It is no secret that the earth is in a state
of constant and rapid change. Global
warming, economic impoverishment for a growing number of people who have few
options available to them, the threat of earthquakes in areas of the country
that are long overdue for a massive shaking – all of these are stress factors that
large segments of the population contend with daily.
The Chevron Richmond Refinery in Richmond, CA
was constructed by Standard Oil in 1901 and opened in 1902 (John D.
Rockefeller, who was a founder, chairman and major shareholder of the company,
became the richest man in the world following Standard Oil’s dissolution into
33 smaller companies). The refinery has
had its share of problems over the years, suffering explosions and fires in
1989 and again in 1999. On August 6,
2012, there was an eruption of such intensity that it displaced over 15,000
people living in the surrounding areas, residents who are still suffering the
ill effects of the disaster in the form of everything from respiratory infections
to cancer. It is this catastrophe that
begins Shalini Kantayya’s new documentary Catching
the Sun, a film that echoes a theme that is discussed at length by another
documentary that was recently released, Requiem
for the American Dream, in that the decisions made by a select few often
have vast and negative repercussions for many. Whereas the latter clearly paints a dark picture of the current state of
economic affairs in present-day US of A, the former offers a far more hopeful
view of life.
the Sun follows two people each representing two
superpowers. Wally Jiang, the president
of WesTech (a Chinese company from Wuxi, China though their website now shows
their China office as being in Shanghai) who believes that renewable energy
(RE) in the form of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells is the wave of the future, is
in a race with the US to become the dominant provider of PV solar panels which
convert sunlight into electric energy. Van Jones (author of The Green
Collar Economy and Rebuild the Dream) is a self-appointed gadfly in the US who dedicates his life’s work to improving
the lot of others through his attempts to get people on board with solar
power. In his view, this form of RE is
not just the answer to reducing the carbon footprint (i.e. pollution), but it’s
an excellent way to educate people, make them feel like productive members of
the community and therefore reduce crime and violence. In essence, give them a job, the prospect of
a decent future and ultimately, hope. Michele McGeoy, the founder of Solar Richmond, echoes his sentiment that
good jobs are an antidote to violence and crime. Paul Mudrow and Hal Aronson are both Solar
Richmond trainees studying to become photovoltaic solar panel installers. They hope that this will be their ticket to
a lucrative future.
Danny Kenny, CEO of Oakland-based Sungevity, points
out that the cost of solar has dropped 80% in last five to seven years. Oakland, unfortunately, is also home to much
abject poverty, and many young African-American males who never thought about
anything outside of their neighborhood, take classes and training on RE. Director Kantayya is obviously fascinated by
her subject, and her film does an admirable job of illustrating not only how
two countries see an opportunity for developing a nascent technology that has
yet to reach its potential, but also educating the audience on solar power in
layman’s terms. In the 1960’s, the race
to the moon by that decade’s end put the US and the then-Soviet Union (now
Russia) in a duke-it-out race wherein the US prevailed, due Americans’ resolve
to kick its nemesis’s bol'shaya
As of the writing of this review, China
reports that they have developed a way to make solar panels that convert not
only sunlight into energy, but raindrops into energy when it rains. This is a huge development as current solar
panels do not respond to anything other than sunlight.
Hopefully, the documentary will shed more
light on this fascinating subject (no pun intended).
Click here to
read more about Catching the Sun,
find screenings at nearby theaters, and also rent or download it on Vimeo.
Hawks’ 1939 adventure/drama/comedy/musical (yes, it’s all of those) is firmly
among the director’s best pictures, made at a time when aviation was glamorous,
thrilling, and dangerous. As Hawks himself says in an interview supplement, when
people heard a plane flying in the sky in those days, they’d rush outside to
take a look at it. The job of an air mail carrier, at the time, was something
for only the bravest—or the craziest—of men.
(Cary Grant, in one of his most memorable performances) runs an air mail
operation in a remote corner of South America, and part of the flight routes
traverse the Andes mountains. It’s an extremely hazardous occupation for pilots
of single prop planes, for there are often rainstorms, fog, and other obstacles
to prevent smooth flying. It’s no wonder that his team is a motley crew of
ne’er-do-wells, alcoholics, and daredevils. When Bonnie (Jean Arthur), a
touring entertainer, shows up en route to her next gig, she provides Geoff with
another peril—love. That’s something Geoff doesn’t want any part of. This set
up is classic Hawks, for, along with Frank Capra, he was a primary referee for
the war between the sexes on screen. Only
Angels demonstrates this in spades.
get even more complicated when Bat (Richard Barthelmess), a pilot with a dark
reputation, shows up with his wife, Judy (Rita Hayworth, in one of her very
first screen appearances). Judy happens to be Geoff’s old flame, and Bat was
apparently responsible for once bailing out of a plane and leaving his mechanic
to die in the crash. That mechanic was the brother of Geoff’s best friend and
employee, Kid (Thomas Mitchell).
that weren’t enough plot, Hawks throws in the exotic foreign setting of a small
South American village and its occupants, late night saloon parties complete
with pianist (a la Casablanca, three
years prior to that film’s release), hair-raising flight sequences, and
screwball comedy antics between the leads. It’s pure Hollywood, made in a year
that is often called one of the best in the industry’s history.
Criterion Collection’s new 4K digital restoration looks marvelous, and it has
an uncompressed monaural soundtrack that brings the plane engines into your
living room. Supplements include excerpts from an audio interview between Hawks
and Peter Bogdanovich, in which the director talks about his aviation pictures,
his mixed feelings about Jean Arthur, and other topics; a new interview with
film critic David Thomson, who makes a strong case for subtle homosexual
interpretations of the male camaraderie in the picture; a new documentary about
Hawks’ aviation movies featuring film scholars Craig Barron and Ben Burtt; the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation from 1939,
starring Grant, Arthur, Hayworth, Barthelmess, and Mitchell, hosted by Cecil B.
DeMille; and the trailer. An essay by critic Michael Stragow appears in the
Only Angels Have
an exhilarating look at an era long time gone, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Don’t be late for the flight!
The seemingly promising teaming of Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale, both at their most glamorous back in 1968, goes hopelessly astray in the comedy/crime caper film "A Fine Pair". The movie is the kind of lazy effort that makes one suspect the only motives for the stars' participation were quick, sizable paychecks and the opportunity to enjoy some exotic locations at the studio's expense. (Think "Donovan's Reef" without the fun.) The film opens in New York City and we find Hudson as NYPD Captain Mike Harmon, a conservative, no-nonsense career police officer who runs his precinct with the same strong-arm tactics that General George S. Patton employed to keep his troops in line. Out of nowhere pops Esmeralda Marini (Cardinale), a glamorous and almost annoyingly perky young woman who has arrived unannounced from her native Italy. Turns out she has known Harmon most of her life as he was a good friend of her late father, who was an Italian police captain. It's never adequately explained how the two law enforcement officer's professional careers intersected but it turns out that Harmon became close enough to the Marini family that Esmeralda has long considered Harmon like a favorite uncle. The absurdities start almost immediately as Esmeralda confesses that she has possession of some stolen jewels that she has stolen from a prominent Italian family, the Fairchilds, who are now on holiday in New York. She says that she has regrets about having participated in the crime and wants to break into the Fairchilds' fortress-like chateau in Austria so that she can return the jewels before they find they are missing. One would think that a streetwise New York City police captain would see this as a rather bizarre and implausible yarn, but not Harmon. On a moment's notice he decides to take a leave from his job and flyoff for Austria with Esmeralda in a quest to undo the wrong she committed by stealing the jewels. Oh, did I mention that Harmon is also married? He dismisses this by saying that he was simply vague about his reasons for taking off suddenly for a week in Austria. I'd be curious to hear about the outcome of any married man who decides to employ the same tactics.
Once in Austria, Harmon is alternately bemused and annoyed by Esmeralda's party-hearty lifestyle. She is a magnet for eccentric young men of the counter-culture, who she beds with guilt-free abandon. However, it doesn't take long before conservative Harmon is joining in the partying but there is still the slight problem of breaking into the Fairchild's estate. Harmon uses a false scenario to convince the local police chief (the marvelous character actor Leon Askin) to give him a tour of the security devices inside and around the perimeter of the mansion. While it might be a professional courtesy to share such information with a fellow police captain, one would have to wonder how the absent family would feel about strangers treading around their private property and discussing all their top-secret burglar alarm devices. Harmon is stunned by the sophistication of the anti-theft system and concerned that the mission of breaking into the home will be impossible- and Esmeralda is vague about how the original theft was originally orchestrated except to say that her accomplice managed to pull it off. Against all logic, Harmon decides to risk his life and career in order to carry on with the plot. In some of the most absurd scenes, he becomes a poor man's "Q" Branch by devising ways to use ordinary objects such as champagne bottles and mingle them with chemicals in order to gain access to the house and neutralize the alarm system. It's a plan that would have challenged Einstein, but Harmon feels secure enough to continue with the caper. He and Esmeralda decided to undertake the top secret and illegal task of mixing dangerous chemicals by doing so in the communal toilet of the tiny bed and breakfast lodge they are staying at. Even Inspector Clouseau wouldn't be that careless.
Harmon's plan requires artificially raising the interior temperature of the room the Fairchilds' safe is in to a scorching 194 degrees Fahrenheit because somehow he has figured out that this will prevent the alarms from being triggered. The entire sequence is ludicrous and seems designed simply as an excuse for Cardinale to strip down to her bra and panties, which provides the only break in the tedium. It doesn't take much skill to make a caper film sequence suspenseful but director Francesco Maselli (who also committed the sin of co-writing the screenplay) manages to bungle even this "can't miss" opportunity. There is no tension whatsoever and the scene ends prematurely with the caper successfully carried out. However, Esmeralda now has a second break-in she wants Harmon to help with. By this point, he is smitten with her and they become lovers. Given the fact that he has been a de facto "uncle" to her, the "Yuck" factor kicks in right away. Before long Harmon has changed his entire personality, ditching his conservative lifestyle for the free-wheeling, anything-goes philosophy of Esmeralda. Harmon's transformation is as likely as someone entering the voting booth with the intention of voting for Ted Cruz and suddenly deciding to pull the lever for Bernie Sanders. The remainder of the film concerns this second, equally implausible, crime plan. By this point Harmon has discovered that he has been played for a sucker by Esmeralda, who had him place worthless jewels in the Fairchild safe. While he was preoccupied doing so, she used the opportunity to steal real jewels. In fact, she had never been inside the mansion before and had conned him into giving her access. Got all that? Then please explain it to me. Harmon is so enamored that this career police captain with a distinguished career in law enforcement decides to become a professional jewel thief and give up his profession. In a "Oh, by the way..." moment he conveniently also explains that he phoned his wife and requested a divorce, which she immediately complied with. Before long, the happy couple is off to Rome for their next caper. Not even Jules Verne could come up with such fantastical scenarios.
"A Fine Pair" has more problems than poor direction and a terrible script. It's perhaps the worst-photographed major film release I've ever scene. Cinematographer Alfio Contini has a distinguished record in the movie industry so maybe this was an aberration. However, he employs some amateurish techniques that make it appear the film was photographed by an amateur who stumbled onto the set while he was on his lunch break. There are head-spinning swirls and dreadful use of the zoom lens. Contini also squanders the early sequences in New York by focusing on tight close-ups of the actors instead of the city's exotic locations. The choppy editing doesn't help and we're left with an upbeat, jaunty score by Ennio Morricone as the film's sole asset. While I've always enjoyed Rock Hudson's work in movies, he gave very few truly impressive performances ("Giant" and "Seconds" among them.) He was best suited for light comedies which he had a natural flair for which is why it's a telling sign that he's pretty awful in this film. You can almost see a thought bubble above his head with the question "What the hell am I doing in this mess?" He gives a listless and uninspired performance throughout. Cardinale is at least lively but her character is poorly written and completely unbelievable. Regarding their performances, New York Times critic Roger Greenspun astutely wrote at the time, "...the film at times seems like "Mission: Impossible" performed by the cast of "Captain Scarlett and the Mysterons"- with facial expressions that cleverly imitate life."
The Warner Archive DVD was mastered from the best elements available. Fittingly they are awful and, thus, so is the transfer. The color quality varies wildly and some scenes are so dark that it feels as though you are staring into an inkwell. Not helping matters is that the movie suffers from bad dubbing and sound mixing so that even Rock Hudson sounds like he is being dubbed by a different actor. The movie is of primary interest to loyal fans of Hudson and Cardinale and those who get a kick out of watching promising cinematic premises that turned into disasters.
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We at Cinema Retro like nothing more than to make our readers aware of emerging new talents in independent film making. Two of the most impressive young movie creators whose work we've experienced recently are Steven Piet and Erik Crary, two personal friends who teamed up to fulfill their dream of making their own feature film. The duo wrote the screenplay for "Uncle John" and Piet made his directorial debut with the movie, as well. The film is a highly stylized, oddball concoction that blends two seemingly disparate storylines that intersect logically as the movie proceeds. The story grabs you from the opening frames in which we see Dutch (Laurent Soucie), a hulk of a man staggering in a dazed condition on the dock of remote lake in Wisconsin. We see he is being followed by another man, John (John Ashton), who is wielding the oar of a rowboat that he has apparently just slammed Dutch in the head with. He's about to administer the coup de grace when Dutch falls into the shallow water and conveniently drowns. We then watch John, a man in his late sixties, struggle mightily to cover up evidence of the murder. He wraps Dutch in an improvised body bag and painstakingly drags him to his truck, loads him into it and drives to an isolated field where local farmers burn brush. Here, he buries the body under a mound of branches and pours some gasoline on top, making for a gruesome bonfire. Who are these men and why has one murdered the other? The answers are given but not until much later in the story. Meanwhile, we see that John isn't a madman. Rather, he's well-established in the small farming community and respected for his low-key personality and slow-to-anger temperament. He earns a modest living on his farm, which he's converted to a woodworking shop where he does freelance carpentry jobs for local residents. About the only excitement in his day-today activities is getting together each morning with a group of local good ol' boys for coffee at the local diner where they discuss gossip and the affairs of the day. It doesn't take long before word gets around that Dutch has gone missing. Apparently Dutch has been a loose cannon and troublemaker for decades. Recently he's found Jesus and decided to repent. As part of his self-imposed penance, he's been visiting the locals and confessing to various misdeeds he's done against them and begging for their forgiveness. As the days pass with no sign of Dutch, the group begins to speculate that maybe someone didn't decide to forgive him for a specific transgression. Through it all, John keeps a poker face and pretends he is ignorant of Dutch's fate. But as the local sheriff keeps digging around, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable and perhaps is coming to regret having committed the murder.
The script cleverly presents a completely parallel and seemingly unrelated plot that centers on Ben (Alex Moffatt), a 29 year-old designer in a hip marketing studio in Chicago. A new employee, Kate (Jenna Lyng) has been brought on board to oversee projects. On one level he resents the hiring of this new supervisor but on the other hand he's understandably smitten by her charm and good looks. Before long they begin a romantic relationship. The two stories blend later in the film when we learn that Ben was raised by "Uncle John" when his mother died and his father deserted him. He decides to visit John and introduce him to Kate. The timing of the visit couldn't be worse for John, who is becoming increasingly concerned about being unveiled as a murderer. Adding to his woes is the nagging presence of Dutch's brother Danny (Ronnie Gene Blevins), who is all-too-obviously suspicious that John is hiding a terrible secret. Danny, like Dutch, is a local trouble maker with a short-fuse and a penchant for drinking. He drops by John's farm during the visit by Ben and Kate, who remain oblivious to the uneasy banter between the two men. Director Steven Piet ratchets up the tension in this marvelously-constructed sequence in which John and Danny enact a sequence that reminds one of a Bond movie in that the protagonist and villain talk politely to each other but barely mask their hatred for one another. John knows the noose is getting tighter and fears that Danny will take matters into his own hands if he doesn't stop him first. Worse, Danny make seek to avenge his brother's murder by making Ben and Kate his victims. The only element of the film I found somewhat disappointing is the final scene which has sense of irony about it but doesn't quite deliver the payoff I had hoped for. Nonetheless, "Uncle John" is a real winner in every respect. If you enjoy Hitchcock thrillers, give this one a try. In fact, the film reminded me of Hitchcock in the sense that the Master always tried to show just how difficult it is to kill a human being and dispose of a body. In "The Trouble With Harry", the titular corpse keeps popping up around town to the dismay of the locals. In the kitchen murder sequence of "Torn Curtain" we see exactly how ill-equipped an everyday person is to kill someone else. "Uncle John" explores this territory by showing us the pain, tension and aggrevation John must endure to cover-up his misdeed.
The sheer intelligence of the screenplay of "Uncle John" is what impressed me the most. The film doesn't rely on violence or gruesome scenes of bloodletting. Instead we get realistic characters talking in a realistic manner. Uncle John is one of those complex characters we've seen in films of this type before. On the surface he is the villain who has committed a deplorable deed. However, you end up inadvertently admiring his creativity and resolve in avoiding being detected as a murderer. He is played with enormous skill by character actor John Ashton, who finally gets a well-deserved starring role. Ashton's performance is award worthy, as he captures the essence of a very complex character and makes him sympathetic even though we can't condone what he has done. He is the consummate professional, bringing both pathos and cringe-inducing murderous instincts to his portrayal. He's matched by equally excellent performances by Alex Moffatt, Jenna Lyng and Ronnie Gene Blevins, all of whom should have promising futures in the film industry. The same goes for Steven Piet, whose debut as director is rather remarkable. He has a real eye for how to set up a scene and milk it for all its worth. I should mention that the casting of the film is outstanding. Even the smallest role is expertly played. Kudos to cinematographer Mike Bove, who does wonders with lighting elements that add immeasurably to the foreboding atmosphere. There is also a fine musical score by Adam Robbi and Shawn Sutta.
The Kino Lorber DVD includes a montage of scenes from the film set to the soundtrack music, a teaser trailer, original trailer and a rather clever interview with the filmmakers conducted by their own moms. In it, they discuss the trials and tribulations of making films such as these on micro-budgets. They may not have made much money from this project but it's far superior to most of the over-produced, overly-costly mainstream fare churned out by the major studios.
“Barquero”(1970) stars Lee Van Cleef as Travis, an
ex-gunslinger living a quiet life as the owner/operator of a barge that is the
only way to cross the river at a certain spot between Texas and Mexico. When we
first see him he’s in bed with Nola (Marie Gomez), a hot looking Mexican chick
who likes to suck on cigarillos. Everything’s fine until the creepy Fair (John
Davis Chandler) shows up at his doorstep leering down at the naked Nola and
says he and two men with him want to go across the water to Texas. Travis
doesn’t like the way he’s looking at Nola and tells him “A ride across the
river is all your money’s going to buy.” They get across and Fair pulls a gun
on him and tells his amigos to tie him up.
Meanwhile, in a town a few miles to the north Remy
(Warren Oates), leader of an outlaw gang, watches from the bedroom of a
whorehouse as his gang robs the bank and shoots up the entire town. Once
they’re done shooting everything full of holes they ride south, expecting the
barge to be ready to take them to Mexico. Only trouble is Travis has a friend
named Mountain Phil (Forrest Tucker in a show-stealing performance) who is
handy with a knife. He kills the two of the desperadoes and neutralizes Fair
with the help of some “tasty” fire ants. Once freed, Travis quickly rounds up a
bunch of squatters, including Anna (Mariette Hartley) and Nola and takes them
over to the Mexican side. Remy is pretty ticked when he gets to the river and
sees there’s no barge ready to help them flee to Mexico. It’s pretty much a
standoff for the next hour of the film as both sides try to get the upper hand.
Producer Aubrey Schenck intended to make “Barquero” a
combination of the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the bloody westerns
of Sam Peckinpah. He hired Van Cleef, who was a star of two Leone westerns Oates, a member of Peckinpah’s
regular stock company, for the lead roles. He had a script by George Schenck
and William Marks that had a fairly strong premise. The idea was to set up the
clash between Van Cleef and Oates and let it explode.
It succeeds as far as it goes, but could have been much
better. Schenck originally hired TV director Robert Sparr to helm “Barquero”
but Sparr was killed in a helicopter crash scouting location in Colorado and
the job went to veteran director Gordon Douglas (“Them!” “Rio Conchos”). You
can see the Leone influence, especially when Remy starts cracking up and begins
smoking some loco weed, reminiscent of Indio (Gian Marie Volante) in “For a Few
Dollars More.” The bank robbery scene that opens the film is imitation
Peckinpah, complete with an astronomical bullet count. But it’s obvious Douglas,
capable though he was, lacked the crazed inspiration of either Peckinpah or
Leone. You would really need an inspired mad man to make “Barquero” work and Douglas
just wasn’t crazy enough. “Barquero” is
something of a misfire rather than the cult classic it could have been. Nevertheless,
it’s a treat to see two of the baddest badasses together for the one and only
time in their careers, and if you take it for what it is, it’s a wild ride.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray presents “Barquero” in its 1.85:1
theatrical aspect ratio. The picture is crisp and clear, with good color. Some
film elements are more worn that others, but overall it’s in good shape. The
only extra is trailer. Kino Lorber
deserves to be commended for the way it’s releasing these terrific
looking-Blu-Ray transfers of hard-to-find-movies like “Barquero,” especially at
a time when most of the market is heading away from actual physical discs to
on-line streaming. I hope they keep them coming.
“Kill or Be Killed” (2015) aka “Red on Yella, Kill a
Fella,” is a low budget horror-western released on DVD by RLJ Entertainment
that also attempts to be a tribute to the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s
and Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch.” The plot is about a gang of outlaws in
the year 1900 traveling 500 miles through Texas to get to a stash of gold
that’s hidden at the bottom of a well in the sand dunes of Galveston Beach. The
group is hounded on their journey by a mysterious being and one by one the gang
members get picked off.
Like Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch these outlaws are a motley
crew. Their leader, Claude “Sweet Tooth” Barbee, played by co-writer/director
Justin Meeks, is very loosely based on real-life outlaw Sam Bass. As Meeks
portrays him, Barbee is a man obsessed with recovering the hidden loot from a
previous robbery. He’ll stop at nothing
to get it. He’s abetted by a gang of cutthroats capable of anything, and he’s
willing to overlook their bloody crimes if it will help him get to the gold. He’s
even willing to go as far as looking the other way when one of his men, a
hulking brute called Blocky (Gregory Kelly), brutally rapes and murders a girl
in her early teens.
Meeks explains in the DVD’s audio commentary that Barbee
needs Blocky’s muscle, so he’ll overlook what he did. But it turns out he’s
even willing to go farther than that. When the girl’s father pulls a shotgun on
Blocky to give him his just desserts, Barbee shoots the father in the head. Meeks
points out however, that as bad as that seems, Barbee, at least, has a line he
won’t cross. He doesn’t allow the girl’s mother and little brother to be killed.
Well, I guess...
Meeks and his co-writer/director Duane Graves, came up
with a script that tries to outdo the violence and sadism of the films that
inspired it. They set out to show bad men being bad and paying for it all in
the end. The addition of the horror element provides for a little extra gore. As
far as it goes, it’s not a bad premise for a movie. But the question is how far
across the line can you let your characters go before they become so
reprehensible that the audience cannot relate to them? Peckinpah’s bunch were
men on the wrong side of the law, but he gave them a sense of honor. They were
bad but not as bad as the posse of degenerates pursuing them, or Mapache, the
bandit chief they rob a train for. Barbee and his men, on the other hand, are
on a level even lower than that.
In another scene that comes out of nowhere, our
anti-heroes try to rob a black man (whom Barbee calls “Jimmy”) with a wagon of
furs, but when they find out he has no money, Barbee tells his men to get a
rope and “put his boots in the trees.” Smells like a lynching to me. But who can tell? The scene ends with one of
the gang coming toward the man with about three feet of rope in his hands. How
do you hang somebody with three feet of rope? Were they just going to tie him
up? I went to the audio commentary hoping the filmmakers would shed some light
on what was going on and why they included such an unnecessary and repugnant scene
in the first place. But instead all they discussed was how much they spent on
the props, including a gold coin they bought on eBay. It’s just one example of
the confused direction and writing in this film.
Meeks and Graves also seem to be fond of throwing red
herrings at the audience. As the members of the gang are killed one by one in mysterious
ways, there are scenes involving a giant savage with flaming eyes, which we’re
told in the commentary, is some kind of Viking who appeared in one of their
earlier shorts. Exactly why he’s in this film isn’t explained. He only appears
in Barbee’s dreams, but how can a dream image manage to slit at least one
character’s throat while he’s sleeping? Turns out he didn’t. The explanation of
who the real killer is pretty fantastic. Like really unbelievable, man.
The cast is full of indie movie players including Michael
Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Edwin Neal (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre),
Arianne Martin (Don’t Look in the Basement 2), Luce Rains (No Country for Old
Men) and Paul McCarthy-Boyington (The Human Race). Veteran character actor Pepe
Serna (Black Dahlia) is credited with being one of the producers and also has a
part in the picture. He plays a man named Rudy Goebel who, with his wife and
son or sons (not immediately clear), runs a ramshackle boarding house. We find
him drugging his latest boarder and then shooting him in the head when he
suspects his soup has been doped. When his hysterical wife asks him how long he
can keep doing this, he smashes her head on the wooden table top several times,
killing her, and throws her, the boarder, and one son into a root cellar. What
the hell? I don’t know. You explain it to me. There are a lot of unexplained
things in “Kill or Be Killed.”
Near the end of the DVD audio commentary Meeks remarks
that it’s always “good to leave a few questions unanswered at the end of a
film, just enough so if you watch maybe a second of third time it might link
some of the gaps.” It’s too bad Meeks and Graves didn’t take the trouble to
fill in the gaps themselves. If they had, and if they had written a script that
had some sort of morality to it, “Kill or Be Killed” might have been an
impressive entry in the weird west sub-genre category. But this is the 21st
century and in the world of indie films anyone with a camera can throw anything
they want up on the screen and call it a movie. As it is, it’s a somewhat pathetic example of
ambitious indie film making swinging for the bleachers and coming up with a
foul to left field.
The RLJ Entertainment DVD presents “Kill or Be Killed” in
a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which does justice to Brandon Torres’
cinematography. He captures some nice views of the West Texas country. The
soundtrack by John Constant is imitation Ennio Morricone, but has some merits
of its own. The disc contains the usual
extras, including audio commentary, interviews and deleted scenes. I’m sure
there is some sort of audience for films like this. The gore and horror
reviewers on the web seemed to like it. It’s definitely not for everyone.
teenage boys discover a gunshot outlaw and nurse him back to health in “The
Spikes Gang,” a 1974 western directed by Richard Fleischer available for the
first time on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Lee Marvin plays Harry Spikes, an outlaw
who inspires Gary Grimes, Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith to join him as
outlaws. Harry is calm, cool and calculating, endearing himself to the boys who
have romanticized his life as an outlaw.
(Grimes), Les (Howard) and Tod (Smith) are farm boys seeking excitement and
adventure and find it in Harry who recovers from his wounds with the boy’s help.
The three boys are bored with the farm life as well as the harsh treatment they
receive from their parents. Harry offers the boys a reward for helping him, but
they turn him down instead asking to join Harry who declines their offer. The
boys, determined to get away from their life as farmers, depart on what they
believe will be a life as successful outlaws. They attempt a bank robbery in
the first town they arrive, but things go terribly wrong as they end up killing
wanted outlaws with no money or food, the boys flee to Mexico where they find menial
work cleaning and washing dishes. Life on the run is dusty, dirty and bleak and
the boys bump into Harry who takes pity on the boys who want to join him. He
feeds them, buys them new clothes, gives them money and says goodbye. The boys press
their request and Harry relents. He puts them through a sort of outlaw training
camp and is impressed with the boys shooting skills and ability to follow
instructions. When they ask Harry if they will rob the town’s bank, he states
that his money is in that bank. They plan their robbery across the border back
in the U.S. However, tragedy intervenes, leading to unexpected deaths and Will’s
confrontation with Harry, the man he had idolized.
Howard and Tod are very good as the misguided boys seeking adventure only to
find death and betrayal. They give performances full of hope for the adventure
that never happens in this gritty and realistic western. Lee Marvin is very
likable and easy going as Harry Spikes and although I wanted the boys to find
adventure with him, he’s like a scorpion. His true nature as a ruthless outlaw
is what drives him, not loyalty, friendship. or helping three farm boys find
their vision as romantic outlaws. The boys want a safe adventure with money and
success, but that only happens in the dime novels and newspaper stories they
on the novel “The Bank Robbers” by Giles Tippette, the screenplay was written by
Irvin Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. who
collaborated on several movies together including “The Long, Hot Summer,”
“Hud,” “Hombre,” “The Reivers,” “The Cowboys,” “The Carey Treatment,” “Conrack”
and “Norma Rae.” The story reminded me a bit of “The Cowboys,” if only because
of the surface similarity in both stories of an experienced man leading boys to
become men. In this case the wrong kind of man.
music by Fred Karlin is familiar as it resembles a few of the cues from his
work on “Westworld” which was released the year before in 1973. The score
doesn’t quite work in this movie and is a little too cheerful. What does work
is the cinematography by Brian West, emphasizing the bleak dusty landscapes as
he did in the Australian classic “Wake in Fright.” Richard Flescher’s direction
is top notch, emphasizing Harry’s charm and charisma with a brilliant
performance by Lee Marvin.
United Artist release was co-produced by Walter Mirisch and also features Arthur
Hunnicutt and Noah Beery Jr. There’s also a credited performance by Robert
Beatty (Carnaby in “Where Eagles Dare”) as the sheriff, but his scenes were
obviously deleted from the final cut, a not uncommon occurrence that actors
have to face. The picture looks good and plays very well on the small screen,
clocking in at a brisk 96 minutes. The only bonus feature on the disc is the
trailer for this and two other movies. Whether you’re a fan of Lee Marvin,
Richard Fleischer or revisionist 1970s westerns, this movie is well worth a look.
In 1976 Frank Sinatra hosted a CBS television special: "An All-Star Party for John Wayne". Among the guests was Charles Bronson, a man who made few public appearances and made even fewer speeches. Here he pays sentimental tribute to Wayne, who surprisingly he had never met until that evening.
Ed Mason, who ran the film fairs at Westminster Central
Hall for over 18 years has suddenly died, leaving behind him an enormous legacy
with the film fairs and the shop he had on King’s Road in London for a great
Being part of the film fairs since they started
back in September 1973, he was responsible for introducing the now-highly
collectable Belgian posters with their great art work to the UK, and kept the
world of original film memorabilia going all through his life. Ed was also responsible
for bringing over the best poster and stills dealers from Europe and America to
his London collector fairs, which also influenced the opening of many cinema shops
both in London and around the country.
In the late 1980’s and early 90’s Ed Mason
organised the first public autograph signings at Westminster, where Caroline
Munro , Ingrid Pitt and Suzanna Leigh
did their first autograph events. Others, like Dave Prowse , Michael Ripper and
Shirley Anne Field followed.
The legacy left by Ed Mason is carried on by Thomas
Bowington at Westminster, with the London Film Convention six times a year, with
it’s themed shows and annual “ Hammer Horror Film Day “, The James Bond and
Carry On specials among them. Caroline Munro , Dave Prowse and Shirley Anne
Field still attend the shows and are as popular at Westminster as they were
over 20 years ago, with many of the legendary dealers such as Martin and Philip
Masheter and Al Reuter still in attendance.
Ed Mason’s knowledge about all things film and film
memorabilia had few, if no equals. To
those who knew him he was always a most fair, reliable, kind and helpful man.
The best and most supportive of friends, a mentor, and almost a father figure
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of Richard Lester's zany 1967 military comedy How I Won the War. The film has long elicited debates among those who consider it a scathing and witty denouncement of militarism and those who dismiss it as a pretentious train wreck of a movie. Count this writer among the latter. The film plays like an extended Monty Python sketch - with all the energy and talent, but none of the laughs. To be fair, one must take the movie into the context of the era in which it was released. Shot in 1966, the movie is seen by many as a protest against the increasing U.S. military presence in Vietnam. Although the anti-war movie didn't get into full gear until 1968, this premise is not unfounded because one of the characters makes a blatant reference to Vietnam by name. Set in WWII, the film follows the misadventures of a small unit of British soldiers stationed in North Africa. The central target of screenwriter Charles Wood, writing from a far more traditional novel by Patrick Ryan, is that the common soldier is used as cannon fodder for elitest, unqualified officers, who are uniformly presented here as ignorant dilettantes. This notion is personified by the character of Lt. Goodbody (Michael Crawford), a young man of privilege who seems blatantly jubilant about the prospect of heading into war. His ludicrous optimism makes him blind to the fact that he is hated by his own men.
The film is basically a well-photographed, but emotionally uninvolving series of juvenile gags and slapstick humor. Unlike films like M*A*S*H and Catch-22, How I Won the War suffers from being completely surrealistic on every level, thus removing the audience from any real empathy with the characters. Goodbody talks directly to the audience, soldiers appear inexplicably in bizarre costumes and props appear out of nowhere to help set up a joke. The dialogue is so rapid-fire and spoken with such thick British accents that I could barely understand a word - and I've spent a good deal of my life traveling around England. Director Lester, whose lesser works I've often defended, squanders an excellent cast that includes Roy Kinnear, Michael Hordern and John Lennon, whose appearance here represents his only work in a non-Beatles film. That pop culture footnote actually makes more of his appearance than is merited. Although he acquits himself very well, Lennon does not have any stand-out scenes and his role could have been played by virtually any other actor.
The confusing story line, such as it is, follows the platoon from North Africa to Europe. Though at one point it implies they are part of Montgomery's disastrous invasion of Holland, the platoon suddenly appears near the Remagen Bridge in Germany. The latter part of the film plays better because Lester includes some semi-realistic battle scenes that are actually quite exciting. There is also an interesting sub-plot involving Goodbody being captured by the enemy and making friends with a German officer who is equally immune to the horrors of war. However, these factors are bit "too little, too late" to salvage the overall movie. One of the reasons the film didn't resonate with audiences at the time is likely because the British public could hardly relate to WWII as one of those useless, unnecessary conflicts. While it is true that Britain's involvement in the war was one of choice, the price of staying out of it would have meant the country would have existed only as a lapdog for a Europe completely dominated by National Socialism. Thus, using "The Good War" as a metaphor for a more controversial conflict such as Vietnam seems somewhat ill-advised in retrospect. Robert Altman's M*A*S*H succeeded using the Korean War as a backdrop because it was a situation the average person never adequately understood or supported and it made for a more direct comparison to Vietnam.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is most welcome but that doesn't mitigate the fact that this particular film is definitely for Lennon and Lester purists only.
Time has issued a new Blu-ray edition of Fritz Lang's classic 1953 film noirThe
Big Heatas a
limited edition (3,000 units). The movie ranks among the top films in the noir
genre and time has only increased its appeal. Glenn Ford is Dave Bannion, a
dedicated police detective who begins to suspect that the apparent suicide of a
fellow cop might be linked to department-wide corruption. His hunch proves
correct as it becomes evident that virtually the entire police department,
right up to the commissioner, is controlled by local crime kingpin Mike Lagana
(Alexander Scourby). When Bannion receives warnings to lay off the
investigation, he ignores them and continues to pursue leads. Before long, not
only he but his beloved wife (Jocelyn Brando) and daughter are targeted for
death. Lang's penchant for creating a dark, foreboding atmosphere is on display
here. Most of the scenes are interiors or dank, dangerous locations. The film's
central plot is mesmerizing from the shocking opening frames. As a leading man,
Ford could usually be described as handsome, affable and reliable but
"dynamic" would hardly be associated with his screen persona. InThe
Ford gives what is arguably the best performance of his career. As the
gangsters take their toll on him, he becomes a man obsessed, menacing men and
women alike. His only ally is Debby Marsh (wonderfully played by Gloria
Grahame), a ditzy but lovable gun moll who suffers terribly from her attempts
to aid Bannion. Director Lang brings real pathos to the proceedings. Bannion is
the ultimate family man-- and he has a sexually playful relationship with his
wife, something refreshing for a film from this period. When his wife and kid
are menaced, Bannion's rage brings him to the brink of committing murder
himself. Supporting characters are tortured, scalded, and even children are
many memorable scenes in the film and most feature an impressive array of
terrific supporting actors including Lee Marvin outstanding as a charismatic,
but vicious thug who squares off with Bannion in the action-packed finale. Lang
loved his adopted country, America, ever since he had fled Nazi Germany rather
than serve as one of their propagandists. However, he was always dismayed by
instances of injustice and often reflected these concerns in his films.The
well have been the most daring expose of police corruption seen in any film
until that time. The film remains a mini-masterpiece of its kind and all retro
movie buffs should have it in their movie libraries.
Twilight Time Blu-ray presents a terrific transfer that does full justice to
the outstanding camerawork of Charles Lang. The package includes the usual
informative collector's booklet written by Julie Kirgo, but don't read it
before watching the film as it is filled with spoilers. New features include on-screen separate interviews with director Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann, who both provide valuable insights into why they consider this to be one of the greatest of film noirs. An original trailer is also included.
Occasionally we at Cinema Retro like to demonstrate that our interest in films doesn't end in the era when scripts had the fingerprints of Steve McQueen or Henry Fonda on them. Regular readers know that we try to promote worthy independent films by up-and-coming directors. Case in point: "The Heart Machine", an intriguing mystery that marks the feature film debut of director/screenwriter Zachary Wigon. His film, originally released in 2014, is now available on DVD from Kino Lorber, a company that also tries to expand awareness of worthy indie films. The movie grabs you within the first few minutes, a necessary ingredient for any mystery. Cody (John Gallagher Jr.) is a 29 year-old, average guy who makes a modest living as a freelance writer. He lives in Brooklyn, which is now the center of the universe for hipsters. When we first see him he's engaging in a Skype video chat with Virginia (Kate Lyn Shiel), an attractive young woman his own age who resides in the same neighborhood he does. The two make small talk and it seems they are in a committed relationship and that she is on a trip to Germany. We soon learn that they have actually never met although they consider themselves to be boyfriend/girlfriend. Virginia is ostensibly studying for six months at an institute in Berlin. Their flirtatious remarks inevitably lead to some graphic phone/video sex via Skype. (Thus demonstrating an unintended benefit of the advances in technology). Cody is clearly not only smitten but madly in love with Virginia and they talk about their impatience at having to wait months before finally meeting in person. However, some disturbing suspicions enter Cody's mind. They begin when he hears an ambulance siren in the background on Virginia's Skype feed. He has recorded the chat and goes back to research what German ambulance sirens sound like (the wonders of Google!). He's even more disturbed to find that they sound nothing like what he has heard in his chat session with Virginia. The next day he is on a subway train to Manhattan and sees a young woman sitting opposite him who is an exact ringer for Virginia. She doesn't make eye contact with him but when he later mentions that he's seen her virtual twin on a train, Virginia acts a bit uncomfortable. Cody begins to suspect that the woman he saw was indeed Virginia and from here the plot segues into a Gen X version of "Vertigo". Cody becomes increasingly determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. If Virginia isn't in Germany, what is her motive for carrying out his elaborate hoax?
In his conversations with Virginia he maintains that everything is normal. However, when he throws out a couple of phrases in German and tells her he is studying the language she becomes inexplicably angry. Cody then begins an odyssey to try to prove that, like Sheila Levine, she is indeed alive and well and living in New York. He becomes an amateur detective and uses his skills with social media to track her movements through old Facebook posts. He becomes obsessed with his quest and begins to frequent places she might have visited, hoping to find people who know her. (The film is certainly a cautionary tale reminding us that the price we pay for technology is an almot complete loss of privacy.) The story builds in suspense because the viewer doesn't know any more than Cody does at one particular time. However, Zachary Wigon, the screenwriter, does a disservice to Zachary Wigon, the director by tipping us off way too early regarding a key plot point. It certainly doesn't entirely ruin the sense of suspense but it surely diminishes it. Alfred Hitchcock made the same mistake with "Vertigo", at least in this writer's opinion, by letting us in on the fact that the woman who is the exact double of his former lover is indeed the same woman. I always thought that it would have been more effective for the script to hold that relevation until a bit later in the story. Nevertheless, if Hitchcock could make such a misstep, one can hardly blame novice filmmaker Wigon for doing the same. The problem with reviewing mysteries is that the reviewer must tread carefully so as to not reveal too much. "The Heart Machine" can't actually be termed a thriller. At no time is anyone is any real danger, but Zigon shows an admirable skill for generating legitimate suspense from seemingly nondescript situations. When Cody gains entrance to a young woman's apartment by feigning interest in her, his real quest is to confirm that she is a friend of Virginia's. When she goes to another room, Cody accesses her laptop and begins to scroll through her personal messages. The sequence is especially intense in terms of being nerve-wracking for both him and the viewer. Zigon also has the knack for capitalizing on the New York locations, thus giving the movie an air of authenticity. Rob Leitzell's stylish cinematography aids immeasurably. Best of all are the performances. John Gallagher Jr. is gives a finely-tuned performance an everyday guy caught up in an extraordinary quest caused by his increasing obsession with a desirable woman (much like James Stewart in "Vertigo"). Gallagher is so good, in fact, that he loses himself completely in his character. His performance is quite remarkable. Although we see the object of his desire, Virginia, primarily through video chat screens, Kate Lyn Sheil is every bit his equal. She manages to be alluring, innocent and yet somehow foreboding all at the same time. You can well understand why Cody becomes obsessed with her. The supporting cast is peppered with fine performances from some very impressive young actors. The movie's conclusion and the resolution of Cody's quest is a bit unsatisfying in its ambiguity. Nevertheless, as both director and screenwriter, Zachary Wigon displays a great deal of promise. Here's hoping that in the "dog eat dog" world of indie filmmaking, he gets his chance to capitalize on that promise. I, for one, am very much looking forward to his future work.
The Kino Lorber DVD has an excellent transfer and a brief trailer. Here's hoping they will one day issue a Blu-ray release with commentary track.
It was forty years ago today that director Alan J. Pakula's landmark ode to journalism, "All the President's Men", opened in movie theaters. It was, of course, based on the best-selling book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose dogged investigation of a seemingly trivial break-in of Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern's campaign HQ would turn the story into an international thriller that would ultimately bring down what Bernstein has called "the criminal" administration of President Richard M. Nixon. As with most scandals, the break-in itself was just the tip of the iceberg. By the time Nixon's embattled Presidency was over in August 1974, even Republicans had been calling for his head. Nixon was determined to face impeachment hearings. It fell to that symbol of conservatism, Sen. Barry Goldwater, to inform the President that the scope of the crimes committed during his administration would not be condoned by members of his own party: he had to resign because recent revelations about the cover-up convinced his fellow Republicans that they could no longer give him any benefit of a doubt. Nixon did resign, ending his political career in disgrace just shy of two years since enjoying the greatest landslide re-election in American history. (Ultimately, dozens of his adminstration members would go to jail, some for crimes unrelated to Watergate. In the midst of the scandal, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after pleasing "no contest" to charges he had been accepting bribes that were delivered directly to his office in the White House.) Pakula's film version of the Watergate investigation was released just two years after these dramatic events had occurred and they were very fresh in the minds of the public. In a new article for The Washington Post, writer Michael Cavna extols the importance of the film and interviews Woodward and Bernstein about their impressions of the movie. He also justly cites the role of cinematographer Gordon Willis in bringing to life one of the greatest suspense stories of our time. - Lee Pfeiffer
Drew was a pioneer who changed the way we think about the documentary film. As
first a writer/editor at Life Magazine
in the 1950s, and then the head of a unit that produced short documentaries for
Time Inc., Drew knew how to tell a story visually. When he formed his own
company, Robert Drew & Associates, he was the guiding force for other
talented (and later, more well-known) filmmakers such as D. A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back, Monterey Pop), Albert
and David Maysles (Gimme Shelter),
and Richard Leacock, among others. Together they invented a novel way to
present a documentary film, something historians coined “direct cinema.”
had previously been scripted, usually shot to order, and more often than not,
were textbook dull. Drew and his colleagues developed the you-are-there style
of following subjects around as they did their business, capturing significant moments
as they occurred. Like today’s reality television.
team’s work featuring President John F. Kennedy in the early 60s was especially
influential and lauded with international film and journalism awards, and much
critical acclaim. The Criterion Collection’s new release features four of these
short films and an abundance of supplements.
up, the most well-known title, Primary
(1960). This was made during the Wisconsin primary race between Kennedy and
rival Hubert Humphrey for the Democratic nomination. Cameras follow both
candidates around the state as they campaign in various halls and meeting
places. Both Kennedy and Humphrey agreed to the project, of course, for they
and their staff are exemplary at ignoring the cameras and pretending the
filmmakers aren’t there. Surprisingly, there is no self-consciousness on the
part of the subjects. Besides the historical significance of seeing a young
presidential hopeful—whom we know will be dead within four years—it is striking
to see how differently a primary race was handled in 1960 as opposed to today.
Adventures on the New
(1961) captures a day in the life of the president, filmed around a month after
Kennedy took office. We see how his day begins, who his close assistants in the
White House are, how meetings are handled, and how he makes some tough
decisions. The cameras also then follow the various men to whom the president
has given orders, and we see how those missions are carried out. Most of the
day’s concerns regard an airline strike and conflicts in Africa. At one point,
JFK has to take a break in his busy schedule to sign a bunch of photographs—for
his sister’s family.
Crisis (1963) is the most engaging
film because it’s the most dramatic. There are cameras not only in the White
House, but in Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s home and office, and the
residence and office of Alabama Governor George Wallace... during a tense time
in the history of the civil rights movement. Wallace is attempting to block two
black students’ entry into the University of Alabama (even though the students,
Vivian Malone and James Hood, had already been accepted by the school). A
Federal court order has been issued to allow the students to attend, and
Wallace is ready to stand fast. Will the National Guard be called out? Will the
Feds have to arrest a standing governor? We now know, of course, who was on the
right side, but watching the drama unfold in real time is fascinating. It’s
also a kick to see that everyone is
smoking—cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos... The clothing, furnishings, and
automobiles truly capture those same years featured in Mad Men.
Faces of November (1963) is a very
short montage of images from Kennedy’s state funeral, more of a poetic silent
movie than a documentary. Again, recognizing the young faces of Jacqui, Bobby
Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Peter Lawford, and even JFK’s children, is a remarkable
first three films are fifty-three minutes each, the fourth only twelve. There
is also an alternate twenty-six minute cut of Primary, edited by Richard Leacock. No director is credited on any
of the pictures—only cameramen, editors, and other technicians. The Blu-ray
features new 2K digital restorations of all five documentaries.
include an audio commentary on Primary
with excerpts from a 1961 conversation between Drew, Leacock, Pennebaker, and
film critic Gideon Bachmann. Robert Drew
in His Own Words is a new documentary with archival footage of the man at
work; there’s a new conversation between Pennebaker and Jill Drew, Drew’s
daughter-in-law and general manager of Drew & Associates today; Outtakes from Crisis is just that,
discussed by historian Andrew Cohen, author of Two Days in June; particularly interesting is an
interview/discussion with former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and Sharon
Malone (Holder’s wife and sister of Vivian Malone, one of the students featured
in Crisis); an interview with Richard
Reeves, author of President Kennedy:
Profile of Power, in which he points out the disparities between the worlds
of Washington D.C. then and today; and footage from a 1998 event at the Museum
of Tolerance in Los Angeles, featuring Drew, Pennebaker, Leacock, and Albert
Maysles. An essay by documentary film curator and writer Thom Powers appears in
The Kennedy Films of
Robert Drew & Associates is a spellbinding look into the past with a
microscope on one of our country’s most charismatic and eloquent presidents. The
films provoke a sobering speculation of what the world’s history might have been
like had the events of November 22, 1963 not occurred.
has released John Frankenheimer’s “The Holcroft Covenant” (1985) in new Blu-ray
and DVD editions, superseding a previous DVD release on the MGM label in
1999. Frankenheimer fans will be
pleased to see this relatively obscure title available in remastered Hi-Def. Privately, even they may have to admit that
it’s deservedly obscure because it’s a clunker, marking a sad decline from the
excellence of “The Manchurian Candidate” two decades before. With that 1962 masterpiece, Frankenheimer and
scenarist George Axelrod benefited from superlative source material, Richard Condon’s
razor-sharp Cold War political thriller. “The Holcroft Covenant” was adapted from lesser stuff, a bestselling but
stumble-footed 1972 suspense novel by Robert Ludlum. Multiple screenwriters are credited: George
Axelrod, Edward Anhalt, and John Hawkins. The problems with the movie suggest a combination of Ludlum’s lame
storytelling to begin with, additional troubles in trying to turn the rambling,
528-page potboiler into a leaner, 100-minute-long movie, and questionable
choices by Frankenheimer himself.
Holcroft, a German-born New York architect, learns that he is the main trustee
of a covenant drawn up 40 years before, in the last hours of the Third Reich,
by three officers of the Nazi High Command. One of the officers, General Clausen, was Holcroft’s father. Once it’s signed by Holcroft and the children
of the other two officers, the covenant will release $4.5 billion from a secret
Swiss account, a fortune accrued over four decades from Nazi funds diverted by
the three officers during the war. Clausen’s posthumous directive specifies that the trustees are to spend
the fund for beneficent purposes, to atone for Hitler’s atrocities. Holcroft must locate the other trustees --
the son and daughter of General Tiebolt and the son of General Kessler -- so
that the covenant can be activated. His
mother Athene (Lilli Palmer), who had fled Clausen and Germany early in the
war, cautions Holcroft to walk away from the arrangement because his father
couldn’t be trusted and neither can the directive: “He was a Nazi through and
through.” But Holcroft idealistically
proceeds anyway, joining in Berlin with the Tiebolt brother and sister, who
have taken the name Tennyson, and the Kessler son, a symphony conductor now
calling himself Maas. Mysterious characters
enter the story in Zurich, New York, London, Berlin, and finally Zurich again,
seemingly intent on derailing the covenant, as bodies begin to pile up around
I mention that Holcroft is played by Michael Caine, because, well, if you need
an actor to play a German-born New Yorker, you want Michael Caine? As Frankenheimer notes in a director’s
commentary track repeated from the 1999 DVD, the “New York” scenes in the film
were actually shot in London, so why not simply transfer the phony U.S. setting
to the U.K., ignore the character’s New York upbringing from the novel, and
make him a German-born Londoner to match Caine’s accent? Reportedly, Caine was a last-minute
replacement for James Caan, who walked off the movie, so Frankenheimer may not
have had time even for minor script adjustments. A good trouper, Caine honestly appears to
invest a lot of energy in the part, accent aside. But it hardly matters because Holcroft is a
dolt who does anything he’s asked to do without a second thought, no matter how
inconvenient, nonsensical, or dangerous. Drop everything and fly to Zurich at the behest of a total stranger who
claims to be a representative from an international bank? Wouldn’t you? Hop over to London at the request of another total stranger and agree to
meet yet a third stranger in Trafalgar Square at 5 p.m. tomorrow? (“And don’t
look for him. He’ll find you.”) Sure, why not. Rendezvous at a church with a mysterious
woman in a bad disguise, and then hide out with her in a sleazy Berlin brothel
to avoid the bad guys? I’m on it.
of the Berlin brothel, Frankenheimer clutters several scenes with unnecessarily
eccentric background details. The
brothel business leads to a chase in and out of a nighttime street festival of
prostitutes and cross-dressers. In his
commentary, Frankenheimer says he wanted to use the brothel and the street
festival, which provide an excuse for some unattractive, R-rated nudity, to
evoke classic novels and films about the decadent Berlin of the 1930s. Instead of distracting the viewer so you’re
less likely to notice that the scene itself makes little sense, the clutter
only underscores the absurdity. When Holcroft first meets his fellow heir Maas
(Mario Adorf), Maas is conducting a symphony rehearsal -- because,
Frankenheimer says, he always wanted to film a scene of a symphony orchestra
performing. Simpler would have been
better, had Frankenheimer merely told his actors hit their marks, deliver their
lines, and move on. It doesn‘t help that
Adorf is miscast as a conductor (physically, he looks about as much the part as
Jack Black or John Goodman would), and that most of the other actors are
undistinguished. Only Victoria Tennant
and Anthony Andrews emerge relatively unscathed, even though Andrews enters
with an unflattering mustache that seems
to be part of a disguise, except that he never gets rid of it. It took me a while to realize that, more than
likely, it was an attempt to make Andrews look older so that the age difference
between him (37) and Caine (52) would not be so obvious, since their characters
are supposed to be contemporaries.
story turns on a “surprise twist” about the real purpose of the covenant and
the real motives behind Andrews‘ and Tennant’s characters. I saw it coming about 20 minutes into the
picture, without even trying. Frankenheimer stages the climactic scene in Alfred Hitchcock fashion,
with Holcroft and the chief villain struggling over a revolver in a chaotic
crowd setting, in this case a press conference. There’s even a Hitchcockian
close-up of Caine’s hand clamped desperately over the cylinder of the gun to
keep it from turning, inter-cut with shots of the two men struggling and the
crowd surging around them in panic. It’s
the only scene in the film that comes even remotely close to the gripping
visual style of “The Manchurian Candidate.”
viewers (admittedly, not a likely audience demographic) may smile when the
characters marvel over the $4.5 billion in the covenant. It was probably an impressive sum in 1985 but
now it seems like pocket change next to Bill Gates’ $77.7 billion bank
account. I’m reminded of Dr. Evil’s
comment in one of the Austin Powers movies, “Why make trillions when we can
make . . . billions?” The bad guys‘
ulterior purpose for the $4.5 billion? “To consolidate every terrorist group in the world into one cohesive,
overwhelming force to create international crises and chaos . . . until the
world is reduced to a state of anarchy, ready to accept a strong new leader who
can restore order and take command.” Given the past 15 years’ experience of 9/11, the global economic
meltdown, unending catastrophe in the Middle East, the growing chasm between
the haves and have-nots in the United States, and the rancid tenor of the 2016
Presidential campaign primaries, reality has left Ludlum’s and Frankenheimer’s
pulp fantasy in the dust. Never mind a
neo-Nazi conspiracy. Our perfectly
legitimate financial, political, judicial, and military systems have brought us
nearly to the same end.
Kino-Lorber Blu-ray disc’s 1920x1080p image is less than pristine but
acceptable. In addition to the director’s alt-track commentary, there is a
trailer gallery and menu, but unfortunately no English captioning for the hard
of hearing.Given that any audience for
the film is likely to fall into the age range for which captioning is a welcome
bonus, this is an unfortunate omission.
Producer Mark Tinkler and director Henry Coleman are planning a 90 minute documentary titled "Zulu and the Zulus" that will trace the making of the classic British war movie from 1964, "Zulu". The film was produced by Cy Endfield and Stanley Baker. It was directed by Endfield and starred Baker, along with Jack Hawkins and up-and-coming Michael Caine, who would achieve stardom through this role. Tinkler and Coleman have unearthed 26 minutes of rare "behind the scenes" footage that will form the nucleus of the new documentary. The silent footage has been professionally restored to its original luster from the 16mm master. Tinkler and Coleman plan to visit the filming locations in Natal province, South Africa to shoot additional footage. To raise funds for the effort, they are sponsoring a "Zulu" night at the Cinema Museum in London. In addition to a screening of the original classic movie, they will also be showing attendees the restored 26 minute behind the scenes footage. There will also be an auction of film memorabilia. The event takes place on 16 June and tickets and more information can be had by clicking here.
Altman in the 1970s was a force to be reckoned with. Mostly his work displayed
unconventional experimentation with form, narrative, and especially sound—and
too often his stylistic choices failed to connect with a large, general
audience. The iconoclastic director made some truly great pictures (M*A*S*H, Nashville) and some eccentrically inventive ones (Brewster McCloud, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The
Long Goodbye, 3 Women, A Wedding). He was often hit-or-miss, and
certainly more on the miss side when he got into the 1980s. The 90s found
Altman back on stable footing with a couple of additional brilliant films (The Player, Short Cuts), and more misses.
was, and still am, a Robert Altman fan. I “got” what he was trying to do in his
ensemble pictures—the ones featuring a large cast and a loose, improvisational
storyline. However, in 1976, when Buffalo
Bill and the Indians was released, I was not impressed. I remember
intensely disliking the picture, especially after Nashville had been my favorite film of the previous year. I wrote
off Buffalo Bill as one of Altman’s
misses, and I never saw it again over the next forty years.
now viewed Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray release, I feel as if I’ve just seen a
completely different movie from what I remembered. Granted, Buffalo Bill is still not one of the
director’s classics—it assuredly belongs in the “miss” category (or rather, in
this case, a “misfire”)—but it is much more fascinating and entertaining than
it was for me in 1976.
by Arthur Kopit’s Broadway play Indians,
the film attempts to be a revisionist satire on show business, myths and
legends, and the Wild West itself. The opening titles proclaim it as “Robert
Altman’s Absolutely Unique and Heroic Enterprise of Inimitable Lustre!” Set in
the 1880s, Buffalo Bill focuses on
William F. Cody himself (wonderfully played by Paul Newman) and his “Wild West
(Show)” that toured the country and Europe, “re-enacting” famous Indian battles
and other historical events in front of an audience. It was the “Medieval
Times” of its day. The entire movie takes place at the arena where the company
aka Buffalo Bill, was a man whose exploits were turned into myths by
journalist/writer Ned Buntline (played in the film by Burt Lancaster), and he
has come to believe them. Egocentric to the nth degree, Cody rewrites history for
the benefit of showmanship. Newman is often hilarious in the role, but he gives
the character a disturbing layer of madness. His entire team—his producer (Joel
Grey), his nephew (Harvey Keitel), his publicist (Kevin McCarthy), and others
in the troop— treats him like royalty, and Cody won’t have it any other way.
things change when none other than Sitting Bull (Frank Kaquitts) is hired to be
a performer. The fearsome Sioux chief (who really did perform in Buffalo Bill’s
actual Wild West show for a few months) turns out to be a small, silent man who
speaks through his large, imposing interpreter (Will Sampson). Sitting Bull
eventually causes Cody to face the hard truths of his “lies.” By his insistence
on recreating history as it actually happened, Sitting Bull symbolizes the
plight of the Native Americans at the hands of the white conquerors.
stuff for a movie released in America’s bicentennial year.
performances are top notch, especially those of Newman, Grey, and Geraldine
Chaplin as Annie Oakley. (There are also fine cameos by Altman regulars Shelley
Duvall, Pat McCormick, John Considine, and Allan Nicholls.) The picture elicits
quite a few laughs throughout, and the overall look and feel of the piece is
dead on. What doesn’t work is the haphazard structure, the Ned Buntline
interludes, and the bizarre finale in which Sitting Bull comes back from the
dead to haunt Cody. It’s an acquired taste, something I apparently didn’t
achieve back in 1976 when I first saw the picture. I like to think I’m older
and wiser now, and therefore today the movie made more sense.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks all right, very colorful, if not pristinely restored.
The extras include a not-quite five minute behind-the-scenes featurette, the
teaser trailer, and the theatrical trailer.
new release is a purchase for Robert Altman and/or Paul Newman fans, and, if
you’re like me, someone who hasn’t seen the film since its original release. It
might be time to give Buffalo Bill and
the Indians a revisit.
One of seemingly dozens of Universal westerns
released in the 1960s and early ‘70s, ‘A Man Called Gannon’ is a remake of the
tough Kirk Douglas western ‘Man Without a Star’ (1955). Rather than using Dee
Linford’s novel of the same name as its source, the film uses the screenplay by
D.D. Beauchamp and Borden Chase from the 1955 version, with additional writing from
Gene R. Kearney. Tony Franciosa stars as Gannon, a drifting cowboy without a
horse. While riding the rails west by locomotive cattle car, he meets young
Easterner Jess Washburn (Michael Sarrazin). The pair end up working as cowhands
on the Cross Triangle ranch, where the tough old hand teaches the tenderfoot
from Philadelphia how to ride and shoot like a pro. They both become romantically involved with
the ranch’s owner, Beth Cross (Judi West), which causes friction, while Jess
also clashes with the ranch’s bullying ‘top hand’ Capper (John Anderson). The
open range is being fenced in by the cattlemen and with the arrival of a
massive consignment of barbed wire, Gannon and Jess end up facing each other on
opposite sides of the fence.
It’s unfair to compare the film to ‘Man
Without a Star’, which benefits from Frankie Laine’s snappy title song and a
cast filled with memorable, seasoned performers like Jeanne Crain (as rancher
Reed Bowman), William Campbell (as greenhorn Jeff Jimson), Richard Boone, Jay C.
Flippen, Mara Corday, Sheb Wooley, Paul Birch, Roy Barcroft and the great Jack
Elam. In ‘A Man Called Gannon’, Tony
Franciosa is good in the title role, as a drifter ‘ex of Texas’, aimlessly
wandering the range. Like Kirk Douglas’ Dempsey Rae, Gannon is tormented by his
bad experiences of barbed wire – his little brother Jim was killed when he was
caught on a fence in a cattle stampede – which allows Franciosa a grandstanding
‘drunken trauma’ scene. I like Franciosa. He was an agreeable screen presence
in everything from the Raquel Welch spy vehicle ‘Fathom’ (1967), to Dario
Argento’s bloody giallo ‘Tenebrae’ (1982). My favourite of his roles is the
wily cutthroat Rodriguez in the gunrunning western ‘Rio Conchos’ (1964) and you
can see why he was reputedly up for the role of Manolito in ‘The High
Chaparral’ TV show (he lost out to Henry Darrow).
There are some familiar faces in the ‘Gannon’
cast – such as Sarrazin, Anderson, James Westerfield and Gavin MacLeod – but otherwise
it’s not the best-known cast. Emmy-award-winning TV director James Goldstone
uses trippy overlaid double exposures for some scenes (in the manner of Peter
Fonda’s acid western ‘The Hired Hand’) and also rapid cross-cutting in moments
of tension, like a spaghetti western. According to Judi West, who played rancher
Beth Cross, Goldstone had her voice dubbed, even though she was an accomplished
actress who had numerous film, TV and theatre credits and had taught acting
classes. The jaunty cowboy title song ‘A Smile, a Mem’ry and an Extra Shirt’
was sung by Dave Grusin. The narrative ballad ‘commenting’ on Gannon’s
adventures is very 1950s in method, if folksy 1960s in style. Grusin also
worked on ‘The Graduate’ (1967) and wrote the narrative ballad ‘Code of the
West’ for the James Coburn comedy western ‘Waterhole #3’ (1967).
New to DVD in the UK is ‘Arabella’, an
Italian period comedy set in that hotbed of hilarity, pre-WWII fascist Italy. Virna
Lisi stars in the title role – known variously in the film as Arabella Danesi
and Arabella Angeli – who determines to save her grandmother from destitution
by finding ingenious ways to pay off her elderly relative’s crippling tax bill.
The film is structured rather like those
1960s Italian portmanteau comedy-dramas, such as ‘Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’,
‘The Witches’ or ‘Woman Times Seven’. Such films were intended as vehicles for
one female star, be they Sophia, Silvana or Shirley, to demonstrate their versatility
in a variety of roles. But instead of separate stories, with different
characters, ‘Arabella’ has one continuous story arc, with Lisi’s sexy heroine
adopting various costumes, personas and wigs to seduce and blackmail her way
through a string of lovers, who are then conned out of cash to pay off granny’s
debts. Some of her victims are played by
Terry-Thomas. It is he who gets to show off his comedy skills in a variety of
roles, though despite costume and make-up changes, they all resemble
Terry-Thomas – there’s no disguising that tooth gap. He plays a girdle-wearing,
monocled British general Sir Horace Gordon, an Italian hotel manager angered by
the installation of a public urinal in the street outside his swanky
establishment and the rich duke who hires Arabella to ‘cure’ his gay son
Saverio. Terry-Thomas and Lisi had
already worked together to great success on the Hollywood black comedy ‘How to
Murder Your Wife’ (1965) and he’s clearly enjoying himself here in the various
The cast of this Italian-UK co-production –
shot in Rome, Naples and Venice – is an interesting one. Margaret Rutherford
plays Arabella’s debt-ridden granny, Princess Ilaria, James Fox is Arabella’s mysterious,
louche shadow Giorgio, and Rutherford’s old partner Stringer Davis from the
big-screen 1960s Miss Marple films shows up in an amusing cameo as Ilaria’s
gardener, Nazzareno. Giancarlo Gianni played Saverio, who pretends to be gay,
so that his father continues to send in alluring women to try to ‘cure’ him. Familiar
Italian supporting players appear, too – Renato Romano played General Gordon’s
batman, Renato Chiantoni is one of the tax inspectors hassling Ilaria, Giuseppe
Addobbati is a hotel guest and Ugo
Fangareggi is a policeman.
‘Arabella’s disjointed, jumpy plotting bears
the signs of considerable cutting for international distribution and it
eventually falls to pieces as a movie – in exactly the same way so many very
good 1960s Italian films that have been edited and dubbed for international
audiences fall to bits. The film was released internationally by Universal
Pictures and its associate producer was Dario Argento’s father, Salvatore,
before he began producing his son’s legendary gialli thrillers. The big plusses
are the art direction (by Alberto Boccianti) and superb 1920s period costumes
by Piero Tosi (Visconti’s designer on ‘Death in Venice’ and ‘The Leopard’), so
visually the film is splendid. Of most interest to me was the chance to hear
one of Ennio Morricone’s many little-heard scores of this period. ‘Arabella’
was directed by Mauro Bolognini, whose dramas ‘He and She’ (1969 – ‘L’assoluto
naturale’), ‘Un bellissimo novembre’ (1969 – ‘That Splendid November’) and ‘Metello’
(1970) are all worth a look, or rather a listen, for their memorable Morricone
scores. Bolognini also directed the erotic period drama ‘La Venexiana’ (1986),
aka ‘The Venetian Woman’ starring Laura Antonelli and Jason Connery, which also
benefits from a lovely Morricone score. The maestro’s score here is a mixture of
lush period orchestrations and comedic, clockwork themes which resemble early
drafts of Morricone’s title cue to ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion’
(1970). The descending flute trill from ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ makes a brief
appearance, but in the main, this is a playful score, befitting the material, with
a lovely violin theme for the Venetian scenes towards the end of the movie.
The Region 2 DVD from Simply Media is
presented in 4:3 screen ratio, which looks cropped at the sides. This seems to
be the case, as the IMDB lists the aspect ratio as 1.85:1. The film was 105
minutes in Italy, but cut drastically to 88 minutes for US release. Simply
Media’s habit of printing the US running time in promotional material continues
here, as the UK DVD actually runs 84 minutes. The picture quality has nowhere near the sharpness and clarity of some
of Simply Media’s other releases – notably its Universal westerns such as ‘A
Man Called Gannon’ and ‘Calamity Jane and Sam Bass’. ‘Arabella’ is rated 12 (for
‘moderate sex references’).
For 1960s Commedia all’Italiana, Terry-Thomas
and Morricone completists this is worth a look, but others might find it hard
going. A definite curio however and a long-lost one at that.
Though this welcome Scream Factory issue marks the first
time Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971)
and The Dunwich Horror (1969) have
been made available on domestic Blu-ray, both films enjoyed a previous release
on DVD as part of MGM’s long-suspended “Midnite Movies” series. Rue
Morgue was first paired with Cry of
the Banshee (1970) in 2003, with Dunwich
and Die Monster Die! (1965) following
in 2005. Though both of these earlier sets
are now technically out-of-print, copies remain generally available. Regardless, the more discerning horror-film
aficionado would be well advised to seek out this new Blu edition. Not only does Scream Factory’s HD master
offer a significant upgrade in visual presentation, the studio has also
restored bits of censored footage missing from the Y2K releases.
H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Dunwich Horror was written in the summer of 1928 and first
published in the April 1929 issue of the appropriately titled Weird Tales magazine. It’s likely the best known of the celebrated author’s
horror tales, having been recollected and reissued throughout the 20th and 21st
century in any number of literary horror anthologies. Though A.I.P. and director Daniel Haller (a
well-tested art director on many previous films for the company) have taken a
number of liberties bringing Lovecraft’s original tale to the screen, the author’s
basic premise is mostly preserved.
Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) is the great-grandson of
Oliver Whateley. The elder Whateley was
a practitioner of the black arts who, two generations earlier, had been hanged for
his heresy by vigilantes in the otherwise sleepy village of Dunwich. The Whateley’s have long been a bane to the frightened
residents of the ocean-side community, shunned and ostracized as devil-worshippers. Technically, this is a misunderstanding as the
family worships neither God nor Satan. They spend most of their nights secluded in a creepy cliff-side home on an
otherwise postcard-pretty coastline. The
Whateley’s mostly putter about the old house trying to summon the “Old Ones” who,
we are told, are an amorphous super-race of beings from another dimension that will
bring an end to mankind.
Wilbur’s grandfather (Sam Jaffee) has actually backed-off
a bit on the family’s over-zealous determination in this regard. He’s understandably wary as his own quarter-century
old attempt at summation – one which involved Wilbur’s mother, Lavinia –had
gone horribly wrong. The strange and
dangerous rumblings of a creature still imprisoned behind a locked closet door
will attest to that. But Lavinia’s surviving twenty-five year old progeny,
Wilbur, has not gone soft; he’s determined to succeed where his ancestors have failed. The young man needs only two components to
achieve his goal. He first requires
access to the Necronomicom, an
ancient and priceless book of which only two copies survive. Conveniently, one copy sits in a not terribly
protected glass display case in the University library in Arkham, only a mere forty
miles up the road.
More problematically, Wilbur requires a female virgin; and
good luck trying to find one in the summer of 1969. This is where Bayonne, New Jersey’s own Sandra
Dee, best known for her healthful and morally salutary screen-image, comes
in. It seems only a pure virgin can
serve as the conduit through which the “Old Ones” can, at long last,
emerge. With her post-Gidget acting career stagnant, Dee was desperate
to hone a new screen image at decade’s end. Here she is effectively cast both with and against type as the
beleaguered Nancy Wagner. Not all of the
former teenage star’s innocent ways were so easily expunged. The actress had her limits and was modestly body-doubled
in a number of brief nude scenes. Her
antagonist is the wild-eyed, nearly non-blinking Wilbur Whateley, and Stockwell
plays him as a complete nutcase, mysterious, emotionally remote, and not
particularly charming. It’s somewhat
difficult to believe that Nancy would fall for him so hard though it’s
suggested a combination of hypnotism and drug-laced tea keep the young woman in
tow. The drugging would also explain the
trippy, psychedelic dreams she suffers following her first share of the teapot
with weird Wilbur.
It’s actually the addition of this central
damsel-in-distress element that causes Haller’s film to deviate wildly from the
original Lovecraft tale. With the
exception of the aforementioned Lavinia, there’s nary a central-character
female present in the original short story. The movie’s climatic birthing of the “Old Ones” on a sacred altar atop
the cliff-side “Devil’s Hop Yard” is a near complete invention of the
filmmakers. In what was an already a customary
A.I.P. tradition, executive producer Roger Corman, and producers Samuel J.
Arkoff and James H. Nicholson were no doubt hoping to exploitatively piggy-back
off of the surprising success of Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
As was the studio’s modus
operandi, A.I.P. rolled out The
Dunwich Horror in a sweeping west-to-east geographic fashion, supporting
this new release at drive-ins and theaters with one or two other fiendish films
from the company catalog: The Tomb of the Cat (a more pronounceable
re-title of Roger Corman’s The Tomb of
Ligeia), The Oblong Box (1969),
and even Destroy All Monsters (the
legendary 1968 production of Japan’s Toho Productions, but issued in the U.S. by
A.I.P. in the late summer of 1969.)
In addition to being a reliable and fairly popular leading man, Ray Milland also showed some talent as a film director. In total, he directed five movies- among them "The Safecracker", a 1958 low-budget British film noir made by MGM. The fast-moving story concerns one Colley Dawson (Milland), an expert safecracker who uses his skills for a home security company. He is hired out to design safes for wealthy clients that can be deemed impossible to crack. Although regarded as a genius in his field, Colley is in a deep funk. He's in his fifties, has no home to call his own and still lives with his doting, aging mother (Barbara Everest) in a small home in a nondescript street in London. When Colley lands a major, lucrative contract for his company, his skinflint boss "rewards" him with a bonus of a measly five pound note. Colley's fortunes change when he is contacted by Bennett Carfield (Barry Jones), a wealthy man who divulges that he earns his income through trading in stolen antiques. He entices Colley to use his safecracking skills to form a criminal partnership with him in return for 50% of the profits. Colley doesn't need much persuasion. Feeling he is on the road to nowhere, he is eager to finally enjoy the finer things in life and has no ethical reservations about how to acquire them. Before long he is sneaking into affluent people's homes and relieving the owners of prized possessions. He adopts a dual identity. During the work week, he remains the wimpy employee of an ungrateful boss. On weekends, however, he tools around in a fancy sports car, dates a glamorous, sexually-charged minor actress and bets extravagant sums on horses. Things come to a crashing halt, however, when Scotland Yard gets wind of his activities. Carfield urges him to stop his safecracking because he is under suspicion but the arrogant Colley insists on pulling off one more caper- which he does with disastrous consequences. He soon finds himself in jail facing an eight year sentence. However, two years into his term, England is at war with Nazi Germany. He is approached by military intelligence with a tempting offer: accommodate a team of commandos on a highly dangerous mission in occupied Belgium in return for a full pardon. The plan revolves around a list of German secret agents in England that is being stored in safe inside a heavily guarded country chateau. The plan is to infiltrate the house, have Colley and the team penetrate the safe and photograph the list. If it works, the Nazis will be none-the-wiser that their agents' identities are now known. Colley agrees to go but proves to be a handful for the unit in which he will serve. He's not only long in the tooth, he's got tusks. Still, he completes a crash course in parachuting techniques and before long finds himself behind enemy lines but separated from his companions. From this point, the plot revolves around Colley meeting up with his team because their mission is useless without his participation. As director Milland manages to milk some occasional suspense out of the proceedings and sensibly turns his age into an asset. He can't keep up with his younger companions and his newly-found playboy lifestyle intrudes when his attempts to romance a Resistance girl almost compromises the mission. The final scenes of the film, set inside the chateau, are handled well and the ironic ending is rather moving.
"The Safecracker" is definitely "B" movie fare, but that isn't meant as a knock. It's quite entertaining throughout and Milland gives a highly amusing performance as a rogue who finds himself serving his country's war effort with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. The film features a fine cast of British character actors with Barry Jones particularly impressive. The Warner Archive release features considerable artifacts but they are a minor distraction. Most annoying is the fact that the night footage (much of it derived from newsreels) is so dark that you feel as though you are peering into an inkwell. Still, this is consistently entertaining film that will have cross-over appeal for lovers of crime movies, spy flicks and WWII films. A weather-beaten original trailer is also included. The DVD is region-free.
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The Vinegar Syndrome video label continues to unearth obscure examples of 1960s erotica. None is more bizarre than "Infrasexum", a 1969 concoction by director/actor Carlos Tobalina, who would ultimately be regarded as one of the more prolific hardcore filmmakers. Back in '69, however, it was still difficult to get theatrical showings of hardcore films, which were generally relegated to 8mm film loops sold in adult book stores. Tabolina tried to push the envelope with "Infrasexum" but was still confined by the dreaded "community standards" obscenity laws that mandated only soft-core movies could generally be shown without causing a major legal flap from local conservative groups that had routinely declared war on pornography. "Infrasexum" (I have no idea what the title means and apparently neither did Tobalina) attempts to tell a poignant story about the toll the aging process takes on sexual libido. The film opens in the offices of Mr. Allison (Eroff Lynn), a fifty-something successful business executive who is despondent over the routine lifestyle he is leading. He has money galore but exists in a gloomy state of mind. He's also depressed (in this pre-Viagara era) about his inability to perform sexually with his bombshell wife (Marsha Jordan), who prances about their penthouse clad in a see-through nightee. Determined to start a new life, Allinson sends his wife a goodbye letter, turns the control of his company over to two trusted employees and takes off for parts unknown. He immediately feels liberated from the day-to-day grind. He ends up in Las Vegas and almost reluctantly wins $250,000 in cash. He doesn't need the money but for the first time in ages he feels he's on a winning streak. He drives to L.A. where he has a chance encounter with Carlos (Carlos Tobalina), a somewhat kooky but charismatic man who routinely grubs money from him but also introduces him to a new lifestyle with his hippie friends. Before long, Allison is taking in rock shows in discotheques on the Sunset Strip and experimenting with pot. Carlos tries on several occasions to cure Allison's sexual problems by setting him up with willing young women but the result is always frustrating failure to launch. At one point an unrelated sub-plot is introduced in which Allison is kidnapped by two thugs who threaten his life and shake him down for big money. They also murder a helpless young woman in his presence. In one of the lamest action sequences ever filmed, Allison breaks free and kills both men in an unintentionally hilarious manner. Allison treats this presumably life-altering incident as though it's a minor distraction and before long is taking up his lifetime's goal of becoming a painter. An admiring young woman invites him back to her house but, once again, Allison can't seal the deal between the sheets and he has to call Carlos over to act as his stand-in!
It's difficult to say exactly what Tobalina expected to accomplish with this film. Is it an attempt to present a poignant look at the frustrations of the aging process with some full-frontal nudity tossed in? Or did he intend to simply dress up a sexploitation film with some legitimate dramatic story line aspects? In either case, the result is downright weird. Tobalina's insertion of a gruesome murder also seems like an after-thought designed to appeal to horror movie fans. It's got plenty of gore but is so unconvincingly shot and directed that the sequence elicits more laughter than chills. Whatever early talent Tobalina might have conveyed on screen is compromised by the bare bones production budget, which was probably close to zero. Technical blunders abound. In some scenes you can see the shadow of the cameraman in center frame. In others, people's voices are heard even though their lips aren't moving. Still, the film at least aspires to be superior to most soft-core grind house fare of the era. As a trip back in time, it has merit. It presents some wonderful, extended views of the Las Vegas Strip, for example, and we can relish the marquees extolling such performers as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Don Ho and Little Richard. Tobalina also gets out of the bedrooms long enough to take us on a scenic tour of local L.A. sites as well as the Sierra Nevadas. Tobalina is at his best when he gets out of the boudoir and shows us travelogue-like footage. On a coarser level, the film also provides an abundance of good looking young women who romp around starkers. The movie would be primarily of interest to baby boomer males who want a trip back in time to an era in which such fare was considered daring and controversial. It's bizarre qualities will also appeal to fans of cult sexlpoitation films.
The Vinegar Syndrome release looks great and the remastered print even shows us the grit and dirt that occasionally appeared on the camera lens. An original trailer is also included that is truly a laugh riot, in that a God-like voice virtually commands us to see "Infrasexum" because it's a "classic".
The dividing line between a film being an homage and a rip-off is sorely tested with "Forsaken", a 2015 Canadian Western by director Jon Cassar, who is best known for his acclaimed, award-winning work in television. This is a rare venture into feature film making for him and the result left me with decidedly mixed emotions. The film marks another collaboration between Cassar and actor Kiefer Sutherland, who starred in Cassar's wildly successful TV series "24". That the two men are comfortable with each other's style is immediately apparent from the first frames of the film. We want to extend kudos to them for bravely venturing where few in the movie industry dare to tread any longer: the realm of the Western, a genre that has been routinely neglected for decades. Despite the success of Westerns such as "Unforgiven", "Dances With Wolves" and "Open Range", studio chiefs can't seem to get over the ""Heaven's Gate" syndrome, the monumental 1980 Western that almost sunk United Artists. Even hardened criminals are punished less time than the poor Western genre,so we extend our respect to anyone who tries, no matter modestly, to revive it. The problem with "Forsaken" is that a lot of talented people are doing fine work in a film that is so blatantly inspired by Clint Eastwood's Oscar winning "Unforgiven" that it comes close to bordering on parody. The initial blame begins with screenwriter Brad Mirman, who depends far too heavily on elements from Eastwood's magnificent production. Let's start with the title, which is a transparent attempt to evoke "Unforgiven". (In fairness, Eastwood himself was less-than-original in his use of this title. He changed the film's title from "The William Munny Killings" and replaced it with the name of an unrelated John Huston Western from 1960, "The Unforgiven".) Then there is the movie's protagonist, John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland), who carries similar baggage to Eastwood's William Munny. He is haunted by a violent past and a penchant for committing bloodshed. He has returned to his hometown after a period of years and hopes to live his life as a pacifist, a lofty goal that the viewer will recognize as being doomed from the get-go. He soon finds that the town is populated by cowardly people who are letting a greedy land baron, James McCurdy (Brian Cox) use a mercenary gang to intimidate or even kill any homesteader who refuses his offer to buy their land. As in "Unforgiven", our hero is initially slow to anger and resists his inner demons. In Clayton's case, he is routinely abused, insulted and beaten by the mercenaries, who are led by Frank (Aaron Poole), who is so vicious that he even gets chastised by his employer, McCurdy. I kept waiting for a character to appear who would emulate Richard Harris's English Bob, the aristocratic gunslinger from "Unforgiven". Sure enough, along comes Gentleman Dave Turner (Michael Wincott), who displays the wit and gallows humor of dear ol' English Bob. Not helping matters is director Cassar, who aids and abets this pantomime by insisting that Sutherland pretentiously pose like Eastwood in "Unforgiven", as well as speak like him (distinctive, barely audible voice) and dress like him (he even wears a hat that is more than coincidentally similar to Eastwood's from that film). The "homage" syndrome goes into overdrive in the film's violent conclusion, which- to the surprise of no one familiar with "Unforgiven"- also takes place in a saloon, where a heavily-armed Clayton enters and engages a small army of bad guys in a one-man massacre. At times, it appears to be a frame-by-frame remake of the Eastwood film.(In fairness, Cassar does dip a bit outside of the "Unforgiven" pool long enough to replicate a sequence from the climactic barroom shootout from "The Shootist".) The epilogue imitates "Unforgiven" in an unforgivable manner, with scenes at an isolated grave while a narrative fills us in on the fate of the main characters.
Despite all of these reservations, it may come as a surprise to you that I liked and admired "Forsaken" very much. The script does introduce a few original elements. When Clayton returns home many years after experiencing the horrors of the war, he discovers that his former lover, Mary-Alice (Demi Moore), had presumed he was dead and ended up marrying a local man. They now have a small son and although Mary-Ellen professes to be perfectly happy, it's quite apparent there is still a spark between she and Clayton. More intriguingly, there is Clayton's relationship to his father, William (Donald Sutherland), the local reverend, who welcomes his estranged son back by informing him that his mother died and that her last hope was to see him but he never came. The two men settle into a tense domestic situation until John finally unburdens himself about a terrible secret that has been haunting him and that has inspired him to renounce violence. He also blames himself for the accidental death of his brother when they were kids. Ultimately, the clearing of the air leads both father and son to form a close bond but it is threatened by McCurdy and his men- and we know it will only be a matter of time until John takes up arms again. This plot element (the reluctant gunslinger) has been a staple of the Western genre for many years. (Think "The Gunfighter", "Shane", "The Shootist") but it still provides ample dramatic circumstances for a good director to capitalize on- and Jon Cassar is a good director. He has a real feel for the Western genre and elicits uniformly excellent performances from his entire cast, including Demi Moore who is refreshingly cast in a mature, non-glam role. To credit screenwriter Mirman, he capitalizes on the first screen teaming of both Sutherlands by providing realistic and engrossing situations and dialogue. The two actors bring a certain emotion and pathos to their on-screen relationship that is obviously enhanced by their real-life status as father and son. The movie is also gorgeously photographed by Rene Ohashi and features a fine score by Jonathan Goldsmith. Perhaps because I've seen "Unforgiven" so many times and have written about it extensively, I may be more sensitive to the similarities between the films, which I did find admittedly distracting. More casual viewers will probably not encounter this dilemma and enjoy "Forsaken" for what it is: a superior entry in the Western genre.
The Blu-ray from Entertainment One features only one bonus extra: a "making of" documentary which consists of the usual bland observations by people who were interviewed while a movie is still in production. (Who is going to say anything negative when they have to still work with each other?) Although director Cassar and Kiefer Sutherland acknowledge they emulated the traditional Western film elements in the making of the movie, neither man comes clean by mentioning "Unforgiven" specifically, which is a little like ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the saloon.
There have been a few effective "non-traditional" Westerns of recent vintage, "The Hateful Eight" being the most prominent but I would also highly recommend the Kurt Russell-starrer "Bone Tomahawk". However, if you have been starving for a Western that sticks with basic elements, this is the best I've seen in a number of years.
Sofia Coppola is said to be preparing a remake of director Don Siegel's "The Beguiled", a Gothic drama set during the American Civil War and set in a dilapidated school for young women in the war-torn South. Clint Eastwood starred in the original film which was released in 1971. It marked a rare boxoffice bomb for Siegel and Eastwood, who would team again for the smash hit "Dirty Harry" later that year. Eastwood played a wounded Northern soldier who is given shelter and care by the students in the school and their headmistress, played by Geraldine Page. Over a period of weeks, the Eastwood character realizes that the women around him are all sexually frustrated and that he can manipulate them into doing his bidding. Before long he is carrying on multiple affairs but jealousy inevitably rears its head and leads to some ghastly developments. The film was a bold departure for Eastwood, as he played a manipulative and unsympathetic character. Although the movie was under-appreciated in its day, its stature has grown with critics and film scholars, some of whom regard it as a major achievement in both Eastwood and Siegel's careers. The Coppola project is said to have an impressive female cast lined up that includes Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning. We're told this will be a "new take" on the original film. We're tempted to say "Uh oh", but Coppola is a skilled director so we'll give her the benefit of the doubt until more information is released. Pivotal to the film's prospects will be the casting of the male lead, which has not been announced yet.
(For full analysis of "The Beguiled", see Cinema Retro's special issue "The American Westerns of Clint Eastwood". )
Hudson is an American commando sent to blow up a dam in “Hornets’ Nest,” a 1970
WWII action adventure set in 1944 Italy as the Allies advance on the German
occupation force. Directed by Phil Karlson (“Hell to Eternity,” “Kid Galahad,”
“The Silencers,” “The Wrecking Crew” and “Walking Tall”), the movie was an
American-Italian co-production filmed in Italy with a mostly all Italian cast
movie opens as the residents of Reanoto are massacred by German soldiers after
they refuse to give up the location of Italian resistance fighters. Meanwhile,
American commandos parachute in on a mission to blow up a nearby dam, but all
are killed except for Capt. Turner (Hudson). A group of boys hiding in the
hills when the German’s murdered their families rescue Turner and hide him from
the Germans. Turner is running a fever from his wounds and the boys convince a
local doctor, Bianca (Sylva Koscina), to help Turner. Von Hecht (Sergio
Fantoni) is the officer in charge of a local contingent of German soldiers
searching for Turner.
Colleano is Aldo, the leader of the boys. He’s understandably angry and wants
revenge against the Germans who murdered his family and the families of all the
other children. The boys form a band of partisans seeking to convince Capt.
Turner to teach them to shoot so they can kill Germans. They have guns and
ammunition hidden in a cave in the hills where they’ve been hiding. Turner
convinces the boys to help him retrieve his radio in order to contact his
headquarters and then complete his mission of destroying the dam. It’s not
precisely clear why the dam needs to be destroyed because the American forces
link up with him within minutes after the dam is blown up.
actor Sergio Fantoni (with dyed blonde hair) is unconvincing and miscast as Von
Hecht, but he’s a familiar face to fans of a pair of classic WWII movies from the
era. He was Capt. Oriani in “Von Ryan’s Express” and Capt. Oppo in “What Did
You Do in the War, Daddy?” It’s odd seeing him as a German officer in “Hornets’
Nest” and it doesn’t really work. It’s also not quite clear if Koscina is
supposed to be playing a German doctor or an Italian doctor in service of the
Germans, but that’s quickly forgotten soon after she’s taken prisoner by the children
and joins Turner in blowing up the dam. Koscina was cast after Sophia Loren
passed on the movie.
obvious criticism of the film is one I have for other movies and TV series from
the period. Hudson’s hair is too long and the sideburns and handlebar mustache,
while stylish in the 1970s, would not have been acceptable for military service
during WWII through to today. Koscina’s big hair, like Hudson’s hair, is
strictly from the late 60s and early 70s and the boys look like they were
plucked off the streets of Rome circa 1970 and wear the clothing they had
hanging in their closets at home.
movie moves at a brisk pace with plenty of action and Colleano is sympathetic
as Aldo. Hudson is good as Capt. Turner and this would be his final military
action role before settling into the successful TV series “McMillan & Wife”
which ran from 1971-1977. Koscina is beautiful and gives an acceptable
performance as Bianca, but she has little to do other than react to the boy’s
vengeance driven behavior, a rape attempt, having her clothing ripped, nurture
the small children and look enticing. Apart from Hudson, Apart from Colleano
(American father and English mother) and Karlson, the rest of the cast and crew
are made up of Italians and Yugoslavians. Italian second unit director Franco
Cirino even received a co-director credit on Italian prints of the movie.
story, written by S.S. Schweitzer and Stanley Colbert, was based on an actual
incident during the American advance in Italy. The screenplay is standard fare
for the era and among the last of this type of war movie. Critics at the time
disliked the depiction of children killing, being killed and participating in
war. I remember seeing this movie as a kid and I loved every minute of it. As a
fan of WWII movies and TV series, I wanted to be one of those boys fighting the
Kino Lorber release is the first time on Blu-ray for “Hornets’ Nest” and
features the trailer for this and two other Kino military- themed releases as
the only supplements. The movie clocks in at 110 minutes, looks and sounds
great with an outstanding score by Ennio Morricone. Originally released in
theaters by United Artists in September of 1970, the movie became a must see
movie for me when it turned up on TV throughout the 70s.
Actress Patty Duke, who won an Academy Award for her performance as young Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker" has died at age 69 from complications relating to an intestinal disorder. Duke was 16 years old when she won the Oscar for Best Supporting actress opposite Anne Bancroft in the classic film. Duke also starred in the popular 1960s sitcom "The Patty Duke Show" and went on to star in the feature film "Valley of the Dolls", which was lambasted by critics but which proved to be a major boxoffice success. However, Duke suffered from mental health problems and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982. Duke's tumultuous personal life extended to her love life, which saw her marry four times. Her husbands included director Harry Falk, rock promoter Michael Tell, actor John Astin and Michael Pearce, who was not in show business. She was the mother of actor Sean Astin, who took the Astin name due to Duke's belief that John Astin was his father. Biological testing later proved this was not the case and that Michael Tell is his real father. Despite her personal problems, Duke worked steadily throughout her career and also became a leading advocate for curing mental health disorders. For more click here.
No matter what you think of the porn films created in the old days, their producers had an instinct for capitalizing on the hottest trends in mainstream movies. Take for example "Sensual Encounters of Every Kind", which was released in 1978, a year after Steven Spielberg's blockbuster "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". The film was promoted with marketing materials that implied it would be a sci-fi spoof but, alas, that promising premise ended with the posters. In fact the movie only has only a dotted line link to a supernatural premise. The plot centers on an ancient necklace that has the power to make its owner sexually irresistible to those around him or her. The caveat is that it only works once and then it must be passed on to another unwitting owner. Good thing it only works once because the benefits of the necklace might well result from death by exhaustion if the sexual action were to be engaged in on a regular basis. The plot line, such as it is, consists of several humorous vignettes loosely linked by the aforementioned premise. First up is a young, wealthy and bored young beauty (Lesile Bovee) who is bemoaning her dormant love life. Fortunately, the benefits of the necklace kick in just as three hunky gardeners are working at her estate. When they start to show a communal interest in her, she resists their advances but since this is a male-oriented porn flick she quickly has a change of heart and ends up having the time of her life with all three simultaneously. The next story centers on genre legend Georgina Spelvin ("The Devil in Miss Jones") as a tutor for teenage brother and sister who are spoiled rotten and prove to be snarky and disrespectful. Adding to their bizarre sense of "family relations" is their sexual relationship with each other, which they demonstrate in front of their tutor who predictably can't resist participating. Another vignette is the broadest in terms of comedy with a U.S. senator carrying on with his sensuous secretary (Serena) when his wife returns home unexpectedly. The belabored premise might work well with Peter Sellers or David Niven as the protagonist, however, it's as flat as a pancake here- and just as erotic. The final chapter has porn veteran Jamie Gillis as the male coach of a female college athletic team who is seduced in a gym by two of his students. The film's premise of an anthology of stories connecting diverse characters around the same object could have worked. (Think "The Yellow Rolls Royce" with hardcore orgies thrown in.) However, the comedic aspects are undone by weak writing and generally poor performances with only Spelvin delivering something akin to a performance (she had Broadway training and appeared in "Funny Girl"!) On the plus side, the real raison d'etre for the film is the sex scenes and the director, Richard Kanter, at least has the instinct to generally cut the lame jokes during these scenes and manages to make them quite erotic.
Vinegar Syndrome has released the film on DVD and it boasts a pristine transfer that probably makes it look better than it did at the time of its original release. An interesting bonus is a rather garbled phone interview with porn actor Jon Martin, who appears uncredited in the film. His conversation is feature-length and he provides some interesting insights, not only about the porn industry of the era, but his own career as well. (He studied with Stella Adler and Uta Hagen, though it's doubtful those legendary acting teachers envisioned exactly how he would end up employing his talents.) In all, another winning package from Vinegar Syndrome.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release
regarding the film “Culloden” and “The War Game”.
These startling and controversial films by Peter Watkins,
first broadcast on BBC TV, have been newly remastered to High Definition and
will be released on Blu-ray for the first time on 28 March 2016, presented
together in a Dual Format Edition (contains Blu-ray and DVD discs). An array of
special features includes a new interview by film editor Michael Bradsell, who
worked with Peter Watkins at the BBC, audio commentaries for both films and
short films about each one.
Hailed as a breakthrough when it was first broadcast in
1964, Culloden – which brilliantly reconstructs the famous battle of
1746 – stunned viewers by approaching its historical subject matter in the
style of contemporary TV news coverage.
Watkins’ The War Game, about a limited nuclear
attack on Kent, blended fact and fiction to create a disturbing vision of the
personal and public consequences of such an attack. Banned from TV screens for
twenty years, it was through its cinema release in 1966 – and its Academy Award
for Best Documentary Feature in 1967 – that it gained a loyal and vociferous
Newly remastered and presented in both High Definition and
Michael Bradsell Interview (2015, 21 mins): the
film editor talks about working with Peter Watkins at the BBC
John Cook audio commentary on Culloden (2002)
Culloden on Location (Donald Fairservice, 1964, 8
mins): colour footage of the cast and crew during the filming of Culloden,
with a 2002 commentary by John Cook
Patrick Murphy audio commentary on The War Game (2002)
The War Game: The Controversy (2002, 19 mins):
Patrick Murphy charts the production history, banning and eventual distribution
of The War Game
The War Game book: on-screen gallery of the complete
1967 book, published to accompany the film
Illustrated booklet with new essays by John Cook, David
Archibald and William Fowler, and full film credits
It’s great to
see Vocalion continuing to release a further addition in their remarkable
series of original library music. Last year the label launched a new series of Bruton
music releases to add to their catalogue and further strengthen their commitment
to the genre. Vocalion has released a new CD featuring a superb collection of
music from the archives of, arguably the most famous of all library music
labels, KPM. Flying Start - a collection of contemporary scores from the KPM
1000 Series (1968-1978) (CDMSL 8516) is an excellent compilation featuring 28
of the finest 1000 Series compositions. The focus here is very much on their majestic
orchestral and big band sounds with contemporary rhythm. But there is also so
much more, romantic interludes, avant-garde spacey jazz, and abstract
underscores all equate to a varied and rewarding listening experience. Keith Mansfield’s ‘World Series’ will be instantly
recognisable to thousands, and was used for years as the signature tune of BBC
Television’s athletics coverage.
In addition to Mansfield, there is a whole host
of KPM stalwarts including Neil Richardson, David Lindup, Nick Ingman, John
Dankworth and Johnny Pearson. The CD has a genuine filmic feel to it and
crammed with exquisite orchestrations. Vocalion’s audio quality is stunning,
and reflective of the mastering process (taken directly from the original
stereo analogue tapes). Thankfully, Vocalion’s packaging for this release is of
the standard we have come to expect, consisting of an eight-page booklet with a
lengthy essay detailing the background of the KPM 1000 Series as well as
composer biographies and a discussion of the music itself. Overall, it’s
another wonderful addition to a marvellous series of releases.
The Warner Archive has released "Go Naked in the World", a 1961 screen adaptation of a novel by Tom T. Chamales that apparently caused a bit of a sensation back in day with its forthright and adult look a highly-charged sexual relationship. The film, directed by Ranald MacDougall, opens with Nick Stratton (Anthony Franciosa) returning home on leave from the U.S. Army. We know things are somewhat tense with his family because he doesn't immediately tell them he is back, preferring to do some partying first. When his father Pete (Ernest Borgnine) discovers this, the tension builds immediately. Pete is a well-known construction magnate whose projects dot the city. Nick is in rebellion against his overbearing father, who feels that his son must follow him into the construction business. Pete loves his family, which consists of his long-suffering wife Mary (Nancy R. Pollack) and their two children, Nick and his teenage sister Yvonne (Luana Patten) but he alienates them with his heavy-handed demands that everyone march to his tune. He relegates Mary and Yvonne to the roles of helpless females and obnoxiously dictates his daughter's dating habits to the point of humiliating her. Mary, his wife of 30 years, has no say in any important matters. However, Nick is more rebellious and constantly stands up to his father, leading to explosive confrontations. Things only worsen when Nick falls head over heels for the vivacious Guilletta (Gina Lollobrigida), an independent party girl with a knock-out figure who can only be described in the vernacular of the era as a "bombshell". Nick has no trouble luring Guilletta into bed but he can't understand why she wants to leave it as a one-night stand. Nick is more than smitten- he's in love but Guilletta continues to inexplicably try to keep him at arm's length even though it's clear she loves him. Turns out that Nick is rather naive in his understanding of her lifestyle. He soon learns that she is a notorious hooker. Worse, his own womanizing father is among her clients! Nick still can't leave her- but his relationship brings the feud with his father to an even more alarming level. Caught in the middle is Guillette, a woman who is ashamed of her lifestyle but not sufficiently ashamed enough to quit it. She acts as an unwitting catalyst for the destruction of Nick's family's relationships that extends to Mary and Yvonne finally confronting Pete about his dictatorial ways. Wracked by guilt, Guillietta attempts to leave Nick again and again, as she suspects their love affair can only end tragically. Still, she is drawn to him with the same passion he has for her and their relationship continues even as it leads them to mutual disaster.
"Go Naked in the World" is extremely steamy in its treatment of sex when one considers it was released in an era in which such activities could only be hinted at. Nick and Guillette clearly love sex and the film doesn't paint them judgmentally as "bad people" for engaging in this behavior, which was fairly progressive for the time. The film is essentially a soap opera but a very engrossing one. Franciosa gives a powerful performance as a young man torn between his love for his father and the fact that he resents his attempts to dominate his life. Lollobrigida is terrific. She was often written off as another Italian sex symbol but I have never seen a film in which she didn't give a highly impressive performance. Her abilities range from light comedy to tragic dramas such as this. Borgnine, another great reliable force in old Hollywood, dominates every scene he is in and convincingly plays Franciosa's father even though he was only ten years old than him. The script has some melodramatic aspects but remains consistently interesting thanks to an intelligent, believable screenplay and fine direction. The impressive supporting cast includes Will Kuluva and Philip Ober. High recommended.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer and is region free.
Twilight Time has released a Blu-ray edition of "The Hawaiians", which was released in England under the title Master of the Islands. The 1970 big budget movie was a critical and commercial failure in its day, but evaluating it after all these years leads the viewer to accentuate its many positive elements. The story is actually an official continuation of James Michener's Hawaii, which was made into a major film in 1966 that curiously also underwhelmed critics and public. This sequel doesn't have the epic proportions of its predecessor, but it does boast some impressively lush production values and a typically enticing score by Henry Mancini. For this film, Heston reunited with director Tom Gries, with whom he made the vastly under-appreciated 1968 Western "Will Penny"which Heston regarded as one of his most satisfying artistic accomplishments. He is cast against type here in a somewhat unsympathetic role during a period of his career in which he was typically cast as a stalwart heroic figure. Heston plays Whip Hoxworth, a hard-nosed sea captain who transports luckless Chinese immigrants to Hawaii where they become cheated, abused and enter into what amounts to indentured servitude. The opening sequence finds the Chinese crammed into the sweltering hold of the ship and falling victim to illness and malnutrition. Hoxworth only adds to their misery by applying beatings and coldly calculating his human cargo in terms of acceptable deaths, 'lest his ultimate profits fall short of expectations. Hoxworth is the black sheep of a wealthy family. He is cut out of his father's will and has a contentious relationship with his siblings, who have little use for him. Barred from further sea duties, he is relegated to a failing plantation which he is determined to turn into a success, if only to spite his relatives. Geraldine Chaplin is his half-Hawaiian wife, whom he adores but who, for reasons never satisfactorily explained in the script, turns frigid after their son is born.
The film tells a parallel story about the plight of two immigrants who work on his plantation: Nyuk Tsin (Tina Chen) and Mun Ki (Mako), two people who, through necessity, live as man and wife even though Mun Ki tells Nyuk Tsin that the children she has borne him will not be considered hers. Instead, Chinese tradition dictates that they will ultimately return to China where his wife will assume the mantle of mother and Nyuk Tsin will be relegated to the status of an aunt. The couple's hard work appeals to Hoxworth's generally dormant sympathies and he allows them to prosper financially, especially when they successfully grow the first pineapples on Hawaii - a development that makes Hoxworth rich. However, the film piles crisis upon crisis on each of the major characters, including political intrigue, armed revolution and, in particulalry affecting sequences, outbreaks of leprosy and plague. John Phillip Law appears late in the 134-minute film as Heston's grown son, whose humanitarianism brings him into direct conflict with his father's Machevellian ways.
The Hawiians is big-budget soap opera at every level, but it's a consistently engrossing one. Heston excels playing part that takes him into new territory as an actor. The supporting cast is equally good, with both Mako and Tina Chen giving outstanding performances. It can't be said that the film is an unqualified success, but it's never boring and it probably seems more impressive today than it did at the time of its initial release. It should be mentioned that the movie has a fine score by Henry Mancini. There are worse fates than spending a couple of hours with Heston under any circumstance.
The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray (3,000 units) is right up to the company's high standards. It includes a trailer and the usual informative liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo.
the mid 1980’s, I caught ABC-TV’s premiere broadcast of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and it changed me
forever. I became a huge fan of both
Stanley Kubrick’s and Stephen King’s work, as well as classical music. Despite the protestations of many a film
reviewer regarding the casting of Jack Nicholson, I greatly admired his performance
in the film, and eagerly sought out all of his films that I could find on home
video and television at the time. Among
them was a film that I had not heard of before, the story about two Navy lifers
transporting a convict to the “brig”, a military prison, for having stolen
$40.00 out of the Polio contribution box (the Commanding Officer’s wife’s favorite charity – oops!!). Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973), which opened in New York on Sunday,
February 10, 1974 (having premiered in L.A. in December of 1973) , contains my favorite film performance by Jack
Nicholson, which is saying a lot considering that his turn as R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
is the role that most critics think of when they discuss his work. Here he plays Billy "Badass"
Buddusky, a U.S. petty officer who, along with Richard "Mule" Mulhall
(the late Otis Young), is tasked with escorting a sailor, Larry Meadows (Randy
Quaid), from their home base in Norfolk, VA to Portsmouth Naval Prison up in
Maine. On the surface, this looks like a
fairly routine affair as Buddusky and Mulhall go through the motions of taking
Meadows by train to his final destination. Initially by-the-book and aloof, they begin to feel sympathetic towards
the nebbish Meadows following a shoplifting episode. He’s obviously a kleptomaniac and, even
though he’s only 18, probably feels as though his life is over. Along the way, they start to think of the
things that Meadows will miss out on – his first sexual experience, having his
first beer, and getting into all sorts of fun trouble. Buddusky takes on the
role of the leader, and he sets out to show Meadows a good time. They break into laughter following Buddusky’s
outburst at a bartender (the language his uses in this scene could very well have
been a first for the time) and Meadows looks like a kid rang someone’s doorbell,
ran off and has gotten away with it. He’s obviously enjoying himself with his newfound “friends”. They get beer on their own and get drunk,
then spend the night in a hotel room and laugh to their heart’s content.
time progresses, Buddusky and Mulhall cannot help but take a liking to Meadows,
and eventually start to feel sorry for him, feeling that he got a raw
deal. They take time to seek out his
mother during a stop in Philadelphia (they don’t find her), and then they watch
him attempt to ice skate in Rockefeller Center in New York and fight with
Marines at Penn Station (which looks completely different than it does today). In Boston, they take Meadows to a whorehouse
for his first sexual experience (Carol Kane plays the prostitute). Michael Chapman, the cinematographer who shot
the movie, plays the taxi driver who gives the boys a ride (Mr. Chapman would
go on to shoot Taxi Driver for Martin
Scorsese in the summer of 1975, and actually appears as a cab fare in that film). They also sit it on a session with Nichiren
Shoshu Buddhists and Meadows attempts to put into use the chant that he is
taught in order to obtain good fortune. The
late Luana Anders makes an appearance in this scene, as does the late Gilda
Radner; they both died of cancer in 1996 and 1989 respectively. Another party they end up at features a very
young Nancy Allen, who is told by Jack Nicholson in a very funny speech about
why he loves his uniform. Even director
Ashby shows up: he can be seen sitting at the bar in the dart-throwing sequence,
sporting glasses and his trademark white beard. By the end of the film, we know that inevitably they must follow their
orders, and it’s painful to see Meadows incur Buddusky’s wrath following a
failed attempt to escape. The ending is
poignant, but a far cry from the tremendous downer that ends the novel of the
same name by Daryl Ponicsan upon which the film is based. Thankfully, the film is a tad more
There are, at a minimum, three important lessons gleaned
from the outrageous 1970 sci-fi thriller The
Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. The first and most obvious lesson is that the adage “two heads are
better than one” is simply not necessarily true. The second is that mad scientists, the most
bitter and misunderstood members of the medical profession, tend to a more liberal interpretation of the
Hippocratic Oath they’re sworn to. The
last and perhaps most important lesson: if
you and your best gal find yourself necking in an automobile on a remote
lover’s lane, it might be best to spoon under a good-old fashioned hardtop. Convertibles
are too easily shredded by two-headed maniacs.
Let’s be frank. Anthony
M. Lanza’s The Incredible Two-Headed
Transplant is one weird movie. It’s
not without merit, but it’s surely a film that invites parody and guffaws over
a Coke and tub of hot popcorn. This, I
imagine, is the reason Kino Lorber has offered the choice of a genuine “RiffTrax”
audio commentary as an optional supplement. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t listen through the mocking
supplement in total. Truth be told, while
I enjoy a cheap laugh or a well chosen barb as much as anyone, I’ve never been
a big fan of the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” or “RiffTrax” phenomenon. It’s not that I don’t find such commentaries humorous
or even, on occasion, insightful… at least when enjoyed in the privacy of one’s
own home. But one can’t ignore that such
burlesque has inspired several generations of idiots to ruin public theatrical
screenings with lame attempts at imitation.
Though a genuine 1970s drive-in theater-exploitation-horror
movie in nearly every regard, The Incredible
Two-Headed Transplant differs from most as it offers not a single spooky
nighttime scene. This might be the only
horror film that I know of that takes place entirely in broad daylight. Co-screenwriter James Gordon White conceived
the film “as a tongue-in-cheek take off on Frankenstein,”
but I suppose that can be said of practically any horror/sci-fi film featuring
a body on an operating gurney. In some
ways the film, reportedly shot on a budget of $350,000 and a money-spinner for
A.I.P. within six months of release, is an oddity even among that studio’s
deep-catalog of low-budget horrors. Writer White sees the film as a classic “B”
production, while star-player Bruce Dern has infamously dismissed it as a “Z”
It must be said that nearly everything about the film is
schizophrenic, and this extends to the movie’s soundtrack. There’s an early dash of background
instrumentation that offers a Seventies ghetto-soul vibe. But this then contemporary musical element
seems somewhat out of place when juxtaposed against the film’s entirely tranquil
Californian countryside setting. Odder
still is the film’s main title song, “Incredible,” a pleasant but out-of-sync bossa nova vocal number sung by the
otherwise obscure singer Bobbie Boyle. Both interludes start the film off on a weird,
Screenwriter White (The
Glory Stompers. The Mini-Skirt Mob) admits that while writing the non-union
scenario for American-International, he had visualized horror-film maestro
Vincent Price in the role of the crazed Dr. Roger Girard: the part, for
whatever reason, went to a young, lithe Bruce Dern instead. A great actor by any standard, Dern turns in
an uncharacteristically aloof and workmanlike performance in The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. In his memoir Things I’ve Said but Probably Shouldn’t Have, Dern admits he wasn’t
at all thrilled about the role, but the offer of $3,500 for ten days work was
enough for him and his fiancé to get married on so he signed up. Regardless of the star’s dubious commitment
to the project, director Anthony M. Lanza keeps the film moving along at a good
clip, and it must be said the movie suffers no moments of padding.
The film certainly wastes no time in getting one
involved. We’re instantly transported to
a suburban home where a ghastly act of violence is in progress. With several bloodied bodies littering the
floor, a crazy-eyed psychopath – one with an unfortunate propensity for sexual
violence - is in the process of lasciviously terrifying a young girl. Thankfully, she’s saved from a lurid fate at
the last minute when the police arrive and subdue the madman. Though a prudent judge commits the murderous
rapist, Manuel Cass, (played with wild, eye-rolling fervor by Albert Cole) to a
mental institution “until sanity is restored,” there’s little chance of that
happening anytime soon. It’s not long
after his confinement that Cass murders an attendant and drives off into the
countryside in a sporty 1961 Dodge Comet.
The scene shifts to a seemingly more tranquil
environment. Though wife Linda is
adamant that her husband is a “fine surgeon” who could very well enjoy a
thriving “marvelous practice” if only he… well, put his head to it, Dr. Roger
Girard (Bruce Dern) seems pretty determined to remain less than respectable. Dr. Girard is a man obsessed: he’s single-minded in his determination to
transplant a second head on a human subject. He’s also pretty confident in his ability to accomplish such a task. He’s already succeeded in this endeavor - as
any number of twin-headed caged animals and serpents kept in his home laboratory
can attest. For what purpose, you might
ask? Well, the doctor’s preoccupation in
this matter is never adequately explained. He’s obviously self-interested in creating an unassailable reputation as
one of the scientific greats, but as for the moral complexities of his
twin-head experimentations… well, “future generations” can sort it all
out. The doctor’s suspicious, cagey elder
mentor-assistant Max (Berry Kroeger) mutters something early on about his
protégé being the only one who can restore his damaged hands “and the body
needed to go with them,” so there’s some surgical motive there as well. Dr. Girard, at least at first, doesn’t come
off quite as crazy as Max, but he too
is something of a nut case, quick to impart bitter, disparaging missives on the
small-minded dullards he once worked beside at the local hospital.
Not counting the paying audience, the true victims of The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant are
Pat Priest’s beleaguered Linda Girard and John Bloom’s Danny. As the not-so-good doctor’s luscious wife, any
on-screen appearance of Priest, the lovely and curvaceous former Marilyn
Munster, is welcomed. Sadly, without the
kindly Uncle Herman or Grandpa to watch over and afford her a measure of
familial protection, Priest’s lonely afternoon of poolside sun-bathing is interrupted
when she’s spied upon, kidnapped and near-sexually assaulted by the
psychopathic escapee. Her preoccupied
husband didn’t hear her screams as he was, as usual, puttering away with bad
intent in his hacienda-home laboratory. As awful as Cass manhandles Priest during the kidnapping, it must be
said that the treatment she receives from her own husband is barely
better. In the course of the film Dr. Girard
(all in the interest of scientific secrecy, of course) locks his wife in his
laboratory, gags her mouth, ties her to a bed, performs a needle injection
against her consent, feeds her tranquilizers, and imprisons her inside a large
steel cage… and this is not to mention the not inconsequential emotional abuse
she’s made to endure. But the doctor
promises his wife a nice vacation (“anywhere you want”) after he finishes up
his experiments, so all is good.
Director John Badham dissects the original trailer for John Ford's "Stagecoach" starring John Wayne in his star-making role. Here is his analysis from Joe Dante's "Trailers from Hell" web site. By all means, check out hundreds of other classic trailers reviewed by filmmakers and historians by clicking here.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Anchor Bay:
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – (March 22, 2016) – Award-winning
filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar’s (The Others, The Sea Inside) latest
psychological thriller Regression arrives May 10 on Blu-ray™ and
DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment and Dimension Films, and Digital HD and On
Demand from Starz Digital. Regression features an ensemble cast led
by Academy Award® nominee Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, Training Day,
The Purge), and Emma Watson (Harry Potter, Perks of Being a
Wallflower). Hailed as a “carefully-crafted tale of collective psychosis”
by the Hollywood Reporter, Regression also stars David
Thewlis (Harry Potter,Anomalisa), Dale Dickey (“True Blood”) and Devon Bostick
(“The 100”, Diary of a Wimpy Kid).
Minnesota, 1990. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke)
investigates the case of young Angela (Emma Watson), who accuses her
father, John Gray (David Dencik), of an unspeakable crime. When John
unexpectedly and without recollection admits guilt, renowned psychologist
Dr. Raines (David Thewlis) is brought in to help him relive his
memories and what they discover unmasks a horrifying
Regression will be available on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay
Entertainment for the suggested retail price of $26.99 and $22.98,
Criterion Collection released the wonderful Bicycle
Thieves on DVD in 2007 and now finally presents a marvelous new 4K digital
restoration of the Academy Award-winning picture (1950, Honorary Award for
Foreign Language Film) on Blu-ray. The movie was known in America for decades
as The Bicycle Thief—but the literal
translation of the Italian title is plural, and this also makes more sense in
the context of the film’s story. There is
more than one bicycle thief, and the revelation of the second one’s
identity is what gives De Sica’s picture its emotional power.
neorealism was a movement that lasted from 1945 to about 1952, and it was
highly influential for filmmakers around the world. There would not have been a
French New Wave in the early 60s had Italian neorealism not served as a
stylistic and thematic launching pad. Film scholars generally acknowledge
Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945)
as the first true Italian neorealist picture, for it presented a striking
naturalistic depiction of life among the lower class and the poor in post-World
War Two Italy. Strict realism had been attempted previously by other European
filmmakers (e.g., Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante),
but nothing had prepared the world for the harsh, yet affective, truthfulness
of Italian neorealism.
traits of the movement include working with extremely low budgets; shooting on-location
in the streets of war-torn cities often with hand-held cameras, creating a
documentary-like visual style; avoiding artifice in editing, camerawork, and
lighting in favor of a simple “style-less” presentation; using non-professional
actors in many cases; and adapting conversational, non-literary dialogue.
Thematically, the films focused on the plight of the poor and lower class as
they struggled to climb out of the horror that the world war had brought; a new
democratic spirit with emphasis on the value of “ordinary” people; a
compassionate point of view; humanism; and a focus on emotions rather than
Bicycle Thieves is an exemplary entry
of the movement; it is indeed the crown jewel. The story is simple—Antonio, a
poor man, finally gets a job that will pull his family, which consists of his
wife, his son Bruno (around eight or nine years old), and newborn baby, out of
poverty. But the job requires a bicycle that would enable Antonio to move
around Rome. All goes well for a day or so, until a thief steals the bike. For
the rest of the film, a desperate Antonio and Bruno scour the streets of the
city looking for the thief and the stolen bicycle, encountering a variety of
characters who try to help (or hinder) him. Yes, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was an homage of sorts to Bicycle Thieves.
Sica cast a shoe factory worker, Lamberto Maggiorani, as Antonio. For a
non-actor, his performance is exceptional. However, the real find was Enzo
Staiola as Bruno, who delivers arguably one of the greatest performances by a
child actor in the history of cinema. In many ways, the story is seen through
his eyes, and it is Bruno’s outlook of the world around him that defines the
direction is masterful, as is the script, which was written primarily by De
Sica and frequent collaborator Cesare Zavattini, who was responsible for the
screenplays of several important Italian neorealism pictures. De Sica presents
the characters’ poverty with a matter-of-factness that ultimately hits home
when Antonio’s impulsive actions nearly result in tragedy. It may be a
depressing film, and one that will cause the viewer to shed a tear or two, but
in the end there is a statement of humanity that each of us will recognize.
new Blu-ray looks terrific, as is the gold standard for Criterion. The film
contains an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The disk supplements from the
original DVD are ported over with nothing new added. They include: Working with De Sica, a fascinating
collection of interviews, including one with Enzo Staiola, who is now an old
man—and yet he still looks exactly like little Bruno!; Life As It Is, a piece on Italian neorealism with scholar Mark
Shiel; and a documentary from 2003 on screenwriter Zavattini. There is an
optional English-dubbed soundtrack. The booklet contains an essay by critic
Godfrey Cheshire, plus reminiscences by De Sica and his collaborators.
Bicycle Thieves is truly one of the great motion pictures. I screen itevery semester for my Film History
class at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. The picture is required
viewing for anyone interested in world cinema and the movements that shaped
If you were going to write a
script following the further adventures of two Shakespearean characters, it's a
safe bet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wouldn't be the first names to spring to
mind. For those who don't know, they are two minor characters from Shakespeare's
Hamlet. They become the focus of Tom Stoppard's 1966 play Rosencrantz
And Guildenstern Are Dead, adapted for the big screen in 1990. The title is
taken directly from a line spoken in Hamlet.
It is a fairly shapeless,
existential film. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Gary Oldman and Tim Roth)
travel around the wilderness, partaking in nonsensical debates about fate,
chance, life and death. They seem unsure of where they are going or why, and often
muddle up their own names as if they are not entirely certain of their
They stumble across a
travelling acting troupe fronted by the Lead Player (Richard Dreyfuss). He
gives them cryptic hints about their place in the bigger picture, but much of
his meaning is lost on them. Occasionally, they find themselves flitting into
the events happening at the Danish castle of Elsinore, where young Prince
Hamlet (Iain Glen) is descending into madness following the death of his father
and the subsequent marriage of his mother (Joanna Miles) to his scheming uncle,
Claudius (Donald Sumpter). When involved in the fineries of Hamlet's story,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern suddenly become different men - they become more
articulate and purposeful, and have a better understanding of their place in
the world. When the action moves away and they are left alone once more, they
slip back into nonsensical and often stupid character traits, as if they have
been stripped of their personality and understanding.
The film often focuses on
the off-stage aspects of Hamlet, wherein Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
are mostly confused by the small snippets of information they glean from their
position at the edge of the main action. They try hopelessly to piece together
what is happening in Hamlet's life (and the lives of other characters) during
their absence, but only come up with fanciful theories to explain situations
which lie beyond their grasp. The technique raises an important question for
the audience: what role do we play in other people's lives? Our friend's lives,
our family's lives, don't cease to exist just because we aren't present - yet
we don't know what is happening to them or what they are experiencing at any
given time unless we are there to bear witness. Ultimately, lives carry on
regardless and our understanding of any situation is dictated and shaped by
whatever snippets we see for ourselves.
It's a clever device which
enables us to relate to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We see that, like them,
we are merely minor characters on a much larger stage - called 'Life'. The two
main characters are constantly mistaken for each other by those around them;
even between themselves they often forget which one is Rosencrantz and which is
Guildenstern. In some ways, Stoppard is mocking the way they are written in the
play, indicating they are so similar that they might as well have been rolled
into one, since there is not enough discernible difference between them.
One can imagine that
adapting the play for the big screen would present a daunting prospect for many
directors. It comes as little surprise, then, that Stoppard himself directed
the film version. As he pointed out in
an interview with the Los Angeles Times: "It began to become clear
that it might be a good idea if I did it myself—at least the director wouldn't
have to keep wondering what the author meant. It just seemed that I'd be the
only person who could treat the play with the necessary disrespect." He does a commendablejob here, and it seems surprising this was his one and only film directing assignment. With over 40 writing
credits to his name, it would have been interesting to see him adapting and directing
one of his other plays.
During the casting stages,
Stoppard approached Sean Connery to play the Lead Player. Once Connery's name was associated with the
production, Stoppard was able to secure funding for it.Unfortunately, around this time Connery was having problems with his
throat, leading him to visit a specialist who discovered abnormal
cells which had to be surgically removed. Connery pulled out of the feature to concentrate
on his health. Stoppard reacted angrily, informing the actor he had committed to the film and the producers would take the matter further. In
the end, Connery settled the matter out of court. It's not difficult to visualise Connery in the role: he would have had fun with the character and his voice would have
suited the prose beautifully, but alasit was not to be. Richard Dreyfuss makes a
perfectly worthy replacement, full of energy and mischievous humour in the
Through a distribution deal with the Warner Archive, many Paramount titles are being reissued on DVD. Among them: "Hustle", a 1975 crime flick starring Burt Reynolds and Catherine Deneuve. The film is definitely of an era when cop and gangster movies largely defined the medium. Directed by Robert Aldrich, "Hustle" doesn't rate high on the achievement scale of any of the participants but that isn't to say it doesn't have redeeming values that make it worth a look. The film opens on a sobering note with a group of grammar school kids rejoicing in a field trip to the beach- only to immediately discover a body in the surf. Turns out she is Gloria Hollinger, a wayward teen who had been living a troubled life. L.A. police Lt. Phil Gaines (Burt Reynolds) and his partner Sgt. Louis Belgrave (Paul Winfield) are assigned to investigate the death. The coroner quickly dismisses the death as a suicide. Gaines and Belgrave accept that verdict but they are then confronted by Gloria's grieving parents, Marty and Paula Hollinger (Ben Johnson and Eileen Brennan). Marty is an emotionally unstable man who has never recovered from traumas suffered in the Korean War. He has a short fuse and an explosive temper. His wife tells Gaines and Belgrave that although their daughter's promiscuous ways caused them anxiety, Marty was extremely close to her. He becomes obsessed with finding the person or people he believes murdered his daughter. He locks horns with the cops and accuses them of being complicit in a cover-up. Meanwhile, Belgrave starts to have second thoughts about the suicide theory. Initially, his pleas to re-open the case are rejected by Gaines and their boss, Captain Santoro (Ernest Borgnine) but eventually he relents and begins to investigate further. The trail leads to Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert), a sophisticated business tycoon with a penchant for wining and dining prostitutes- including Gaines's own girlfriend, Nicole Britton (Catherine Deneuve), who is a high priced call girl. Gaines learns that Sellers did indeed have contact with Gloria and that he arranged for her to star in porn films for his own pleasure. He denies having anything to do with her death, however. Marty Hollinger isn't buying the denial and sets out to avenge his daughter- an act that leads to a dramatic confrontation with Sellers.
"Hustle" strives to be more complex and intelligent than many of the low-end cop films from this era. To a degree it succeeds. The script by Steve Shagan does accentuate relationships and character development over major action sequences. However, the script is also problematic because the story line never really engages the viewer on an emotional level. The victim of the alleged crime is already dead when we first see her so there is little emotional resonance toward her character. Much of the screen time is taken up with the ups and downs of Gaines's relationship with Nicole. Theirs is more than a love affair of convenience. He is clearly smitten by her but harbors resentment over her lifestyle as a hooker. Nicole, for her part, is quite comfortable with her line of work. She will only give it up if Gaines marries her, something he is reluctant to do, having already been in a failed marriage. Reynolds and Deneuve defined charisma and glamour on screen in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, director Aldrich has plenty of bedroom scenes with his attractive leads but they are strangely bland and anything but erotic. Writer Shagan attempts to delve deeply into Gaines's psyche. He's sarcastic and cynical toward his job and superiors (in the tradition of all '70s cinematic cops) and he seems cold and unemotional. He also harbors fantasies about returning to Rome, where he once visited in relation to an investigation. He even keeps a calendar from 1968 on his wall to remind him of his goal to return to Italy. There are also references (not very well explained) of his obsession with "Moby Dick". The latter two personality quirks are supposed to be endearing but come across as rather pretentious in the scheme of the story. As for Deneuve, she is largely used for window dressing. We see her sauntering around the apartment and occasionally profiting from engaging in an obscene phone call with a client. In reality, her character could easily have been removed from the script without any major detriment to the overall story line.
The film meanders through some rather innocuous sequences before leading to the climax, which is quite intriguing and much better than most of what proceeded it. Reynolds and Deneuve are in fine form but the best performances come from Eileen Brennan and Ben Johnson as the distraught parents. Johnson, in particular, is a frightening force of nature and gives a riveting performance. Ernest Borgnine is largely wasted in a couple of short sequences that are rather weakly written. Paul Winfield gives the film an additional emotional core as the antithesis of Gaines in that he is a man of compassion and honor. Eddie Albert, always an asset to any film, is spot-on as usual, but also under-utilized. Other familiar faces in supporting roles include Catherine Bach and Jack Carter. The film, photographed by Joseph Biroc, has a grainy look that is compatible with many action movies of this period and composer Frank De Vol's score ranges from disco-like themes to schmaltzy romantic mood music.
The Warner Archive release contains no extra features.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from the Tribeca Film Festival.
New York, NY – March 18, 2016 – The Tribeca Film
Festival (TFF), presented by AT&T, announced today that Martin Scorsese’s
powerful psychological thriller Taxi Driver will celebrate its 40th Anniversary
on April 21 at the 15th edition of the Festival. Starring Robert DeNiro, Jodie
Foster, Albert Brooks, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle, and Cybill Shepherd,
Directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Paul Schrader and produced by Michael
Phillips and Julia Phillips, the 1976 film was nominated for four Academy
Awards®, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Robert De Niro; and two
Golden Globes. One of TIME Magazines “all-TIME 100 Movies,” Taxi Driver was
called “a brilliant nightmare,” by the Chicago Sun-Times and praised by the
Village Voice as “a phenomenon from another day and age.”
Following the anniversary screening at the Beacon Theatre,
Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, and Paul
Schrader will take part in a special conversation moderated by Kent Jones.
Tickets will be available beginning March 24 at 10am EST by visiting
beacontheatre.com or by calling Ticketmaster at 866-858-0008866-858-0008 FREE FREE FREE.
The evening is sponsored by Infor. The Tribeca Film Festival will take place
“Taxi Driver is one of the most brilliantly
disturbing movies ever made, and why I chose to go into film. It's had an
indelible impact on pop culture, and its performances rank among the most
memorable in cinema,” said Jane Rosenthal, co-founder, Tribeca Film Festival,
and Executive Chair, Tribeca Enterprises. “It's a great honor to have the
original cast at the Festival and to present this masterpiece to a new
"It’s odd to think that four decades have passed
since we shot Taxi Driver on the streets of a very different New York City. It
was made in a surge of energy, starting with Paul’s one-of-a-kind script, and I
was working with an extraordinary group of artistic collaborators as anyone
could ever hope for—Jodie, who was 13 years old at the time, and Bob gave the
picture something precious, dangerous, and altogether remarkable. I’m honored
to take part in the celebration of the film’s 40th anniversary at this year’s
Tribeca Film Festival,” said Martin Scorsese.
“It’s a great honor for TFF to revisit Taxi Driver.
I’m very proud to have worked on this film with Marty, Jodie, Harvey, Cybill,
Paul, Michael and Julia as well as the extraordinary cast and crew. I remain
equally proud today," said Robert De Niro, Festival
An alienated and quiet loner, taxi driver Travis Bickle
(Robert De Niro) works the night shift in Manhattan. After failing to
land a date with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a beautiful campaign aide for
presidential candidate Palentine (Leonard Harris), an encounter with a 12- year
old prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster), and her pimp, Sport (Harvey Keitel),
convinces Travis that the world is a rotten place. And as his frustration
mounts, he assembles a cache of guns and then learns how to use them…with
Sony Pictures digitally restored and re-mastered Taxi
Driver to 4K from the original negative, which was shown in a limited
theatrical release. Taxi Driver is currently available on Blu-ray and
digital from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York, will present a film festival dedicated to Oscar winning legend Sidney Poitier. It runs April 9-17 and includes screenings of "No Way Out", "Buck and the Preacher", "In the Heat of the Night", "A Raisin in the Sun", "The Defiant Ones", "Paris Blues", "Uptown Saturday Night", "Let's Do It Again" and "Edge of the City". Click here for info.
"Batman v. Superman": potential blockbuster or "Cleopatra Redux".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
The heavily-hyped Warner Brothers super hero epic "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is one of the most heavily promoted films in years. It's also one of the most expensive. Variety estimates that the film's $250 million production budget plus ancillary marketing costs will make it necessary for the movie to gross $800 worldwide just to break even. You read that right: $800 million. One industry analyst says that anything less than a gross of $1 billion will be considered a disappointment. Warner Brothers contends that those figures don't take into consideration ancillary revenues from video and merchandising. Fair enough, but if a film bombs, generally speaking, the merchandise and video sales do, too. If you doubt it, how many people did you see walking around with "Waterworld" or "Howard the Duck" T shirts? Veteran screenwriter William Goldman once said of the film industry "Nobody knows anything." That was decades ago and it's still true today. The major studios are so devoid of any original ideas that they can only keep upping the ante in hopes of milking the current passion for big-budget comic book hero productions. It seems that if "Hamlet" were to be brought to the big screen nowadays, the famed soliloquy would have to be delivered by some guy in a cape and mask. Warner Brothers says that the fate of the studio doesn't depend on "Batman vs. Superman", but the fact that they would have to make such a statement indicates how high the stakes are in terms of this film delivering the goods.
Short-sighted studio executives have always been suckers for mega-budget would-be blockbusters. After the success of "Ben-Hur" and "The Ten Commandments" in the late 1950s, studios churned out any number of big-budget roadshow productions. Some worked out well ("The Sound of Music", "Patton", "The Longest Day"), some did okay ("The Alamo", "The Sand Pebbles") while many more lost substantial sums of money ("Mutiny on the Bounty", "55 Days at Peking", "Reds", "Hello, Dolly!", "Cleopatra", "Paint Your Wagon" and the notorious "Heaven's Gate"). That isn't to say that most of these boxoffice bombs weren't good movies. In fact, some were great movies, but from a sound business standpoint, their budgets should never have been allowed to jeopardize the health of the entire studio. When James Cameron's "Titanic" went over-budget and ended up costing $200 million back in 1997, industry executives swore they would never put themselves in such a precarious situation again. Guess what? The film became a blockbuster and all caution was thrown to the wind. Before long, directors who were deemed to be hot could get a virtual blank check if they could convince studio bosses that they had the next "can't miss" formula. That included Cameron, who ended up dropping $300 million on "Avatar", which managed to denounce capitalist corporations even as Cameron sought millions from the same entities to finance his already-forgettable blockbuster. (Cameron had learned never to sink your own money into your own production, regardless of how passionate you are about it. It was a lesson learned the hard way by John Wayne on "The Alamo" and Francis Ford Coppola on "Apocalypse Now".) However, the truth of the matter is that the industry is relying on fewer and fewer blockbusters to carry the baggage for other costly productions that either under-perform or bomb outright. The jury is not yet in on "Batman v. Superman" but how it stacks up in terms of quality isn't the most relevant factor. If the movie doesn't open huge there will be at lot of pants wetting in the corporate boardroom. (Word of mouth on the film is worrying. Apparently, trailers aren't testing that well with the fan boy base the studio needs to woo.)
Here's a suggestion: how about cutting back on productions that have budgets equivalent to some nation's entire gross national product and get back in the business of making modestly-budgeted movies that are designed to make modest profits. Studios never bet the ranch on mid-range westerns, war movies and spy flicks. Kate Hepburn, Jerry Lewis, Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster and Marilyn Monroe never starred in high risk blockbusters but their films could always be relied upon to make a decent profit. In the rare cases they did not, the losses were never very substantial. Remember when classic sci-fi movies like "Planet of the Apes" could be completed on relatively small budgets even with major talent involved? Today, insane salaries for overpaid talent have driven the costs of films sky high even before shooting even begins. This, despite the fact that unlike days of old, there are precious few genuine "stars" still left in the industry. What defines a star? Someone whose name on the marquee virtually guarantees a film's success, regardless of the quality of a film. Try thinking of how many actors today meet that criteria. The studios have learned nothing since the era in which Fox bet its very future on the fate of one film: "Cleopatra". It's a practice akin to the average person betting their life savings on a sure bet at a casino. I dunno. I'm just a guy with a blue collar background from Jersey City but I think I could run a studio boardroom more responsibly than some of the folks who are now doing so-- and so could you. Nobody knows anything.
as nails CIA agent Nick Pirandello (James Belushi) recruits milquetoast insurance
agent and suburban family man Bob Wilson (John Ritter) to save the world in
“Real Men,” a 1987 equal parts action comedy, spy movie, road movie and buddy
movie now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. Buddy movies dominated the
action genre throughout the 70s and 80s in theaters and, on TV and just about
every male star appeared in at least one. The “Lethal Weapon” movies starring
Mel Gibson and Danny Glover typified the genre with the apparent mismatch of personalities
who eventually work together to bring the plot to a satisfying resolution.
is no stranger to the buddy movie, having starred in a few throughout the 80s
including “Red Heat” with Arnold Schwarzenegger. While the two leads play it mostly
straight, the movie does provide laughs, action and also veers into science
fiction as it builds on one odd scene after another. Just as things start to move
in one direction, the movie takes a new turn into weirdness which is a big part
of the fun. It’s basically a series of non-sequiturs sequenced to bring about a
satisfying conclusion. Somehow it all works.
happens to look exactly like a recently killed CIA agent and Nick is sent to escort
him from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in five days to complete the dead spy’s
mission by Friday. Nick calmly explains their mission as he assembles a nail-firing
machine gun from parts found in Bob’s garage in order to fend the group of
unknown agents trying to kill them. Nick reveals their mission which is to meet
up with extra-terrestrial visitors (Nick calls them Ufoes) seeking a glass of
water in exchange for the “good package” or the “big gun”. The bad guys want
the big gun but the good package will save the earth from the effects of a recent
toxic waste accident which will result in the end of mankind. Bob proves hard
to convince and attempts escape at every opportunity, but Nick pulls out every
trick in the book to convince Bob that their mission is important to America
and the world, as they’re confronted by several groups of agents including
Russian KGB, rogue CIA agents and clown assassins.
escaping and driving through the night, they make a pit stop in Las Vegas. Nick
tries to prove the truth of his mission by showing a still doubting Bob a pen
inscribed by the Ufoes with, “To Nick from his Friends Far Away.” Still
unconvinced, Nick hammers the pen through a baseball after which it levitates,
sprouts antennae, spins and flies away. Russian agents show up and, after Nick
fails at negotiating a truce with a sultry female Russian agent, the shooting
begins again. Just as things start looking grim, the Russians stop shooting for
their lunch break. The duo calmly walks away from the halted firefight and end
up at Nick’s parents’ home where Bob meets Nick’s mom (a cameo by Barbara
Barrie) and dad. Nick explains that dad has gone through some big changes in
his life and is very happy now as a woman. Dad is played by Dyanne Thorne, best
known to fans of 70s exploitation cinema as the star of the Ilsa exploitation series,
in a funny sequence that ends with Thorne reminding Bob to call.
Thursday they’re in Indianapolis where they pick up a special glass to hold the
water for the Ufoes. They also engage the CIA killer clown unit. Nick is a
crack shot and seemingly has eyes in the back of his head. After falling in
love with a dominatrix he meets in Pittsburg, Nick briefly loses interest in
the mission, but by then Bob has gained the confidence Nick has lost and completes
Ritter was good at playing the type of character portrayed in the past by Bob
Hope, Danny Kaye and Don Knotts; the cowardly loser who comes through in the
end and gets the girl. In this case he earns the respect of his wife and kids
when he goes after the neighborhood bullies who stole his son’s bike. Jim
Belushi is also very effective as the relative straight man. He’s tough,
confident and plays it cool throughout, but also come across as a bit of the
slippery con man ala Bud Abbott and Dean Martin. Belushi and Ritter have good
chemistry and it’s a pity they didn’t do another film together.
by United Artists in 1987, this is the sole directing credit for Dennis Feldman
who also wrote the film’s screenplay. Known as a writer and producer, his
previous credits include “Just One of the Guys,” “The Golden Child,” “Species”
and “Virus.” In some ways the movie is a precursor to “Men in Black” where
government agents also have secret knowledge of extraterrestrials and compete
in an effort to garner favors from their advanced technology. The movie
underperformed at the box office, but did find life on cable TV and home video
release. Miles Goodman provides an entertaining score which does a fine job
underscoring the strange elements of the film.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks and sounds great. The only extra is the trailer, but
it’s worth a look because it’s simply a series of scenes between Nick and Bob
explaining what makes a man a “real man.” The movie is definitely an acquired
taste, but Belushi and Ritter are very good very likable as a team. The movie
isn’t for everyone, but it’s unique, entertaining and worth a look.
Hefti’s soundtrack compositions always seem to define a sense of good safe ground.
Throughout the 1960s, Hefti provided light but always memorable scores
including TV’s Batman (1966-68), How to Murder your wife (1965), Barefoot in
the park (1967) and The Odd Couple (1968). Perhaps rather less memorable were
the comedies Boeing Boeing (1965) and Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s hung you in the
closet and I’m feelin’ so sad (1967). Boeing Boeing marked the last strains of
Paramount’s association with Jerry Lewis and co-starred Tony Curtis. A romantic
comedy farce, the film is set in Paris, and Hefti’s loungey, easy-listening feel
makes it an enjoyable experience. There are of course certain familiarities. Hefti’s signature sound is hard to ignore:
smooth brass and witty electric keyboard motifs all signify a certain 60s
charm. Vocalion’s new release (CDLK4578) marks Boeing Boeing’s first venture on
CD. At just 28 minutes, it’s a straight forward re-release of RCA’s original
1965 LP. Nevertheless, Vocalion have sensibly paired Boeing Boeing with Hefti’s
soundtrack album, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung you in the closet and I’m Feelin’
So Sad (1967). A much darker comedy and based upon the stage play by Arthur L.
Kopit, the film version starred Rosalind Russell, Robert Morse and Barbara
Harris. Hefti’s music offers a rather bizarre mix of flavours, with its main
theme song (a kid’s ditty of sorts) performed by a children’s chorus. There is
also a good deal of Bossa Nova beats and a rather nice Latin infused love
theme. Again, it is typical of that very comfortable Mancini Sixties
environment. Listen out in particular to the track ‘This is Mother’ and you
might just pick up more than a hint of Hefti’s Batman’s backbeat. Hefti’s Oh
Dad is another short score, and another straight reworking of the original album
- coming in at just 24 minutes
probably fair to assume that either of these scores (in their individual
capacity) would tend to struggle. However, as a pairing they actually work very
well and complement each other seamlessly. They achieve a rather nice balance
and as a result, a very enjoyable collection of Neal Hefti’s film music emerges.
The accompanying booklet consists of just a 2 Panel (4 page) insert containing
the original album notes – which is a shame. Thankfully, Vocalion’s excellent audio
production of the two albums makes it a worthwhile purchase.
Nancy Sinatra posted a tribute to her brother on her Facebook page.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Frank Sinatra Jr, the only son of the iconic singer and actor, has died at age 72 from cardiac arrest. A consummate performer who was described by the Washington Post as the "Keeper of his father's flame", was on tour when he fell ill. Sinatra Jr.'s story is not dissimilar to that of other children of legendary entertainers in that his last name opened certain doors and helped him establish a career but also posed challenges in terms of his ability to establish an identity of his own. Sinatra Jr. always had a checkered relationship with his father. While not actually estranged, the young man found his father to be a remote figure who was content to have his son educated in expensive boarding schools. The elder Sinatra never tried to mentor his son or advise him as to what profession to enter. Sinatra Jr. discovered early in life that he also had a gift for singing. In the 1960s he made the decision to follow in his father's footsteps by crooning traditional love songs accompanied by a big band. His father neither encouraged or discouraged that decision. Sinatra Jr. was bucking the trends of the 1960s counter culture, an era in which hard rock music was all the rage among people his age. Yet he never embraced it and in fact denounced rock and roll. Over the decades Sinatra Jr. doggedly worked to establish his own identity- an admittedly difficult task considering he was mostly singing numbers made famous by his father. Sinatra Jr. made headlines in 1963 when he was kidnapped and held for ransom. Ironically, one of his kidnapper's was a friend of his sister Nancy. The situation made international news and involved such disparate figures as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, F.B.I. chief J. Edgar Hoover and mob boss Sam Giancana. He was eventually released unharmed and the kidnappers were arrested. In 1988 he was shocked and delighted to be asked by his father to serve as his conductor for his live concerts. Sinatra Jr. indicated that this was the closest he would ever get to his father, traveling and working with him over a period of seven years. The two men were never close but Sinatra Jr. was clearly grateful for the opportunity to work with his father in a professional capacity. After his father's death, Sinatra Jr. resumed his big band concert tours, winning over appreciative audiences. He candidly told the media in 2006 that "I was never a success", pointing out that he never had a hit record or movie. However, he did take satisfaction from performing in front of his own fans and working diligently with his sisters to ensure the Sinatra legacy through official documentaries and books. In that respect he was indeed a success.
“A Bullet for Joey” (1955) with Edward G. Robinson,
George Raft and Audrey Totter is one of those “Red scare” movies from the
mid-fifties that combines elements of a crime plot with espionage and the evils
of communism. It was the Cold War era and people were digging bomb shelters and
practicing “duck and cover” air raid drills, while at the same time, congressional
committees hauled in suspected Communist Party members, including actors,
writers and directors, to testify and name names. Hollywood did its part, in
turn, by black listing suspected commies and turning out anti-communism films
like John Wayne’s “Big Jim McClain” “The Woman on Pier 13 (“I Married a
Communist”), and “I Was a Communist for the FBI.” “A Bullet for Joey”, despite
having two of Hollywood’s toughest tough guy actors in the cast, is one of the
weaker examples of this sub-genre.
It concerns a conspiracy by Communist agents who want to
kidnap a nuclear scientist named Macklin who is living in Montreal and has
developed some kind of secret atomic weapon. The Reds want to take him and his
device to Moscow. It’s not a bad story idea on the face of it. But who do you
suppose they enlist to carry out such a risky venture? Some skilled KGB agent? Some
steely-eyed Russian veteran of the Cold War? No. They get the crack-brain idea
to go to Portugal and contact Joey Victor, a deported American gangster played by
a tired-looking George Raft. They give him money, fake ID papers and send him
to Canada to snatch the scientist. Sure, I guess if you want to pull off a
super-secret international kidnapping, why not hire a nondescript guy like
Public Enemy No. 1? Makes sense to me. Even harder to swallow is the idea that
Joey would take the job not really knowing who the people are that are hiring
him, or why they would want to capture a nuclear scientist in the first place.
All he cares about is the money and a chance to slip over the Canadian border
and get back in the U.S. This is called putting blinders on your main character
so he can stumble through an overly contrived plot.
At this point you might be wondering what Edward G.
Robinson is doing all this time. Well, Edward G plays a Canadian Mountie Inspector
by the name of Le Duc who starts investigating a string of seemingly
unconnected murders that have suddenly sprung up in Montreal. Looking every bit as tired and worn out as
Raft, Edward G. goes through the usual police procedural motions as if in his
sleep. There are clues such as an organ grinder found in the river with his
face removed, a homely girl shot three times on a lover’s lane, a guy shot
through a window by a rifle with a telescopic sight. As he sifts through the
evidence, Le Duc discovers they all have one thing in common—they’re all
connected in some way to a nuclear scientist named Macklin.
Meanwhile, Joey gets help from the Soviet agents
reassembling his old mob including his former flame Audrey Totter. She’s
brought in to seduce the atomic scientist, and set him up for the kidnapping.
Joey advises her not to get involved with him, but she does anyway and tries to
get a note off to Edward G. spilling the beans. Totter, an actress whose
presence graced many a decent film noir, isn’t used very well in this flick.
Mostly she stands around looking like a big cat about to claw everybody’s eyes
out. She does have one of the best lines in the movie, however, when Joey
barges into her room as she’s writing the letter as she tries to hide it and
“Are your knuckles sore?”
“No why?”, Joey answers.
“Go back out and bang them on the door.”
That gives you some idea of the kind of script the
writers came up for this one. Maybe you can’t blame Edward G for looking tired
and bored when he’s forced to utter lines like: “Women are what makes life a
pleasure for men.”
I won’t bore you with further details of the plot, mainly
because I can’t remember anymore, even though I watched this film twice. I
don’t know if it was Lewis Gilbert’s lackluster direction, the cockamamie
script by blacklisted writer Daniel Mainwaring and A. I. Bezzerides (from the
novel by James Benson Nablo), or the tired and listless performances of the two
leads that was responsible for the eye-glazing experience watching “A Bullet
for Joey” turned out to be. All I can remember is squirming in my seat, feeling
itchy, getting up to get a drink, getting up again to use the rest room, and
finally just throwing up my hands in frustration during a scene where the cops
and gangsters are shooting it out on a boat, and all Edward G can do is try to
get through to headquarters on a radio that doesn’t work. There are guns a-blazing,
bad guys running all over the place, and in the middle of it, Edgar G is
sitting in a truck with the microphone in his hand, repeating: “Headquarters,
come in. This is inspector LeDuc calling. Headquarters, come in.” In this scene
Le Duc comes off almost as comically inept as Inspector Clouseau in one of
Blake Edwards Pink Panther movies.
There was, of course, the final moment, after Edgar G is
captured when he asks Joey why he took a job without knowing what it was all
about? Finally a light bulb goes off
over the gangster’s head when he realizes turning the scientist over to the
commies is a crime against humanity. Joey rises to the occasion and tries to
redeem himself. The title pretty much tells you how that turns out.
This was the second time Robinson and Raft worked
together. The first was in “Manpower” (1941) with Marlene Dietrich. The two
guys got in a fight over Dietrich at the time. Maybe that’s what this film
needed. Some behind the scenes shenanigans to put some life into what is otherwise
a pretty dull and lifeless movie. Too bad two old legends couldn’t have found a
better vehicle for their last appearance together.
This Kino Lorber
Blu-Ray is presented in the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the picture and
sound are okay, even though no effort was made at digital restoration. There
are signs of wear and tear. The disc has no extras other than a couple of
trailers. I’ve given high marks to most of Kino Lorber’s Studio Classic series.
I appreciate their desire to keep older, and more obscure films in circulation.
But this is one is marginal at best.
One of the most popular and enduring sitcoms of its era, "McHale's Navy" ran from 1962-1966. The premise centered on Lt. Commander Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine), a PT boat skipper stationed in the South Pacific (later transferred to Italy) during WWII along with a motley but lovable crew of swabbies. McHale and his men are unconventional, to say the least, and routinely disregard basic military discipline. They are so unruly that they have been relegated to their own tiny island, which suits them just fine. Here they brew booze, entertain young women and run about dressed in party attire. They also manage to "adopt" a genial Japanese prisoner-of-war, Fuji (Yoshio Yoda), who manages to stay hidden despite indulging in all the excesses of McHale and his crew. McHale's antics are to the chagrin of their superior officer, Capt. Binghamton (Joe Flynn), who is constantly devising schemes to catch McHale and his men in a major infraction and have them court martialed. Inevitably, just in the nick of time McHale and his crew distinguish themselves in some sort of military action that brings them praise from the top brass instead of ending their careers.
The series proved to be so popular that is spawned two feature films that have now been released as a double-feature DVD by Shout! Factory. "McHale's Navy" was certainly not the first TV series to have a cross-over to the big screen. In the 1950s Walt Disney edited together several episodes of his immensely popular "Davy Crockett" series starring Fess Parker and released them as the feature film "Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier". During the 1960s and 1970s, the same process was used to release previously-seen TV episodes as feature films, though many were seen only in European markets. These included "Mission Impossible Vs. The Mob", "Mission: Monte Carlo" (based on "The Persuaders") and most notably, eight entire feature films derived from two-part episodes of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.". "McHale's Navy" was a more ambitious venture because, like the big screen versions of "Batman" and "The Munsters" ("Munsters Go Home!"), it at least consisted of entirely new material shot specifically for the theatrical version. The real thrill for fans of such shows was the ability to see their favorites on the big screen in color during an era in which precious few homes boasted color TVs.
The plot of the first film is reed-thin. McHale crew member Gruber (Carl Ballantine) tries to raise funds for an orphanage by devising a massive betting scheme predicated on the outcome of a horse race in Australia that has already been completed. However, the bettors won't legitimately know the results of that race until the newspaper is delivered by mail drop a week after the race's conclusion. Thus a large number of servicemen converge on McHale's island to engage in the betting. The trouble is that almost everyone is betting on the favorite: Silver Spot. When the newspaper arrives, Gruber discovers to his horror that Silver Spot has indeed won- and now the pot isn't big enough to pay off the bettors. McHale and Gruber stall for time and buy a week during which they must come up with the money to pay off the bettors. McHale and his men sail their PT 73 to New Calendonia where McHale reunites with a former lover, Margot (Jean Willes), a local saloon owner who he hopes will lend him the funds. She agrees to do so but only for a steep price: he must consent to marry her. Meanwhile, McHale's bumbling executive officer, Ensign Parker (Tim Conway) attempts to rescue a local French beauty, Andrea (Claudine Longet) from a bothersome local wolf, a rich businessman, Le Clerc (an unrecognizable George Kennedy). He earns her respect and his wrath but he also accidentally launches a depth charge that destroys one of the docks owned by Le Clerc. Now McHale and his men must come up with money for damages or risk being imprisoned. In a plot device that is as improbable even by sitcom standards, it turns out the valuable Silver Spot has gone missing and the crew of the PT 73 just happens upon him on a remote island. They attempt to win the money they need by disguising the horse and running him in another race under another name. The "Day at the Races"-like scenario falls apart, exposing the crew's deceitful tactic- but when McHale and his men thwart a Japanese submarine attack, all is forgiven and they are rewarded with enough cash to pay off all their debts. The film provides some pleasant entertainment and manages- ever so slightly- to spice things up compared to the TV series. (It's clear that McHale and Margot enjoy a pretty steamy past.) Also, the ever-virginal Ensign Parker finds himself uncomfortably close to Andrea as she tries to change out of wet clothing. Much of the fun derives from watching the great Joe Flynn and Tim Conway interact with impeccable comedic timing. The direction by Edward J. Montagne is well-paced. Montagne, who also produced the TV series, was an underrated talent, having helmed and/or produced the terrific Don Knotts feature films of the era including the cult classic "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken".
Edward Montagne was also in the director's chair for "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force", released in 1965 on the heels of the first film's success. This time, however, Ernest Borgnine is nowhere to be seen. Borgnine told this writer years ago that he never got a clear explanation for why the film was made without him but said that theater owners leveled criticism at him, thinking he refused to be in it. In fact, Borgnine said he was flabbergasted that he had never been asked to appear in the movie. There were probably two motives for by-passing him. The first was money. By eliminating the highest paid cast member, Universal could keep production values low. Second, the studio might have wanted to give unrestrained screen time to the antics of Joe Flynn and Tim Conway, who were becoming an enormously popular duo through the TV series. In any event, Borgnine's absence is initially glaring but the as the film gets underway it turns out this sequel is superior to the original. The plot is more ambitious and the antics of Conway and Flynn are unrestrained. This film also affords McHale's crew- which consists of some wonderful character actors like Billy Sands, Gavin MacLeod and Carl Ballantine- to appear as something more than mere window dressing. This time around the plot revolves around a case of mistaken identity. Cutting through the clutter, it boils down to Ensign Parker first being mistaken for defecting Soviet officer and being arrested by KGB agents (one of whom is played by Len Lesser, who went on to appear as Uncle Leo in the "Seinfeld" series). Parker bumbles his way out of that but then becomes mistaken for a high profile Army officer (Ted Bessell), who has a reputation for being quite the lady's man. A lot of the fun revolves around the hapless, innocent Parker becoming a chick magnet for the likes of willing young women played by Susan Silo and Jean Hale, among others. Since the Army Air Corps officer Parker is impersonating is also a master pilot, he is forced to act as navigator aboard a bomber. Through a convoluted series of events, Binghamton ends up aboard the plane with him and the two wreak havoc before tumbling out of the plane on a jeep that is suspended from the cargo hull by a parachute. Flynn and Conway are like a modern version of Laurel and Hardy and I must admit that, despite the sheer predictability of their routine, I ended up chuckling out loud at numerous points. Meanwhile, McHale's crew gets some screen time when they switch uniforms with Russian sailors in order to sneak off PT 73 and go into town to get drunk. This, of course, turns out to have disastrous unforeseen consequences. The film also benefits from some other familiar character actors of the era including Henry Beckman, Tom Tully and Willis Bouchey, all of whom are marvelous to watch. Both films also feature the deft comedic turns by series regular Bob Hastings as Binghamton's ever-present aide and boot-licker, Lt. Elroy Carpenter, whose devotion to his unappreciative boss borders on the homo erotic. (I'm convinced the Mr. Burns/ Smithers relationship in "The Simpsons" is directly based on the Binghamton/Carpenter characters in "McHale's Navy"). As with the previous film, this one is a bit more mature in terms of sexual content, though it remains firmly in the category of family entertainment. The women's sexual aggressiveness would never have made it in the TV series (Jean Hale's character in particular makes it clear she can't wait to bed the legendary Romeo that Parker is impersonating). In another scene, Parker and Binghamton uncover a shipment of brassieres and both of them are clueless as to what they are.
Both of the Shout! Factory transfers are completely pristine and make for a highly enjoyable afternoon of "McHale" bing-watching. Unfortunately, there are no bonus extras.
In light of his artsy, unaffected, at times entirely
improvised trilogy of “road movies”—Alice
in the Cities (1974), Wrong Move
(1975), and Kings of the Road
(1976)—Wim Wenders considered The
American Friend (1977) to be his riskiest film to date. Fortunately, the
gamble paid off and this picture, more than any of his prior efforts, placed
him prominently on the world stage, garnering him international attention and critical
acclaim. While Patricia Highsmith’s source novel, Ripley’s Game, was not his first choice of her work to bring to the
big screen (it was, in fact, not yet published), the end result is a satisfying
thriller enveloped in a morally ambiguous milieu of existential drama.
Stricken with a blood disease, workaday picture framer
Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) encounters disreputable forged art dealer Tom
Ripley (Dennis Hopper) at an auction, where the former is wise to the fakery
being peddled by the latter. When Ripley extends a hand to Zimmermann, who
ignores the gesture and rebukes the criminal with a dismissive, “I've heard of
you,” the snub rubs Ripley the wrong way. Based on this seemingly innocuous
slight, he and shady collaborator Raoul Minot (Gérard Blain) scheme to get
Zimmermann involved in a murderous plot. Playing off the threat that his
ailment has grown increasingly terminal (thanks to some fraudulent documents),
Ripley and Minot arrange for Zimmermann to take out a fellow gangster target. He
would be an unassuming figure for a murder anyway, with no connection to
Ripley, Minot, or the victim, and for his efforts, he would financially secure
his wife and young son in the wake of his death.
The initial catalyst of the forged painting, as well as the
ensuing personal deceitfulness, are indicative of the film’s primary theme, that
of the complex nature of mistaken and/or assumed identity. Early in The American Friend, when Ripley
ruminates, “I know less and less about who I am or who anybody else is,” it is
an explicit expression of this thematic thread. As the film plays out, he and
Zimmermann both embark on a profound journey building upon fluctuating ideals
and actions, sometime out of necessity—to adapt and stay alive—and sometimes just
for the pretense.
In any case, having done the deed, the oblivious yet
earnestly considerate Zimmermann (considerate for his family, that is, if not
the man he murders) evolves from an innocent amateur to an ethically problematic
criminal in his own right. The full weight of the abrupt shift to unscrupulous
behavior is made all the more disconcerting after he realizes no immediate consequences
for the assassination. First he is surprised and obviously pleased by the lack
of judicial punishment, then his joy borders on disturbing exultation. The man
who is at one point described as “quiet and peaceful” has now become a cold
blooded killer for hire. Just as with Highsmith’s most famous Ripley novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, appearances here
can be deceiving and easily deceived. As the proliferation of illicit activity
runs far and wide in The American Friend,
the film frequently questions character authenticity and the uncertain true
intentions of those involved. To therefore say the ensuing bond between
Zimmermann and Ripley is an unlikely and unsteady one would be quite the
understatement, and however much the two grow comfortable with one another,
even trusting of each other, nothing about the collaboration ever settles
enough to be solidified as a mutual partnership. Even if the characters let
their guard down momentarily, the viewer is continually primed to expect a
Zimmermann’s potentially fatal flaw, then, is that he
fails to realize that in this world of treachery and viciousness, where others
are playing the same ruthless game he is, one has to assume they too are
capable of violence. In a 2002 commentary track with Hopper, as well as in a
more recent interview, both of which are included on the new Criterion
Collection release of The American Friend,
Wenders states his reluctance toward taking on an amoral character like Ripley.
But what becomes clear is that Zimmermann is the one with whom the audience is
more disappointed. Ripley and his cohorts are what they are and we expect
nothing less; Zimmermann, on the other hand, should have been above such
misdeeds. His desire to provide for his family is laudable enough, and the
prospect of quick cash would be tantalizing, but his decision to ultimately go
through with the murder makes him a most problematic protagonist.
In the course of a 1977 interview with Hollywood
correspondent Vernon Scott, American-International’s very own Samuel J. Arkoff,
the studio’s notorious penny-pinching producer, admitted to his mostly fiscal interest
in the horror film genre. “We got into
horror pictures [in 1955] when we discovered that without a big budget and
major stars our films were [relegated to] second features,” Arkoff reminisced. “I decided to make two pictures of the same
type and release them on the same bill… So we sent out The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues and The Day the World Ended as a pair and they cleaned up.”
Years later Arkoff would more completely
delineate his eminently prudent and successful marketing strategy to film
historian Tom Weaver. This insightful interview
with the irascible producer was included in Weaver’s seminal tome Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror
Heroes: the Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews (McFarland,
1999). In essence, Arkoff revealed that,
as an independent, the box office receipts from the earliest films released
through the American Releasing Corporation (the original name of the company
that would morph into American-International Pictures), had been relatively
As nationwide theater chains were still mostly
controlled by the major studios when Arkoff first opened shop, his A.R.C.
features were only booked by cinema-owners as flat-fee rentals of nominal cost.
The films were also, more fatefully, consigned to the lower-half of a double
bill program; this was unfair as such second-bill status did not allow independents
to take a percentage of the total gross of a twin-bill. In the years following
a 1948 court-ordered anti-trust injunction against the major studios, Arkoff
began to deliver his own twin packaged films to theater owners. Such independent double-bills ensured that all
profit percentages would rightfully funnel into the pockets of the producers.
It almost goes without saying that The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues was a
purely exploitative title; an obvious attempt to capitalize on the name-recognition
coattails of several successful science-fiction films of the era. The chosen title instantly invoked allusions
to Universal-International’s Creature
from the Black Lagoon (1954), Ray Harryhausen’s visual effects vehicle The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953),
and Disney’s Academy Award winning 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea (1954). The
latter two films would, at the very least, get their measurements right… but
more on this later.
If there was any film that I never imagined
would enjoy a Blu-Ray release, it’s the non-acclaimed and universally scorned The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues. Having done so, one has to respect
Kino-Lorber’s self-aware decision to include Joe Dante’s (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins) disparaging remarks concerning the
film’s dubious merit. There’s no
over-the-top self-serving ballyhoo present here, folks. Dante concludes his brief “Trailers from
Hell” supplement with these cautionary words: “I hardly know anybody who’s made
it all the way through The Phantom from
10,000 Leagues.” If nothing else, Dante’s
from-the-heart appraisal of the film’s dubious virtues proves he’s no
revisionist. He’s also not alone in his opinion;
amongst devotees of 1950s sci-fi, The
Phantom from 10,000 Leagues has a long established reputation as a talky,
turgidly paced snooze-fest disguised as a monster movie.
Nonetheless, there’s a fascinating back story
to all this. In 1962 Dante, then merely
one more disgruntled sixteen-year old horror movie fan, would fire off a letter
off to Forrest J. Ackerman, editor-emeritus of the influential 1960s/1970s
magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. In the course of his entertaining rant to the
editor, Dante suggested fifty films that, in his opinion, accounted for the
“worst horror films ever made.” The amused
Ackerman must have agreed with many of the youngster’s findings. He would later infamously assign Dante’s
“feeble fifty” to “the eternal fames of the brimstone pit” of horror-movie
history. The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues registered as “vapid” entry no. 38 on
Dante’s list, though it must be said this calculation was alphabetical rather
than meritorious in placement. To the
young letter-writers’ surprise, Ackerman chose to run his musings in the
magazine under the title “Dante’s Inferno,” an opinionated ten-page diatribe
that would cause no shortage of consternation amongst fans and the filmmakers
whose favorite films and/or contributions to celluloid history had been
commitment to Pam Grier and her Blaxploitation films of the seventies continues
with their latest package Sheba, Baby (1975). By the arrival of the mid-Seventies
Grier was at the top of her game, coming off such genre classics as Coffy
(1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) both directed by Jack Hill and both of which are
also available in superb releases from Arrow. Grier’s work for AIP continued in
explosive, fashionable style with Sheba, Baby and with new director William
Girdler at the helm. Sheba is without doubt a star vehicle that was tailor made
for exploiting Grier’s talents.
Shayne is a Chicago private eye who receives a telegram informing her of
trouble in her hometown of Louisville. The local mob boss, Pilot (D'Urville
Martin) has started to turn up the heat in trying to obtain her father’s loan
business. Along with her father Andy (Rudy Challenger), the business is run by
his partner Brick Williams (Austin Stoker), an instantly recognisable actor and
best known perhaps as Lt. Ethan Bishop from John Carpenter's cult classic
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). After several threats and a near fatal car bomb,
Sheba soon realises that the situation is becoming desperately out of control.
a few shaky moments in the script (credited to director Girdler and producer David
Sheldon), the film is carried in every respect by Grier’s scintillating screen
presence, she truly bosses the film, and looks fantastic in every frame. It’s a
film that should be enjoyed without too much scrutinising; accept it purely on
its surface level and you’ll find yourself smiling a whole lot and lapping up
the action. If your intention is to analyse it, then forget it. If you
scrutinise the problems in terms of continuity of dates, Sheba’s small quantity
of luggage (there’s a costume change in practically every scene), etc, then
you’ll be missing out on the action and overlooking its pure entertainment
value. The action scenes are plentiful and arrive fast and furious. Was this
film actually rated as PG upon its release? Look out for the car that spins
wildly off a grass verge, then look again to see how it misses Grier (on the
assumption it was her and not a stunt double) by a matter of inches. It is a pure
adrenalin pumping sequence. Yes, the film might be considered as routine and
stereotypical, even offensive in relation to its language (the ‘N’ word raises
its ugly head on several occasions), and the mob are of course pimped to the
max. But you’d be wise to let it go, as this is, after all, a product of its
time, and yes, it was almost considered as socially tolerated in the more discriminate
social culture of the seventies.
1080p presentation of Sheba, Baby can only be described as flawless. The
picture quality is as near to pristine as you could ever wish. Whist it retains
a generic low budget look, its colour grading delivers both a natural look and
just enough enhancement to emphasise those wonderful vivid colours of the
fashions and the times. The whole look manages to achieve a perfect balance.
Check out the film’s opening credits, the pin sharp yellow lettering almost
pops out from the screen. If they look familiar, you might just make the
comparison with Jackie Brown (1997), as director Quentin Tarantino uses the
exact same colour and font for his own Pam Grier movie. It’s not only homage,
but a deeper example of how Tarantino holds these movies so close to his heart.
The Blu-ray audio (original mono uncompressed PCM) is clean and clear
throughout, and allows the film’s soulful score (by Alex Brown and Monk Higgins)
to become an integral part of the experience. There are also a couple of great
vocals tracks (including the theme) provided by the American R&B/soul
singer Barbara Mason.
bonus material is both enjoyable and generous. First, there are two audio
commentaries, the first featuring producer-screenwriter David Sheldon and moderated
by critic Nathaniel Thompson. The second is provided by Patty Breen the
webmaster of WilliamGirdler.com. Breen’s commentary is actually a great deal of
fun; it’s a completely relaxed ‘fan’ style narration. Whilst Breen can’t help joking
about the film’s flaws and inconsistencies, it is never in malice and it’s
clear she absolutely adores every aspect of the movie.
Baby (15mins) is a brand new interview with David Sheldon who discusses his
role and his experience working on the movie and alongside director William
Girdler. Pam Grier: The AIP Years (12mins) does exactly what it says on the tin
and takes a look over the wonder years of the Blaxploitation queen with film
historian Chris Poggiali. The original theatrical trailer (2mins) and a
selection of publicity shots and lobby cards rounds off a very nice collection
of bonus material.
packaging consists of a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips, while the booklet features brand new
writing on the film by Patty Breen and is illustrated with both archive stills
Sheba, Baby is an excellent package and one that leaves us in hope that Arrow will
continue to explore Grier’s later American international Pictures such as Bucktown
(1975) and Friday Foster (1975). There’s little doubt that they would certainly
be welcomed and appreciated with open arms.
Technical Spec: Region: Region A/B Blu-ray / DVD 1/2, Rating:
15, Cat No: FCD1210, Duration: 90 mins, Language: English, Subtitles: English
SDH, Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, Audio: Mono, Discs: 2, Colour
Cinema Retro mourns the loss of Sir Ken Adam, the ingenious, Oscar-winning production designer who has passed away at age 95. Adam's work helped redefine films in terms of the elaborate and creative designs he invented, particularly for the James Bond franchise. Adam's work on the first 007 film, "Dr. No" in 1962 was deemed to be nothing less than remarkable, considering that the entire film was shot on a relatively low budget of just over $1 million. His exotic designs so impressed Stanley Kubrick that he hired Adam as production designer on his 1964 classic "Dr. Strangelove." For that film, Adam created the now legendary "War Room" set which many people believe actually exists at the Pentagon. In fact when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President in 1981 he asked to see the War Room, only to be told that it was a fictional creation. Reagan acknowledged that he had been intrigued by the concept since seeing it in "Dr. Strangelove". Adam had a somewhat tumultuous relationship with Kubrick, whose habit of changing his mind at the last minute caused Adam enormous grief. However, the two collaborated again on "Barry Lyndon" and Adam won his first Oscar for his work on that film. Adam's close relationship with the Bond franchise is based on his now famous designs seen in the early films. They include the massive Fort Knox set for "Goldfinger", which was created entirely on the back lot at Pinewood Studios on the outskirts of London. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the gigantic volcano set that housed a full size rocket capable of lifting off. This was done for the 1967 Bond film "You Only Live Twice". Incredibly, Adam's work was not recognized with an Oscar nomination despite what many feel is one of the greatest production design achievements in film history. His other Bond films were "Thunderball", "Diamonds Are Forever", "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker". For "The Spy Who Loved Me", Adam built the first incarnation of the massive "007 Stage" at Pinewood Studios. It burned down in 1984 and was rebuilt by his protege, production designer Peter Lamont.
Adam's other film achievements include two of the Michael Caine Harry Palmer spy films, "The Ipcress File" and "Funeral in Berlin", "Sleuth", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (for which he designed the famed "flying car"), "The Madness of King George" (for which he won a second Oscar), "The Last of Sheila", "Woman of Straw" and "Addams Family Values". He was also a prolific race car driver and had the distinction of serving in RAF in action against Hitler's forces, despite being a German national himself.
On a personal basis, Sir Ken was a good friend of Cinema Retro and had contributed to our magazine in its early stages through interviews conducted by his friend, Sir Christopher Frayling, who co-authored books about Sir Ken's remarkable life and career.He also contributed valuable interviews for documentaries we worked on about the Bond film franchise as well as "Dr. Strangelove". In his later years, Adam appeared at events pertaining to the Bond franchise that were held at Pinewood Studios by www.bondstars.com With his laid back mannerisms, wry sense of humor and omnipresent cigar, he always delighted fans with his remarkable stories. This writer sat next to him a few years ago to watch the digital screening of "Goldfinger" at Pinewood. Ken told me that he was incredulous at how wonderful it all looked. When the scene came to the interior of Fort Knox, he said to me, "I never thought I'd live to see my work presented so gloriously". It's safe to say we won't see his kind again.
(For full interview with Sir Ken Adam, see Cinema Retro issue #2)