meets Guy ((Philippe Forquet), a headstrong, sometimes arrogant 21 year-old who is nonetheless charismatic and quite handsome. He woos Christina and before long, they are a couple swept up in a whirlwind romance. However, it isn't long before there are strains due in part to their impoverished lifestyle. Guy, being a typical guy, tries to get Christina into bed, but she says when it happens, it will be on her terms and conditions. When the big moment arises, Guy's romantic evening turns into a disaster because he only has enough money to rent a room at a flophouse hotel without heat. In the course of the strained evening, Guy confesses to Christina that he cannot perform sexually because he is too nervous. He makes a shocking confession: he is actually a 16 year old high school boy and a virgin at that. While this does bring the story into a completely unexpected direction, it's the one element of the film that strains credibility largely due to the fact that Forquet was actually 23 years old at the time and looks it. Nevertheless, this plot device takes us away from what was shaping up as a conventional "boy meets girl" romance and plunges the viewer into unknown waters.
The story then jumps ahead in time and we find Christina now in her early twenties and very much in step with the Parisian lifestyle. She is the toast of her neighborhood's social scene and the belle of the ball in terms of attracting male suitors. In a rather progressive depiction of a single woman for the year 1963, it is made abundantly clear that Christina has her pick of lovers and routinely engages in short-term sexual affairs. Every time she meets the "right man", it turns out that differences in their lifestyles prevent them from enjoying a traditional relationship. Her father (very well played by Addison Powell) visits her from Chicago and, again Shaw's script goes against the conventional depiction of father and daughter relationships generally seen in movies during this era. Instead of being a square old fuddy duddy, Dad is actually amused by his daughter's somewhat hedonistic lifestyle and he asks her how many lovers she has had. "A couple", she replies, but it becomes clear that both of them regard that as a drastic understatement. When her father asks to see the paintings she has been working on for years, he gently informs her that they are below the quality he had expected. He cautions her that her party-filled lifestyle may be compromising her potential. Christina objects and two part company under a strain, but it becomes clear that her father's words have resonated with her and that it might be time to develop plans for a more productive career path.
All of that changes when she has a chance encounter with Walter Beddoes (Stanley Baker), a hard-drinking international newspaper journalist. They enjoy a torrid affair and fall in love but, alas, fate rears its ugly head once again when Walter's requirements to travel extensively takes him away from Christina for months at a time. He confesses to her that, while abroad "I don't live like a monk". Christina says she accepts that he will have other lovers but makes it clear that she will, too. Such behavior from a young couple was rarely depicted so honestly on screen in 1963, an era in which sexually assertive women were generally painted as floozies. By the time Walter returns from a three month stint in Africa, he finds Christina has a new boyfriend, an American doctor from San Francisco (James Leo Herlihy), who she says she intends to marry. She has a civilized lunch with both men, as Walter tries to persuade her to resume her affair with him. She confesses that she has seen her share of former lovers ultimately drop her to marry the girl of her dreams, a status she somehow never attains in their eyes. This climactic sequence left me a bit disappointed because in the end, Christina- that most liberated of young women- decides to throw in the towel to become a doctor's wife and live in San Francisco. However, director Parrish does afford us the nagging possibility that she knows she is selling out by doing so.
In the French Style is a very worthwhile experience. The Parisian locations add immeasurably to its pleasures and the crisp B&W cinematography Michel Kelber is impressive, as is the Joseph Kosma's atmospheric score. Not much happens dramatically in the film. You keep waiting for some earth-shaking development to emerge but it never does. However, that's part of the movie's charm. It recalls an era in which studios routinely backed small films with fine actors (they are all wonderful here) and gave them intelligent dialogue and direction. Sony has released the movie as a burn to order DVD. The transfer is generally very good but the master print could use a bit of cleaning in places. There are no bonus extras, unfortunately.
Eon Productions has confirmed that Daniel Craig has undergone knee surgery for an injury he suffered during a fight sequence on the latest James Bond production, "SPECTRE". Eon said the surgery was "minor" and is not anticipated to affect filming. Craig is anticipated to resume shooting the movie on April 22 at Pinewood Studios, the series' traditional "home" outside of London. The film is shaping up to be the most expensive and ambitious entry in the long-running series. For more click here.
The Huffington Post presents writer Pat Gallagher presents a tribute to her choices as the 12 most memorable sex sirens of yesteryear. From Marilyn Monroe to Raquel Welch and Ursula Andress, click here to check out the article and see if you agree.
(1983) is a personal favorite horror film of mine. I own a 35mm print of this film, and I’ve seen
it projected three times in the last 15 years. The image looks very similar to
the VHS Vestron Video release which I first rented nearly 30 years ago: it is
dark, murky and difficult to see all of the important details. Fortunately, all
of this has changed thanks to the fine folks at Synapse Films who have
correctly presented the film in the proper aspect ratio and re-mastered the
image beyond anything that we have seen thus far. Curtains, never released in any other home
video format (except for several DVDs duped from that old VHS release), is now
finally available on DVD and Blu-ray, and the result is spectacular.
Eggar and John Vernon star as actress and director team Samantha Sherwood and
Jonathan Stryker attempting to bring the story of a mental patient, Audra, to
the screen. When Sherwood has herself “committed” to an actual mental hospital
to research the role, Stryker leaves her there with plans to make the film with
a different actress and engineers a casting call at his estate without
Sherwood’s knowledge. Curtains
fails to give more than just a hint as to his motivation for doing this
(sleeping with two of the actresses he auditions seems to be one reason), but
it does set up some truly creepy set pieces, the best and most memorable of
which include a large, sad-eyed doll on a rain-swept road, a masked killer
wielding a sickle on a skating rink, and a (somewhat prolonged) chase through
corridors inside of a theatrical warehouse which calls to mind the backstage
milieu in Michele Soavi’s Stage
Fright (1987). The logistics of the murders make little sense, but
then this is a thriller, so it’s wise not to think too much about it and enjoy
it for what it is.
film’s strengths lie in the casting, the music, and the cinematography. Eggar
and Vernon are terrific, and Lynne Griffin, an actress we see far too little of
these days (she’s the suffocation victim in the original Black Christmas), is hilarious as a comedienne vying for the role.
Linda Thorson is great as Brooke Parsons, an elegant actress who discovers
Lesleh Donaldson’s head in a toilet!
Paul Zaza has created a brilliant score for this film. The “sting” that
punctuates the film’s opening title sequence as the word Curtains is cut across
the screen can also be found in Prom
Night, a film that Zaza scored before Curtains.
I’ve often wondered if this score was originally composed for Prom Night and then
rejected. It’s a score worthy of a soundtrack album and it deserves to get a
release from Intrada, Varese Sarabande, Buysoundtrax.com, or Kritzerland.
a sucker for Canadian horror films that take place in the snow (The Brood (1979) and Ghostkeeper (1981) come
to mind), and Curtains
is my favorite, hands-down. One of the strangest and eeriest movies I’ve seen,
the film has always gotten a bum rap. Far from a perfect film, the production
had a lot of rumored problems from the word go and it seems that at this point
in time the movie is more notorious for what it was originally intended to be
rather than what it in fact is. Filming began in November 1980 and continued
for months afterwards. The original director, Richard Ciupka, hand-picked by
the producer due to his previous and well-regarded last-minute takeover of
1982’s Melanie, had his name removed
from the film due to the fact that much of it was not what he himself had
filmed. The ending was changed, as were several key plot points, and what
results is something of a convoluted narrative that possesses an air of
extras on the Blu-ray are plentiful. In addition to the sterling and brightly
colorful transfer, there is a 35-minute documentary called The Ultimate Nightmare: the Making
of Curtains by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. Key players
in the film take part in being interviewed as do those who worked behind the
scenes, particularly composer Zaza admitting his embarrassment at having his
name on the credits and wishing that he had been fired during the film’s
production, which is unfortunate given that his music does for Curtains what John
Williams did for Jaws (1975). There
is also a 15-minute documentary made at the time of shooting simply called Ciupka (pronounced
CHOOP-ka) and it features some behind-the-scenes footage on the set of Curtains.
is also a feature-length audio commentary moderated by Edwin Samuelson with
actresses Lesley Donaldson and Lynne Griffin and they are quite amusing to
listen to. Audio interviews with the late producer (courtesy of the Terror
Trap), actress Samantha Eggar (courtesy of yours truly), and the theatrical
trailer round out the extras.
has been written about the scenes that had been shot for Curtains which ended up
on the cutting room floor. Up until August 2009 these scenes existed but,
amazingly, the decision was made at that time to destroy them. Why the footage
sat in a vault for 26 years and was subsequently tossed in the era of DVD and
Blu-rays is an incident that is not only unfathomable to me but it raises the
question of who ordered the footage dumped. It doesn’t matter at this point,
but I am grateful that the original source materials survived so that we all
can see Curtains
the way it was intended. Although I have been a fan of the film for 28 years, I
feel as though I am really seeing it for the first time.
Film noir wasn’t just
relegated to American Hollywood films of the forties and fifties. It was
something of an international movement, albeit an unconscious one, for it
wasn’t until the late fifties that some critics in France looked back at the
past two decades of crime pictures and proclaimed, “Oui! Film noir!”
was doing it, too. Carol Reed’s 1947 IRA-thriller-that-isn’t-an-IRA-thriller Odd Man Out is one of the best examples
of the style. Robert Krasker’s black and white cinematography pulls in all the
essential film noir elements—German
expressionism, high contrasts between dark and light, and tons of shadows. Other
noir trappings are present, such as stormy
weather, night scenes, exterior locations, bars, shabby tenements, a lot of smoking,
and a crime. And, for a movie to be “pure noir,”
there must not be a happy ending. Odd Man
Out fulfills that last requirement with shocking bravura.
Mason stars as Johnny, the leader of “the organization” in an unnamed Northern
Ireland city; it isn’t difficult to connect the dots and assume the
organization is the IRA and the city is probably someplace like Belfast (where
much of the second unit photography was done on the sly; the rest of the film
was shot in studios and locations in England). Johnny escaped from prison a few
months back and has been in hiding, secluded in a house with his girlfriend
Kathleen (the beautiful Kathleen Ryan) for months. He has gathered a small gang
to rob a mill for money to support their cause. The problem is that Johnny has
gone a bit “soft,” and isn’t properly prepared for the job. Nevertheless, the
four men pull off the caper, but of course it goes wrong. Johnny is shot in the
shoulder, he unwittingly kills a man in self defense, and he is separated from
the other gang members. The rest of the film is a D.O.A.-style story of the next twenty-four hours or so as Johnny
eludes capture from the police on the streets, all the while losing blood and
his life. So we know he’s probably not going to make it and we wait for the
inevitable—but what happens until that fateful ending (which manages to
surprise us anyway with an unexpected twist in how it’s done) is incredibly
Odd Man Out is one of the most
engaging and thrilling British films of the 20th Century. Period. It certainly
rivals Reed’s The Third Man, which is
also an excellent model of British noir.
Mason is terrific as he stumbles around the streets, delusional and suffering,
practically bouncing from one obstacle to another with no safe haven in sight.
Other familiar British and Irish faces crop up—Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, Dan
O’Herlihy, F. J. McCormick—and Kubrick fans might recognize a younger Paul
Farrell (the tramp from A Clockwork
Orange) as a bartender named Sam.
new high-definition digital restoration looks marvelous, naturally. Once again,
the company’s mastering for Blu-ray outdoes the competition. The image is sharp
and without blemishes for the most part, and appears as if the film was made
yesterday. Extras include a new interview with British cinema scholar John Hill
on the picture; “Postwar Poetry,” a new short documentary; a new interview with
music scholar Jeff Smith about composer William Alwyn and his gorgeous score; a
nearly-hour-long 1972 documentary featuring James Mason revisiting his hometown
in Ireland; and a radio adaptation of the film from 1952, starring Mason and
O’Herlihy. The essay in the booklet is by critic Sara Smith.
of these supplements are very good, but the reason to run out and buy this
Blu-ray release is the film itself. Odd
Man Out is a landmark crime picture with wonderfully eccentric Irish
characters, lush atmosphere, and film
noir traits galore. Highly recommended.
It's a little late in the day to extol the virtues of the Papermill Playhouse's production of "Hunchback of Notre Dame" which has its last performance on April 5, but since the show is being groomed for Broadway, it's relevant to point out that the production is simply magnificent. (The play premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego last fall before moving here.) Upon entering the Papermill, we took our seats in front row, center....generally the best in the house. However, there was concern because the entire stage now had a massive new floor temporarily built on top of it. The result of this was the "new" stage not only extending practically into our seats but also having the effect of "elevator shoes"....it was a good foot above where the normal stage rose. My concern was that everyone would have to crane their necks to see what was going on directly in front of them- and indeed some of those attending who were not very tall found it necessary to sit on their coats in an attempt to elevate themselves enough to see the action. Whatever grumbling may have occurred was subdued because of the sight that stood before our eyes: a massive, ingenious example of production design that ranked among the most impressive I had ever seen. Clearly, we knew this would be a memorable theatrical experience- and it was. The reaction became even greater when we first see Quasimodo, who is hanging on a rope attached to a set of descending giant bells. The effect is breathtaking and the reason for the new stage floor would become apparent, as massive edifices as wheeled in and out of scenes throughout the production. The staggering weight would have crushed the existing stage floor.
The new show, under the inspired direction of Scott Schwartz,is a unique production that combines the key elements of Victor Hugo's classic 1831 novel with songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz that appeared in Disney's animated film version and, in the process, reworks the original German 1999 production of this musical. (Peter Parnell wrote the book for the new version.) It should be mentioned that, although this production boasts memorable songs from the Disney film, this is not a feel-good experience and kids may well walk away more upset than entertained. (It notably is not recommended for kids under age 12, per a disclaimer on the show's advertising.) That's because Hugo's book presents us with one of the most tragic protagonists in literary history: Quasimodo, the deformed illegitimate son of a Frenchman of good standing and a Gypsy girl, both of whom die shortly after the baby is born. The infant's uncle is Dom Claude Frollo, the top priest at Notre Dame cathedral. He is appalled by the disfigurement of the child that he has taken into his care, but he is also ashamed. He raises the boy within the confines of the bell tower, where young Quasimodo receives an education but has been completely isolated from the bustling city of Paris, which he can only observe from the tower. His sole function is to chime the enormous bells on schedule. One day, Quasimodo slips into the streets to experience the annual "Feast of Fools", a one-day event during which the city's most undesirable elements are allowed to run rampant and indulge themselves in any vices they desire. Quasimodo no sooner enters the crowds than he becomes the object of cruel mockery and torture for the amusement of others. He is rescued by the one person who shows him an act of kindness: the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda. She escorts him back to the cathedral where she is initially met with disdain by Frollo, who informs her that gypsies are not welcome in the church. However, he can't help but be smitten by her beauty and changes his tune when he makes a blatant attempt to seduce her. She rebuffs him and the humiliated Frollo plots to have her arrested on charges of witchcraft. Esmeralda goes into hiding and receives protection from Frollo's own Captain of the Guards, Phoebus de Martin, who becomes a wanted man himself because of his desire to save Esmeralda from the clutches of Frollo. In the course of the story, Quasimodo proves himself to be smarter than anyone had anticipated...and a man of great courage, as well. He not so secretly loves Esmeralda but realizes their relationship can only be platonic. Yet, he risks his life to in attempt to save her from the death sentence Frollo has condemned her to suffer.
As you might surmise from the synopsis, "Hunchback" is a morbid affair. Yet, it is a stirring production that doesn't need artificial sentiment to rouse the emotions of the audience. The cast is simply brilliant. Ciara Renee is radiant as Esmeralda and Andrew Samonsky makes for a dashing hero as her protector/lover. However, the two most impressive performances are given by Michael Arden and Patrick Page as Quasimodo and Frollo, respectively. Arden is simply amazing. He walks on stage as a handsome young actor and in front of our eyes turns himself into the afflicted Quasimodo without the benefit of a mask or makeup. He achieves this by contorting his face and maintaining that effect through the entire play (in addition to jumping on bell ropes and performing acts of derring-do"). Page is also highly impressive, playing a man decades older than his actual age and possessed of a voice that is truly a thing of beauty. There are at least thirty other actors and extras, making this the largest cast I've seen in a stage production in many years. If there is a criticism of this ambitious show, it's that there isn't a single standout song. They are all good, but none of them are great. Most are designed to advance the drama as opposed to having audiences hum them while exiting the theater.
The Papermill Playhouse is arguably the most acclaimed regional theater in the nation. This production of "Hunchback" proves why. My bet is that this production will find a home on Broadway. When it does, make sure you catch it.
(For more about the history of this musical, click here)
Rudolph directed two forgotten horror flicks in the early seventies before joining
Robert Altman’s team; he served as Altman’s assistant director and in other
positions for several years. In the interim, Altman produced Rudolph’s third
feature film, Welcome to L.A., which
premiered in 1976 and was released to the general public in the spring of 1977.
best work is obviously inspired by Altman’s method of telling the personal
stories of an ensemble of quirky and neurotic characters over a sprawling
canvas (M*A*S*H, Nashville, A Wedding, Short Cuts, for example). Rudolph’s Welcome to L.A. does just that, only this
writer/director’s style is even more loosey-goosey than Altman’s. Rudolph’s
approach is much more poetic, slower, and dreamier. More serious, too, I might
Carradine plays Carroll, a character much like the guy he played in Nashville—a songwriter who is coolly
arrogant and a cad, but all the women love him anyway. He’s been living in
England when his agent and former lover, Susan (Viveca Lindfors), hooks him up
with singer/musician Eric (Richard Baskin, who wrote all the film’s songs); so
Carroll comes back home to L.A. He doesn’t get along with his millionaire
father (Denver Pyle), but manages to seduce his father’s girlfriend,
photographer (Lauren Hutton). Throw in the realtor of his rented house (Sally
Kellerman), a seriously-disturbed and unhappy housewife (Geraldine Chaplin), and
a wacky housekeeper who vacuums topless (Sissy Spacek), and we’ve got a real
merry-go-round of one-night-stands (in fact, one of the songs beats us over the
head that they’re “living in the city of the one-night-stands”).
are other men, too—Harvey Keitel is quite good as Chaplin’s husband, who
happens to work for Pyle and has his sights set on some co-stars, and John Considine,
who is married to Kellerman—he, too, manages to have dalliances with other
female cast members. The entire movie’s “plot,” as it were, is how all of these
characters will hook up with the others in the space of a few days.
what the movie is really about is
loneliness. These people are middle-to-upper-class Hollywood types and they’re
caught in the malaise that Los Angeles of the mid-seventies had become (and
Rudolph’s filmmaking smacks of the 1970s in look and feel—not that this is a
bad thing). The picture seems to be saying that even if you’re rich and
beautiful/handsome and talented, you still need love and connection—but
unfortunately, the one-night-stand mentality is a dead end, as many of the
characters learn. And Carradine’s character, something of an omniscient
angel/devil, floats through this world caring about nothing but himself, but
therein lies a central truth—this guy is the unhappiest of them all.
film is beautifully shot, and if you can get past the somewhat now-pretentious
and arty device of people looking into mirrors and delivering soliloquies, you
may be impressed with the mise-en-scene.
Some folks, I remember, criticized Baskin’s songs and singing as being
annoying; on the contrary, I’ve always found the movie’s soundtrack to be very
well done. After all, the point of the picture is that it’s a musical journey
through vignettes that dramatize the lonely search for interconnection.
film is available as an MGM burn-to-order title. A card before the movie claims that the transfer was made from the “best
sources possible,” which means they probably used an existing print rather than
negatives to strike the DVD. Colors have faded significantly and the image
looks rather drab, which is unfortunate.
Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Rudolph, or Altman, and you want to experience
something different that was hitting the art house circuit in the
mid-seventies, take a look. I would place Welcome
to L.A. near the top of Alan Rudolph’s idiosyncratic, but usually quite
and sexy housewife Ellen (Gigi Darlene) likes nothing more than taking out the
trash in her neglige. Unfortunately this turns the janitor into a rapist, who
gets his comeuppance when she kills him in self-defence. Instead of telling her
husband what happened, Ellen goes on the run and finds that the world is a
cruel place to sexy outlaws. Ellen moves from abusive situation to abusive
situation before coming perilously close to being caught by a detective. Is
Ellen a victim, or does her penchant for nudity mean she really is a "Bad
Wishman is a somewhat fascinating character. Almost fifty by the time she
directed her first film, she started out with "nudie cuties"; tame,
often comical films mainly shot in nudist camps. These films, including Nude
on the Moon (1961) and Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls (1963) feature
the kind of corny plot-lines and creaky acting that would have seemed dated in
1940s B features. However, working outside the studio system and therefore not
worried about the Hollywood Production Code, what Wishman could do was shoot
boobs. Lots of boobs. The nudist camp film had grown in popularity in both the
US and Europe during the late 1950s and no matter how bad these were, they
would always make money. As her films became more violent and exploitative they
became known as "roughies". Women were generally the victims of male
aggression and subjugation, and there was a focus on rape and violence. Bad
Girls Go to Hell (1965) falls into this latter category, and it is often
hailed as one of the sleaziest films ever made. What was perhaps unusual was
the fact that Wishman was a female director working in a very male-dominated
genre. Her films can be seen as more than just sexploitation, and Wishman gives
her female characters a sense of power and freedom. Despite the degradation
they go through, the women in her films often win out over the men. Sadly, in
this particular film, the ending suggests that women will always be victims, and
it could even be their own fault. Doris Wishman was a controversial filmmaker,
and this film is unlikely to win her many feminist admirers. She went on to
achieve permanent infamy with the pair of films Double Agent 73 and Deadly
Weapons (both 1974), featuring the uniquely-endowed Chesty Morgan killing
men with her enormous assets.
DVD of Bad Girls Go to Hell has been put out by Apprehensive Films, and
the print is the same found on Something Weird's earlier release. It is a
surprisingly good picture for such a low budget grindhouse film. It is a real
slice of the greasy underbelly of 1960s American life. The soundtrack is also
fun, featuring some great 1960s instrumental pop. This DVD features an awful
short film which has nothing to do with Doris Wishman, and left this reviewer
confused as to it's inclusion. Also featured are some trailers for other
Apprehensive Films DVDs, mostly of the obscure exploitation variety and again,
not related to this film at all.
eleven-year old Indian girl is sold by her father to a thirty-year-old man for
a cow and a rusty bicycle. Torn from her mother’s arms the child is taken home,
beaten, raped and turned into a slave, all the while being abused and taunted
by the local villagers because she is from a lower caste. She runs away and
tries to go home, but is looked upon as an outcast. In a society where women are considered lower
than cattle, she grows up enduring terrible punishment, including more
beatings, rapes and eventual homelessness. She is kidnapped by bandits falls in love with the bandit leader and becomes
a legend known throughout India as “Bandit Queen,” stealing from the rich and
giving to the poor. She kills the 21 men she accused of gang-raping her, and
surrenders to authorities before a crowd of 10,000 supporters. She serves 11 years
in prison and when freed, runs on her popularity as a champion of the poor, and
is elected to Parliament, only to be assassinated by a member of a higher caste
at age 37.
is the story of Phoolan Devi, played as an adult by Seema Biswas, and although
it sounds like something that happened hundreds of years ago in a dark age of
ignorance and cruelty her story took place in India, between 1963 and 2001. She
was 37 years old when she died. Some of the things that happen in Shekar
Kapur’s biographical film “Bandit Queen” (1994) were disputed by the Indian
government, which sought to have the film banned. Even Devi sued to block the
film’s release, claiming it made her look too much like a “sniveling woman.”
But if only half the incidents portrayed in the movie are true, it is not only an
unflinchingly realistic drama of a woman’s guts and determination to survive
and overcome unbelievable adversity, it is also a searing indictment of a
nation whose laws and culture create an environment where such things can
happen. One can only hope that the situation in the rural areas of India, where
this story occurred, have improved by now.
indictment starts at the top, by attacking the mindset and religious beliefs
that permit a social system that divides people into upper and lower castes.
The film begins with a quote from a sacred Hindu text that states: “Animals,
drunks, illiterates, low castes and woman are worthy of beating.” The
powerlessness of women is shown when the 11-year old girl’s mother can only
watch in sorrow as her daughter is taken away and again when the bridegroom’s
mother can only sit silently outside the room listening to Phoolan’s screams as
her son beats and rapes the child.
film is deliberately infuriating and at times difficult to watch. And if all
Kapur wanted to do was create a diatribe against India’s caste system, and
extol the virtues of its central character, it wouldn’t be much of a film. But
his theme is larger. As he explains in audio commentary provided on the disc,
the central vision that guided him through what he admits was a challenging and
difficult movie to make, can be summed up in two words: oppression and
survival. No matter how difficult Phoolan’s circumstances became, she never submitted
to it willingly. Through everything she maintained an inborn defiance, and a
spirit of rebellion that got her through it all, though at considerable cost.
the middle of the film she falls in love with her bandit gang co-leader, but by
now she cannot stand the touch of a man. At first all she can do to respond to
him is to hit him and let him hit her back. He understands her psychology and
eventually breaks through to her. But by
now her mind is saturated with revenge and blood lust because of all the
hardships she endured and the climax of the story comes when she orders the massacre
of the 21 higher-caste men in a village who raped her. Significantly, in almost
a Sam Peckinpah-ish touch, Kapur has a naked baby standing at a well crying in
the midst of the carnage. It’s a telling image.
Time has released a limited edition BluRay of “Bandit Queen.” The image is for
the most part sharp and clear though some night scenes had too much grain,
which are probably in the original film elements The only special features are
the director’s audio commentary and a separate track containing the score by
composer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. There is also a booklet containing an
informative essay by Julie Kirgo.
film has ever presented such a realistic, disturbing, and uncompromising
portrayal of oppression and survival than “Bandit Queen.”
Just in case you thought the good folks at Vinegar Syndrome only release version of vintage porn flicks, it may come as news that they are also providing another valuable social service: remastering long-forgotten grind house "classics". Case in point: "The Muthers", a 1976 gem that plays out like the ultimate Tarantino fantasy. It's a combination of several genres: Women in Prison ("W.I.P", for the initiated), chop socky, sexploitation and blaxploitation. It doesn't get any better than this if you were weaned on this glorious type of sleaze that played routinely on 42nd Street. Directed by cult "B" movie favorite Cirio Santiago, "The Muthers" is yet another low-budget flick from the era that was filmed in the Philippines. The movie opens with a memorable introduction to the titular characters. They are Kelly (Jeannie Bell) and her equally sexy sidekick Anggie (Rosanne Katon, Playboy's Miss September in 1978), who are female pirates with an all-male crew ("You go, girls!"). We see them aboard their high speed, armed vessel as they raid a tourist boat and grab the booty. (Since these are good pirates, no one gets hurt). We know the pirates go by the name of The Muthers because their vessel is adorned with a big sign that reads "The Muthers", in what must have been the first case of branding for high seas pirates. When they return to their Hole-in-the-Wall-like village, they are informed that Kelly's teenage sister has gone missing. They start trawling the waterfront bars and learn that she has been abducted by a human trafficking ring. Working with a government agent who wants to bring down the head of the ring, a notorious crime kingpin named Monteiro (Tony Carreon), Kelly and Anggie volunteer to be captured. They are brought to Monteiro's jungle prison camp, which is guarded by a virtual army of heavily-armed thugs. Here they find dozens of young women being kept in brutal conditions. They are forced to perform manual labor and are simultaneously being groomed for sale to a procurer of girls for international brothels. Kelly manages to get a fleeting glimpse of her sister before she learns the younger girl has made a desperate attempt to escape into the jungle- a strategy which goes tragically awry.
While in the camp, Kelly and Anggie meet Marcie (Trina Parks), another beauty who is regarded as a long-time veteran prisoner who knows all the ropes. Marcie introduces them to Serena (Jayne Kennedy), who is the privileged mistress of Monteiro (who also sleeps with his male guards). Anggie resents Serena for selling out in return for her soft lifestyle at the camp and derisively refers to her as a "house nigger". But Marcie informs her that Serena often provides what human compassion she can towards the prisoners. Ultimately, Kelly, Angie and Marcie enlist Serena in an audacious plan for them all to escape. They do so but Monteiro and his goons are in hot pursuit. As the women hide in the jungle, they face death from the elements, starvation and dangerous critters. In the film's best scenario, Marcie is bitten in the chest by a deadly snake. As Serena sucks the blood out, Marcie gets the movie's best line of dialogue: "Just like every other snake I've met-- won't leave my tits alone!" Although Parks, Kennedy and Katon frustrate male viewers keeping their clothes mostly intact, Bell delivers the goods with two (not one, but two!) gratuitous topless bathlng sequences. She also saunters around the tropical location clad in a long-sleeve turtleneck shirt, the absurdity of which is overshadowed by the fact that she is conspicuously bra-less. The film climaxes with double crosses, a big shootout between the "good" pirates and Monteiro's forces, with machine gun slinging chicks also going hand-to-hand with the villains. (Yes, everybody is kung-fu fighting.) At one point in the movie, Bell gets to swing vine-to-vine a la Tarzan. As low grade action films go, it doesn't get much lower or better than this- and it's all set to a typically funky '70s disco score.
Jeannie Bell displays why the questionable choice of wearing a long-sleeve turtleneck in the tropics has its good points.
The Vinegar Syndrome release has undergone a 2k restoration from the original 35mm negative, making it yet another one of their titles that probably looks infinitely better today than it did upon its initial release. An appropriately cheesy trailer is also included that doesn't even credit the actresses, though perhaps they consider that to be a positive.
Released in 1962, Boy's Night Out was considered to be a rather racy comedy that touched upon sexual infidelity in the era when June and Ward Cleaver represented the average American household. The story centers on four businessmen- James Garner, Tony Randall, Howard Duff and Howard Morris- who indulge in a weekly night out that consists of nothing more daring than having some drinks and discussing sex. In a moment of deviancy, they decide to chip in and rent a plush Manhattan apartment, with Garner- the only bachelor of the group- acting as the beard and putting the lease in his name. They then intend to hire a hot blonde to service them on different nights of the week. The plan seems to work swimmingly. The apartment is rented and the requisite blonde (Kim Novak) appears ready, willing and able to indulge. What they don't know is that Novak is actually a student working on a thesis about sexual habits of the typical suburban male. She concocts various ways to ensure that each of her paramours never consumates the relationship, yet all the while maintaining the persona of a woman of easy virtue.
The plot becomes as predictable as yesterday's news as each of the men tries to con his friends into thinking he's had sex with Novak, when, in fact, the relationships remain completely chaste. Complications occur when Garner falls head over heels for Novak, but believing she is a prostitute, can't bring himself to become seriously involved with her. Although the men are paper tigers in the lovemaking department, they are deceiving their wives and families about the boy's night out, which leads to feelings of guilt and remorse. What elevates this above standard sitcom fare of the era is the remarkable cast. Aside from the charismatic leads, the supporting players include Jim Backus, Fred Clark, Oscar Homolka, Jessie Royce Landis, William Bendix and Patti Page, whose warbling of the catchy title song became a major hit on the charts at the time. It's a fun romp, despite the cliches, and Howard Morris, in his big screen debut, is most amusing in the role of an everyday guy. Henceforth, he would primarily play complete eccentrics on TV and in film as well as earn a reputation as a top comedy director. Novak is stunningly beautiful, and the fashions she wears accentuates the fact that they don't make leading ladies like this any more.
of the late, great Ingmar Bergman’s skills as a filmmaker was to write and
direct memorable roles for women. He was one of the few directors, such as Ford
or Altman or Allen, who repeatedly relied on a “stock company” of actors
throughout his career. While there were many wonderful male actors who worked
for Bergman (Max von Sydow, Erland Josephson, Gunnar Björnstrand),
we generally remember the women—Liv Ullmann, Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Thulin,
Eva Dahlbeck, Bibi Andersson, among many—for baring their souls on screen in
Bergman’s challenging, difficult works that always elevated the art of film to
Cries and Whispers is an excellent
example of the power of the female actor. It’s essentially a four-woman chamber
piece, taking place in the late 1800s in Sweden, about three sisters and a
servant, their relationships to each other, to their pasts, and to their stance
on mortality. It stars (in alphabetical order) Harriet Andersson, Kari Sylwan,
Ingrid Thulin, and Liv Ullmann, and it is arguably Bergman’s most well-known
picture in the U.S. It premiered in late 1972 but its general release was in 1973,
thus qualifying it for the ’73 Oscars. It’s Bergman’s only film to be nominated
for Best Picture (as opposed to Foreign Language Film), competing against the
likes of The Sting (which won), The Exorcist, American Graffiti, and A
Touch of Class (how did that one
get in there?). Bergman was nominated for Director and his Original Screenplay.
Despite all that, one could argue that the real star of the film is Sven
Nykvist, whose cinematography did win
the Oscar that year, and deservedly so.
one of Bergman’s few films in color, one must recognize the difficulty Nykvist
had in photographing rooms that were entirely red—red walls, red carpeting, red
furniture, red bedspreads—with touches of white in the drapes, clothing, fine
china, and sheets. Contrasting these intense shades with the flesh tones of
human beings and making it all work, especially in the early 70s, is nothing
short of remarkable. Thankfully, The Criterion Collection has seen fit to
upgrade their original DVD release to Blu-ray, and the results are absolutely
gorgeous. The new 2K digital restoration is superb.
the surface, the story seems simple—Agnes (Andersson) is dying of cancer. Her
two sisters, Karin and Maria (Thulin and Ullmann), are holding vigil and
waiting for the inevitable to happen, but it is the servant, Anna (Sylwan, who
made her extraordinary film debut with the picture) who does all the
caretaking. The four performances are gut-wrenching. Ullmann actually plays a
dual role as the sisters’ mother in flashbacks, and there are men on the
periphery as well, including Bergman regulars Erland Josephson and Anders Ek.
the movie’s 91 minutes, Bergman explores these women’s fears, loves,
prejudices, and faiths through flashbacks, dreams, and conflict with each other
and themselves. Never in Bergman’s work was the influence of playwright August
Strindberg more palpable, but there is a great deal of Anton Chekhov at play
here as well. This is serious, complex, soul-searching—and soul-shattering—stuff.
rather grueling, doesn’t it? Well, it is, but that doesn’t make it any less
entertaining. The director’s use of the color red is fascinating—film scholars
have interpreted it to represent the “inside of the womb,” or perhaps the
“color of the soul.” For me it’s the interior of the heart, and it’s a
simultaneously warm and cold one. For, ultimately, what the movie is about is
the pain that we can cause our loved ones, the very people for whom we are
supposed to provide solace.
extras include a wonderful new and revealing interview with Harriet Andersson
conducted by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie. There’s a 2001 introduction to the
film by Bergman. “On Solace,” by the terrific video essayist ::kogonada, dissects
the three acts of the film. There are thirty minutes of behind-the-scenes
footage narrated by Cowie, the theatrical trailer, and the port-over from the
original DVD release, Ingmar Bergman:
Reflections on Life, Death, and Love with Erland Josephson, a fifty-two
minute dialogue between the director and actor. The booklet contains an essay
by film scholar Emma Wilson.
you’re debating whether or not to upgrade from Criterion’s original release,
the answer is a resounding YES. If you’ve never seen Cries and Whispers, then you’re missing an essential piece of
Éléphant ClassiQ: Movies that have marked the history ofcinema In
Montréal from November 19 to22
Montréal, March 18, 2015 — Quebecor and Éléphant: The memory of Québec cinema are pleasedto announceanewevent:ÉléphantClassiQ,theonlyfestivalofitskindinCanada,willscreenclassicfilmsfromaroundtheworldonthebigscreen.Itsthemewillbelesfilmsquiontfaitlecinéma
(movies that have marked the history
This year’s edition will be held as a separate event on November 19, 20, 21 and
22, 2015at threetheatres:theImperialCinema,SalleClaude-JutraattheCinémathèquequébécoiseandSallePierre-Bourgault
at UQAM. It will give film buffs an opportunity to experience great films of
thepast from Québec andelsewhere.
what it means to be human and give us a new take on ourselves. They truly area kaleidoscope of marvels.” Claude
Fournier and Marie-José Raymond are steering the ambitiousevent with the help of a dedicated team
“Quebecorisproudtohelpbringourcinematoawideraudience,”saidPierreDion,PresidentandCEOofQuebecor.“Forus,ÉléphantClassiQisanotherwaytomakerestored,digitizedfilmsbetter knownandmoreaccessible–notonlymoviesfromQuébec’scinematicheritagebutclassicfilms from the worldover.”
2015 edition of the festival will feature movies from the French-speaking
world. Restoredclassic films from
France, Belgium, Switzerland, Africa and Québec will be shown with Englishsubtitles. Éléphant ClassiQ will
also offer master classes and opportunities to meet distinguished filmpeople. Thesuperbfilmsontheprogramwillgiveyoungpeopleachancetodiscoverimportantworksand
thenot-so-youngachancetoreliveindeliblememories.ÉléphantClassiQisbeingpresentedin partnership with Université du Québec à Montréal and in cooperation
with theCinémathèque québécoise.
The memory of Québeccinema
Éléphant:ThememoryofQuébeccinema,launchedbyQuebecoronNovember8,2008,isalarge- scaleprojectdedicatedtorestoringanddigitizinginHDQuébec'sheritageoffeaturefilms,andmaking it available as it is digitized.
To date, nearly 225 films have been restored and digitized. It isa particularsourceofpridetoÉléphantthatthefilmscanbeviewed24hoursaday,7daysaweek.
website at www.elephant.canoe.ca
contains the largest existing databaseand informationbankonQuébeccinema.AlsoproducedundertheaegisofÉléphant,thebookLes imagesquenoussommes,60ansdecinémaquébécoisbyanthropologistSergeBouchard(Éditions de l’Homme) provides an original
and incisive history of 60 years of Québec cinema. It is availableinbookstoresandindigitalformat.Thedigitalversion,availableoniTunes,includes73movieexcerpts.
Éléphant: The memory of
Québec cinema is
fully funded by Quebecor. It is a philanthropicenterprisefromwhichQuebecorderivesnofinancialbenefit.Asidefromasmallamounttocoveraportionof
theplatform’soperatingcosts,allrevenuesfromdistributionofthemoviesonillicogoestothe rights holders andfilmmakers.
Canadian leader in telecommunications, news media, entertainment and culture,
isone of the best-performing
integrated communications companies in the industry. Driven bytheir determinationtodeliverthebestpossiblecustomerexperience,allofQuebecor’ssubsidiariesand brandsaredifferentiatedbytheirhigh-quality,multiplatform,convergentproductsandservices.
Quebecor(TSX:QBR.A,QBR.B)isheadquarteredinQuébec.Itholdsa75.36%interestinQuebecor Media, which
employs nearly 14,000 people inCanada.
A family business
founded in 1950, Quebecor is strongly committed to the community. Every year,it actively supports people working with
more than 400 organizations in the vital fields of culture, health, education,
the environment andentrepreneurship.
The word of mouth on this 1947 Warner Brothers thriller is that it was a disappointment at best and an outright dog at worst. The powerhouse teaming of superstars Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck seemed to promise more than audiences and critics felt the film delivered. Consequently, it's generally put near the bottom rung of achievements in both star's careers. In viewing the Warner Archive DVD release, I had few expectations regarding its merits. However, I came away pleasantly surprised. This is a superior, moody and atmospheric film with both Stanwyck and Bogart at their best. Bogart had long played villains, but this is one of the most complex and fascinating characters he has ever brought to life. The movie is based on a hit stage play and its stage origins are quite apparent: it's quite a claustrophobic affair, with only a single sequence shot outside of the WB back lot. However, because most of the story takes place within the confines of a mansion, the lack of wide open spaces only enhances the atmosphere.
Bogart is cast against type as Geoffrey Carroll, a sophisticated and successful painter who has one weakness: he is an incurable womanizer. The film opens with Carroll and his girlfriend Sally (Barbara Stanwyck) enjoying a romantic trip to the mountains of Scotland. While there, she discovers he is actually married and breaks off the relationship. Shortly thereafter, Carroll's wife dies, leaving him in custody of their precocious young daughter Beatrice (a remarkable performance by Ann Carter). Now a widower, Carroll resumes his relationship with Sally, telling her that his wife was an invalid who died from health problems. The couple marry and enjoy a life of privilege in a manor house in the English countryside. Carroll's career is thriving and things seem to be going well- until another woman, Cecily Latham (Alexis Smith) enters their lives. Sally recognizes instantly that her husband has been smitten and correctly suspects the two are having an affair. Jealousy and heartbreak turn to fear when she also begins to suspect that Geoffrey had murdered his former wife and might be planning to do the same with her. Adding to the complexities is a local chemist who is blackmailing Geoffrey on the basis that he may have sold him the lethal mix that resulted in his first wife's death.
The Two Mrs. Carrolls has many similarities to Hitchcock's Suspicion including a key plot device involving a potentially fatal glass of milk served to the wife who may have been designated for murder. The film's primary strength is the genuine chemistry between Bogart and Stanwyck, who are terrific together. The suspense builds gradually to a chilling conclusion. Bogart is especially good in this film, which allows him to break some new ground as an outwardly charming, but narcissistic personality who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Alexis Smith smolders as the bad girl who pretends to be Sally's friend so she can enjoy the company of her husband. There is also a very competent cast of supporting actors including the always reliable Nigel Bruce, playing a bumbling doctor in a role that doesn't veer very far from his portrayal of Doctor Watson in the Sherlock Holmes films. Director Peter Godfrey keeps the action flowing at a brisk pace and the movie is enhanced by a typically impressive score by Franz Waxman.
This writer is one of the few who will defend this film, but my belief is that, while it is certainly not a classic for the ages, it stands up well as consistently good entertainment. By all means, you could do worse than spend a couple of hours with Mr. Bogart and Ms. Stanwyck.
The burn-to-order DVD contains the original trailer.
One of the greatest achievements in John Wayne's career was his late career performance in director Mark Rydell's 1972 film "The Cowboys". The movie was a major hit for Warner Brothers but as acclaimed screenwriter Josh Olson points out in his analysis of the film on Joe Dante's "Trailers From Hell" web site, the flick never got the critical acclaim it deserved. The Vietnam War was still raging and Wayne's unapologetic support of it didn't sit well with the critical establishment.
Pressbook promotion for appearance by John Wayne at the film's opening at Radio City Music Hall.
In my humble opinion, the Duke was robbed of a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his superb performance as an aging cattleman who is so desperate to get his herd to market that he hires a group of schoolboys as drivers. Along the way, the kids and Wayne experience humor, pathos, death and any number of life lessons, including a tragic confrontation with rustlers led by Bruce Dern, who brings to life one of the great villains in screen history. The film also features a gem of a performance by Roscoe Lee Browne as Wayne's companion and cook for the cattle drive. Both Dern and Browne should have also received Oscar nominations but "The Cowboys" had the misfortune of being released in January of 1972- and had all but faded from Academy member's minds by the time the nominations were being considered a full year later. It was also the same year that "The Godfather" dominated most of the major nominations. Nevertheless, as Josh Olson points out, the film's greatness continues to resonate today. (Oh, and there is a magnificent score by John Williams, as well.) Click here to watch the original trailer with or without Josh Olson's commentary track.
In SPECTRE, a cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on
a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to
keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal
the terrible truth behind SPECTRE. Sam Mendes returns to direct SPECTRE,
with Daniel Craig reprising his role as 007 for the fourth time. SPECTRE
is produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, from a script by John
Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade.
SPECTRE follows the release of SKYFALL, the biggest Bond
film of all time, which took in $1.1 billion worldwide. SPECTRE is
set for global release on November 6, 2015.
Cimino with Eastwood on the set of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.
Controversial Oscar-winning director Michael Cimino avoids interviews at all costs and hasn't spoken at length to a main stream publication in over a decade. However, Hollywood Reporter writer Seth Abramovitch convinced Cimino to engage in an extensive discussion of his career. The result is rather mesmerizing, as Cimino waxes about his passion for classic films (particularly those involving John Ford and John Wayne) and his respect for Clint Eastwood, who gave him his first job as director on the 1973 film "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot". In fact, Cimino spends a good part of the interview invoking Eastwood's name and praising him as one of the best filmmakers working today. However, he also goes into detail regarding the political aspects of his 1978 Oscar winner "The Deer Hunter" and laments the fact that he was painted as a right wing fanatic in the wake of the film's release. He also takes satisfaction in the reappraisal his massive 1980 boxoffice bomb "Heaven's Gate" is enjoying with both critics and audiences. At times sarcastic and even cynical, Cimino is nevertheless a fascinating character in his own right. (Oh, and he denies long-standing rumors that he is undergoing a sex change operation!). Click here to read.
his recent review of the Nitehawk Cinema’s splendid and rare 35mm showing of
the James Bond film, “A View to a Kill,” our intrepid correspondent Hank
Reineke was skeptical of a claim made that night that the movie played on its
first-run at Manhattan’s notoriously déclassé (circa 1985) Selwyn Theater on
West 42nd Street. According to a newspaper display ad from May
24, 1985, and held in his own files, Reineke determined that the only midtown
Manhattan theaters showing “A View to a Kill” on its original release were the
Loews Astor Plaza on West 44th, the Loews 84th Street Six, the Loews
New York Twin, the Loews 34th Street Showplace, and the Orpheum on
86th and 3rd Avenue.
Reineke’s metaphorical throwing down of the gauntlet (however accidental!), Joe
Berger, one of the presenters of the Nitehawk’s wonderful film series, “The
Deuce,” was quick to contact Cinema Retro to defend their claim. Berger,
in a friendly but firm manner – provided us with a scan from the Village
Voice newspaper from that same week in 1985. The listing leaves
little doubt the fourteenth James Bond did, in fact, play the Selwyn, as one part of a twin bill with “The House
Where Evil Dwells.” As Berger would go on to explain, the row of
aging theaters comprising “The Deuce,” such as the “Selwyn, Lyric, Harris, and
Liberty, VERY FREQUENTLY premiered A-list films on their regular release dates,
with a second, [and] sometimes third film as part of the cheaper ticket
price.” Berger explained that multi-bill attractions would, naturally,
bring in “a smaller box office gross” since all profits were now “split amongst
two or three titles.” But such campaigns were studio “loss leaders” to
some degree as distributors were aware a new film's presence on the Deuce would
“attract a younger, more 'inner-city' crowd.” The one stipulation for the
bargain, according to Berger, was “that the theatre COULD NOT advertise” their
showing through the usual marketing methods- such as a display in a print
The cinematic equivalent of the "smoking gun" tape that brought down President Richard Nixon: the vintage newspaper listing that proves "A View to a Kill" did indeed play on 42nd Street during its initial run.
for Reineke’s contention that the film played “two blocks north” of the Selwyn
at the Loews Astor, Berger went on to explain that the film’s distributor would
only want the Astor (and similar high-end cinema establishments) to be
prominently advertised as these venues could charge a “larger ticket price” for
“a single feature.” This, naturally, would result in greater
profits for all involved.
all sounds right to us. As a mea culpa, we intended to fire Reineke,
until we realized that he has been donating his services to us on an unpaid
basis. We were then going to sentence him to a terrible fate: 24 hours of
around the clock screenings of “The Man With the Golden Gun”- until we
remembered he likes the damned film. We’ve settled on making him watch Jerry
Lewis in “Which Way to the Front?” three times in succession (unless the
Supreme Court rules this is truly “cruel and unusual punishment.”)- Lee Pfeiffer
Variety reports that Bradley Cooper is in negotiations to direct the latest big screen remake of "A Star is Born". It is not known whether he intends to star, as well. The film was originally made in the 1930s with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. It was successfully remade in the 1950s with Judy Garland and James Mason. In 1976, Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson starred in a modern version of the tale that was largely reviled by critics but proved to be a major boxoffice success. In recent years, Cooper's "American Sniper" director Clint Eastwood announced plans to direct another remake of the film but plans went on hold when his star, Beyonce, dropped out of the project due to pregnancy. It would appear that Eastwood has now moved on from plans to be involved in this latest remake. It's also unknown whether Beyonce will be attached to the production. If it comes to fruition, this would make Cooper's directorial debut.
Those of us of a certain age will recall that, while kooky religious cults have always been part of the American experience, in the mid-to-late 1970s there seemed to go through a boom period. Seemingly every week a new fringe fad movement would emerge, many of which were steeped in inexplicable psycho-babble about helping adherents "find oneself" and enrich their "inner beings". During this period I was approached in a Jersey City bowling alley, of all places, by a card-carrying member of one such cult/religion, the name of which I have happily forgotten. Upon being asked to sign up for the movement, I decided to conduct a bit of an experiment to prove a point to my girlfriend (now wife): that the gullible people associated with these groups are just vulnerable souls who can be easily manipulated by virtually any person possessed with a modicum of self-assurance, charisma and determination. I responded to my would-be savior that I could not join her movement because I was a devoted Hestonite. I made the term up on the spot because the evening before, ABC-TV had shown their annual telecast of "The Ten Commandments". I explained that Charlton Heston was my Lord and Savior because I had seen him perform so many miracles. The baffled young lady logically pointed out that he was simply an actor, but in the course of a five-minute conversation I had somehow to get her to take my position seriously and to discuss in some detail why I believed Charlton Heston was my Lord and Savior. I was thoroughly enjoying the experience and wanted to see if I could go "all the way" with her and make her convert to my new-found religion. However, my girlfriend was getting fidgety and felt I had already proven my point. Besides, I guess there were people waiting for us to bowl with them, which seemed to be the priority at the moment. I still believe to this day that, had I been graced with another fifteen minutes of time, I would have signed up the first member of the Hestonite religious movement.
With each succeeding generation, unquestioning belief in established religions declines. (A recent poll shows that one third of Americans under the age of 30 are not affiliated with any specific religion.) Yet, there is still no shortage of 70's style "self-help" religions, all eager, if not desperate, to attract new adherents. It's easy to ridicule adherents to these causes as naive whack-jobs but in my own experience, those who buy into them tend to be sympathetic souls who are often trying to overcome some kind of personal crisis. They find solace in being accepted among other true believers. Without a doubt, the most controversial non-mainstream religion is Scientology, which is very much in the news of late because of director Alex Gibney's high profile new documentary, "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief", based on the best-selling book by Lawrence Wright. The film premieres on March 29 on HBO and has been the subject of countless news stories. I saw the "Going Clear" several weeks ago at an advance screening at the HBO building in New York. To say it's a powerful, thought-provoking experience would be an understatement.
The film traces the origins of the Scientology movement, which was started by successful science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The movement was originally known as a self-help program called Dianetics and it caught on in the post-WWII era. The "bible" of this movement was Hubbard's own best-selling book. Hubbard enjoyed the fruits of his success, charging devotees to attend self-help seminars. However, over time, Dianetics, like most such groups, began to fade in popularity. Always one to improvise, Hubbard reinvented the movement under the name Scientology. Instead of concentrating entirely on lost souls, Hubbard implemented a plan to appeal as well to the well-heeled and financially successful - with a very special effort to attract celebrities. Hubbard must have been astounded by his own success. By the 1970s, Scientology had taken off and continued to grow, attracting influential movie and TV stars along the way. Hubbard's books- works of inspiration to some, the ravings of a con man/mad man to others, topped the bestseller lists. But there were still problems. Hubbard, who is alleged to have started the movement as a tax dodge, never remitted payments to the IRS. For years, the agency dogged him to the extent that he literally took off to sea as part of a newly-found division of Scientology known as the Sea Org (which is characterized in "Going Clear" as a virtual slave labor operation.) Presumably, those who chose to sail with him and indulge in manual labor along the way, were primarily on a mission to sail the globe and extol the virtues of Scientology. Gibney's documentary says his goal was a bit less lofty: he put to see because the IRS was after him to pay back up to a billion in back taxes. In an audacious move, Hubbard took on the IRS by having his disciples file thousands of frivolous law suits against the agency. Eventually, they prevailed and the IRS- simply to get out of the legal quagmire- granted Hubbard what he always desired: protection from taxes by declaring Scientology as a genuine religion. With that key controversial ruling, Scientology kicked into high gear. The church invested heavily in properties around the world and its current wealth (largely in real estate) is estimated to be over $3 billion. Hubbard was secretive man who rarely gave interviews. The film presents an extremely rare exception, with a vintage interview Hubbard gave for a British documentary. He comes across as likable, avuncular and perpetually smiling and jolly. However, critics say he was attracting troubled people to his movement and systematically isolating them from the world outside of Scientology. According to "Going Clear", Hubbard became like a real-life Bond villain: living in seclusion amid palatial splendor and enjoying unquestioning loyalty from his followers. When he died in 1986, so great was the Scientology cult of personality, that his successor as leader of the church, David Miscavige, could not bring himself to admit to Scientologists that he was actually dead. In one of many fascinating video clips that Gibney secured, Miscavige spins Hubbard's death as a personal choice, saying that he succeeded in reaching such a higher form of life that he felt compelled to shed his now useless human form. The assembled masses cheer in support of their leader's "transition" to a higher plane.
The Universal Vault series has released the 1964 comedy "The Brass Bottle" as a burn-to-order DVD title. The film was the inspiration for the hit TV series "I Dream of Jeannie" which starred Barbara Eden as the sultry title character. Eden appears as the female lead in the feature film, as well, but in a very down-to-earth role as Sylvia, the fiancee of aspiring-but-unsuccessful architect Harold Ventimore (Tony Randall). The premise of the plot is as old as the pyramids: Harold comes into possession of a large, ancient urn through which he unwittingly frees an ancient genie named Fakrash (Burl Ives), who had been imprisoned in there for 3,000 years after offending a nobleman who had magical powers. Fakrash is so delighted to be free that he uses all his efforts to make improvements in Harold's life starting with magically persuading a top real estate developer to hire the unknown architect to design an entire suburban housing development. Harold is initially delighted but soon discovers that every time Fakrash makes an improvement to his life, there is a corresponding disaster to offset it. This extends to his love life, as well. In an attempt to win over Sylvia's grumpy parents who disapprove of him, Harold plans a dinner party at his house. Thanks to Fakrash, however, when the fuddy-duddy parents and Sylvia arrive, the place has been transformed into a bachelor pad, complete with dancing harem girls and a group of Arabic musicians. Also on hand is a "gift" from Fakrash, a sexually aggressive, beautiful slave girl named Tezra (Kamala Devri). Appalled by the hedonistic atmosphere, Sylvia and her parents storm out. The remainder of the film involves Harold's desperate efforts to undo the "improvements" that Fakrash continues to enact on his behalf. Before long, Fakrash has turned his future father-in-law into a mule and also wreaked havoc on Harold's career.
"The Brass Bottle", directed with workmanlike efficiency by Harry Keller, is a modestly-budgeted affair that was shot primarily on the Universal back lot. The few exterior sequences include some very obvious rear screen projection, thus giving the feature film the look of a standard sitcom from the era. The primary attribute of the production is the inspired cast. Tony Randall, who by this point in his career had carved a niche as one of Hollywood's leading supporting players, gets a rare opportunity to get first billing. Barbara Eden is largely relegated to window dressing as his long-suffering fiancee. The film clearly belongs to Burl Ives, who is genuinely amusing as the genie who tries to accustom himself to life in the 20th century. He begins the film wearing traditional ancient garb and ends up in designer suits. Ives dominates every scene he is in as this marvelous character. The film also features two of the 1960's most popular on-screen grouches, the great Edward Andrews as Harold's would-be father-in-law and Parley Baer as Harold's prospective employer. Another reliable "grouch", Philip Ober appears as Harold's ill-tempered boss. (Harold has nothing but ill-tempered people surrounding him.)
The movie affords some mildly amusing moments and the "risque" elements are downright quaint by today's standards. (When presented with a live-in, gorgeous mistress who will do anything he commands, Harold can only think of how to get rid of her- a premise that is slightly less believable than that of a genie appearing from a brass bottle.) Randall is always a delight to watch and this rare showcase for him as a leading man is the primary reason to watch this otherwise pleasant but nondescript comedy.
Amazon is selling the Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection Blu-ray edition at a savings of $200.
The set consists of 15 classic movies:
Rope, Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 version), Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy and Family Plot.
Every film is packed with sensational bonus features.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER AND TO VIEW PROMOTIONAL VIDEO FOR THE SET
Okay, that's as close as we can get to invoking the memory of one of the most famous TV themes songs of all time, from the long-running crime show "Dragnet". By the mid-1950s, the program was a national sensation. In 1954, the success of the series inspired star and producer Jack Webb to exploit the show's popularity by bringing it to the big screen. TV-to-cinema adaptations would become commonplace in the years to come with shows such as Walt Disney's Davy Crockett and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." converting episodes into feature films. However, in the case of the 1954 movie version of "Dragnet", Webb oversaw a completely new production shot in full color. In an era in which all TV programming was telecast in B&W, it was a real treat to see "Dragnet" in color on the big screen. Webb, who also directed the film, stuck to the basics and didn't stray far from the formula that had served him so well. The movie features the same trademark, clipped dialogue. Seemingly no one completes an entire sentence and virtually everyone smokes like a chimney. (Aside from Howard Hawks' "Hatari!", I have never seen so much smoking in one film.) Webb retains his bizarre mannerisms that made him a television icon: he speaks with machine gun fire-like rapidity and walks like he has a diving board under his suit jacket. Both his manner of movement and speech seem to emulate a robot, but you can't deny that the gimmick works: you can't take your eyes off him and he dominates every scene he is in (which is virtually all of them).
The movie opens with an effective sequence in which two hoods are walking through an empty field when a third hood comes out of nowhere and murders one of the men with a shotgun in a sequence that must have been considered rather brutal for the time. The murderer and the other man flee the scene and before you know it, Webb's Sgt. Joe Friday is on the scene with his Sancho Panza, Officer Frank Smith (Ben Alexander). They try to pick up leads but, frankly, within minutes I became rather confused about the relationship of three suspects they focus in on. Most of the labored script has Friday and Smith doggedly trying to build a case against the three hoods but the D.A. says the evidence is too circumstantial. They utilize a "hi tech" secret tape recorder in order to eavesdrop on the suspects. The scene is unintentionally amusing because the "micro recorder" is about the size of a lap top computer. They also enlist the assistance of a sexy police woman (Ann Robinson) who goes undercover to imply she'll go under the covers with one of the suspects. This notion of presenting a female police officer as brave, competent and equal to men is the one progressive factor in the dated screenplay. Friday's disdain for the niceties of the law is apparent. He doesn't consider the constitution to be a vital element of our society, but rather a necessary evil. Whenever he doesn't get his way, there is some eye-rolling, sighs and cynical comments. (In his review of the film, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther specifically noted Friday's obvious "distaste for the Fifth Amendment" and concluded he "is not a nice policeman to anticipate as a hero on the screen.") Most of the pedantic action consists of Friday and Smith tailing a suspect and harassing him day and night in a clear case of police brutality. But, hey, this was an era in which Sen. Joe McCarthy was considered a national hero for rooting out all the commies under all those beds, so Friday's tactics fit in well with the spirit of the day. The movie drags to a conclusion so limp and unsatisfying that I thought there was still another fifteen minutes of running time left. Nevertheless, taken as a museum piece, "Dragnet" is fun to watch, thanks to Webb's undeniable screen presence. The supporting cast includes Virginia Gregg as a dame from the other side of the tracks and Richard Boone as Webb's superior officer. (Young Dennis Weaver has a minor role, as well.) There is precious little humor in the film aside from some small talk between Webb and Alexander. Webb would considerably improve on this aspect of "Dragnet" when he brought the series back in 1967 with Harry Morgan well-cast as his humorous co-star.
The film has been released as part of Universal's burn-to-order program. The transfer is very good with exceptionally impressive color qualities. The movie would make a great double-feature with the 1987 comedy version of "Dragnet" featuring Dan Aykroyd's remarkable impersonation of Jack Webb.
Day of Anger is an enjoyable spaghetti western that top-lines a legend of the genre, Lee Van Cleef, as aging
gunfighter Frank Talby. In an attempt to regain his fearsom reputation, Talby shoots
and kills a local Sheriff. He then finds he must contend with his own young protégé, a street cleaner
Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma), who happened to be the sheriff's close friend. The
climactic showdown finds Talby in a classic face off with his former pupil,
with each man knowing the other's every move and thought.
lively, intelligent western, notable for the chemistry between its charismatic
leads, some memorable action set-pieces (including a rifle duel on horseback
that has to be seen to be believed) and a jazzy Riz Ortolani score, is
presented here in an exclusive high-definition restoration from the original
Techniscope negative. Day of Anger remains a superior and much-loved Italian
western and was directed Sergio Leone’s original assistant, Tonino Valerii.
dual format release comes in both a High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and
Standard Definition DVD presentation. The set also contains two versions of the
film, the original Italian theatrical release and the shortened version that
was screened internationally. Day of Anger boasts visuals that are both impressive and detailed,
especially in close-up shots of Van Cleef’s
chiselled facial features. As you would
expect from this particular genre of film, colours are bright and vivid with
true, tanned skin tones. Director Valerii makes excellent use of the 2.35:1
Techniscope frame, without ever feeling the need to use extreme close ups -
unlike his original influence, Sergio Leone. The film has a minimal amount of
grain. Audio is presented in the
form of a clear, uncompressed mono track, with English or Italian soundtracks
on the longer cut and an English soundtrack on the shorter version. There are
also newly translated English subtitles for Italian audio track. The film
really benefits from the brand new restoration struck from the original 35mm
Techniscope camera negative. It is both clean and free of any major defects.
disc's extras are also enjoyable. They include a deleted scene, which in honesty,
is nothing more than an extension of an existing scene. There is a selection of
trailers (all in varying quality) which serve their purpose well. Then we get
to the really good stuff. There is a brand new interview with screenwriter
Ernesto Gastaldi, who reveals many interesting stories. Gastaldi speaks in his
native tongue (enthusiastically) with his responses presented in the form of
English subtitles. There is a previously unreleased 2008 interview with director
Tonino Valerii – a little less enthusiastic then Gastaldi – but it is
interesting nevertheless. The interview which is arguably the most engrossing
is that of Tonino Valerii’s biographer Roberto Curti – which is conducted in
English. Curti provides a fascinating insight into the director and provides
detailed analysis on films, the genre and Sergio Leone –all of which proves
Arrow’s superb packaging
again includes a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned
artwork by Reinhard Kleist and a detailed booklet featuring new writing on the
film by Howard Hughes (author of Spaghetti Westerns) and illustrated with
original poster designs. Fans of the genre will love it.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE ARROW VIDEO WEB SITE (UK-BASED)
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
MI6 Confidential, the
full-colour magazine celebrating theworldof James Bond 007,
returns with its twenty-ninthissue.
Ask anyone with a passing interest in Bond and they'll
recall the terrorist organisationSPECTREpulling the strings on
some of 007’s most dangerous missions; but not because they have beenaregular fixture of recent times. However, the organisation
will be back (and just possiblyitsubiquitous leader,
Blofeld) in the 24th screen adventure. This issue pays tribute to the legacythatwent before it. Packed
with trivia, and historical data, we recount the rise of Blofeld from thegermof an idea from author Ian Fleming and producer Kevin
McClory to his most recentfilmicappearanceinForYourEyesOnly.
The Italian fashion house Antony Morato has funded the digital restoration of director Vittoria De Sica's 1971 classic "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis", which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. The movie depicts the tragic story of an influential and affluent Jewish family in Italy prior to their deportation to Nazi death camps. The restoration will be shown at numerous international film festivals in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The restored film will premiere at a gala celebration in Rome on March 25, which will be attended by the De Sica family. For more click here.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
CELEBRATE FRANK SINATRA’S 100TH BIRTHDAYWITH
FRANK SINATRA: 5
MARCH 31 ON DIGITAL HD AND MAY 5 ONBLU-RAYTM FROM WARNER BROS. HOMEENTERTAINMENT
First time on Blu-ray and Digital HD for Anchors Aweigh, On theTown And Robin and the
BURBANK, CA, February 26, 2015 — The best is yet to come when three
Frank Sinatramovies come to Blu-ray
for the first time. Celebrate “The Chairman of the Board’s” Centennialwith Frank Sinatra: 5 Film Collection on May 5 from Warner Bros.
Home Entertainment.Featuring five
classic Sinatra movies on Blu-ray, this collection includes newly re-mastered
releasesof Anchors Aweigh, On the
Town and Robin and the 7 Hoods
for the first time on Blu-rayand
Digital HD along with favorites Ocean’s
11 and Guys andDolls.
Frank Sinatra: 5 Film Collection on Blu-ray also
includes a 32-page photo bookwhich documents
cinematic moments from some of Sinatra’s greatest works. The collection willbe available for $69.96 SRP. The Digital
HD retails for $39.99SRP.
NEWLYREMASTERED!GeneKelly’slive-actionfancyfootworkwithanimatedJerry(ofTom and Jerry™) remains a milestone of
movie fantasy. Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Graysonalso headline this wartime tale of two sailors on leave in
Hollywood. Sinatra’s performance of “IFall
in Love Too Easily,” the exuberant “We Hate to Leave” with Kelly, and other
Aweigh weigh in with an Academy Award®i for Best Music (Scoring of aMusical Picture), plus four more Oscar®
including Best Picture and Best Actor forKelly.
·Hanna & Barbera
on the Making of ‘The Worry Song’ from MGM “When the LionRoars”
·1945 MGM Short “Football Thrills of 1944” – New to
·1945 MGM Short “Jerky
Turkey” – New to HomeEntertainment
Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin have a 24-hour shore leave to seethe sights…and when those sights include
Ann Miller, Betty Garrett andVera-Ellen.
And when brilliant
location and studio production numbers are blended, it could be – as here– ebullient, up-and-at-’em perfection.
The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down, but no one canbe down after going On theTown.
·1949 MGM Short “Mr.
Whitney Had a Notion” – New to HomeEntertainment
·1949 MGM Cartoon
“Doggone Tired” – New to HomeEntertainment
Robin and the SevenHoods
NEWLY REMASTERED! Robin and the 7 Hoods mirthfully gives
the Robin Hood legenda Depression-era,
mob town Chicago setting. There, North Side boss Robbo (FrankSinatra) hopes to get a leg up in his
power struggle with rival racketeer Guy Gisborne (PeterFalk).
Robbo sets himself up as a latter-day Robin
Hood with philanthropic fronts, enabling himto scam the rich, take his cut and then give to thepoor.
by Frank SinatraJr.
featurette What They Did to RobinHood
·1939 WB Cartoon “Robin Hood Makes Good” – New to
·1949 WB Cartoon
·1958 WB Cartoon
Danny Ocean with his 10 partners in crime
devise a scheme to knock out power to theVegas
strip and electronically rig five big casino vaults to raid them all in the
same instant. Thisoriginal version
of Ocean’s 11 is an entertaining
by Frank Sinatra Jr. and AngieDickinson
·Las Vegas Then and
singing Marlon Brando stars opposite Frank Sinatra in this classic musical.
WhenSky Masterson is challenged to
take a missionary to Havana, he finds himself falling in love. Butwill she return his love when she
realizes the trip was aploy?
·“A Broadway Fable: From Stage to Screen, Guys
& Dolls: The GoldwynTouch”
·“A Broadway Fable: From Stage to Screen, Guys
& Dolls: From Stage toScreen”
·“More Guys & DollsStories”
o“Guys & Dolls”
o“Luck Be aLady”
Also available on Digital HD on March 31,
2015 is the FRANK SINATRA: ULTIMATEFILM
COLLECTION. This digital
bundle of 15 titles will retail for $99.99 SRP and includesthe followingfilms:
1.It Happened in
4.Till The Clouds
5.Kissing Bandit, The
6.On the Town(1949)
7.Guys and Dolls
8.Tender Trap, The(1955)
9.The Man with The
11.Some Came Running(1958)
12.Never So Few (1959) – first time on DigitalHD 13. Ocean's 11(1960)
14.Robin and the 7
15.None But The Brave(1965)
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE BLU-RAY SET, TO BE RELEASED MAY 5
few documentary filmmakers are able to break into the American mainstream (and
abroad) and become both a critical and commercial success. The majority of
documentaries made do not get seen in your average metroplex, but a lucky
bucketful—Michael Moore’s films, for example—get wide releases.
happened to Errol Morris in 1988 with the release of his excellent docu-drama, The Thin Blue Line. Critically acclaimed
(but excluded from Oscar consideration because it contains recreated sequences),
Morris’ tale of Randall Dale Adams, a convict sitting in a Texas penitentiary who
may have been convicted, imprisoned, and sentenced to death for a crime he
didn’t commit, struck a chord with the audience. It also became a cult hit and
served as Morris’ gateway to becoming one of the best-known and respected documentarians
of our day. After all, the film indirectly resulted in Adams’ exoneration and
release. (Morris eventually did win the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2003 with
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the
Life of Robert S. McNamara.)
month The Criterion Collection delivers a one-two punch from Errol Morris—The Thin Blue Line on one disc, and,
packaged separately, a double-feature of Morris’ first two acclaimed
documentaries—Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida. The two releases
provide the viewer with a look at the evolution of a filmmaker over a ten-year,
the time, The Thin Blue Line explored
new ground in documentary approach, presenting a crime story in a style akin to
television’s America’s Most Wanted,
which, coincidentally, debuted the same year. It was “reality cinema,”
containing POV interviews with suspects, lawmen, attorneys, and witnesses, and
footage of the “crime” staged and recreated by actors—all standard stuff of
reality crime shows on TV today. It was new then.
interesting to note that Morris didn’t set out to make a documentary about
Randall Dale Adams. His original intent was to cover the psychiatrist known as
“Dr. Death,” a man in Texas who testified at every capital sentencing as to the
defendant’s likelihood of committing more crimes if he was not put to death.
But in the course of researching his subject in Dallas, Morris came across
Adams’ case and turned his attention to that.
picture is as riveting and suspenseful as any fiction crime drama. The spoken evidence
Morris presents is compelling, but it’s the visual testimony—the Rashomon-style different points of view
of the crime reenactments—that supplies the picture with its engrossing neo-noir sensibility. Of particular note
is Philip Glass’ haunting score, which perfectly captures the melancholy and
paranoia of the world of crime and punishment.
new high-definition digital restoration, supervised by Morris and producer Mark
Lipson, has a 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, and both are
fabulous. Extras include a new interview with Morris, an interview with
filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer on the picture, and a Today Show excerpt from 1989 covering Adams’ release from prison.
The booklet contains an essay by film scholar Charles Musser.
Gates of Heaven put Morris on the
map with this idiosyncratic look at the development of a pet cemetery in
California. Featuring interviews with the personages involved, as well as a
now-iconic clip of an old lady getting her dog to sing with her, Gates reveals the filmmaker’s quirkiness
and his ability to capture the truly weird on film. Vernon, Florida was actually Morris’ first endeavor, but he’d left it
unfinished. He went on to make Gates and
then returned to complete the short. It’s about some truly eccentric
individuals who live in a small whistle-stop town in the boondocks. Originally,
Morris had planned to cover an insurance scam that was prevalent in the
town—people were cutting off limbs and submitting accident claims, earning the community
the name “Nub City.” Morris gave up that idea when he was beat up by some of
the people he was interviewing!
Criterion’s disc features new 2K digital
restorations of both films, supervised by Morris. Extras include two new
interviews with the director about each picture, footage of director Werner
Herzog talking about Gates at the
1980 Telluride Film Festival, and the gem of the entire collection—the short
film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, a
1980 short, directed by Les Blank, that documents Herzog cooking and devouring
his shoe in public—he had bet Morris that if the young documentarian would
simply get out there and make his first feature (Gates), then Herzog would “eat his shoe.” While it’s great to have
the two documentaries on Blu-ray, I’m not so sure the two films deserved a
separate release of their own (they could have easily been extras on the Thin Blue Line disc).
talk about the eye of a filmmaker! Errol Morris works with one eye at full
strength and his other at a diminished capacity as a result of a childhood medical
condition, but that doesn’t keep the director from possessing a wonderful sense
of mise-en-scéne. He manages to depict the odd, the ironic, and the
profound all in one take. Check out both releases.
A great many people think Blade Runner is
the greatest science fiction film ever made. It’s certainly one of the best;
the Metropolis of its time when it comes to the realization of future
cityscapes on film. Flying police cars aside, the main thing that rings true is
that it was one of the first films to show a “used” future; a future where over-population
and global warming feature as key elements. Of the four or so versions of the
film that exist, from test print to original theatrical release to directors
cut, the most complete, albeit with a running time of just one minute longer than
some of the others, is that of The Final
Cut, which the BFI have chosen to close its Days Of Fear And Wonder science
fiction season. It is this version that has the Ridley Scott seal of approval
and rightly so based on the preview Cinema Retro was invited to.
I was lucky enough to see a version in 3D
when I first moved to London. This will get many a fan sitting up and paying attention!
Fact was, it merely seemed like 3D as
the cinema I saw it in as a late night show had a leak in the roof and the
torrential rain that was seeping through and falling on the patrons that night
meant that many put umbrella’s up indoors, mirroring the street scenes within
the film in a perfect, if surreal sense. You actually felt you were in the
film. Perhaps due to sentiment, that’s my favourite of all the versions I’ve
This definitive “final cut” release was the
one initially made available several years ago by Warner’s on DVD and Blu-ray.
To many fans, including myself, it’s the version that confirms the fact that Deckard
(Harrison Ford) is indeed a replicant himself. This is most obviously confirmed
in the famous Unicorn “dream” sequence that appears in this version but also in
the fact that Rachael clearly asks Deckard if he’s taken the replicant test
himself. The fact that this version clearly shows the “lens” reflection on the
eyes that Scott was at pains to show on all replicants, (from Roy (Rutger Hauer)
and Rachael (Sean Young) to the owl in Tyrell’s apartment) also applies to Deckard
himself in the semi darkness of his apartment. This was just one of the missing elements we
didn’t see in the “future noir” original version with its much derided voice
over (although I loved the closing line).
The subtle lengths those involved in the
Final Cut went to in fixing imperfections in the original version is highlighted
in the fact that they brought in Harrison Ford’s son, who was the same age (40)
as his father was when he made the film, and CGI’d his lower jaw onto his dad’s
image on screen so that the dialogue would be in sync for the first time. They also used the same technique to insert the reshot
features of the ageless Joanna Cassidy over that of the obvious stunt double’s
face in one of the key action scenes that spoilt it for so many. Although these
were known as “beloved mistakes” by avid fans of the film, it was done in such
a way that it was applauded by fans, who feared the worst after the
“improvements” made to the Star Wars films. However, what’s most important here
isn’t what’s been taken out or put back into the film but the fact that Blade
Runner is back on the big screen once again- where it really should be seen.
You may spot many things you may have missed on the small screen (one of my new
“spots” was that I saw that the “love model” replicant Pris (Daryl Hannah) is
shown to have been created on February 14th -Valentine’s Day- which
is a great touch).This really is a modern classic from the relatively recent
cinematic past, executed superbly by Ridley Scott, who also had another sci-fi
masterpiece with his previous film, Alien. See
Blade Runner on the big screen for the stunning opening shot alone, accompanied
by one of the greatest film soundtracks of all time. This is essential cinema,
where androids dream of unicorns as well as electric sheep and flaws are lost
like tears in the rain.
Continue reading for the BFI press release and details on the April release of the film to UK theatres.
the world of the Jewish Conservative Orthodox community, a divorce is truly
final only when the husband presents his wife with a “get”—a document in Hebrew
that grants the woman her freedom to be with other men. Likewise, the wife must
accept the get before the man can re-marry, too.
is the crux of the story behind Hester
Street, an independent art-house film that appeared in 1975, written and
directed by Joan Micklin Silver. Starring Carol Kane, who was nominated for
Best Actress for her performance as Gitl, a newly arrived immigrant to New York
City in 1896, and Steven Keats as her husband Yankl, who, in an attempt to
assimilate, in public goes by the name “Jake.” Jake has been in America for a
while and isn’t looking forward to the arrival of his wife and son from Europe,
for he has begun an affair with a wealthy, assimilated actress in the Yiddish
theatre named Mamie. When the very traditional Gitl arrives with her son, the
Gitl meets Bernstein, an Orthodox man who is much more suited for her
requirements, seeing that Jake has become something of a capitalist cad.
Therefore, she needs a “get” from Jake so that both husband and wife can
divorce and go their separate ways. That’s when Mamie’s money comes into play.
beautifully rendered this period drama on a miniscule budget. Location shooting
took place in and around New York’s lower east side, where much of the flavor
of the late 19th Century Jewish Orthodox community is still pretty much the
same. Replace the cars with horses and buggies, get the correct vintage
costumes, and you’re more than halfway there. The dialogue is mostly in Yiddish
(with English subtitles), thus making it an American foreign language film—an
oddity in 1975, to be sure (although Coppola’s The Godfather Part II appeared a year earlier with a great amount
of its dialogue spoken in Sicilian).
plays Jake as a rake and a rascal, but our perception of him is not that of a
villain. In many ways, he is the generic immigrant who came to America and
sincerely tried to assimilate, become “American,” and leave the Old Country
traditions behind. His fault is that he dreams of making big money in the States and this becomes his all-consuming desire,
forgetting that he has a wife and son. Kane’s character and spot-on portrayal
not only illustrates the role of females in the Orthodox community, but in many
ways is a commentary on the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s.
Hester Street is a terrific
little film that went out of print on DVD years ago and became a collector’s
item on the resale market. Kino Lorber has thankfully re-issued the movie on
Blu-ray (and DVD). Filmed in black and white by Kenneth Van Sickle, the picture
is grainy and flat—much like the early silent cinema of the that era!—which
actually is quite appropriate for the movie’s setting. There are no extras.
Hester Street is an excellent synagogue
discussion-group item for American Jews who want to explore the immigration
scene and the topics of tradition and assimilation; but it is also a good
educational piece for non-Jews who want to learn a little bit about New York
history and the Jewish Orthodox religion. Recommended.
Eon Productions and Sony have released the official teaser poster for the new James Bond film "SPECTRE" starring Daniel Craig, currently filming and scheduled to open on 23 October in the UK and 6 November everywhere else.
Nurse Coffy (Pam Grier) grieves over a sister ruined by
drugs and takes murderous revenge on the pimps and pushers who victimized her.
When her former policeman boyfriend is beaten for refusing to take bribes,
Coffy blasts her way up the corruption trail to drug kingpin Arturo Vitroni (Allan
Arbus) and the fabulous pimp master King George (Robert DoQui). But her
disillusion is complete when she discovers that her classy politician boyfriend
Howard Brunswick (Booker Bradshaw) is also part of the syndicate. Considering “Coffy
“was made on a shoestring budget, the film still works very well, which is
probably down to Jack Hill’s witty, jive talking script and fine direction. The
action is great, probably some of the best to ever emerge from the
Blaxploitation / Soul Cinema genre.
Arrow’s Blu-ray release boasts a lush transfer with
rich colour detail; the film’s opening pin sharp credits appear to almost leave
the screen. The film makes its world début on the Blu-ray format - with a fully
restored High Definition (1080p) presentation. Daytime scenes in particular
look fresh and revived – with my eyes drawn continuously towards the film’s
beautiful solid blue skies. Internal scenes such as the sordid night club
sequences retain a balanced warmth without ever losing fine detail. Night shots,
however, do vary to some degree with some milky greys appearing in place of
solid blacks, but this is no doubt due to the production values and original
lighting conditions. Actually, it provides a nice little reminder that the
viewer is watching a low budget, genuine grindhouse movie. “Coffy”’s near-perfect
re-mastering process more often than not leads us to believe we are watching a
much larger budgeted production.
The film’s audio is presented in its original
uncompressed mono, which is clear and very acceptable. The masterful soundtrack
(produced, composed, and arranged) by Roy Ayers is allowed to flow naturally.
Free from any forced tweaking, the film unfolds better for it - while also
keeping the purists among us completely satisfied.
Pam Grier as Coffy: the cover story for Cinema Retro issue #31.
The disc's extras are also very impressive.
Writer-director Jack Hill’s audio commentary is both enthusiastic and
informative. Hill doesn't pause for a second, continuously narrating each shot
with production stories, background information on cast and crew and an
incredibly interesting insight into the whole social scene including racism and
feminist issues – it is both a joy and a first-hand education. Other bonus
“A Taste of Coffy“– is a brand new interview with Jack
Hill, a few stories are repeated from the audio commentary, but there is also a
lot of additional material to digest.
“The Baddest Chick in Town!” – A brand new interview
with Pam Grier on Coffy and its follow up, Foxy Brown is a great little
featurette and full of fascinating stories.
The original theatrical trailer and an image gallery
are also included.
There is also a very good video essay, simply titled
‘Blaxploitation!’, presented by author Mikel J. Koven. I thought this would be the weakest link among
the extras, but I was pleasantly surprised – it’s actually a joy from start to
finish and had me hanging on to every word. The presentation is also packed
with stills and lots of beautifully produced film posters that were
representative of the genre.
Arrow have provided an
informative booklet and produced a very cool, reversible sleeve featuring
original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx – Overall, it’s all
just about perfect.
"COFFY" WILL BE RELEASED ON 6 APRIL. CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON UK
This was my first visit to the triplex located at 136
Metropolitan Avenue. The cinema is only
a couple of blocks stroll from the Bedford Avenue L subway station and sits mere
minutes from Manhattan’s Lower East Side. As the movie I hoped to catch Thursday night was a special “one night
only, one showing only” screening to begin at 9:30 P.M., I hesitated before buying
my advance ticket and traveling into the city. I live in central New Jersey; far from where Manhattan’s southern end
and Brooklyn meet. I’m 53 years old now and
a workday late night out is getting ever more difficult to recover from. But, in the end, I simply couldn’t pass on this
opportunity to catch the Nitehawk Cinema’s wonderfully wrought presentation of
the fourteenth James Bond film “A View to a Kill” that was released in 1985. Though 007 film retrospectives
aren’t necessarily rare to repertory theater programming, too often fans are offered
only such early Sean Connery-era classics as “Dr. No” and “Goldfinger” as
exemplars. Here was a rare chance to re-experience
- in glorious 35mm and nearly three decades after its original release - Roger
Moore’s rarely theatrically re-screened sign-off as James Bond.
It was the right decision. The Nitehawk is a bountiful oasis for moviegoers
and film enthusiasts. The walls of the
lobby are adorned with both foreign and domestic movie posters and a lengthy plexi-glass
wall display of vintage old-school “big box” and clamshell case VHS tapes circa
the late 1970s and early 1980s. The
cinema itself offers the usual – and sometimes the more unusual - highbrow
art-house films, but there’s also great enthusiasm among programmers for pure
popcorn movies: the weird, the
exploitative, and the guiltiest of celluloid pleasures. Offering a fully stocked bar complete with an
impressive array of draft and bottled beers and other alcoholic (and
non-alcoholic) refreshments, a great selection of hot comfort foods, and the
most delicious hot buttered popcorn I’ve enjoyed in some time (served in a deep
stainless steel bowl), the movie-going experience at the Nitehawk is an
absolute delight. The terraced seating
and plush seats and aisles with ample leg room and courteous attendants are a
refreshing bonus. Best of all, the fans
who gathered to watch Roger Moore stroll and fire one final time into the trademark
gun barrel were simply my kind of moviegoers. There was no one chatting away on cell phones
or sending glowing texts about nothing while the feature was in progress.
The Bond film, which played out before a sold-out and
appreciative audience, was part of the cinema’s on-going series “The Deuce.” Upcoming screenings in the series include “Fight
for Your Life” (1977) and “Wolfen” (1981). “The Deuce,” for the uninitiated, was an
affectionate pop-cartographic nickname for the nostalgically remembered stretch
of aging movie palaces that once populated the area of 42nd Street
between 6th and 8th Avenues. By the early 1970s, this great neighborhood and
glorious entertainment strip became the playground of prostitutes and drug
addicts. The once magnificent theaters were
relegated to playing before houses half-filled with adventurous teenagers,
junkies, the homeless and mental cases.
To some degree, “A View to a Kill” was an odd choice
for inclusion in the series. Any James
Bond, even one of the series less remarkable ones as this one, was, by no
means, atypical of the usual 42nd Street movie fare of the
time. The Times Square theaters more
usually offered 24/7 programming of the cheapest Kung-Fu films from Hong Kong,
the sleaziest and most lurid of low-budget horrors, and the world renowned pornographic
all-nighters. To paraphrase one of the
film’s presenters this evening, “Some people have described 42nd
street as the place where movies went to die. We think of 42nd street as the only place where many of these
movies could have lived.”
In their opening presentation to the film, organizers
of the screening spun a somewhat dubious tale of “A View to a Kill” having played
as the top-bill of a double-feature program at the notorious Selwyn Theater. The Selwyn, once one of the brightest
fixtures on the strip had, in its final years, fallen prey to disrepair and
neglect. It eventually morphed
unpleasantly into a legendary dank and ghoulish Grind-house with sordid
clientele. I can’t say for certain
whether or not this classy James Bond film actually played a fleapit like the late-stage
Selwyn, but if true it would have mostly certainly been on a subsequent run. My own clippings book reveal that upon its initial
U.S. issue on May 24, 1985, this particular 007 opus had opened two blocks
north of the Selwyn at the more elegant Loews Astor on W. 44th
Though Moore’s final outing as James Bond is, arguably,
the least successful of his tenure, it remains a very entertaining programmer
throughout. The 35mm print screened was
in fine condition, the color palette still mostly bright but with just enough
black scratches to remind you that you were enjoying a real film as originally
presented. Though few James Bond
zealots would allow their true feelings to show, Bond snow “surfing” through a
phalanx of Russian assassins as the cover version of the Beach Boys’
“California Girls” played on the soundtrack brought about a murmur of amused
giggles and cheers. Time and history
have allowed Moore’s lighter-turn as Bond to enjoy a welcome reevaluation. It was somehow liberating for the devoted 007
fan, for two hours time at least, to put aside the grim and solemn tone of the recent
Craig Bonds and actually have some fun and smile during a James Bond movie
The feature film version of the landmark WWII TV documentary series "Victory at Sea" has been remastered and released by Film Chest. The original NBC TV series consisted of 26 half-hour episodes that were broadcast between 1952-1953. The show was one of the most acclaimed from the early days of television and was honored with Emmy awards and a Peabody award. Given the abundance of videos and documentaries about WWII that have been released and telecast over the decades, you have to put yourself in the mindset of how revolutionary this show was in 1952. Until then, the men who fought WWII could only see periodic glimpses of the conflict in abbreviated newsreels that were shown prior to the main feature in movie houses. "Victory at Sea" represented the first time most Americans got to see the war in all of its ugliness. With the conflict over, the Pentagon was more liberal about showing the extent of Allied deaths and casualties, something that was initially deemed to be bad for public morale especially in the early days of the war when the tide was certainly against the Western democracies. Imperial Japan controlled huge areas of Asia and only England stood between Hitler's complete domination of Europe. America's entry in the war was unintended due to the attack on Pearl Harbor. While Americans sympathized with the British, the USA was primarily an isolationist country until December 7, 1941. The first six months of the nation's involvement in the war was anything but promising. Seemingly every day brought a major defeat to the Americans and British in the Pacific. With the Battle of Midway in 1942, however, the tide turned with a major defeat of the supposedly invincible Japanese fleet. Still, government censors continued to restrict images of dead and wounded soldiers, 'lest they serve enemy propaganda purposes. By the time "Victory at Sea" aired, the war was an unpleasant, if recent, memory. Now the truth could be told and shown. Make no mistake, the series was definitely propaganda. The half-hour running time of every episode didn't leave much time for in-depth examination of the war and the giant figures who dominated that era. Nuances were few and there were scant examinations of questionable military strategies of the Allies. Still, the show was unique in the sense that it presented the war from the standpoint of the average soldier and sailor, not the top brass. Because of this, the average veteran of the conflict could identify with the remarkable footage that was shown in every episode.
In 1954, a feature film condensation of footage from the episodes was released theatrically. The film is an achievement of impressive editing by Issac Kleinerman, who is also credited as director. Wading through seemingly endless miles of footage, Kleinerman managed to compile a reasonably representative depiction of the conflict. The film does not attempt to be a comprehensive examination of the causes of the war. One should keep in mind that the film was released only a decade after the conflict so no one needed to be schooled in primal reasons the world went to war for the second time in the century. The film includes sobering footage of casualties and heartbreaking scenes of maimed soldiers crying in agony. It remains very moving to view these scenes and realize the sacrifices that were made to save the world from tyranny. Most of the film accentuates the naval aspect of war but there are also scenes depicting the horrors of the concentration camps and the horrendous attempts to conduct warfare in the midst of jungles filled with enemy troops as well as insidious natural dangers. Although Victory At Sea accentuates the American experience, it pays homage to all the Allied troops and takes special pains to honor the sacrifice and courage of the British military and civilian population, both of which showed almost surrealistic courage throughout the ordeal. Some of the footage shown in the documentary is clearly based on re-enactments. There are some shots that are just too incredible to have been shot in real time. Others, such as U.S. sailors lounging around Pearl Harbor right before the attack seem to have been staged for dramatic intensity. Nevertheless, the vast majority of footage is real- and you will emerge from the experience with much respect for the cameramen who put their lives on the line to shoot it.
Actor Alexander Scourby's masterful narration adds immeasurably from the experience, as does the now classic musical score by Richard Rodgers (yes, that Richard Rodgers.) In fact, Rodgers' score, conducted by Robert Russell Bennett, proved to be so popular that it resulted in the release of several "Victory at Sea" soundtrack albums based on the TV series.
This release of "Victory at Sea" has plenty of artifacts and splotches on the film but this is due to the age of the raw materials it has been mastered from. Anyone interested in the study of WWII will want to add this to their collection.
last of Woody Allen’s “early, funny” films, 1975’s Love and Death, is a delight, especially for those in the audience
who already have an appreciation for Russian literature (e.g., Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky)
and classic foreign cinema (e.g., Eisenstein, Bergman). Unlike his previous
works in the late sixties and early seventies, Love and Death is targeted more to a hip, intellectual audience,
the one that has pretty much remained his loyal following ever since. It was
after this picture that Allen began to specialize in the art-house, mature, and
less-zany comedies about relationships that became his trademark (Annie Hall was Allen’s next film, in
you’re able to get all the references to War
and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov or
to Battleship Potemkin and The Seventh Seal, then Love and Death is indeed one of the funniest—if
not the funniest—pictures Allen ever
made, as well as one of the best comedies of that decade. Not only is the
movie’s script witty and smart, the two stars—Allen and Diane Keaton—are in top
satirical form. Keaton, specifically, comes into her own with dead-on comic
are terrific gags all the way through, such as when Woody has to enlist in the
Russian army and finds himself berated by a tough, all-American, black drill
sergeant. Or the one about his father that “owns a piece of land” (and he carries
it around with him). Or the ongoing pseudo-philosophical discussions between
Allen and Keaton that contain such lines as—
Allen: “Nothingness... non-existence... black emptiness...”
Keaton: “What did you say?”
Allen: “Oh, I was just planning my future.”
plus for the movie is its score, almost all of it taken from orchestral pieces
by Prokofiev. The composer is a perfect choice for his music’s liveliness and
obvious Russian flavor. You’ll actually find yourself humming the main theme
(from Lieutenant Kijé Suite) for a few days after a viewing.
making his previous few films in the U.S., Allen shot the picture in France and
Hungary; afterwards he swore he’d never make a movie outside of New York again.
For him, it was a horrible experience having to deal without the comforts of
home. At one point during the shoot he contracted food poisoning. Allen
eventually broke his homegrown decree in 1996 and has, more often since 2005,
made several films in Europe and England.
Time’s release is limited to 3000 copies. Ghislain Cloquet’s colorful
cinematography looks great, but I’m not sure the image is that much better than
the original MGM/UA DVD. The only extra is the theatrical trailer and some
other Twilight Time trailers.
Nevertheless, if you’re a Woody Allen fan, and
if you don’t already own the DVD, you’d better grab this collector’s item fast
while there are still copies available. It’ll warm the cockles of your heart.
And, you know, that’s just great—there is nothing like hot cockles.
The Blu-ray contains an isolated music and effects track, a collector's booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo and the original theatrical trailer.
The 1951 film The
Tales of Hoffmann, the acclaimed British adaptation of the opera by Jaques
Offenbach, was an early influence on major directors like Cecil B. DeMille,
George Romero (who said it was “the movie that made me want to make movies”)
and Martin Scorsese. They were drawn to co-directors,
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger’s inventive camera work, vibrant color
palette (each of the three acts has its own primary color) and smooth blending
of film, dance and music. According to
an interview found on Powell-Pressburger.org, Powell wanted to do a “composed
film” – shot entirely to a pre-recorded music track, in this case, Offenbach’s
opera. Not having to worry about sound meant
he could remove the cumbersome padding that encased every Technicolor camera
and really move it around production designer Hein Heckroth’s soaring sets.
(Heckroth’s work on the film earned him two 1952 Oscar nominations.)
The film’s extensive
restoration was sponsored by Scorsese’s Film Foundation and the BFI Film
Archive, in association with Studiocanal. The entire project was overseen by Powell’s widow, longtime Scorsese editor
Thelma Schoonmaker. In fact it was
Scorsese who had introduced Powell to Schoonmaker, resulting in their 1984
Ms. Schoonmaker – on
location in Taiwan to work on Scorsese’s next film, Silence - said the director was obsessed (in a good way!) with her
late husband’s and his partner’s work. She stated that Scorsese says their films are “in his DNA.” He was particularly interested in The Tales of Hoffmann because it taught him about
moving the camera, capturing the body language of actors and “celebrating the
emotion of music.”
Aside from the film’s
pristine new look (which took over six months of “very intense” work), this
version features 6 minutes missing from the Third Act, apparently cut by
producer Alexander Korda who had wanted the filmmakers to drop Act Three
entirely! Another gem found in BFI’s
vaults was an epilogue the directors shot to introduce the opera singers who
voiced the dancers appearing in the film. As Schoonmaker recalls, “Sinceno
sound track was found for it, I created a sound track of applause and music
from the film. No one had ever seen this
epilogue, because it was never on the original release prints.” It’s
a delightful piece of filmmaking whimsy that has gone unseen for over six
The film had been
previously restored in the 1980s using the Technicolor three strip Interpositive,
but during the intervening years, the three-color strips had shrunk, creating
fuzzy images even after restoration. But as Schoonmaker relates, this version remedies
that, and then some… “The new restoration was able to digitally
realign the three strips perfectly. The
rich color of the film was rebuilt layer by layer, an arduous process, until
the restorers were satisfied the film looked as it had when it was first made.
Overseeing the entire
process along with Schoonmaker was a true student of the film – Martin Scorsese!
“Scorsese knew the film intimately
having screened it many times on a 16mm print and through watching the Criterion
DVD over and over again.” Schoonmaker
recalled, noting, “I had watched the film with my late husband, Michael Powell and
so Scorsese and I were able to guide the color restoration.”
The film boasts a joint writer,
producer, director credit, which was quite rare in the 1950s. Schoonmaker explained that, “only Michael
directed on the set, but he admired Emeric’s contribution to their films so
much that he agreed to sharing the remarkable title (for the time) ‘Written,
produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’ long before
that kind of title was used as much as it is today.” The prolific duo made 19 films together.
The Tales of Hoffmann’s
influence on Scorsese can be seen in his gritty 1976 masterpiece, Taxi Driver. As his three time Oscar-winning editor points
out, “He (Scorsese) says the dancers in the film taught him so much about body
language. And the eye movements of (actor)
Robert Helpmann were a direct influence on De Niro’s eyes in the mirror of the
Having worked with the
director on revered films like Raging
Bull, Casino, Goodfellas, The Aviator
and Wolf of Wall Street – in fact on every
Scorsese film since 1980 – Thelma Schoonmaker should know!
The Rialto Pictures
release of the restored and expanded The Tales
of Hoffmann opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday March 13th,
with other cities to follow.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release. We don't generally delve into the world of grunge horror flicks but it is interesting that there is a market that is nostalgic for new releases in the VHS format:
The moment gore hounds
have been waiting for is here. You can now visit CultMovieMania.com and snag pre-sale copies of our latest
VHS tapes - CANNIBAL FEROX and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST - two super sickies we've
teamed up to release with legendary Grindhouse Releasing.
There is one version of
Cannibal Ferox. And, there are 3 different artwork versions for Cannibal
Holocaust. Each tape comes with an 11" x 17" poster of the artwork. And
frankly, they are going to look awesome on your walls.
All of these tapes are
limited edition and expected to go fast.
Want all of them? Pay less when you purchase all 4 tapes
at once here.
The CANNIBAL FEROX tape
will include the ultra-nasty, completely uncut feature film along with
bonus video of the Cannibal Ferox Hollywood Premiere, an interview with
director Umberto Lenzi, and trailers. It will also feature exclusive new
artwork painted and designed by horror director Marcus Koch (100
Tears, ROT) and a poster only available with this edition of the movie.
The CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST
tapes will include the uncut feature film in its nauseating entirety, plus
the Cannibal Holocaust music video and trailers. The striking new special
edition artwork, featuring design by Chamuco ATX and illustration by Vader
Paz, will come in three different collectible color variants. Each tape also
comes with a matching poster exclusive to this release.
(*Please make sure you
select your preferred CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST color variant in the store.)
Both tapes feature
official pan-and-scan transfers from Grindhouse Releasing, to add extra slime
to the VHS violence.
These tapes are available
in our store for Pre-Sale now. They are expected to
start shipping April 20th.
Today is "Red Nose Day" in England, wherein celebrities, sports stars and the public raise money for charity. The BBC have a show called "Comic Relief" on TV tonight, which comes live from The London Palladium from 7 PM through 2 AM. Filled with comedy sketches, music acts, etc, one of the highlights will be a special James Bond segment filmed at Pinewood starring Daniel Craig - and Sir Roger Moore!
(The following pertains to the UK Region B release)
more than a smidge of poetic licence, Countess
Dracula is the 1971 Peter Sasdy/Hammer offering that recounts the true-life
visceral misdemeanours of Hungarian murderess Countess Erzsébat Bathory. The
late Ingrid Pitt, who portrayed the titular harridan, was quite outspoken in
her disdain for the results, one of her key grievances being director Sasdy’s overly-restrained
approach to blood-letting. Given the subject matter’s potential for sanguinary
splatter, one has to concur that it’s a fairly coy production, more romantic
costume drama with an insidious undercurrent than your traditional Hammer
horror fare. Yet, that said, a cleaving aura of doom coupled with some efficient
injections of nastiness prevent the film from being a wholly anaemic affair.
in a fit of ire, the ageing Countess Elizabeth (Ingrid Pitt) lashes out at her
inept maid, she inadvertently discovers that the virginal girl’s blood harbours
properties able to restore her youthful beauty. Slaying the girl and bathing in
her blood, Elizabeth deigns to assume the identity of her own daughter, Ilona
(Lesley-Anne Down), who has not been seen at the castle since being shipped off
to boarding school as a child. But no sooner has Elisabeth met and fallen in
love with handsome soldier Imre Toth (Sandor Eles), than she realises that the
regenerative effects of the maid’s blood are far from permanent and she is only
able to sustain her façade by seeking fresh donors to fend off her true, haggard
appearance. Finding a willing accomplice in her faithful companion, Captain
Dobi (Nigel Green), the slaying begins.
shortcomings of Jeremy Paul’s slightly lethargic and excessively talky Countess Dracula script can be all but
forgiven due to a magnetic performance by Ingrid Pitt, who overcomes
questionable post-synch dubbing to be both sensuously provocative in her
younger incarnation and frighteningly sadistic (under the increasingly
unpleasant layers of Tom Smith’s crone make-up) in her foul, older guise. If there’s
less engaging input from Sandor Eles and Lesley Anne-Down, that too is
compensated for by excellent character work from Nigel Green (in his
penultimate big screen role) and Maurice Denham as a scholarly elder whose
discovery of Elisabeth’s secret pegs him for an early exit.
spite of a few failings – not least its outrageously misleading title, which
would certainly have had audiences anticipating some fanged action – Countess Dracula is a lush fairy-tale
accompanied by a silken Harry Robinson score which in summation, though not
perhaps as worthy of frequent revisit as some of the Hammer classics, is estimable
enough evidence of their Gothic cinema supremacy.
Countess Dracula is now
available in the UK as a Region B Blu-Ray release as a constituent of Network
Distributing’s “The British Film” collection. The hi-definiton transfer is
pleasing if not perfect, with occasional minor damage and a fair amount of
grain in evidence during darker scenes. It is, however, still a marked improvement
on Network’s earlier DVD release. The generous supplementary features are
carried over from said DVD, specifically comprising a commentary track
featuring Ingrid Pitt, Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, a TV interview with Pitt
and a news item on a Bray studios open day back in the late 90s, an episode of
the 1970 TV show Conceptions of Murder (starring
Nigel Green), an episode of the recently deceased Brian Clemens’ excellent TV series
Thriller (showcasing yet another fine
Pitt performance) and a number of stills galleries.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Revisit 1939, Hollywood’s
GreatestYear, with 4 New Blu-ray™Debuts
THE GOLDEN YEAR COLLECTION JUNE9
Features Newly Restored Blu-ray Debut ofThe Hunchback of Notre Dame, Starring
CharlesLaughton, and Blu-ray Debuts of – Bette Davis’ DarkVictory, Errol Flynn’s Dodge City and Greta Garbo’sNinotchka. Collection
also includes Gone With theWind.
Burbank, Calif. March 10, 2015 – On June 9,
Warner Bros. Home Entertainmentwill
celebrate one of the most prolific twelve months in Hollywood’s history with
the6-disc The Golden Year Collection. Leading the
five-film set will be the Blu-ray debutof
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in a new
restoration which will have its worldpremiere
at TCM’s Classic Film Festival beginning March 26 in Los Angeles. CharlesLaughton and Maureen O’Hara star in
Victor Hugo’s tragic tale which William Dieterledirected.
The other films featured in
the WBHE collection ($69.96 SRP) are new-to-Blu-rayreleases of Dark Victory,
starring Bette Davis, George Brent and Humphrey Bogart; DodgeCity, starring Errol Flynn,
Olivia de Havilland and Ann Sheridan; and Ninotchka starringGreta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas and Ina
Claire, and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. 1939’sOscar®1 winner Gone with the Wind will
also be included. (Further details on the filmsbelow)
The Collection also contains a sixth disc with the rerelease of thefascinating documentary, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Year, narrated by Kenneth Branagh and containing film clips andinsights about this unprecedented and
unequalled year infilms.
1939 was noteworthy in America and Europe
for many reasons. World War II hadbegun
with Hitler’s invasion of Poland. The Great Depression dwindled as PresidentRoosevelt and the United States prepared
to fight. NBC demonstrated the new mediumof
television at the World’s Fair. Batman, a new superhero, was born. Frank
Sinatramade his recording debut.
And nylon stockings went on sale for the firsttime.
significant for American culture that year was the sheer number of remarkablefilm releases. 365 films were released in
1939, many of which are considered themost
enduring classics in film history and three of the 10 Best Picture Oscar®
nominees2for the year, Gone with the Wind, Dark Victory and Ninotchka
are included inthis collection.
The Films in The Golden YearCollection
Hunchback of NotreDame
France, a gypsy girl is framed for murder by the infatuated ChiefJustice, and only the deformed bell ringer
of Notre Dame Cathedral can saveher.
With huge sets,
rousing action scenes and a versatile throng portraying a medievalParis of cutthroats, clergy, beggars and
Hunchback of Notre Dame remainsone of Hollywood’s all-time grandestspectacles.
Charles Laughton endured a daily
five-and-a-half hour makeup session tobecome
Quasimodo, Victor Hugo’s mocked and vilified anti-hero. The result was one of
hisbest performances -- outsized
yet nuanced, heartrending yet inspiring. Maureen O’Hara isthe gypsy Esmeralda, whose simple act of
pity frees the emotions within Quasimodo.When
she is wrongly condemned, he rescues her from hanging, sweeping all of Paris
intoa fight forjustice.
The Lone Stranger and Porky – Vintage 1939 WBCartoon
A young socialite is diagnosed with an
inoperable brain tumor and must decidewhether
she’ll meet her final days withdignity.
Davis’ bravura, moving but never morbid performance as Judith Traherne, adying heiress determined to find
happiness in her few remaining months, turns the film intoa three-hankie classic. But that success
would never have happened if Davishadn’t
pestered studio brass to buy Dark Victory’s story
rights. Jack Warner finally didso skeptically.
“Who wants to see a dame go blind?” he asked. Almost everyone wasthe answer: Dark Victory
Davis’ biggest box-office hit yet and garnered threeAcademy Award® nominations for 1939’s Best Picture, Best
Actress (Davis) and BestMusic, Original
by film historian James Ursini and CNN film critic PaulClinton
·“Warner Night at theMovies”
oNEW! Old Hickory - Vintage 1939 WBShort
oRobin Hood Makes
Vintage 1939 WBCartoon
Competition for Dark Victory -Featurette
Lux Radio Theater Broadcast (AudioOnly)
Wade Hatton (Errol Flynn), a Texas cattle
agent, witnesses firsthand thebrutal
lawlessness of Dodge City and takes the job of sheriff to clean the townup.
In his first of eight Westerns, Flynn is as
able with a six-shooter as he was witha
swashbuckler’s sword. He confronts lynch mobs, slams outlaws into jail andescapes (along with co-star Olivia de
Havilland) from a fiery, locked railroad car. Cheeredfor Flynn’s sagebrush debut, its vivid Technicolor look and
spectacular saloon brawlthat may
have employed every available Hollywood stunt person, Dodge City latergained another distinction when it
inspired Mel Brooks’ cowboy parody BlazingSaddles.
Special Features (PreviouslyReleased):
·“Warner Night at the
oSons of Liberty – Vintage WB
1939 Academy Award®-Winning4Short
oDangerous Dan McFoo
oDodge City: Go
West, Errol Flynn -Featurette
oThe Oklahoma KidTrailer
A stern Russian woman (Greta Garbo) sent to
Paris on official business findsherself
attracted to a man (Melvyn Douglas) who represents everything she is supposedto detest.
‘Garbo Talks!’ proclaimed ads when silent
star Greta Garbo debuted in talkies.Nine
years and 12 classic screen dramas later, the gifted movie legend was ready foranother change. Garbo Laughs! cheered the
publicity for her first comedy, a frothy tale of adour Russian envoy sublimating her womanhood for Soviet
brotherhood until she falls fora suave
Parisian man-about-town (MelvynDouglas).
Working from a cleverly barbed script
written in part by Billy Wilder, directorErnst
Lubitsch knew better than anyone how to marry refinement with sublime wit. “Atleast twice a day the most dignified
human being is ridiculous,” he explained abouthis acclaimed Lubitsch Touch, That’s how we see Garbo’s love struck
Ninotchka:serenely dignified yet
endearingly ridiculous. Garbo laughs. So willyou.
Ninotchka received four 1939 Academy Award®
nominations – Best Picture,Best Actress
in a Leading Role (Garbo), Best Writing- Original Story (Melchior Lengyel),and Best Writing-Screenplay (Charles
Brackett Walter Reisch, BillyWilder).
·NEW! Prophet Without Honor
– Vintage 1939 Academy
Award® nominated5MGM Short
The Blue Danube – Vintage
Gone with theWind
as one of the American cinema’s grandest, most ambitious andspectacular pieces of filmmaking, Gone with
the Wind, was helmed by Victor Fleming in 1939,the same year as the director’s The Wizard
Producer David O. Selznick’smammoth
achievement and still history’s all-time domestic box-office champion ($1.6billion6) captured ten 1939 Academy Awards® including:
Best Picture, Best Actress, andBest
Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel, the first Oscar® awarded to anAfrican- American actor. Margaret
Mitchell’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel, on which the filmis based, has been translated into 16
languages, has sold hundreds of millions ofcopies worldwide, and even now continues to sell 50,000 copies ayear.
Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de
Havilland, Leslie Howard and Hattie McDanielstar in this classic epic of the
American South. On the eve of the Civil War, rich, beautifuland self-centered Scarlett O'Hara (Leigh)
has everything she could want -- exceptAshley
Wilkes (Leslie Howard). As the war devastates the South, Scarlett discovers thestrength within herself to protect her
family and rebuild her life. Through everything, she longsfor Ashley, unaware that she is already
married to the man she really loves (Gable) --and who truly loves her -- until she finally drives him away. Only then
does Scarlettrealize what she has
lost ... and tries to win himback.
Bros. Home Entertainment Presents1939: Hollywood’s GreatestYear Narrated by Kenneth Branagh this informative
documentary contains film clipsand
insights about this unprecedented and unequalled year infilms.
included on this disc (PreviouslyReleased):
·Breakdowns of 1939 – Vintage 1939 WBShort
·Sons of Liberty – Also on the Dodge Citydisc
·Drunk Driving – Also on the The Hunchback of Notre Damedisc
·Prophet Without Honor – Also on the Ninotchkadisc
film noir pictures take place in
urban centers—New York City, Los Angeles—where the big city is as much a
character as the unhappy humans in these often bleak and brutal, sometimes
brilliant, Hollywood crime films that spanned the early forties to the late
fifties. Film noir peaked in the latter half of the forties, with an
abundance of the classic titles released between 1946-1948.
of the more unique things about Ride the
Pink Horse is that the urban setting is gone. Instead, the action is set in
a border town in New Mexico, where there is indeed danger, to be sure, but
there’s also a little less pessimism among the inhabitants—unlike in the urban noirs in which everyone’s a cynic.
Interestingly, one might say that the “border town noir” could be a sub-set of
the broader category, for Ride the Pink
Horse isn’t the only crime movie of the period set away from the big city.
Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil is
another good example.
Ride the Pink Horse, based on a novel
by Dorothy B. Hughes, became actor Robert Montgomery’s second noir in which he both starred and
directed. His first directorial effort was Lady in the Lake (also 1947),
in which the actor played detective Phillip Marlowe. Here, Montgomery plays
Gagin, an ex-GI, with a take-no-guff attitude but also with a subtle sense of
cluelessness—he is definitely a fish out of water in “San Pablo.” His mission
there is to locate a crook named Hugo (Fred Clark) to avenge the murder of
Gagin’s best friend. What he thought might be a simple task turns out to be a
lot more complicated, for the FBI is in town in the form of amiable Retz (Art
Smith), and the Feds want Hugo, too. On his first night in town, Gagin falls
in with Pancho (Thomas Gomez), a Mexican who runs a cheap merry-go-round for
the kids, and Pila (Wanda Hendrix), a young woman who speaks little, but seems
to know a heck of a lot about the goings-on in town. As it turns out, Gagin
isn’t really the tough guy he pretended to be at the beginning. He really is in over his head, and he needs the
help of his newfound Mexican friends to simply survive.
merry-go-round could be some kind of metaphor for the film’s message—possibly
that we can go round and round and still wind up where we started. On the other
hand, the ride might suggest that it is a source of innocence, something to
which our hero can’t return. Even if you ride the pink horse; you get the same
truth on a horse of any other color.
setting’s flavor is pleasingly captured in the stark black and white
cinematography by Russell Metty, especially during the “Fiesta” sequences. One
striking sequence takes place with the camera on the merry-go-round—as it goes
around we see two thugs giving Pancho a beating at the side of the ride; with
every revolution our glimpse of the violence is increasingly upsetting. The
production design by Bernard Herzbrun and Robert Boyle, is very impressive,
seeing that, ironically, the picture was filmed on the Universal lot in
Hollywood and not in New Mexico.
story, adapted by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer, is engaging enough, although Ride the Pink Horse doesn’t seem to
reach the climax that is promised by the opening half-hour. Nevertheless, the
performances are very good, especially that of Gomez, who, with this picture,
became the first Hispanic actor to be nominated for an Oscar—Best Supporting
new 2K digital restoration looks sharp and clean. An audio commentary by film noir historians Alain Silver and
James Ursini accompanies the film. The only two extras are a new interview about
the film with Imogen Sara Smith, author of In
Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City; and a radio adaptation starring
Montgomery, Hendrix, and Gomez. The booklet contains an essay by filmmaker and
writer Michael Almereyda.
Ride the Pink Horse
for film noir enthusiasts looking to
get out of the city and travel somewhere a little different.
In the wake of unexpected critical acclaim for director Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night in 1964, studios scrambled to emulate the success of that first feature film starring The Beatles. Over a period of a few years, many bands found themselves top-lining major feature films. Most were mindless exploitation films, a few others more ambitious in their goals. Fitting snugly into the latter category was Having a Wild Weekend (released in the UK under the title Catch Us If You Can.) The film represents the only movie starring the Dave Clark Five, one of the more popular bands to emerge during that marvelous era in the 1960s when Great Britain shed its post WWII doldrums and came to dominate international pop culture. The band was one of many who rode the coattails of The Beatles to the top of the charts, but they had their own unique style of songs and music that resulted in some memorable hit songs that still hold up well today. At one point, the DC5 was so popular that they appeared on The Ed Sulllivan Show more than any other British band. Their feature film debut is impressive only in the sense that it afforded a young documentary maker named John Boorman the opportunity to make his feature film directorial debut. There is scant evidence that Boorman possessed the kind of unique vision that would result in Point Blank only two years later and Deliverance five years after that, but Weekend is different from most teen idol movies of the era both in terms of its visual content as well as its message. The script is also unique in that the DC5 don't appear as themselves, thus its the only film of its kind that doesn't showcase the band members playing music on screen. In fact, they don't even play musicians, but rather, stuntmen who are employed to appear in an expensive nationwide British ad campaign designed to encourage meat eating. This rather uncommercial message is prettied up by having the campaign center on a perky, sexy young blonde named Dinah (Barbara Ferris), who is an omnipresent force in London, appearing on billboards and TV ads to promote the meat industry in a fun way. The DC5 appear with her as window dressing, always in the background of the ads. During the shooting of a particularly frustrating TV commercial taping, Dinah and her boyfriend Steve (Dave Clark) engage in an abrupt act of rebellion by stealing a sports car they drive in the ad and absconding to an island that Dinah hopes to retire to. This sets in motion a massive search by the advertising agency executives that becomes a nationwide obsession. Rumors circulate that Steve has kidnapped Dinah, something that turns out to be an unexpected boon for the ad agency since it results in a great deal of free publicity for "The Meat Girl". Steve and Dinah's directionless meanderings around the island prove to be less joyful than expected. They encounter a colony of hippies but find they are as shallow as the Establishment types they are rebelling against. They also blunder into the middle of military war games in the film's zaniest and least credible sequence. Ultimately the other members of the DC5 join them but even they are being pursued by agents for the advertising agency as well as local police. Steve brings them to a farm run by a boyhood idol who he used to visit as a child only to find he has "sold out" too and is looking to use Dinah as a tourist attraction. Disillusioned, Steve and Dinah ultimately come face to face with their employers and Steve gets a downbeat life lesson on how shallow even Dinah's principals can be.
Having a Wild Weekend is a strangely humorless film with the DC5 songs rather awkwardly interwoven. Even a sequence (filmed in Bath) that depicts a massive, wild costume party doesn't deliver the amusement you might expect. However, it does offer the unique opportunity to see people dressed as Stan Laurel, the Marx Brothers and Frankenstein cavorting in the ancient Roman baths. Dave Clark has movie star looks and admirable screen presence. He should have pursued a career as an actor. However, the other band members have scant opportunity to present themselves as individuals. This includes lead singer Mike Smith, who sang most of the group's hit songs even though Clark would lip synch to them in live appearances to appear as though he sang them on the recordings. Plot angles appear promisingly but get dropped abruptly including a potentially promising sequence in which Steve and Dinah are invited home by a middle aged couple (excellently played by Robin Bailey and Yootha Joyce) who turn out to be setting them up for some sexual swinging. Director Boorman eschews studio sets for actual locations and this gives the movie a sense of vibrancy it might otherwise have lacked. Manny Wynn's black and white cinematography does justice to the British countryside and he presents the action through some interesting camera angles.
The downbeat storyline won praise from critics at the time because it so deftly avoids emulating the ridiculously cheery productions that were generally aimed at teens. It holds up well as a curiosity and affords some nostalgic insights into a time when the counterculture movement was on the verge of exploding. The DVD presentation by the Warner Archive presents a crisp, clean transfer sans any extras. One hopes that someday, Dave Clark might be asked to participate in a special edition of the movie.
Director Steven Spielberg has reunited with Tom Hanks for the recently-completed Cold War espionage thriller "Bridge of Spies", which tells the true story of a famous prisoner exchange that took place on a bridge in Potsdam. The intrigue involved American efforts to get back military pilot Francis Gary Powers, whose U2 spy plane had been shot down over the Soviet Union, thus giving the communists a major propaganda victory. The film will be scored by John Williams, who marks his 27th collaboration with Spielberg. For more click here.
SECOND TAKE: ALTERNATE OPINIONS ON FILMS PREVIOUSLY REVIEWED BY CINEMA RETRO
BY TIM GREAVES
Castle’s Strait-Jacket was a pretty
big deal for Joan Crawford. Her biggest successes lay behind her, but she was
shrewd enough to understand that even a low-budget horror film was money in the
bank and, with the alternative for many actresses of her age (and younger)
being protracted unemployment, she put her heart and soul into it. She participated
in a pre-production featurette entitled “How to Plan a Murder”, alongside
director/producer (and unsurpassed gimmick maestro) William Castle and writer
Robert Bloch, jovially discussing the best ways to dispose of someone on
screen. And, upon its release in 1964, she toured with the film, making a
number of personal appearances that drew crowds in their droves. As to her performance
within, if nothing else she should be applauded for having the temerity at the
age of almost 60 to play not only a character some 15 years her junior, but (in
flashbacks) a character some 35 years her junior; the latter, it has to be said,
she monumentally fails to pull off!
front of her terrified little girl, Lucy Harbin (Crawford) takes an axe to her
philandering husband and his lover, after which, despite protestations of her innocence,
she is hauled off – in a strait-jacket, no less – to an institution for the
criminally insane. Twenty years later she is deigned fit for release and goes
to stay on a ranch with her brother (Leif Erickson) and his wife (Rochelle
Hudson), and her own daughter (Diane Baker) who has been in their care and is
now an adult on the verge of matrimony. But as Lucy struggles to exorcise the
demons of her past and attempts to forge a relationship with the daughter whose
growing-up she has missed, she begins to have visions of decapitated heads and
bloodied axes. Is she losing her mind, or is something far more sinister going
on? Suffice to say it isn’t long before the murders begin…
touch creaky by today’s standards and riddled with some pretty clunky dialogue,
it’s nevertheless easy to conceive that Strait-Jacket
was fairly shocking stuff back in the day. However, it’s fair to say that
it’s still a very watchable little chiller, with a tangible snifter of Psycho running through its veins. Beyond
the fact it emerged from the pen of Psycho-scribe
Robert Bloch and was shot in crisp black and white (which served to lessen the
impact of a number of its sanguinary sins), the premise of an elderly woman with
a penchant for hacking up those who cross her prowling about a remote property certainly
has a ring of familiarity about it. And, as with Psycho, it’s just possible that not everything is as it first
seems. Anyone familiar with the twists in 1964’s Bette Davis starrer Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte (which, it
should be noted, Strait-Jacket preceded
into theatres by some 11 months) will probably cotton on to what’s going on.
cast is strong, particularly Diane Baker as Crawford’s daughter and George
Kennedy as a bad-toothed ranch-hand-turned-blackmailer (who, despite carrying
an axe everywhere, may as well have “red herring” tattooed on his forehead).
Watch out, too, in the opening scenes for the uncredited screen debut of Lee
Majors in the role of Crawford’s so-to-be-headless hubby. But, make no mistake,
this is 100% Crawford’s show, effortlessly traversing personality swings that
vacillate between pitiably timid and contrite and vampishly gregarious and
carefree. Proof, were it needed, that regardless of the quality of the material
at hand, she always gave it her all. (For further compelling evidence on this
score, check out 1970’s Trog.)
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,
released two years earlier, remains this writer’s favourite Joan Crawford film,
for undemanding chills and spills – or simply to see the actress firing on all dramatic
thrusters – they don’t come much better than Strait-Jacket. And be sure to keep your eyes peeled to the screen
for the closing Columbia Pictures logo, slyly tinkered with by Castle in a
wickedly comic wink that none of this stuff should be taken too seriously.
film is available on disc as part of Sony Pictures’ Choice Collection and comes
with a respectable array of supplementary goodies. Along with “Battle Axe” (an
entertaining retrospective that runs just shy of 15-minutes and includes an
interview with Diane Baker), there’s the vintage promo featurette mentioned at
the start of this review, some 1963 Crawford wardrobe test footage, brief axe
test footage (conspicuously more gruesome than anything that made it into the
finished film) and a TV spot. Regrettably the transfer of the film itself is a
little disappointing, the image often resembling that of an old VHS recording
desperately in need of a tweak on the tracking; not a deal-breaker, but
certainly worth keeping in mind.
By the late 1960s, Jacqueline Bisset was clearly one of the "It" girls among a bevy of starlets who crossed over from flash-in-the-pan status to becoming a genuine star in her own right. Her breakthrough role opposite Steve McQueen in the 1968 blockbuster "Bullitt" helped catapult the British beauty to the top ranks of actresses who were deemed to have international boxoffice appeal. Among her major Hollywood successes: "The Detective", "Airport" and "The Deep". In between, however, Bisset was open to appearing in off-beat films that were most suited for the art house circuit. One of the more unusual productions was "Secret World", a 1969 French film that was the antithesis of the commercial successes she was enjoying. The film was directed by Robert Freeman, a famed photographer who is credited with shooting many of the classic album covers for The Beatles. (Some sources credit Paul Feyder as co-director but the film does not give him this status in the main titles or on the poster.)The film is a moody, slow-moving tale about troubled people in troubled relationships. It's nevertheless oddly compelling and retains the viewer's interest because of the unveiling of key information about the characters and their motives on a drip...drip...drip basis.
The film opens with scenes of Francois (Jean-Francois Vlerick, billed here as Jean-Francois Maurin), an 11 year-old boy who is rather morose and somber. He is living in a French country manor house that, like the family that inhabits it, has seen better days. Francois is under the care of his Aunt Florence (Giselle Pascal) and Uncle Phillippe (Pierre Zimmer, a forty-something couple whose marriage is strained. They go through the motions of keeping their relationship civil, but it's clear the passion is long gone. We see Francois finding some degree of enjoyment in solitude when he retreats to his tree house where he peruses a small box of "treasures", which are various household oddities that he has secreted in his domain. Florence and Phillippe receive an unexpected visit from their son Olivier (Marc Porel), a handsome but irresponsible young man who lives off his parent's money. Like the relationship between his parents, Olivier's dealings with them are similarly strained. Francois observes all of this somberly, rarely speaking unless spoken to. Phillippe announces that they are to have a visitor arriving soon from London: Wendy (Jacqueline Bisset, quite becoming as a blonde), the daughter of an old war buddy who once saved his life. When she shows up, her presence has an immediate impact on everyone in the house. Wendy is polite, out-going, generous and stunningly beautiful. Immediately, Olivier decides to postpone his departure in the hopes of wooing and seducing her. Phillippe seems similarly smitten and Florence is clearly threatened by the arrival of the attractive young woman. As the days pass, she also builds a relationship with Francois, who becomes obsessed with her. He steals a bottle of her perfume so he can have a constant reminder of her presence. She, in turn, plays a combination role of big sister and mother, taking Francois under her wing and spending quality time with him. She later learns that he was been adopted by his aunt and uncle after his parents died in a terrible car crash. Worse, Francois suffered the trauma of being trapped under his mother's body for hours. With Wendy able to reach him in a way that no one else can, Francois's mood begins to lighten. Before long, he is bragging to his small circle of friends that she is his girlfriend, although it is never clear whether his fascination with her is based on his budding sexual instincts or simply because she has fulfilled a nurturing role that has been absent from his life since the death of his mother. As the story progresses, we also learn that Phillippe and Wendy are actually long-time lovers and that her visit from London has been arranged simply so they can spend time together. Before long, Phillippe finds himself in competition with Olivier for her attention. Florence clearly suspects that her husband's interest in Wendy is more than platonic. In a rather cringe-inducing scene, she is mocked by the male members of her household when she decides to have her hair dyed blonde in an obvious attempt to compete with the younger woman. The relationships between the principals continue to deteriorate even as Wendy and Francois become closer. An off-hand remark made by her in jest is taken seriously by the young boy who believes that they are to run away together and live in England, which leads to the inevitable heartbreaking conclusion.
There are no dramatic fireworks or show-stopping moments built into the script but the film is extremely well acted and at some points, you feel as though you are eavesdropping on a real family. Bisset ignites the screen in this early starring role as a woman who is the unintended catalyst for a lot of anxiety for the males in her life. Director Freeman handles the proceedings with sensitivity and he gets significant assistance from the fine cinematography of Peter Biziou. The U.S. marketing campaign for the film was somewhat misleading with its implication that it centered on an illicit sexual relationship between a young woman and an under-age boy. In fact, the sexual element is completely one-sided from standpoint of Francois and there aren't any erotic sequences in the film at all- just an abundance of good actors working with a believable and engrossing script.
The film has been released as part of Fox's Cinema Archives burn-to-order DVD series. The transfer is impressive. Click here to read original New York Times review. Click here to watch a clip.