filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu’s late-period picture, Good Morning (Ohayō), is a curious, but amusing,
slice-of-life portrait of a suburban neighborhood in contemporary (circa 1959)
Japan. Ozu, mostly known for the gendai-geki
film genre, i.e., modern dramas about family life and social conditions, also
made a few comedies. He was a genius at depicting relationships between parents
and children (Tokyo Story, 1953, is
arguably his most admirable work), and Good
Morning presents something of a parable about how a couple of young
schoolboys influence an entire community of suspicious and gossipy housewives
and lackadaisical “salary men” husbands.
Western audience will deem the comedy subtle;
cultural differences between East and West, especially when it comes to
bathroom humor, decidedly determine how funny someone will think Good Morning really is. There are a lot
of fart jokes in the film. In fact, Ozu uses farting as a way that characters
communicate, especially the children. The schoolboys assign status to how
easily one can blow wind by pushing an imaginary button on a forehead.
Inability to produce a toot results in minor ostracization. It must be said
that the children’s farts don’t sound like the real thing—they are high-pitched
and somewhat musical in tone.
adults, on the other hand, produce lower-toned flatulence that is more
realistic. In their case, the noises are often confused with real words. In one
scene, a man is dressing for the day and pleasantly lets two or three bursts
fly. Each time, his wife enters from the other room and asks, “Did you call?”
He shakes his head no, and she leaves. It happens again and she returns. “Did
you say something?”
story, such as it is, concerns two brothers—probably about nine and six years
of age—who decide to go on a speaking strike until their parents buy a new
television set (all the rage, apparently, in those days). The boys are also
rebelling against the grown-ups’ use of meaningless greetings to fill up air
space—“Good morning,” “How are you,” “I’m fine,” “Nice day,” etc.
the same time, the adult women in the block gossip and imagine faults in their
neighbors, all based on misunderstandings and a lack of real communication—which is what Ozu’s film is really about. He
seems to be saying that in order for everyone to get along in a modern society,
we need to say what’s truthfully on our minds.
in gorgeous Technicolor, Good Morning differs
from Ozu’s more solemn works that have a restrained editorial pace and
meditational camera work. This one is lively, is accompanied by a “funny”
musical score, and features many scenes outdoors. The cast is fine, especially
the two boys (played by Shitara Koji and Masahiko Shimazu).
Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray features a 4K digital restoration (upgraded
from the label’s previous DVD release) and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
It looks terrific.
more significant, though, is that Criterion has chosen to include as a
supplement Ozu’s acclaimed silent film from 1932, I Was Born, But… Sound films came late to Japan because of the benshi—narrators who performed during
screenings of silent pictures, commenting on the film’s narrative. They had a
powerful hold on the industry. Criterion had previously released this title as
part of an Eclipse box set of early Ozu titles, but here they’ve upgraded the
movie as a Blu-ray. Also a comedy, Born deals
with similar social mores. In this case, the boys influence how their father
deals with his boss, and also how they relate to their school mate, the boss’
son. For my money, despite being a silent picture, I Was Born, But… is better than Good
supplements include a portion of a “lost” Ozu silent short from 1929, A Straightforward Boy; a new interview
with film scholar David Bordwell about the films; and a fascinating video essay
on Ozu’s use of humor by critic David Cairns. Jonathan Rosenbaum’s essay adorns
the inner booklet.
Good Morning is a worthwhile
release from Criterion, especially for aficionados of Japanese cinema. One
viewing, and your perception of farting will be changed forever.
You really shouldn't complain about having to clean out your garage because you never know what hidden treasures might be found there- especially if you are like many people whose garages have become storage depots that haven't seen a car in years. The Daily Mail reveals that a canister of film has been discovered in a garage belonging to the family of the late, great character actor Leo McKern, who co-starred with the Beatles in their 1965 film "Help!". The footage reveals McKern's home movies taken of the Fab Four horsing around on the snow-bound landscapes of Austria. Click here to read.
Powers Booth, who won an Emmy for portraying crazed cult leader Jim Jones, has died at age 68. Booth had once been a leading man in feature films such as "The Emerald Forest", "Red Dawn" and "Southern Comfort" before finding a niche as a character actor in films and on television. His TV credits include "Deadwood", "24", "Hatfields and McCoys" and "24". Booth also appeared in the hit western feature film "Tombstone" and played Alexander Haig in Oliver Stone's "Nixon". Click here for more.
The blending of two disparate but popular film genres –
in this case, the horror/sci-fi film with the saddle opera - was hardly new
when The Valley of Gwangi hit the big
screen in 1969. This film’s most identifiable
predecessor, one pitting cowboys against a prehistoric monster, might be The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956), but
truth be told Hollywood had been combining these two genres almost from the very
beginning. In the 1930s and ‘40s,
audiences thrilled to the ghostly monochrome exploits of such western serial heroes
as Ken Maynard, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Buster Crabbe with such films as Tombstone Canyon (1932), The Vanishing Riders (1935), and Wild Horse Phantom (1944). Universal’s Curse of the Undead (1959) was a later but no less interesting experiment
for Hollywood’s preeminent fright factory. The studio removed the vampire from the usual atmospheric Gothic
trappings of old Europe and dropped him onto the sagebrush plain.
On the far loopier end of the spectrum, the notorious director
William “One Shot” Beaudine, provided us with the ultimate in old west
weirdness with his legendary twin-bill of 1966, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula and Jesse
James vs. Frankenstein’s Daughter. 1973
brought to movie houses two of the more memorable big-screen blends: the
sci-fi/western Westworld and Clint
Eastwood’s prairie ghost saga High Plains
Drifter. This combining of westerns
and fantasy films continues, more or less, to this very day… as anyone who
caught the lavish CGI-fest Cowboys and
Aliens (2011) can attest.
Director James O’ Connolly’s The Valley of Gwangi is set mysteriously at the turn of the century
somewhere “South of the Rio Grande.” (Principal photography on The Valley of Gwangi was actually shot on
various locations throughout the deserts of Spain). The locals are enjoying a parade through a
dusty town. The parade has been staged
to promote K.J. Breckenridge’s wild and wooly Cowboys vs. Indians Wild West
Show. K.J.’s rodeo, not-politically
correct by today’s standards, is set to be held at an equally non-PC
bull-fighting arena. Contemporary
political activists needn’t grab their picket signs. The stadium is hardly filled to capacity, and
we soon learn Breckenridge’s rodeo is in dire financial straits. The show simply hasn’t been pulling in the
crowds of late, and even main attraction “Omar, the Wonder Horse,” whose equally
non-PC stage-jump from an elevated platform into a murky pool of water isn’t
enough to save this sad affair.
Suggesting the writing is on the wall, the sultry Breckenridge
(Gila Golan) is approached by smooth talking Tuck (James Franciscus), a
self-absorbed rodeo cowboy and former lover of T.J. Tuck now makes his living by booking acts for
a big entertainment consortium back east. He wants K.J. to sell off the rights to her semi-popular diving horse
act, but his ex-paramour is still bitter over their estrangement and not
interested in selling. Besides she
believes newly found prosperity is just around the corner. She agrees to show him the still-secret
attraction that she’s certain will reverse her rodeo’s downward spiral.
The budding impresario is stunned when she unveils “El
Diablo” a miniature horse that Tuck recognizes is no horse at all. It’s actually an Eohippus, a fifty-million year old ancestor of the equine. This was not a lucky guess, nor is the
startled ex-cowboy an expert on prehistoric beasts. Ten minutes earlier in the film Tuck had
gleaned this morsel of knowledge after stumbling upon a scotch drinking
Paleontologist camped in the scrub brush desert in search of fossils. Tuck responsibly alerts the amazed scientist (Laurence
Naismith) about the Eohippus (“The
greatest scientific discovery of the age!”) and together they learn the Eohippus was captured on the frontier outskirts
of the grimly named “Forbidden Valley.”
Allen has written and directed several dramas over the years (none of which he
appears in)—and there are indeed a few that are worthwhile endeavors. The 1988
release, Another Woman, might be one
of Allen’s least-seen films, and yet it belongs in a list of the artist’s
solid, good pictures—not one of his
masterpieces, but certainly not a clinker (with over forty-six titles, his oeuvre runs the gamut!)
few months ago, I reviewed Allen’s first drama, Interiors, here at Cinema
Retro and acknowledged
the obvious influence of Ingmar Bergman in the work. But it was stated that Interiors was really more Eugene O’Neill
than Bergman. Here, Another Woman is
definitely channeling Bergman; in fact, many critics spotted the similarity—or homage—to the Swedish master’s classic Wild Strawberries (1957), in that the
film is about a person reflecting on a past life, discovering painful truths,
and resolving to change paths moving forward. In Strawberries, the protagonist is an old man; in Woman it’s a female turning fifty. The
Bergman comparison is made even stronger by the fact that Bergman’s longtime
and Oscar-winning cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, is the DP on Allen’s picture.
He shoots it in striking, picture-perfect color.
(sensitively played by the great Gena Rowlands) is an intelligent philosophy
professor on sabbatical, and she’s hoping to write a book. She’s in her second
marriage to Ken (Ian Holm), who is also in his
second marriage. His teenage daughter from the first union, Laura (Martha
Plimpton), is closer to Marion than her own mother (Betty Buckley). Marion has
rented an apartment to get away from construction noise at her home so that
she’ll have peace and quiet to write. However, the walls are thin and she is
next to a psychiatrist’s office. Marion can hear the patients talk about their
problems. One particular subject, Hope (Mia Farrow), is pregnant and suicidal.
Listening to Hope triggers a crisis in Marion, who begins to face turning fifty
and what her life has meant. She soon discovers that she’s been in denial over
a lot of things, mainly that she isn’t perceived by people close to her in ways
that she had thought.
film then takes the Wild Strawberries route
as Marion reflects on events from her past (shown in flashbacks and dream
sequences). Instances of infidelity, jealousy, elitism, and abortion come back
to haunt her—and Marion resolves to do something about it.
to Interiors, Another Woman is much more confident in its direction, and the
control over the piece is more relaxed. Experience counts, for Allen had one
other dead-on drama under his belt (the dreadful September) and several pieces one could call “dramedies” before
tackling Woman. His work here with
Nykvist is masterful. The cast is excellent—besides everyone previously
mentioned, the film also features Blythe Danner, Sandy Dennis, Gene Hackman,
Harris Yulin, John Houseman (in his last screen performance), Frances Conroy,
Philip Bosco, and David Ogden Stiers.
music—made up of classical and Allen-esque jazz selections—is also very
effective. Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 serves
as a theme of sorts, and its melancholy pervades the picture.
Time’s new Blu-ray release looks marvelous, showing off Nykvist’s photography
with vivid hues. As with most Allen releases, though, the supplements are
sparse—only a theatrical trailer and an isolated music score are present on the
disk. A perceptive essay by Julie Kirgo adorns the inner booklet.
eighties may be Woody Allen’s strongest decade of work, and Another Woman is a fine example of the
no other filmmaker has blended art and commerce quite like Steven Spielberg.
Just as Spielberg has melded blockbusters with socially relevant films, he has
also conflated his own image as a Jewish outsider who buys whole-heartedly into
American consumer culture. Molly Haskell’s new book on Spielberg, Steven
Spielberg: A Life in Films, published by Yale University Press, takes a deep
dive into these issues in a concise, enjoyable and informative read. As part of Yale’s’ Jewish Lives series,
Haskell is front and center analyzing each Spielberg project from his
background as a Jewish kid growing up in 1950s Arizona who wondered why his was
the only house on the block without a Christmas Tree, embarrassed by his
traditional grandparents. Spielberg is certainly not the only outsider, Jewish
or otherwise, to mine his loneliness into a cinematic career, but as Haskell
illustrates in this monograph, he is the most successful film director to do so.
the text, Haskell describes several occasions where Spielberg consciously
creates his own public persona, actions most similar to Walt Disney, one of
Spielberg’s cinematic heroes- and someone he is often compared to. However, Haskell
compares Spielberg to another giant of classic Hollywood- David O. Selznick.
Selznick balanced his output of popcorn fare and meaningful epics in a career
that matches Spielberg, especially during the 1980s when Spielberg began
producing films of up and coming directors that he had faith in. However,
Haskell lays out times it was difficult for Spielberg to be a mogul. These
include the shooting of Poltergeist where on-set witnesses say Spielberg
directed sequences of the film as opposed to the movie’s credited director,
Tobe Hooper (these accusations hurt Hooper’s career) and later during
Spielberg’s partnership in DreamWorks.
Haskell’s strength lies is in describing in detail how some of Spielberg’s most
iconic films are rooted in his childhood. While it is easier to see this in E.
T. and Close Encounters, it is harder to discern this in the films based on
source material such as Empire of The Sun and Catch Me If You Can. In fact, in
reading this book I was surprised to learn that Spielberg as his most personal
movie cited Catch Me If You Can, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as real life
forger Frank Abagnale, Jr. The changes
made when the film was adapted from Abagnale’s memoir reveal why this is the
case: Frank Jr’s mother is given a lover that leads to the break-up of the
family, the singular event that happened in Spielberg’s own young life that he
never really got over. In addition,
Frank Sr. (played by Christopher Walken) still plays a role in the younger
Frank’s life, whereas in real life Abagnale never saw his father again.
Although such changes might be those of the screenwriter Jeff Nathanson,
Spielberg’s execution of the scenes as director adds a personal touch that
another filmmaker might not give the material.
layout of the book informs the filmmaker’s life: there are four beginning
chapters, describing Spielberg’s early life and childhood, arrival at Universal
and his forays into their television department. Then the author gives a
chapter each for Jaws and Close Encounters of The Third Kind. Each subsequent
chapter is titled with at least two, sometimes three of the director’s films.
After Close Encounters, the only chapter that contains as its title a single
film is Empire of The Sun. Haskell cites this movie as Spielberg’s most
meaningful film. With it’s boy protagonist, separation of families, and war
time setting, the movie can be seen as a powerful bridge between Spielberg’s
early family movies and his later, socially important films such as Schindler’s
List and Saving Private Ryan.
Spielberg: A Life in Films is an excellent book and is a must-read for any fan
of Spielberg’s work. It is also an important work for anyone interested in how
the background and childhood of a director gets infused in their film work.
One of the very earliest developers of moving image
technology, Thomas Edison, was also one of the first “snuff” filmmakers. His
film The Execution of Czolgosz (1901)
purported to depict the actual electrocution of the assassin of US President
William McKinley. It was faked of course, but his 1903 film Electrocuting an Elephant was
distressingly real. Audiences have been both fascinated and repulsed by filmic
depictions of death ever since.
Killing for Culture was first published in 1994 as an
illustrated history of mondo documentaries, the infamous Faces of Death video nasties and films which purported to feature
actual death, such as the laughably poor exploitation film Snuff (1975), “the film that could only be made in South America…
where life is CHEAP!” In the twenty years since that first edition film and video
depictions of actual death have become far more prevalent owing to the
proliferation of digital video technology and, of course, the internet. The
authors attempt to explore why this has happened, taking in the rise of filmed
executions by terrorists and murderers who film their own horrific crimes, just
like that depicted in Henry: Portrait of
a Serial Killer (1986), a film itself inspired by real events.
Kerekes and Slater also take in a wide range of sources from
across film history in this rewritten and updated edition of Killing for Culture, much of which will
be of interest to Cinema Retro readers. They provide commentary on Italian
films such as Mondo Cane (1962), the Black Emmanuelle films from Joe D’Amato,
and other cannibal-type films, including the notorious Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Hollywood has also skirted around the
idea of the “snuff” movie, most notably in the George C. Scott-starring Hardcore (1978) from Paul Schrader, and
David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983)
imagines a secret TV station broadcasting live torture and murder to Canada
from across the American border.
Killing for Culture is a depressing yet compelling book.
Given its relentless treatise on the cruelty and brutality of man, it is not a
text you would want to read in one sitting. Packed with both colour and black
and white imagery, coupled with occasionally graphic descriptions, one might
require a strong stomach to make it to the end. It is however a fascinating,
Nietzschean experience of staring into the abyss and seeing what stares
late Sergio Corbucci (1926-1990) had a long, prolific career in the Italian
film industry as a screenwriter and director, but little exposure in U.S. theaters
by comparison with his total output.IMDB credits him with sixty-three titles as director.By my count, eleven arrived on Stateside
screens, none of them earning Corbucci any real notice at the time.All were genre films -- first sword-and-sandal
movies, then Westerns -- before it was cool for critics to treat such products
seriously, especially dubbed imports.Three toga-and beefcake pictures -- “Goliath and the Vampires” (1961),
“Duel of the Titans” (1961), and “The Slave” (1962) -- were released on
drive-in and double-feature bills in the Hercules era.“Minnesota Clay” (1964) had a 1966 run
disguised as an American B-Western.“Navajo Joe” (1966) passed through theaters in 1967, earning a typically
dismissive review from Bosley Crowther in the New York Times (“results aren’t
worth a Mexican peso”).You had to use a
magnifying glass to see Corbucci’s name on the movie poster.In his 1994 autobiography, Burt Reynolds said
he only took the offer to star in the picture because he thought the director
would be the other Sergio . . . Leone.“The Hellbenders” (1967) came and went, also camouflaged as an American
production and promoting Joseph Cotten’s starring role.Cotten was a fine actor but hardly big
box-office in ’67.
Mercenary” (1968) enjoyed a higher profile in a 1970 release, but “Alberto
Grimaldi Presents . . .” dominated the credits, including the cover blurb on a
paperback novelization that touted the movie as “the bloodiest ‘Italian’
Western of them all . . . by the producer of ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.’
” “Companeros” (1970) didn’t open in the
U.S. until 1972, and then only with limited distribution. “Sonny and Jed” (1972) followed in 1974. Neither made much of an impression as the
Spaghetti cycle waned here. “Shoot
First, Ask Questions Later” (1975), a sad attempt at comedy in the Spaghetti
twilight, loped through rural drive-ins. “Super Fuzz” (1980; U.S. distribution, 1982) was a Terence Hill police
comedy that the Times’ Herbert Mitgang said had “one funny gag a few minutes
before the end.” At least Mitgang noted
Corbucci and Hill by name as “longtime makers of spaghetti westerns.”
you were nostalgic for Italian Westerns in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, after the
cycle had come and gone in the States, you could read about Corbucci in
Laurence Staig and Tony Williams’ “Italian Western: The Opera of Violence”
(1975) and Christopher Frayling’s “Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans
from Karl May to Sergio Leone” (1981). There you would learn that one of Corbucci’s Westerns that never made it
to the States, “Django” (1966), was as wildly popular and influential overseas
as Sergio Leone’s movies. But good luck
in ever seeing it or Corbucci’s other Westerns, unless you might catch “The
Hellbenders” in a pan-and-scan, commercial-infested print on local TV.
to the advent of home video, cable, and streaming internet -- and in
particular, DVD and Blu-ray in which his films can be seen in the proper aspect
ratio and definition -- both the committed and the curious now have access to
virtually all of Corbucci’s thirteen Westerns, even the obscure “Grand Canyon
Massacre” (1964), his first powder-burner, co-directed with Albert Band. Is Quentin Tarantino justified in praising Corbucci
as “one of the great Western directors of all time”? Today, you don’t have to take Tarantino’s
word for it, or not; you can judge for yourself.
most accounts, a Corbucci Top Five would include “Django,” The Great Silence,”
“The Mercenary,” “Companeros,” and “The Specialist” (1969). The first four are all in relatively easy
reach in various formats and platforms. “Django,” “The Great Silence,” and “Companeros” have had domestic DVD
releases. “The Mercenary” hasn’t, but it
shows up periodically on cable channels, albeit in an edited version, and you
can find good DVD and Blu-ray editions with an English voice track through
Amazon and import dealers on the web.
Specialist” remains more elusive. Written and directed by Corbucci during his peak period, originally
titled “Gli specialisti” and also known as “Specialists” and “Drop Them or I’ll
Shoot,” this Western never played in U.S. theaters, has never had an American
video release, and is hard to find even on the collectors‘ market in a print
with an English-language option. Not to
be confused with other, unrelated films of the same name, including a mediocre
1994 Sylvester Stallone crime drama and an obscure 1975 B-movie with Adam West,
it is past due for official U.S. release on DVD. Or, better yet, on hi-def Blu-ray to give Corbucci’s
compositions and Dario Di Palma’s rich Techniscope and Technicolor
cinematography their due sharpness and color on home screens.
The good folks at the esteemed boutique video label First Run Features are generally known for making available films that relate to important and usually sobering social issues. Every now and then, however, they delve into areas that are considerably more light-hearted in nature. First Run has recently overseen the theatrical release of the acclaimed new documentary "Vince Giordano: There's a Future in the Past" by directors Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards. Giordano may not be a household name but he's a living legend among jazz purists who are devoted to the music of the 1920s and 1930s- the kind of upbeat, immortal tunes popularized by Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Giordano plays to packed houses at Manhattan venues where he performs with his band, the Nighhawks, which he formed decades ago. Like many creative types, he is eccentric, to be sure. The film's glimpses into his personal life reveals that he lives modestly in two adjoining houses in a middle class neighborhood of Brooklyn. Giordano bought the house next door many years ago to accommodate his ever-increasing collection of sheet music and memorabilia that has obsessed him since childhood. The collection is meticulously cataloged in so many filing cabinets that his house resembles the Library of Congress. Floor-to-ceiling paperwork pertaining to his musical heroes permeates the place. You won't find any evidence in Giordano's abode that indicates the existence of rock 'n roll or even the glory days of crooners like Sinatra and Crosby. He is completely devoted to the golden era of jazz and works tirelessly to keep up with finding gigs that will help him keep his sizable band employed.
The film opens with the band delighting in audiences at their long-time Manhattan home, the nightclub Sofia's which was located in the historic Edison Hotel off of Times Square (the same venue where Luca Brasi made the ominous walk to his doom in "The Godfather".) For many years the Nighthawks performed here in the cozy venue, filling the room with the joy of the big band sound. I had seen them there several years ago and, despite not being a jazz enthusiast myself, I couldn't help but marvel at the sheer exuberance of the band. The film follows Giordano's travails as the leader of the Nighthawks- including informing the band members on camera that Sofia's is being forced out of business by landlords who have raised the rent to $2 million a year. Ever-resourceful, he finds them a new home at a club called Iguana- but there are countless other frustrations involved in moving so many people to so many gigs far and wide. Many band members have been with Giordano for many years, some for decades. They relate how the sheer challenges of keeping on top of all of his responsibilities has sometimes caused him to break up the band, only to reunite them shortly thereafter. Giordano seems to have no other interests in his life than jazz and the Nighthawks. He is like an Evangelist in terms of spreading the word about the music and artists that he so reveres. His efforts are clearly paying off. We see him attract young people at the Newport Jazz Festival and at New York's famed private club for the arts, The Players, where he is one of the headline acts at the New York Hot Summer Jazz Festival. Giordano is part mother hen and part drill instructor to his band members. He refers to himself as "The King of Schlep" in regard to the fact that at age 65 he still loads and unloads the vast amount of equipment necessary for every show, carrying it all around in a rather weather-beaten van. He's like a modern version of Willie Lohman, feeling his age perhaps, but ever-devoted to his profession. He relies on his right arm, Carol Jean Hughes, to help him keep track of the enormous amount of paperwork and logistical support that goes into running the band. Giordano shows a grumpy side when things go wrong: a misplaced mouthpiece or a miscommunication that sees him setting up the entire band at the Players only to be told to dismantle everything because another band is scheduled to go on before him. But he's clearly in his element and delighting when playing in front of appreciative audiences. The band's prominence hit new heights with their Grammy-winning work on the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire" and the film includes clips from one of the segments in which the Nighthawks appear on camera. There is also extensive footage of David Johansen rehearsing with the band for the series. Giordano also coordinates a triumphant celebration of the 90th anniversary of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and performs it at the same venue in which it premiered on the exact date of the anniversary in front of a cheering audience. The film also mentions that Giordano has worked with Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, appearing on camera in musical scenes in their films.
"Vince Giordano: There's a Future in the Past" is a sweet-natured movie that was funded by grants and private donations. It's been impressing critics and audiences in advance of its home video release in July. Directors Davidson and Edwards wisely allow ample screen time to show the Nighthawks performing- and the interviews with band members are especially interesting, giving a perspective of people who have not gotten rich but clearly enjoy what they do. Vince Giordano comes across as a New York original- the kind of guy you would like to sit down with at a bar for a few hours. However, that seems unlikely since the workaholic musician strikes me as the kind of obsessive who couldn't bring himself to stop studying and playing music long enough to drain down a couple of cold ones. The documentary is terrific on all levels- just like any performance by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.
There is an immediate appeal in the very premise of Alfred
Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), a
curiosity that stems from how exactly this story will play out and how the
Master of Suspense is going to keep the narrative taut and technically
stimulating. It was a gimmick he would repeat with Rope (1948), Dial M for
Murder (1954), and Rear Window
(1954), similar films where the drama is contained to a single setting. But
here, the approach is amplified by having the entirety of its plot limited to the
eponymous lifeboat, an extremely confined location that is at once anxiously restricting
and, at the same time, placed in a vast expanse of threatening openness.
Following a German U-boat attack that sinks an allied
freighter and creates the cramped, confrontational condition, a cast of nine
diverse, necessarily distinctive characters are steadily assembled aboard the
small vessel (and their variety is indeed necessary so as to tackle singular
themes and disparities). Starting with journalist Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead,
in the film’s featured and much-hyped performance), the improvised squad
includes: a member of the freighter’s crew, Kovac (John Hodiak), the radioman,
Stanley (Hume Cronyn), a steward, Joe Spencer (Canada Lee), seaman, Gus Smith
(William Bendix), a U.S. Army nurse, Alice (Mary Anderson), the wealthy
industrialist, Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), the shell-shocked Mrs. Higley (Heather
Angel), an Englishwoman who arrives with her already deceased infant child,
and, adding instant and inherent tension, Willi (Walter Slezak), a survivor
from the enemy German sub.
Connie is the most incongruous personality for such an
occasion. Initially adorned in a fine mink coat, accompanied by her camera, her
cigarettes and suitcases, all of which seem miraculously dry, she sure doesn’t
look like someone who has been torpedoed, as another character is quick to
point out. She and Rittenhouse will together serve as half of the film’s
embodied class consciousness, which is one of several social divisions alluded
to as explicit points of contention or simply hinted at as latent cultural
conflicts (“Do I get to vote too?” asks the African American Joe). Though
generally cordial and cooperative to start, the spirit of critical
collaboration doesn’t last. How could it? For a film like this, there needs to
be a breeding ground for consistent opposition, beyond the predictable clash
between Willi and the rest.
What develops is multi-leveled, ever-fluctuating suspicion,
a leery and fascistic survival of the fittest that hangs in the balance as the
winds of authority and hysteria blow. With his famously elaborate set-pieces
made impossible by Lifeboat’s scenario,
Hitchcock narrows his focus to the dynamic landscape of the human face, and the
film is nothing if not a revelatory study in human nature, especially when
individuals are in strained situations. There are constant disputes about the
best path forward, often grounded in ideological motivations derived from
political, religious, or national beliefs—whatever is needed to prevail and
retain a semblance of composure in the face of an extraordinary dilemma.
In a swift 97 minutes—its riveting progression a testament
to how the tension outweighs its spatial and dramatic limitations—the
characters endure assorted trials and tribulations, just enough to keep
everyone on edge, but not too many to seem unnatural. This ranges from the
unique (Gus’ impending leg amputation), to an issue that affects just a few
(cheating at cards), to something upon which all involved are invested (the
bliss of fresh rainwater to drink and the disappointment when the passing storm
doesn’t last). There are lingering doubts about motivation, the debatable
course of progress, and turn-on-a-dime behavioral shifts. Two passengers even
find time for romance.
To express all of this, and to keep the viewer engaged when
the actions and visuals, at least in a broad sense, are relatively reduced, the
writing of Lifeboat is tremendously
vital. While Hitchcock came up with the idea for the picture, the basic story
was written by John Steinbeck (after Hitch’s first choice, Ernest Hemingway,
passed). It was Steinbeck’s first fiction film, though he had written a
documentary in 1941. What he completed, however, resembled something more like
a novella. Subsequent writing and rewriting duties went to everyone from Harry
Sylvester and MacKinlay Kantor, to Jo Swerling, Ben Hecht, Hitchcock’s wife,
Alma Reville, and others. Ultimately, only Swerling gets the screenplay credit
(Steinbeck, who was so unhappy with the deviations in the final film that he
tried to have his name removed from the picture, gets original story).
Vampire Bat (1933) was a staple of TV late-night movie programming
well into the 1980s. Too often the
running time of this maltreated film was irreverently trimmed or stretched to
accommodate commercial breaks or better fit into a predetermined time
slot. With black-and-white films almost
completely banished from the schedules of local television affiliates by 1987, TV Guide disrespectfully dismissed The Vampire Bat as a “Dated, slow-motion
chiller.” That’s an unfair appraisal. But with the MTV generation in the ascendant
and Fangoria gleefully splashing the lurid
and blood-red exploits of such slice-and-dice horror icons as Michael Meyers,
Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger on its covers, it’s somewhat understandable why
the other-worldly atmospherics of The
Vampire Bat were perceived as little more than a celluloid curio – an
antiquated footnote in the annals of classic horror.
Vampire Bat is hardly original. The film was, no doubt, conceived as an
exploitative hybrid of Universal’s Dracula
and Frankenstein twinblockbusters of 1931. (Though not a Universal production, several
scenes of The Vampire Bat were
purportedly shot on that studio’s back lot). Though this Pre-Code film starts as a mostly routine
mystery sprinkled with doses of suggested vampirism, there’s also a mad doctor who
secretly labors in mad devotion to “lift the veil” separating God from man. The doctor has artificially created living,
pulsating tissue requiring human blood for sustenance. Sadly, low rent Majestic Pictures wasn’t able
to engage the services of Universal’s Kenneth Strickfadden. So the mad doctor’s bare-bones laboratory features
none of the splendid electrical gimmickry or flashing circuits that monster
kids love so well.
Though director Frank R. Strayer might not have achieved auteur status, he was no mere
craftsman. He had been involved (most
often in a directorial capacity) in well over one hundred film projects dating
back to the silent era. His greatest
notoriety was likely being the principal helmsman of the wildly popular Blondie series for Columbia in the late
1930s/early 1940s. Though no gloomy
visionary as Universal’s James Whale, Strayer could nonetheless effectively conjure
similarly eerie, ethereal atmospheres to the low-budget mystery and horror film
productions he was assigned. The
scenario and screenplay for The Vampire
Bat was scribed by Edward T. Lowe. Lowe too was a true pioneer of the Hollywood film industry. He had also worked in the silents, hanging on
long enough to contribute scripts to such popular mystery franchises of the
1940s as the Bulldog Drummond, Charlie Chan, and Sherlock Holmes series.
For a modestly-budgeted production without major studio
backing, it must be said the cast of The
Vampire Bat is exceptional. For all
intent and purposes, this is essentially an “actor’s film,” as Strayer –
curiously - offers little on-screen moments of murderous mayhem. Our hero is the affable Melvyn Douglas, a future
two-time Academy winner whose career would endure for more than a half-century. In Ninotchka
(1939), Douglas would famously sway screen siren Greta Garbo from the
schemes of such Soviet puppet masters as Bela Lugosi. Leading lady Fay Wray, who would earn her
bona fides as the big screen’s preeminent “Scream Queen” of the 1930s with a
five film run in 1932-1933 (Doctor X,
The Most Dangerous Game, The Vampire Bat, Mystery of the Wax Museum and, of course, King Kong), finds herself again the target of a mad doctor’s evil
machinations. Sadly, the comely actress
isn’t given much to do in The Vampire Bat
except have a teasing flirtation with the dashing Douglas and await her
inevitable final reel rescue from the mad fiend.
It’s been a very
long time since I last sat down to watch Caltiki - The Immortal Monster. It was
back in a time when like-minded friends would exchange and trade (decidedly dodgy)
VHS copies of obscure monster movies such as this. The term ‘dodgy’ of course
is used in retrospect; at the time they were pure gold dust, a rare opportunity
to watch something which was out of reach to mainstream admirers. You needed to
put in the leg work and research, but becoming part of that community offered
so many rich rewards.
Today, it’s a
society that has basically become redundant. There is simply little demand for
an ‘under the counter’ or private exchange community. Instead we appear to be
rather satisfied, accepting and respectful of the efforts provided by the
speciality labels. To a large degree, the industry has taken over the leg work
and as a result, begun to fulfil our demands. It’s become a stable position and
something that we could only perhaps dream of during the early graduate years
of the blossoming video revolution.
Arrow’s Caltiki -
The Immortal Monster serves as a perfect example and illustrates just how far
we have come. Let’s be clear, Caltiki is a film that could perhaps be described
as a little thin. However, as a slice of enjoyable hokum it could equally be
described as quite perfect.
A team of
archaeologists led by Dr John Fielding (John Merivale, Circus of Horrors)
descends on the ruins of an ancient Mayan city to investigate the mysterious
disappearance of its inhabitants. However, the luckless explorers get more than
they bargained for when their investigation of a sacrificial pool awakens the
monster that dwells beneath its waters – the fearsome and malevolent god
Caltiki was a
project that bought together two giants of Italian cult cinema – Riccardo Freda
(The Vampires, The Horrible Dr Hichcock) and Mario Bava (5 Dolls for an August
Moon, Blood and Black Lace). In consideration of the film’s low budget, the
filmmakers certainly made the most of what they had. The on screen results are
a testament to their combined creative talents. Caltiki is a film that works
best when not examined too closely, it needs to be enjoyed rather than
scrutinised. Yes, there are cheap mistakes and tell-tale signs, such as actors
casting shadows on the glass matte paintings, or a desire to shoot too darkly
in order to cover up the thin production values - but it hardly matters. The
production values actually balance out rather well. This film has some
incredibly gory moments that are in fact executed (by Bava) with some style.
Skulls with bulging eyeballs, half eaten human appendages are among the film’s
many impressive effects. Don’t be fooled, an early Italian film it may be, but
it’s right up there with Britain’s Hammer films in terms of vivid gore. Some
may even maintain that Caltiki’s gore factor exceeded that of any Hammer
production made during the same period, and they may just have an argument. Viewing
Caltiki today, one can only wonder how it would have looked - had the budget stretched
to the luxury of colour film stock… Caltiki also bears an uncanny resemblance
to Hammer’s The Quatermass Experiment (1955). Bava would later express that he
was in fact influenced by the story. Not that it matters a great deal, it was
the era of creeping slime and Bava wasn’t alone, with Hammer following their
own trend with X The Unknown (1956) and Hollywood close behind that with The
Arrow’s Brand new
2K restoration of the film has been produced from the original camera negative
and looks very impressive. The picture perhaps lacks a little in terms of fine
detail which is more likely down to poorer grade film stock – remember this was
a low budget production. There are good deep black tones and the general
picture appears far smoother and nicely balanced in regards to overall
contrast. It couldn’t be further from the grainy old prints that were once
circulated. I should also point out, Arrow have used the Italian print of the
film which contains both English and Italian mono soundtracks (Lossless on the
Blu-ray disc). By picking the original Italian track, you can also access the
newly translated English subtitles.
Caltiki bonus material are two new audio commentaries. Tim Lucas, (author of
Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark) provides another excellent commentary.
Interesting and articulate, Lucas proves once again to be the perfect choice
for the job. The second commentary by
Troy Howarth, (author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So
Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films) is also a good listening
experience. There isn’t really too much different to be heard that hasn’t
already been touched upon by Lucas. There is also very little in terms of
contrasting opinions, both men clearly have a love for Bava which results in
their observations generally coming from the same perspective. (Was there a
need for a second commentary?)
In a TV appearance on Stephen Colbert's show, Julie Andrews recalled filming "Mary Poppins" back in 1964. In one of her flying scenes, she began to sense that the harness that was supporting her in the air was not as stable as the technicians had assured her. Her fears proved justified: at one point the harness gave out and she plummeted to the floor of the studio. Although she miraculously escaped serious injury, the world's most beloved nanny apparently shouted out some not very Disney-like words to express her frustration. Click here to watch and to also view an interview with Dick Van Dyke about his role in the forthcoming new Mary Poppins film.
Gordon with Steve McQueen in the 1968 blockbuster "Bullitt".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Character actor Don Gordon has died at age 90. Gordon was a close friend of Steve McQueen and he appeared with McQueen in three of his biggest hits: "Bullitt", "Papillon" and "The Towering Inferno". Gordon generally played strong silent types and his face was familiar to movie goers especially in the 1960s and 1970s. In "Bullitt" he had a meaty role playing the partner of McQueen's maverick detective. In "Papillon" he was a fellow convict suffering through the hell of Devil's Island prison and in "The Towering Inferno" he played a fellow firefighter helping McQueen to save trapped people from a blazing skyscraper. Gordon also appeared on numerous television series in guest star roles and earned an Emmy nomination for his performance in "The Defenders". Among his other screen credits: "WUSA", "Fuzz", "Lethal Weapon", "The Final Conflict" and "Exorcist III". For more click here.
“If a movie makes you
happy, for whatever reason, then it’s a good movie.”
REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*******
Giant bug movies have always been a favorite
of mine; Tarantula, Black Scorpion, The
Deadly Mantis, Earth vs. The Spider, etc. The best of them all has to be Them!, the 1954 classic about atomic
testing causing ants to mutate to gigantic proportions. It was the first and
best of the 1950’s cycle of big bug movies.
In the 1970s, bugs and just about every other
form of nature, struck back against irresponsible humans who were poisoning the
planet in a plethora of nature-runs-amok films such as Frogs, Kingdom of the Spiders, Squirm, etc. They may not have been
gigantic like they were in the 50s, but they were just as deadly. However, Mr.
B.I.G. himself, Bert I. Gordon, the man responsible for entertaining, 1950s
giant creature classics like The Amazing
Colossal Man, Beginning of the End, Village of the Giants and the
aforementioned Earth vs. The Spider, had
already brought back giant wasps and worms in 1976’s Food of the Gods,and felt
that 1977 was the time to bring back the best giant insects of them all…the
ants. Using the great H.G. Wells’ popular short story as his inspiration, Empire of the Ants was born.
The movie begins when a canister of toxic
waste, which was dumped and supposed to sink into the ocean, washes up on shore
and leaks its toxic sludge into a neighboring ant hole.
Nearby, con woman Marilyn Fryser (Joan
Collins) and her lover/partner Charlie (Edward Power) attempt to sell some
worthless land called Dreamland Shores to a large group of potential buyers
including nice guy Joe (John David Carson), middle-aged Margaret (Jacqueline
Scott), beautiful Coreen (Pamela Susan Shoop), two-timing Larry (Robert Pine)
and his poor wife Christine (Brooke Palance).
As the group surveys the land, a few members
break off on their own. Cautious Margaret, while flirting with boat driver Dan
(Robert Lansing), asks him if he thinks the land is a good investment; Larry
gets Coreen alone, puts the moves on her and gets a knee to the groin for his
trouble, and Coreen eventually hits it off with Joe. All the while, the ants
silently watch them.
The entire group is gathered and taken on a
leisurely tour of the area. The tour doesn’t last long though as the dead body
of one of Marilyn’s crew (Tom Ford) is found. Joe and Coreen volunteer to check
things out and find the remains of a married couple (Jack Kosslyn and Ilse
Earl) that were originally part of the group. To their horror, they also find a
horde of giant ants and all hell breaks loose as the intelligent insects attack
and destroy Dan’s boat. With no way off the island, the terrified group starts
a campfire in order to keep the ants away.
The next morning, a storm begins and the rain
puts out the fire. The group frantically decides to make a run for it with the
ants hot on their tail. An elderly couple (Harry Holcombe and Irene Tedrow),
who can’t keep up, hides out in an old shack. Christine falls, sprains her
ankle and is killed by the ants, and, while helping a tangled Marilyn escape
from a tree branch, Charlie also meets his demise. As the rain stops, the
elderly couple, thinking that it’s safe, emerges from the shack only to find an
army of ants waiting for them. The remaining group members stumble upon a
rowboat and slowly take off down the river. The ants attack again, turning the
boat over and killing Larry.
The group realizes that the ants are leading
them toward a specific destination upstream and, as they continue to move
along, they come across an old couple (Tom Fadden and Florence McGee) who
contact the sheriff (Albert Salmi) for them. The sheriff drives them into town,
but the relieved survivors soon realize that something still isn’t right. They
can’t seem to find a working phone and everyone in the small town acts very suspiciously.
The group decides to hotwire a car, but while
trying to escape, they’re captured by the authorities and taken to the local
sugar refinery. While there, they discover that the queen ant is using her
pheromones to control every human being in the town and forcing them to feed
the giant ants. Marilyn is the first to come under the queen’s control, but
when they try to control Dan, the clever boat captain burns the queen with a
road flare he took from the abandoned car. Dan escapes with Margaret, Joe and
Coreen, but Marilyn, who snaps out of her trance too late, is killed by the out
of control queen.
Knowing that if the gigantic ants aren’t
stopped they will multiply and eventually take over the world, Joe drives a
leaking fuel truck into the refinery and blows the insects to kingdom come. As
the entire place goes up in flames, Joe, Coreen, Dan and Margaret reach a
speedboat and drive off to safety.
Israeli actress Daliah Lavi has passed away at age 74. Lavi was discovered by Kirk Douglas, who met her on a film shoot when she was ten years old. She went on to stardom in the 1960s, appearing with Douglas in "Two Weeks in Another Town" before often being cast as femme fatales in various thrillers including the Matt Helm film "The Silencers" and "Some Girls Do". She also was the female lead in "Lord Jim" and showed her talents for comedy in the spy spoofs "Casino Royale" and "The Spy with the Cold Nose", as well as the zany comedy "Those Fantastic Flying Fools" (aka "Blast-off"/ "Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon"). Lavi eventually left acting to concentrate on a singing career and became a major pop star in Germany. For more click here.
Director Sofia Coppola's remake of the 1971 film "The Beguiled" opens this summer. This new teaser trailer reveals that the film will stay reverent to the original movie which was directed by Don Siegel and starred Clint Eastwood in a gothic Civil War tale. Eastwood played a badly wounded Union soldier who is rescued, hidden and nursed back to health by the teachers and students at a quaint southern school for girls which eeks out an existence in the midst of the war. The film was a rare bomb for a Siegel/Eastwood collaboration but it remains one of the best films both have have been associated with. For Eastwood it was a rare opportunity to play a rather villainous role as the wounded soldier learns to exploit the sexual frustrations of the students and their headmistress, who was memorably played by Geraldine Page. His manipulative efforts wins him numerous bed mates but also leads to an unforeseen consequence. The original film was hard to market and was lacking in the kind of raw action that Eastwood fans expected back in 1971. The new film stars Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst. Coppola is a skilled director and may pull off the rare feat of overseeing a remake that rivals the classic original movie.
The good news is that Timeless Video is releasing multiple films in one DVD package. The bad news is that one of these releases, although featuring two highly-watchable leading men, presents two stinkers. Love and Bullets is a 1979 Charles Bronson starrer that Roger Ebert appropriately described at the time as "an assemblyline potboiler". The film initially showed promise. Originally titled Love and Bullets, Charlie, the movie had John Huston as its director. However, Huston left after "creative differences" about the concept of the story and its execution on screen. The absurdity of losing a director as esteemed as Huston might have been understandable if the resulting flick wasn't such a mess. However, one suspects that, whatever the conceptual vision Huston had for the movie may have been, it must have been superior to what ultimately emerged. Stuart Rosenberg, the competent director of Cool Hand Luke took over but was unable to create anything more than a sub-par action movie. The plot finds Bronson as a Phoenix cop who is reluctantly sent to Switzerland on an undercover assignment. The local prosecutor has been doggedly trying to convict a local mob kingpin (Rod Steiger) for years. Now it appears that his moll girlfriend (Jill Ireland) might be a viable witness in terms of spilling the beans about his operations. Thus, Steiger has stashed her abroad and is keeping her under constant watch. Bronson's job is to pretend he is also a mob guy and convince Ireland to return with him to Phoenix to testify against her lover. The movie seems to exist for one reason only: the main participants desired a paid working vacation in Switzerland. This concept is nothing new. The Rat Pack squeezed in filming Oceans Eleven almost as an afterthought while they were performing nightly in Las Vegas at the Sands casino. In the twilight of his years, John Ford famously got his stock company together for a jaunt to Hawaii and released the result as a big boxoffice hit called Donovan's Reef, which still must retain the status of being the most expensive home movie ever made.
Love and Bullets is such a lazy effort you have to believe it must have taken a great deal of effort for the cast to meander to the set every day. The film also illustrates the danger of love-struck leading men force-feeding the lady in their lives into virtually every movie they make. Clint Eastwood shoe-horned Sondra Locke into a string of his films in the 1970s and 1980s and while some of them were artistic and commercial successes, I always greeted their next team with a sense of bored inevitability. (Locke is also a prime perpetrator in the creation of the worst movie of Eastwood's career, The Gauntlet.) In this case, Ireland had been Mrs. Bronson for over a decade following her divorce from David McCallum. She was always a competent enough actress but the couple obviously envisioned themselves as a new William Powell/Myrna Loy teaming. Not quite. Bronson is on full automatic pilot, registering almost no emotion. Ireland overplays the role of bubble-headed moll to an embarrassing level, as though she is a character in a sitcom sketch. She is saddled with intentionally laughable fright wigs but the real joke comes when she decides to discard them for her natural hair style, which proves to be even less flattering. Absurdity piles upon absurdity as the film becomes one long, extended chase sequence with Bronson and Ireland squabbling like Ralph and Alice Kramden, if you can imagine The Honeymooners being pursued by assassins. Steiger is in full scenery-chewing mode and an impressive array of supporting actors (Val Avery, Michael V. Gazzo, Henry Silva and Strother Martin) are pretty much wasted along the way. I'm generally undemanding when it comes to the pleasures of watching an unpretentious Charles Bronson action movie but Love and Bullets represents the latter period of his career where he rarely even tried to elevate his films beyond being vehicles for an easy pay check.
Russian Roulette (originally titled Kill Kosygin!) starts out promisingly enough but ultimately ends up being as unsatisfying as Love and Bullets. Produced by Elliott Kastner, an old hand at making good, populist entertainment, the production was shot entirely in Vancouver. George Segal plays a renegade cop (were there any other kind in the 1970s?) who has been suspended from the local police force for various infractions. Suddenly, he is recruited by Canadian secret intelligence to help thwart a reputed plot to assassinate Soviet Premier Kosygin, who is due to arrive in a matter of days for a high profile conference. Segal learns that he is being set up in an elaborate and confusing plot that involves traitorous KGB agents who want to kill their own premier in order to prevent him from initiating an era of detente with the West. Their plan involves kidnapping a local dissident (Val Avery), drugging him and using him as a human bomb who will be dropped on Kosygin's limousine from a helicopter! (I'm not making this up.) Along the way, Segal finds he's being set up as a dupe and is framed for murder. The entire tired affair ends in a race against time with Segal going mano-a-mano with a KGB killer on the roof of a landmark hotel that Kosygin is en route to (the only sequence that affords the slightest hint of suspense). Absurdly, Kosygin's motorcade is permitted to continue racing to the hotel despite the fact that hundreds of people are watching a running gun battle taking place on the roof. The film was directed by Lou Lombardo, who made a name for himself as an editor of great talent after supervising the cutting of The Wild Bunch. As director, he keeps the action flowing but the plot absurdities soon distract from some otherwise interesting angles and performances. The fine supporting cast includes Gordon Jackson, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Stock and Louise Fletcher, but their characters are rather boring. The film also throws in Christina Raines for sex appeal but she comes across as the dullest leading lady in memory, barely registering much emotion even when finding a dead body in her bathroom. (Although most of us would find such a development a bit disturbing, Lombardo cuts to a scene of Segal and Raines enjoying a spot of breakfast tea- while the man's body remains on the bathroom floor.) Segal is always enjoyable to watch and his wiseguy persona is in full bloom here, but the production is amateurish on all levels considering the talent involved. Maybe, as with Love and Bullets, everyone involved just wanted a paid getaway and had a desire to visit Vancouver. (It should be mentioned that director Lombardo was said to be battling drinking problems during production and that the finale of the film - the only truly effective scene- was directed by Anthony Squire, who did not receive screen credit.)
Both transfers are adequate though not overly impressive. Love and Bullets was shot in widescreen but is presented here in full screen ratio. Russian Roulette is presented in letterboxed format. There are no extras.
Joe Dante's addictive Trailer's From Hell web site presents the original trailer for the 1962 film The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, a fun but bare-bones production designed to capitalize on the Steve Reeves craze of the era. The trailer is narrated by film producer Michael Peyser, who recalls seeing the film as a kid. Peyser says that audiences were shocked to see how old the Stooges now were, since children had been used to watching their classic shorts in re-runs on TV. That may well have been the case for Peyser personally, since this was obviously the first Stooge feature film he had seen. However, by 1962, the Stooges had already released two previous features, Have Rocket- Will Travel and Snow White and the Three Stooges,both low-budget productions that were substantial box-office hits. Thus, audiences had readily accepted the older versions of the Stooges and Joe DeRita, who had taken over from Curly and Shemp. Over the next three years, the Stooges would make three more feature films and have cameos in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Four for Texas. Click here to view and while on the site, make sure you check out other vintage trailers, all amusingly narrated by contemporary directors and producers.
On April 29 the Tribeca Film Festival hosted an historic reunion between director Francis Ford Coppola and cast members from "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II". Significantly, the event was held at the nation's crown jewel of theaters, Radio City Music Hall. Joining Coppola were James Caan, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, James Caan, Al Pacino and Diane Keaton. The sold out venue first saw back-to-back screenings of the first two "Godfather" films, which were rapturously received by fans who applauded loudly at the introduction of certain beloved characters as well as classic lines of dialogue. (The audience predictably went wild when the scene arrived of Michael and Kay attending the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.) Since neither film had ever been shown in the Music Hall, it was especially pleasing for retro movie lovers to experience them in Gotham's famed venue. Upon the final credits of "The Godfather Part II" ending, Coppola and the cast members took the stage for a discussion moderated by director Taylor Hackford. The "Godfather" alumni clearly relished seeing each other after so many years. Coppola was the father figure among the group and most of the comments about the making of the film were appropriately recalled by him. Coppola related how Paramount was skeptical about his abilities to bring the bestselling novel to the screen. At one point early in the production he was alerted that he was to be fired from the $6 million production. The studio brass didn't like the initial footage he had shot, specifically the scene in which Don Corleone rejects a business proposal from Sollozzo to join him in the drug trade. Coppola frantically arranged to reshoot the footage over the weekend and managed to avoid getting fired the following Monday. Coppola credited producer Al Ruddy and Paramount mogul Robert Evans for standing by him as allies, even though he admitted that the mercurial Evans caused him endless agita. Al Pacino related he was also in the studio's crosshairs. Unimpressed with his performance as Michael, he was due to be fired. Coppola came to his rescue by prioritizing the scene in which Michael Corleone shoots Sollozzo and corrupt police captain McCluskey in a restaurant. Coppola presumed that Pacino would carry off the scene brilliantly. He was proven to be correct when Pacino was retained on the film. Talia Shire, sister of Francis Ford Coppola, related how she desperately wanted to play the role of Michael's vulnerable and fragile sister Connie. Coppola actually made her screen test for the part and still felt she was all wrong for it because he envisioned a homely actress in the role. Coppola and the cast member recalled Marlon Brando being in an exceptionally good mood during production perhaps because he saw the film as his lifeline to a career comeback after a decade of boxoffice disappointments. (Brando was represented by a photograph placed prominently on stage among his cinematic "family".) Caan recalled practical jokes played by Brando on the set and Duvall remembered Brando leading male cast members in a mooning contest during filming of the wedding scene. Keaton acknowledged that she had only recently watched the film for the first time in decades because she felt her character never fit in with the all-Italian cast and that she was particularly bothered by her voice in the film. Coppola also revealed how Lenny Montana, who played hitman Luca Brasi, could not remember his lines and delivered them in a halting fashion. To get around the obstacle, he quickly wrote a scene showing the dim-witted Luca rehearsing his "thank you speech" to Don Corleone as though it was a difficult homework assignment. It was a brilliant improvisation that got Montana off the hook and made his brief presence in the film even more memorable. Coppola also paid tribute to the many artists from the films who are no longer with us and specifically praised Al Letieri for his performance as Solazzo.
Special campaign poster designed for the event.
If there was a weak link in the memorable discussions on stage it was Taylor Hackford as moderator. Hackford was understandably enthused about his role but he forgot the golden rule that interviewers should follow: remember that the audience is there to hear the guests, not the interviewer. Hackford seemed to be winging it instead of having carefully prepared questions and often ate up valuable time by giving long personal observations before getting to the point. He also had no rhyme or reason when it came to allocating the questions. Understandably, he went to Coppola more than anyone else but some cast members were treated almost as stage props. Duvall was rarely called upon to make a point, Shire told some good tales in the beginning but was barely heard from again and, to the consternation of audience members this writer spoke to afterward, De Niro was virtually ignored throughout the entire 90 minute discussion. It was only at the very end that Hackford seemed to remember that De Niro was sitting right next to him and the iconic star was given a single question before the evening came to a conclusion. Consequently there was very little discussion of "The Godfather Part II" and no mention at all was made of "The Godfather Part III". Hackford also wasted a good deal of time discussing trivial aspects of the production such as Coppola having the last minute idea of placing a cat on Don Corleone's lap in the first scene of the film, a minor point of interest that Hackford discussed ad nauseum. To his credit, however, Hackford realized the historic nature of the occasion and made it clear he would blow past the imposed timetable and continue the discussions for as long as possible. Consequently, those lucky enough to be in attendance certainly got their money's worth.
In all, "The Godfather" reunion was a superb, full day of entertainment, even if it tested the endurance of everyone's rear ends (the entire event lasted almost nine hours!). Kudos to the Tribeca Film Festival and Robert De Niro for making it a possible and giving classic movie lovers an offer they couldn't refuse.
(To read Star Ledger film critic Stephen Whitty's take on the event, click here).
Back in December 2014
Cinema Retro posted my review of the Columbia Classics’ DVD of “Edge of
Eternity,” (1959) one of director Don Siegel’s early, lesser known films. I gave it high marks—especially for its
location photography in and around the Grand Canyon, and a climax that ended in
a fight on a gondola car suspended 2,500 feet above the canyon floor. I thought
it was one of those little-known hidden gems you come across once in a while—a
movie worth seeing. The video quality of the Columbia DVD wasn’t bad either.
But now the folks at Twilight Time have come out with a limited edition (3,000
copies) Blu-ray of the film that literally blows the older version away.
As noted in my
original review, “Edge of Eternity” was one of two films Siegel made in 1959
that clearly showed he had already begun to master the art of shooting on
location—an art he perfected by the time he made “Dirty Harry” (1971). The
other movie was “The Lineup” , for which Siegel and screenwriter Stirling
Silliphant concocted a brilliant tale with off-beat characters and off-the-wall
dialog, that also gave moviegoers a black and white documentary-like tour of
San Francisco, most of which is no longer there. In “Edge of Eternity,” Siegel
had a less compelling script to work with, but the breathtaking aerial photography
shot in widescreen Cinemascope and Eastman color by the legendary Burnett
Guffey more than made up for it.
The story focuses on
Deputy Sheriff Les Martin’s (Cornell Wilde) efforts to solve a series of
murders that take place in the canyon and the former boom town of Kendon,
Ariz., a place where a fortune in gold lies in an abandoned mine. The mine was
shut down during World War II, due to lack of manpower. It won’t be reopened
until the price of gold rises from $35 an ounce. As weird as it sounds, at the
time the story takes place, the biggest industry in Kendon was the mining of
bat guano from a cave on the far side of the canyon. The cave contained 500,000
tons of the stuff, which was sold as fertilizer. This is all based on
historical fact. The U.S. Bat Guano Company actually operated there until the
late 1950s, and Siegel took advantage of everything the location had to offer,
including “the dancing bucket,” a cable car the company had built, stretching 5,000
feet across the maw of the canyon—the only way to get to the bat cave. The end
credits express the film makers’ gratitude to U.S. Bat Guano for its
cooperation—perhaps the first and only time the movie industry acknowledged how
much it owes to shit, bat or otherwise.
The love interest in
“Edge of Eternity” is Janice Kendon (Victoria Shaw), the daughter of a wealthy
mine owner. Her flaming red hair and the canary yellow 1958 Thunderbird she
drives stand out vividly against the dry desert background, as she flirts with
Deputy Marin and wistfully remembers the days when Kendal was a boom town. She
has a younger brother (Rian Garrick) who drinks and gets in trouble with the
cops all the time. Also on hand is Mickey Shaughnessy playing a garrulous
bartender who dreams of someday leaving Kendon and taking off for Las Vegas.
A second murder
occurs and Deputy Martin starts to feel the heat from his boss (Edgar Buchanan)
and some political enemies in the state capital who want to know why the bodies
are starting to pile up. Martin is vulnerable to attack when it’s revealed he
had some trouble on his last job. When a third corpse turns up Martin stands to
lose his job. Who’s committing the murders and what do they have to do with the
$20 million in gold we’re told lies under the town?
Those are the main
plot questions, but really, who cares? The story isn’t what matters in “Edge of
Eternity.” It’s the real-time, real-place feeling that Siegel manages to put on
film that makes this little-known movie worth watching. Seeing Wilde and
Victoria Shaw playing their parts with the Grand Canyon in the background, you
hardly pay attention to the dialog anyway. All you know is there’s a murder to
be solved, some backstory guilt to be healed by Wilde, and a love story to be
brought to a happy conclusion. Naturally, Siegel pulls it off with his usual
The Twilight Time 1080p
Blu-ray in 2.35:1 aspect ratio makes the Grand Canyon cinematography come alive,
with far more detail than the older DVD. This new release also comes with some
nice extras, including an informative audio commentary by film historians Nick
Redman and C. Courtney Joyner. They provide insights into how this film came to
be made and how Siegel and Guffey shot the climactic scene with the dancing
bucket using two helicopters and a fearless stunt man named Guy Way. It makes
the onscreen action seem even more dangerous. Redman also points out how the
sense of a real place with real people is something totally missing from
today’s films, partly due to the heavy use of CGI.
According to Joyner, “Edge
of Eternity” was originally written as a vehicle for veteran character actor
Jack Elam. The writers thought it was time Elam got his first starring role in
a film. Unfortunately nobody else saw it that way. Siegel, who was a friend of
Elam’s, saw the script sitting on a coffee table in Elam’s house and thought it
would make a pretty good movie. They ended up picking Cornell Wilde for the
part and Elam played a smaller role as the man who operates the bucket. As
Joyner points out, he may not have gotten his big breakthrough, but it’s one of
the few times he didn’t play a bad guy.
The Blu-ray also has
an isolated audio track for Daniele Amfitheatrof’s impressive score and a
booklet containing an essay by Julie Kirgo, which discusses further details of
the film’s location and crew. She also points out how “Edge of Eternity” shows
Siegel “beginning to explore the territory he would dominate in later years:
the life of a decent cop attempting to juggle his crazy mixed-up personal life
with a professional, criminal crisis.”
This Twilight Time
disc is a must-have for any Don Siegel fan, or for anyone who wants to see how “real”
thrillers used to be made.
You don't have to be gay to admire John Schlesinger's 1971 film Sunday Bloody Sunday but it probably helps in terms of appreciating just how ground-breaking the movie was in its day. As a straight guy of high school age when the film was released, I do remember it causing a sensation, although it would literally take me decades before I finally caught up with it. Gay friends always spoke reverently of the movie and expressed how the most refreshing aspect of the story was how "normally" a loving relationship between two adult men was portrayed. In viewing the film as a recent Criterion Blu-ray release, I feel I can finally appreciate that point of view. Gay men have long been portrayed in movies, of course, but for the most part they had been depicted as objects of ridicule or as sexual deviants. There were the odd attempts to present gay characters as sympathetic in films such as The Trials of Oscar Wilde and the brilliant Victim. Yet, even these fine efforts present homosexuality as a burden those "afflicted" must bear. Stanley Donen's 169 film Staircase offered fascinating and bold performances by Rex Harrison and Richard Burton as two aging queens. However, the studio marketing campaign over-emphasized the oddity of two of the film industry's great lady's men playing a gay couple. In fact, the ad campaign showed Burton and "Sexy Rexy" giddily dancing, thus falsely conveying that the film was a comedic romp instead of a poignant and intelligent look at loving homosexual relationship. Schlesinger, one of the first unapologetic directors to come out of the closet (if, indeed, he was ever in one) decided that the most daring aspect of this highly personal film would be in its very ordinariness. The story covers a complicated love triangle between three disparate people. Dr. Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch) is a middle-aged, Jewish London doctor who is involved romantically with a much younger man, Bob Elkin (Murray Head). Hirsh doesn't flaunt his homosexuality, nor does he attempt to painstakingly deny it. He just lives his life as a respected member of his community, although it is clear his family thinks he's straight. (In one amusing, though uncomfortable sequence, Hirsh attends a Bar Mitzvah and has to endure attempts by nosy female relatives to set him up with his "dream girl"). The relationship between Hirsh and Bob is fairly intense, but is compromised by one uncomfortable fact: Bob is bi-sexual and is carrying on an equally intense love affair with an older woman, Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson). Both Hirsh and Alex know about each other and (barely) tolerate the triangle as the price of having Bob in their lives. For his part, Bob is a rather self-absorbed young man who seems to have genuine affection for both of his lovers, but is also either oblivious or uncaring about how the uncertainties of the relationship are affecting their psychological well-being.
Sunday Bloody Sunday was released a time when the gay rights movement was moving into high gear in the post-Stonewall period. It illustrates why the 1970s is regarded by many as the most liberating decade in film history, with old line directors like Hawks, Welles and Hitchcock working at the same time young turks like Schlesinger were shaking things up in a way the old masters never had the opportunity to do, thanks to the restrictive motion picture code. Sunday is primarily remembered for an eyebrow-raising scene in which Hirsh and Bob engage in a romantic kiss. There's nothing sensational about the tasteful way in which this rather routine gesture between lovers is presented on screen. In fact, it was the sheer lack of sensationalism that drove home Schlesinger's primary message: that loving gestures between gay men can be every bit as routine as they are between husband and wife. The fact that the kiss was enacted by two straight actors did add considerable gravitas to the moment and must have caused more than one straight viewer to think "Well, if they don't care about enacting such a scene, why should I feel uncomfortable watching it?" Schlesinger also dared to film tasteful but passionate bedroom scenes between Bob and Hirsh. Nevertheless, nothing much actually happens in Sunday Bloody Sunday. The story was based in part on real-life experiences and people from Schlesinger's own life. The story merely traces the ups and downs in the love triangle as Bob causes panic in both Hirsh and Alex by announcing he is thinking of moving to America. Hirsh and Alex do have an unexpected face to face meeting during this crisis and their sheer civility and inability to engage in more than light banter only adds to the dramatic tension.
The primary attribute of the film, aside from Schlesinger's spot-on direction, is the brilliance of the performances. Glenda Jackson was then emerging as a national treasure for the British film industry and the little-known Murray Head acquits himself very well indeed. However, it is Peter Finch's performance that dominates the movie as we watch his character go from loving acceptance of Bob's youthful self-absorbing actions to downright fury as his realization that Bob will never have the same passion for him. It's a superb performance on every level. Some viewers find the film's bizarre final sequence in which Hirsh addresses the viewer directly about his philosophy of life, but I found it to be a distraction and somewhat confusing. Nevertheless, this is a fine film, worthy of the praise it has generated over the years, and one that remains remarkably timely today.
The Criterion Blu-ray is right up to the company's top-notch standards. The transfer is beautiful and there are the usual informative extras including:
New interviews with Murray Head (who says that, as a young actor, he found his character to be rather despicable), cinematographer Billy Williams (who supervised the Blu-ray transfer), production designer Luciana Arrighi, Schlesinger biographer William J. Mann and the director's long-time partner, photographer Michael Childers who shot many of the great production stills for the film.
A 1975 audio interview with Schlesinger
Screenwriter Penelope Gillatt's original introduction to the published screenplay (there is plenty of coverage throughout the Blu-ray concerning the tense working relationship between Gillatt and Schlesinger, who accused the writer of taking the lion's share of credit for a screenplay he had extensively rewritten.)
The original theatrical trailer
Extensive liner notes by writer Ian Buruma, Schlesinger's nephew who appeared as an extra in the film.
In all, an outstanding tribute to an outstanding work by one of the era's great filmmakers.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Tribeca to Exclusively Livestream Once-in-a Lifetime
Conversation From Radio City Music Hall on Facebook Live on Saturday April 29
Tribeca to Exclusively Livestream Once-in-a Lifetime
Conversation From Radio City Music Hall on Facebook Live on Saturday April 29
New York, NY [April 28, 2017] – The Tribeca
Film Festival will bring the excitement of its sold-out closing night
celebration directly to you with an exclusive, real time Facebook Live
event on Saturday, April 29 at 8:10 PM EDT. A once-in-a-lifetime panel
discussion about The Godfather saga with Academy Award®-winning
director Francis Ford Coppola and actors Al Pacino, James
Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and Robert De Niro, will
be livestreamed from Radio City Music Hall to mark the 45th anniversary of
the iconic film. The 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and the discussion’s livestream
are presented by AT&T.
The livestream is available exclusively via Facebook Live
on the Tribeca Film Festival Facebook page at Facebook.com/Tribeca.
Saturday, April 29
8:10 PM: Closing Night The Godfather and The
Godfather Part II Discussion
Join Tribeca live from famed Radio City Music Hall for a
sold out discussion for the 45th anniversary of The Godfather with
Academy Award®-winning director Francis Ford Coppola and actors Al Pacino,
James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and Robert De Niro,
moderated by director Taylor Hackford. The talk follows an epic
back-to-back 45th anniversary screenings of The Godfather and The
Godfather: Part II.
On May 18, 2017, as part of their ongoing Classic Film
series, the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge, Illinois (outside Chicago) will
present a 50th Anniversary digital restoration screening of the 1967 James Bond
extravaganza, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Showtimes 2:00pm and 7:30pm.
At the 7:30pm
show, Bond author Raymond Benson will provide the Introduction and Ian Fleming
Foundation board member Colin Clark will exhibit the Model 47 Bell Helicopter
used in the motion picture.The first 100 patrons through the door
will get a chance to win a tour of the James Bond vehicles facility in Illinois
that is overseen by the IFF. Jay Warren will perform pre-show music on the theatre
organ beginning at 6:30pm.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra will provide live musical accompaniment for a screening of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets". The concert takes place at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on October 28. Click here for details.
Include a Raffle for Free Star Wars Concert Tickets,
Giveaway of Star Wars Merchandise to Attendees in Costume,
Performances by Members of the Philharmonic’s Brass Section,
Meet-and-Greet with Star Wars Characters
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
New York Philharmonic is celebrating Star Wars Day by giving Star
Wars fans who come to the David Geffen Hall Box Office early access to
tickets for the Star Wars Film Concert Series on May 4, 2017, at
10:00 a.m., before tickets go on sale widely to the public online at noon.
Fans who arrive by 9:30 a.m. will be entered in a raffle to win a pair of free
tickets to the Star Wars concert of their choice. Three winners will
be announced at 10:00 a.m. The first 20 Star Wars fans to arrive in
costume will receive official Star Wars merchandise and collectible
vinyl. In addition, fans waiting in line will be entertained by members of the
New York Philharmonic’s brass section performing music from the Star Wars movies,
and will have a chance to meet R2D2, Kylo Ren, stormtroopers, and other Star
Wars characters from costumed fan groups. Those planning to attend are
encouraged to spread the word on social media using #nypstarwars.
New York Philharmonic will present the World Premiere of the Star
Wars Film Concert Series, September 15–October 7,
2017, featuring screenings of the complete films A New Hope, The
Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens with
Oscar-winning composer John Williams’s musical scores performed live to the
films. The concerts will be led by acclaimed conductor David Newman.
the release of the first Star Wars movie nearly 40 years ago,
the Star Wars saga has had a seismic impact on both cinema and
culture, inspiring audiences around the world with its mythic storytelling,
captivating characters, groundbreaking special effects, and iconic musical
scores composed by Williams. Fans will be able to experience the scope and
grandeur of these beloved Star Wars films in a live symphonic concert
experience, as the Star Wars Film Concert Series premieres from
September 15 through October 7 at David Geffen Hall in New York City. Legendary
composer Williams is well known for scoring all seven of the Star Wars saga
films, beginning with 1977’s A New Hope, for which he earned an
Academy Award for Best Original Score. His scores for The Empire Strikes Back,
Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens each were nominated
for Oscars for Best Original Score.
has won five Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, seven British Academy
Film Awards, and 22 Grammy Awards. With 50 Academy Award nominations, Williams
is the Academy’s most nominated living person and the second most-nominated
individual in history, after Walt Disney. In 2005 the American Film Institute
selected Williams’s score to 1977’s Star Wars as the greatest
American film score of all time. The soundtrack to Star Wars also was
preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry, for
being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Williams was
inducted into the Hollywood Bowl’s Hall of Fame in 2000, and he received the
Kennedy Center Honors in 2004, the National Medal of Arts in 2009, and the AFI
Life Achievement Award in 2016. Williams has composed the scores for eight of
the top 20 highest-grossing films at the U.S. box office (adjusted for
Wars Film Concert Series is produced under license by Disney Concerts in
association with 20th Century Fox and Warner/Chappell Music.
Cinema Retro has received the following press announcement:
Nebraska,film historian Bruce Crawford has announced the film to be presented
at his 40th anniversary tribute to classic films will be the 1980 comedy ”Airplane!.” The film will
be screened on Friday, May 26th, 2017 at 7pm at the beautiful Joslyn Art
Museum, 2200 Dodge Street, Omaha, Nebraska. Special guest will be
actor Robert Hays, who played Capt.Ted Striker in the film.
The American Film Institute lists it among the
top 10 funniest films of all time. "Airplane!" has become a cult classic with a
world wide following, and its success started the "Naked Gun" film and TV
series and also helped to reinvigorate the careers of the late Leslie Nielsen,
Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges.
for the event can be purchased at the customer service counters of all
Omaha-area Hy Vee food stores and go on sale Wednesday, April 26th.
Proceeds will benefit the Nebraska Kidney Association.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
MGM Studios' Manhattan will return to cinemas
on 12 May, opening at BFI Southbank and select sites nationwide.
Released as a new 4K digital print scanned from the original camera
negative, Woody Allen's monochrome masterpiece was the first of the director's
classic oeuvre to be made available digitally by Park Circus having
received its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival 2016.
By turns a rhapsodic city symphony and an astute
character study, Manhattan is a portrait of a modern metropolis and the
messy lives of its inhabitants. It's a love letter from a hometown hero that
remains ones of Woody Allen's most successful explorations of his enduring
themes: complex relationships, compromised romances and his own creative
42-year-old Manhattan native Isaac Davis has a job he
hates, a 17-year-old girlfriend he doesn't love and a lesbian ex-wife who's
writing a tell-all book about their marriage. Living vicariously through the
protagonist of his debut novel, but struggling to find personal or professional
fulfilment of his own, Isaac quits his job as a television writer and begins a
relationship with his best friend's mistress, setting him off on a
neurosis-riddled journey of self-discovery and self-sabotage.
Released as a new 4K digital print, Manhattan returns to
cinemas nationwide on 12 May. Woody Allen's monochrome masterpiece will receive
a US release at Film Forum from 10 March and will screen internationally
Jonathan Demme, the personable film director who graduated from making "B" movies for Roger Corman to the highest ranks of Hollywood filmmakers, has died from cancer at age 73. His remarkable career covered an impressively diverse number of films ranging from documentaries to comedies and thrillers. He won the Oscar for Best Director for his 1991 film "The Silence of the Lambs". His other credits include "Stop Making Sense", "Melvin and Howard", "Philadelphia", "Crazy Mama", "Handle with Care", "Last Embrace", "Something Wild", "Swimming to Cambodia", "Beloved" and the 2004 remake of "The Manchurian Candidate". For more click here.
among discriminating CR readers, there is NO doubt that Alien, Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi
masterpiece is truly terrifying. Jump
forward to 2017: technology is light years ahead and the world is counting down
towards Scott’s latest directing effort, Alien:
Covenant. One of the many new
technologies to emerge in the 38 years since the franchise chest-burst onto the
scene is Virtual Reality. VR vastly
expands the experience of a visual work by immersing the viewer in it. Like
feature films a century ago, VR content is starting out as short films, being
consumed by a growing audience. Kudos to
Twentieth Century Fox and RSA for giving their iconic franchise the VR
treatment with Alien: Covenant In Utero,
A Virtual Reality Experience. The two-minute
feature was unveiled at a special event held at Technicolor’s Experience
Center, the company’s VR incubator in Culver City.
can forget John Hurt curiously peering into the strange pod and getting
attacked by a face-hugger in the original Alien? Now you can be inside one of those very pods. “Consumers are being part of the story, not
just watching the story,” says Matthais Wittmann, VFX Supervisor for MPC, the
Technicolor company that worked on the project with Ridley Scott Associates,
Twentieth Century Fox and a host of other partners.
goal was to scare you,” said Ted Schilowitz, Futurist at 20th
Century Fox. Mission accomplished: The In
Utero experience immerses the viewer inside the birthing pod, complete with
sights (like blood or whatever alien fluids transverse the veins) and sounds
(heartbeats, a screaming victim outside the pod) as the Alien Neomorph finishes
developing and bursts out, fully lethal, towards its next victim.
hit the ground running,” says the project’s director, David Karlak, who rode
the buzz from his brilliant futuristic short Rise straight into Ridley Scott’s office. “It’s an example of how
you take all the different disciplines that make films look as good as they do
today and recalibrating them to deliver a VR experience that is unparalleled,”
the director adds. Obviously any young
filmmaker would jump at the chance to work with a legend like Ridley Scott, but
for Karlak, the project’s unique universe also had its attractions: “For me the inspiration was the concept… since
this was told from the point of view of a Neomorph, how would a creature that’s
designed to hunt perceive the world?” Well, like the old saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, pretty soon
everything starts to look like a nail.
Director David Karlak
Dennis, RSA’s Executive Producer of Branded Content & VR watched how her
boss immediately took to VR when a similar project was created for his 2015
hit, The Martian. “It’s very important to Ridley that these
pieces have a real filmic essence to them, they have to feel ‘filmic.’” In a nod to Karlak’s talent she said, “When
we saw Rise, we knew he was the right
person for this.”
the proper 360° look fell to Technicolor’s MPC VFX Supervisor, Matthais
Wittmann who had his hands full from the very first frame: “You need a really
high frame rate or you get sick,” he pointed out. Since there are no cuts in VR, “You can’t
save yourself with edits.”
fact that MPC was also handling visual effects for Alien: Covenant was a huge plus. “We knew very early on that there would be a VR component so our crew
went over to the sets to take photographs so we’d have them…” Wittmann says,
adding, “our team was there, they knew about the lighting, they’ve worked on
other Alien movies already so all
this information we can leverage.” And
then, of course, there was The Master: “Since this was a point of view that has
never been done before,” Wittmann continues, “it was also very helpful to have Ridley Scott close by so we could ask
him, ‘Is that how it would be?’” Director
Karlak echoed how invaluable Scott’s guidance was – suggesting he watch videos
of baby crocodiles hatching and endoscopic footage of a human womb, just to keep
the team on the right track. Now after
over five months of intense work, this alien baby has arrived, fangs and all…
Intrepid Cinema Retro scribe Mark Cerulli gets the full "Alien" VR treatment.
Alien: Covenant In
Virtual Reality Experience, is available on the Oculus platform on “Alien Day”,
April 26th and then on all mobile and tethered platforms like
Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream View, HTC Vice and PlayStation VR starting May
Alien: Covenant arrives in theaters
on May 19th from Twentieth Century Fox.
Mitchum is Martin Brady, an American hired gun living in exile in Mexico in “The
Wonderful Country,” a Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. While waiting on the
Rio Grande for his contact for a gun smuggling job, Brady decides to escort the
wagon north to Puerto, Texas, and pick up a cache of guns on behalf of his employers, the
Castro brothers. Pancho Gil (Mike Kellin),
another agent of the Castros, arrives to escort the guns they’re buying from a
man named Sterner, but Brady insists on picking up the guns himself. When one
of Brady’s associates reminds him that he’s a wanted man in America, Brady
states, “I want to see the other side of the river.”
in Puerto, a tumble-weed startles Brady’s horse and he breaks a leg in the
fall. He’s aided by Dr. Herbert J. Stovall (Charles McGraw), who sets his leg. Ben
Sterner (John Banner, Sergeant Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes” fame) receives his
500 silver Pecos in payment for the guns. We learn Brady killed the man who
murdered his father and he believes he’s a wanted man, thus his self-imposed exile
in Mexico.. We later discover this is not the case after the U.S. Army and the
Texas Rangers approach him about working for them to prevent the Castro
brothers from selling guns to the Apaches.
Stark Colton (Gary Merrill) wants Martin to help the U.S. Army stop the Castro
brothers from selling guns to the Apaches. The Castros are a couple of regional
Mexican tyrants, one a governor and the other a general. Texas Ranger Captain
Rucker (Albert Dekker) wants Brady to join the Rangers, all past crimes
forgiven. Meanwhile, Helen Colton (Julie London), Colton’s beautiful wife,
meets up with Brady. Rumors spread about the two of them, resulting in Brady killing a man bullying his friend “Chico” Sterner (Max Slaten Ludwig) followed
by his return to Mexico to confront the Castro brothers.
wonderful country in “The Wonderful Country” may be that place between borders,
cultures and people on the other side of the river or in the next village. It’s
the place one longs for after leaving home, but can never fully return to. More
Mexican than American after his years in exile, Brady wants to return home, but
discovers it isn’t possible. He’s seen by the Castro Brothers as a “gringo” and
by the Americans as some sort of hybrid Mexican not to be trusted.
Pedro Armendáriz is a welcome addition to the
movie as Governor Don Cipriano Castro in a small role as the
political half of the notorious Castro brothers. General Marcos Castro (Víctor Manuel
Mendoza), is the military half and they play Brady against one another holding his
past as collateral for his service until he’s had enough and refuses their
orders. The Castro brothers are discussed throughout the first half of the
movie, but their welcome appearance, especially that of Armendariz, is a bit of
a let down because they have next to nothing to do other than give Brady new
orders and to share their mistrust of each other.
Wonderful Country” boasts many merits, but it has a complicated plot
which is slow paced and filled with underdeveloped dramatic elements and
characters. I wanted to see more of Armendariz, Merrill, Banner and Kellin as
well as a more fully developed relationship between Brady and Helen. We never
fully learn about Helen’s past, why she’s unhappy with her husband or what she
sees in Brady. We also don’t really get a satisfying reason for the gun running
operation between the Castro’s, Sterner and the Apaches other than to have a
gun battle between the U.S. Cavalry and the Apaches as well as several cross
border visits for Brady and other members of the cast. Baseball great Leroy
“Satchel” Paige has a small role as Army Sergeant Tobe Sutton and Jack Oakie
makes an appearance as Travis Hyte.
film is based on the novel by Tom Lea, who also has a cameo as the barber who
gives Mitchum a shave. The 1959 United Artists release was directed by Academy
Award winning editor Robert Parrish (He also co-directed “Casino Royale” (1967) and directed “Fire Down Below,” “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun,” “Lucy Gallant, “The
Purple Plain,” “Saddle in the Wind” and more
than a dozen other movies). Parrish had a distinguished career as editor/actor/director. He also wrote the best selling 1988
autobiographies “Growing Up In Hollywood” and “Hollywood Doesn’t Live Here
Anymore” where he chronicles his experiences as a child actor in Charlie Chaplin and
Our Gang comedies to his WWII service, relationships with many classic
Hollywood greats and his editing/directing career.
by Mitchum’s production company, D.R.M. Productions with Mitchum credited as
executive producer, there’s also a great score by Alex North. In the end, the
sum totals of all those other interesting elements do not add up to a cohesive
movie. it needs a tighter plot and and even the 98 minute running time seems a bit padded.. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks and
sounds terrific, preserving the beautifully filmed widescreen image. The disc
includes the theatrical trailer for this and two other Mitchum releases as the
only extras. "The Wonderful Country" is a flawed but entertaining film and the Blu-ray is a welcome addition for fans of Mitchum and traditional Westerns.
have many impressive things to show you in my citadel!”
intones the looming hologram of maniacal would-be galactic conqueror Omus (Jack
Palance) to heroic Jason Caball (Nicholas Campbell) and Kim (Ann-Marie Martin)
after they have landed on the planet Delta Three. Apparently, a screening of
the film that this scene is unfolding in, 1978's “The Shape Of Things To Come,”
is not on the agenda. Coming in the midst of the first big “Star Wars”-knockoff
boom, this Canadian low-budget effort may have its fans, but “impressive” is
probably not a word to describe the film. Even viewing it for the cheese
factor, it is still a rather moldy and unappetizing cinematic confection.
the far future, humanity has colonized the moon to escape a war-ravaged Earth.
Their peaceful existence comes into jeopardy when Delta Three, their only
source of an anti-radiation medicine, is taken over by the tyrannical Omus and
his army of robots. Omus is looking to extend the reach of his rule to the moon
and is planning on attacking the lunar domed cities with a fleet of robot run
spacecraft. In an attempt to thwart the invasion before it starts, Dr. John
Caball (Barry Morse), his son Jason (Campbell), his friend Kim (Martin),and
teleporting robot Sparks head to Delta Three. Once there, they hook up with a
group of rebels led by Delta Three's deposed governor who are planning an
assault against Omus's citadel in an attempt to win back their world.
anyone with a passing familiarity of the film's alleged source material, any
similarity between “The Shape of Things To Come” and H.G. Wells' novel (or the
1936 film directed by William Cameron Menzies for that matter) is strictly
coincidental. What might not be so coincidental are the rebels led by a strong
woman character, sassy robots, imperiled planets and an aspiration to high
adventure that firmly put this movie as firmly trying to hitch a ride on the
then-current “Star Wars” wave.
that is not to say that the screenplay is not without its own ambitions. It
wants to give us the spectacle of a desperate group of rebels fighting off a
rampaging army of killer robots or the exotic but deadly perils of space
travels. Unfortunately, its ambitions far outweigh the talent or resources
available to realize them. Director George McCowan has neither the eye or the
budget to bring any life to the material on the screen. It isn't as if his crew
didn't try. The design and build of the movie's spacecraft models is
particularly nice. Unfortunately, it appears as if the budget ran out when it
came time to paint and light them. The rest of the film's visual aesthetic does
not fare much better. The lighting is flat and the best that can be said about
the cinematography is that the camera is pointed at the actors. At times when the film sobers enough to
realize it doesn't have the budget to visualize what it wants to it commits the
same cardinal sin that Robert Wise's “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would
commit a few months later and resorts to showing its cast stare at a screen and
commenting on something that is never actually shown to the audience. Those in
search of any kind of visual flair will need to look elsewhere.
his part, Nicholas Campbell certainly seems to understand exactly what movie he
has been a part of and is candid about his experiences in one of the two
interviews included as special features on Blue Underground's recent Blu-ray
release of the film. It is a shame that an interview with Campbell's co-star
Ann-Marie Martin couldn't have been secured, as it would have been interesting
to see her feelings on the film as someone who narrowly lost out landing the
part of Princess Leia in “Star Wars” just a few years earlier. The other
interview that is included on the disc is with composer Paul Hoffert who seems
to have had more enjoyable experience, given the freedom he had to experiment a
bit with combining traditional orchestrations with newer electronic
instrumentation. A French trailer (possibly for the Quebec market?), a
television commercial and poster, picture and press book galleries round out
the disc's extras.
a good portion of my high school years devouring the paperback reprints of the
Doc Savage pulp novels of the 1930s and '40s, the George Pal-produced “Doc
Savage: The Man Of Bronze,” is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. The film gets
just enough right to show tantalizing promise only to snatch that away with
what it gets wrong.
back to his Manhattan skyscraper headquarters from his arctic retreat where he
was using the isolation to perform some experiments, scientist and adventurer
Clark “Doc” Savage Jr. meets with his five closest friends and adventuring
companions to be told that his father has died while in the small South
American country of Hildago. However, the reunion between Doc and his aides –
known as the Fabulous Five – is interrupted by an assassination attempt carried
out by a native from a South American tribe Doc can't identify. Surmising that
his father's death was not from natural causes, the group head to Hidalgo to
investigate. There they encounter the villainous Captain Seas (Paul Wexler),
who with government functionary Don Rubio Gorro (Bob Corso), is trying to steal
land that was granted to Doc's father by the leaders of the long lost Mayan
tribe, the Quetzamal. Doc, his aides and Mona, Don Rubio Gorro's truehearted
assistant, head inland to the Quetzamal's hidden village to stop Seas and
Gorro's attempt to steal the gold of the Quetzamal for themselves.
broad strokes, the script captures the globetrotting nature of many of the
early Doc pulp stories published by Street & Smith between 1933 and 1949.
The film's overall plot is taken directly from the first first Doc Savage yarn
published in March 1933, also titled “The Man Of Bronze.” But readers of the
old pulps will perhaps recognize that
writer Joe Morhaim and Pal have grafted onto the screenplay some elements from
a couple of other Savage stories, most notably “The Green Death” (November
1938), “The Mystic Mullah” (January 1935) and “Mystery Under The Sea” (February
film does sport a wonderful cast. Ron Ely is as probably as close to the pulps'
description of Doc Savage as Hollywood is likely to get, the visual of him
standing on the running-board of a touring car as it races through the streets
of Manhattan (or more accurately, Warner Brothers' New York City backlot) is an
image brought to life directly out of the pulps. And Ely plays the role with a
sincerity that at times feels as if it goes against the grain of the campy tone
director Michael Anderson is attempting. The casting for Doc's five aides are
all equally physically spot on. Those who did their teen years in the 1980s
will probably get a kick out of seeing Paul Gleason as one of Doc's aides a
full decade before he was tormenting teens at Saturday detention in “The
Breakfast Club.” Pam Hemsley as Mona appears much more wholesome here than she
would just a few years later as space vamp Princess Ardala on NBC's “Buck
Rogers In The 25th Century.” Horror fans may enjoy a rather atypical
appearance from future “The Hills Have Eyes” star Michael Berryman.
certainly lavished some money on the production, at least in spots. There is
some great location photography for both Doc's approach to his Fortress of
Solitude in the beginning of the film and when Doc and his aides are trekking
across South America to the Valley of the Vanished. Less convincing is the
set-bound look of the lost Quetzamal tribe's lost valley. (See the latest issue
of CinemaRetro for more on the making of the film.)
why did “Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze,” flop so hard when released? Perhaps it
was the wrong movie at the wrong time. The fall of Saigon and the end of the
Vietnam War was just a little over a month in the past when the film hit
theaters in June of 1975. The country was in a malaise and a movie wasn't going
to snap it out of its funk until “Star Wars” comes along in another two years.
It may also have been overshadowed by the release of “Jaws” the same month,
which sapped much of the oxygen out of the adventure film market To a cynical and war-weary nation, the film's
simplistic pre-Depression era idea of good guys and bad guys perhaps was seen
as naive, if not downright laughable. Moments when the film dips into camp –
such as the Doc's apparent need to slap his stylized logo on all his equipment
or Don Rubio Gorro's weird diaper and giant crib fetish – probably felt like a
way too late attempt to cash in on the campy Adam West “Batman” TV series which
had been off the air for years by this
time. Ultimately, tone is the biggest
thing that works against the film and it should be interesting to see how
writer/director Shane Black will handle it if his planned Doc Savage movie ever
gets out of development.
Archive’s new Blu-ray 1080p transfer from the film's original inter-positive does a
good job showcasing the cinematography of Fred J. Koenekamp , who was fresh off
his Academy Award-winning work on “The Towering Inferno.” The only extra
feature on the disc is a trailer, which shows some definite wear around the
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The new documentary "Batman & Bill" is sure to be controversial. It tackles the subject of who actually created the iconic world of Batman, who debuted in comic books way back in 1939. Conventional wisdom always gave sole credit to Bob Kane, who became a legend in the comic book industry and our pop culture as the Batman phenomenon stretched for decades. However, the documentary seeks to give credit to Bill Finger, a collaborator of Kane's who apparently created some of the most memorable characters in the Batman universe but who remained unheralded. The documentary debuts on Hulu on May 6 and the intriguing trailer indicates this truly will measure up to being "must-see TV".
Daniel Craig at the London premiere of Spectre in 2015.
The New York Times has an article about the on-going bidding between studios for the distribution rights to the next James Bond film, which has yet to go into production or even announce a start date. It also isn't known if Daniel Craig will reprise the role. Sony's long run contract with MGM and Eon Productions has run its course and the company is trying to nail down the distribution rights to the next Bond film- even though the Times reports that the payoff is rather low given the investments studios are expected to make. The Bond franchise is at its peak, thus ensuring that every new entry will reach some level of blockbuster status. To read click here.
Woody Allen's landmark comedy "Annie Hall" is forty years old. The film won the Best Picture Oscar as well as Oscars for Woody Allen for Best Director and Diane Keaton for Best Actress. Writing in The Guardian, Jordan Hoffman pays extensive tribute by analyzing the film's 40 funniest bits. Click here to view.
If it's remembered at all, the 1970 WWII comedy Which Way to the Front? is generally attributed as being the film that ended Jerry Lewis' career as a leading man - at least for quite some time. During the 1950s, Lewis' partnership with Dean Martin made them the kind of pop culture idols that would only be rivaled by The Beatles and Michael Jackson. If that sounds absurd, search out newsreel footage of the thousands of people that stormed their hotel in Times Square, causing police to close the vicinity as Dean and Jerry merrily tossed autographed photos to the crowd below. When Martin left the act, thus bringing about one of the longest feuds in show biz history, both men went on to enjoy a successful careers on their own. Martin's friendship with Frank Sinatra did much to keep him in the public eye until he enjoyed his own fanatically loyal following. Lewis became a prolific producer and director, one of the first movie stars to successfully multi-task in front and behind the cameras. Others had given it a try only to give up after a film or two. Lewis persevered and earned respect for his knowledge of filmmaking techniques even as he enjoyed his ranking among the top boxoffice attractions in the world.
By the late 1960s, however, Lewis' brand of innocent slapstick humor had fallen victim to the new freedoms in the cinema. Suddenly he began to look like a quaint throwback to a much earlier era, even though only a few short years had transpired since the pinnacle of his career. His modest romantic comedies couldn't compete with Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice frolicking in the same bed. Lewis was dismayed by this trend and tried to fight back by opening a national chain of Jerry Lewis Cinema franchises that would be allowed to play only family-oriented films. His timing couldn't have been worse. The lack of appropriate fare not only sank the theater chain but also took down such iconic family-themed theaters as Radio City Music Hall. (Ironically, audiences couldn't be persuaded to pay $5 to see a new movie plus a magnificent stage show starring the Rockettes. Today, they line up in droves and pay $100 just to see the stage show.) Lewis gamely fought on but his films became afterthoughts to his once loyal public. He remained very popular in Vegas nightclubs and his annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon continued to raise millions for charity.
Lewis' 1970 Warner Brothers comedy Which Way to the Front? has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. The film is an curiosity in the funnyman's career in that, unlike his previous films, there is literally nothing funny about the movie at all. Even the least of Lewis' other works had a few scenes that would make his detractors chuckle, but this misguided farce seems to have been cobbled together at the last minute just to satisfy a contractual obligation. Lewis plays Brendan Byers III, "the world's richest man." Byers is bored with life and is surrounded by sniveling yes men who cater to his every whim. Thus they perceive a crisis when he gets a draft notice. That in itself is the first absurdity as Lewis was in his mid-40s at the time and would not have been of draft age. Nevertheless, Byers surprises his employees by rejecting their offers to find ways to get him out of military service. He has found his purpose in life: to fight for the American way of life. His joy is short-lived when he is rejected for military service. Crushed and humiliated, he befriends three other men (Jan Murray, Steve Franken, Dack Rambo) who were also classified as unfit for the army. The screenplay is so sloppy that it never explains why these able-bodied men were deemed unable to serve. Each one of his new friends has their own compelling personal crisis that makes it mandatory that they get out of the country. Byers comes up with a novel idea: if the U.S. Army doesn't want them, he'll use his unlimited wealth to create his own army.
Fox has reissued its original DVD release of the 1968 western "Bandolero!" as a region-free title in its made-on-demand "Cinema Archives" line. The film is top-notch entertainment on all levels- the kind of movie that was considered routine in in its day but which can be more appreciated today. The story opens with a bungled bank robbery carried out by Dee Bishop (Dean Martin) and his motley gang. In the course of the robbery two innocent people are killed including a local businessman and land baron, Stoner (Jock Mahoney). The gang is captured by Sheriff July Johnson (George Kennedy) and his deputy Roscoe Bookbinder (Andrew Prine) and are sentenced to be hanged. Meanwhile Dee's older brother Mace (James Stewart), a rogue himself, gets wind of the situation and waylays the eccentric hangman while he is enroute to carry out the execution. By assuming the man's identity he is able to afford Mace and his gang the opportunity to cheat death at the last minute. When they flee the town they take along an "insurance policy"- Stoner's vivacious young widow Maria (Raquel Welch) who they kidnap along the way. This opening section of the film is especially entertaining, mixing genuine suspense with some light-hearted moments such as Mace calmly robbing the bank when all the men ride off in a posse to chase down the would-be bank robbers. Mace and Dee reunite on the trail and the gang crosses the Rio Grande into Mexico- with July and a posse wiling to violate international law by chasing after them in hot pursuit. Much of the film is rather talky by western standards but the script by James Lee Barrett makes the most of these campfire conversations by fleshing out the supporting characters. Dee's outlaw gang makes characters from a Peckinpah movie look like boy scouts. Among them is an aging outlaw, Pop Cheney (Will Geer), a well-spoken but disloyal, greedy man who is overly protective of his somewhat shy son, Joe (Tom Heaton). The presence of Maria predictably results in numerous gang members attempting to molest her but their efforts are thwarted by Dee, who always comes to her rescue. Before long, Maria is making goo-goo eyes at her protector, conveniently forgetting he is also the man who slew her innocent husband. (The script tries to get around this by explaining that while her husband was a decent man who treated her well, she could never get over the fact that he literally bought her as a teenager from her impoverished family). The story also puts some meat on the bone in terms of Dee and Mace's somewhat fractured relationship. Both of them have been saddle tramps but Mace informs Dee that his reputation as a notorious outlaw allowed their mother, who Dee neglected, to go to her grave with a broken heart. Every time the script might become bogged down in these maudlin aspects of the characters, a good dose of humor is injected,
The story proper kicks in mid-way through the film when the gang finds itself en route to a remote town in the Mexican desert that mandates that they cross a hellish landscape populated by bandoleros, particularly vicious bandits who appear seemingly out of nowhere and pick off individuals one-by-one in a "Lost Patrol"-like scenario. July and his gang are also subject to the eerie murders as stragglers in the posse become victims. When Dee and his gang finally arrive at the town they find it deserted, as the population has fled the marauding bandoleros. Dee proposes to Maria and they agree to start a new life ranching with Mace in Montana- but their joy is short-lived when July and his posse sneak into town and arrest them. Before everyone can saddle up to return to the USA, the town is invaded by an army of bandoleros, setting in motion a truly exciting finale. The entire enterprise is directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, an old hand with horse operas and often memorable action flicks such as "Chisum", "The Wild Geese" and "The Sea Wolves". "Bandolero!" is one of his best achievements and he inspires fine performances by all. Martin plays it unusually straight and in a subdued manner, a rare instance during this era of him playing a realistic, multi-dimensional character. Stewart looks like he's having the time of his life and Welch, then still a contract player for Fox, acquits herself very well indeed among these seasoned pros. The supporting cast is excellent with Kennedy and Prine in top form and familiar faces such as Will Geer, Denver Pyle, Dub Taylor, Perry Lopez and Harry Carey Jr. popping up in brief appearances. There is also some excellent cinematography by William Clothier and a typically fine score by Jerry Goldsmith. "Bandolero!" is one of the best westerns released during this era.
The Fox made-on-demand titles are generally devoid of bonus materials but they have wisely ported over additional content that was found on the initial DVD release. These include a trailer for the film as well as a Spanish language trailer and a gallery of very welcome trailers for other Fox Raquel Welch titles. The transfer is excellent but Fox didn't catch a blooper on the main menu which depicts Stewart, Welch and- wait for it- what appears to be an image of Stuart Whitman! Apparently some Mr. Magoo-type who designed the menu eons ago couldn't tell the difference between Dean Martin and Stuart Whitman, who starred in both "The Comancheros" and "Rio Conchos" for Fox. A minor gaffe on an otherwise fine release.
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Despite the disappointing boxoffice results for the 2015 big screen version of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E", the film's co-star Armie Hammer, who played Illya Kuryakin, says that a script is being developed in the hopes of bringing a sequel to the big screen. Since the 1970s U.N.C.L.E. fans dealt with promising rumors that a big screen version was in the works, originally to star Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, who starred in the TV series. However, these projects ended up being thwarted by various factors. In 1983, Vaughn and McCallum did star in "Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E", a one-shot TV movie reunion. When the 2015 film was released it bore little resemblance to the TV series except for the Cold War setting and the names of the characters. Still, fans responded favorably to the re-imaging of the premise and expected a sequel which seemed unlikely to happen. Another plausible option might be to convert the much-beloved U.N.C.L.E premise into a cable TV series for Netflix and Amazon- that is, if the big screen sequel doesn't materialize. Click here for more.
Catlow is a fun MGM Western from 1971 with broad comedic overtones in addition to some fairly brutal violence. The film was directed by Sam Wanamaker and produced by Euan Lloyd, an old hand at bringing good action movies to the big screen (i.e. Shalako, The Wild Geese). The film is based on the novel by Louis L'Amour. Yul Brynner plays the titular hero, a charismatic, free spirit who travels with an entourage of vagabond cowboys and sex-crazed hot number, Rosita, played by Daliah Lavi, who is cast against type as a wild, unsophisticated character. The somewhat meandering plot has Catlow accused, perhaps erroneously, of stealing cattle. He is pursued half-heartedly by Marshall Cowan (Richard Crenna), an old army buddy who spends more time socializing with Catlow than making any real attempt to bring him back to a kangaroo trial. The scenes of the two men engaging in endless attempts to outwit each other are quite amusing. Leonard Nimoy's bounty hunter Miller poses a more realistic threat, relentlessly hunting Catlow and his men down to the wilds of Mexico where everyone ends up facing both the army and Apaches.
There are some solid, suspenseful action sequences such as when Cowan finds himself wounded and surrounded by Indians. There is also a neat double cross that results in Catlow and his men having their guns stolen just as they are about to face off with the Apaches. The inspired supporting cast includes Jeff Corey as the requisite sidekick that was played by Walter Brennan and Gabby Hayes in earlier Westerns. Jo Ann Pflug provides some glamour as a sexy upper class seniorita. The chemistry between Brynner and Crenna is the main pleasure of the film but Nimoy scores well in his limited role as a ruthless villain- and the site of him bare-assed fighting with Brynner beside a bathtub is one for the books.
Clifton James, the respected character actor who rose to fame as the bumbling southern Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two James Bond films, has passed away at age 96. James, a decorated veteran of WWII, appeared in many prominent films and TV series. Among his feature films: "Cool Hand Luke", "The Bonfire of the Vanities", "The Untouchables", "Juggernaut", "The Last Detail", "Will Penny" and "Something Wild". The portly James often portrayed lawmen and judges. His most prominent role came in Roger Moore's 1973 debut film as James Bond, "Live and Let Die". The character of Pepper as a comical racist lawman named Sheriff J.W. Pepper undoubtedly made audiences laugh. But to die-hard Bond fans his presence represented the increasing amount of slapstick that characterized some of Moore's Bond films. The producers brought the character back in the 1974 007 film "The Man with the Golden Gun" in which he coincidentally meets Bond in Thailand and participates in a wild car chase. The plot device was deemed absurd and the level of over-the-top comedy alienated most fans, thus the character of Pepper was never to return. It's a fair assumption that the character of Sheriff Buford T. Justice, played by Jackie Gleason in the "Smokey and the Bandit" films, was directly inspired by James' portrayal of Sheriff Pepper. Regardless of how Bond fans feel about the presence of Pepper in the two 007 movies, there is widespread respect for James' skills as an actor. He resided in New York City and was also a veteran of the Broadway stage. Click here for more.
In the mid 1960s Amicus Productions emerged as a Hammer Films wanna-be. The studio aped the Hammer horror films and even occasionally encroached on Hammer by "stealing" their two biggest stars, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The first Amicus hit was "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors", released in 1965 and top-lining Lee and Cushing. The format of various horror tales linked by an anthology format proved to be so successful that Amicus would repeat the formula over the next decade in films such as "Tales from the Crypt", "Vault of Horror" and "The House That Dripped Blood". The studio cranked out plenty of other horror flicks and by the mid-to-late 1970s Amicus was producing better fare than Hammer, which had made the mistake of increasingly concentrating on blood and gore and tits and ass to the detriment of the overall productions. Occasionally-indeed, very rarely- Amicus would branch out from the horror genre and produce other fare. (i.e. the Bond-inspired "Danger Route" and the social drama "Thank You All Very Much") but the studio was out of its element when it came to producing non-horror flicks. A particularly inspired offbeat entry in the Amicus canon was the 1970 production "The Mind of Mr. Soames", based on a novel by Charles Eric Maine. The intriguing premise finds John Soames (Terence Stamp) a 30 year-old man who has been in a coma since birth. He has been studiously tended to by the staff at a medical institution in the British countryside where a round-the-clock team sees to it that he is properly nourished and that his limbs are exercised to prevent atrophy. Soames apparently is an orphan with no living relatives so he is in complete custody of the medical community, which realizes he represents a potentially important opportunity for scientific study- if he can be awakened. That possibility comes to pass when an American, Dr. Bergen (Robert Vaughn) arrives at the clinic possessing what he feels is a successful method of performing an operation that will bring Soames "to life". The operation is surprisingly simple and bares fruit when, hours later, Soames begins to open his eyes and make sounds.The staff realize this is a medical first: Soames will come into the world as a grown man but with the mind and instincts of a baby.
Soames' primary care in the post-operation period is left to Dr. Maitland (Nigel Davenport), who has constructed a rigid schedule to advance Soames' intellect and maturity as quickly as possible. Initially, Maitland's plans pay off and Soames responds favorably to the new world he is discovering. However, over time, as his intellect reaches that of a small child, he begins to harbor resentment towards Maitland for his "all stick and no carrot" approach to learning. Dr. Bergen tries to impress on Maitland the importance of allowing Soames to have some levity in his life and the opportunity to learn at his own pace. Ultimately, Bergen allows Soames outside to enjoy the fresh air and observe nature first hand on the clinic's lush grounds. Soames is ecstatic but his joy is short-lived when an outraged Dr. Maitland has him forcibly taken back into the institute. Soames ultimately rebels and makes a violent escape into a world he is ill-equipped to understand. He has the maturity and knowledge of a five or six year old boy but knows that he prefers freedom to incarceration. As a massive manhunt for Soames goes into overdrive, the film traces his abilities to elude his pursuers as he manages to travel considerable distance with the help of well-intentioned strangers who don't realize who he is. Soames is ultimately struck by a car driven by a couple on a remote country road. Because the lout of a husband was drunk at the time, they choose to nurse him back to health in their own home. The wife soon realizes who he is and takes pity on him- but when Soames hear's approaching police cars he bolts, thus setting in motion a suspenseful and emotionally wrenching climax.
"The Mind of Mr. Soames" is unlike any other Amicus feature. It isn't a horror film nor a science fiction story and the plot device of a man having been in a coma for his entire life is presented as a totally viable medical possibility. Although there are moments of tension and suspense, this is basically a mature, psychological drama thanks to the intelligent screenplay John Hale and Edward Simpson and the equally impressive, low-key direction of Alan Cooke, who refrains from overplaying the more sensational aspects of the story. Stamp is outstanding in what may have been the most challenging role of his career and he receives excellent support from Robert Vaughn (sporting the beard he grew for his next film, the remake of "Julius Caesar") and Nigel Davenport. Refreshingly, there are no villains in the film. Both doctors have vastly different theories and approaches to treating Soames but they both want what is best for him. The only unsympathetic character is a hipster TV producer and host played by Christian Roberts who seeks to exploit the situation by filming and telecasting Soames' progress as though it were a daily soap opera.
Christian Roberts, Vickery Turner and Robert Vaughn.
Amicus had a potential winner with this movie but it punted when it came to the advertising campaign by implying it was a horror film. "The mind of a baby, the strength of a madman!" shouted the trailers and the print ads screamed "CAN THIS BABY KILL?" alongside an absurd image of Stamp locked inside an infant's crib. In fact, Soames does pose a danger to others and himself simply because he doesn't realize the implications of his own strength- but he is presented sympathetically in much the same way as the monster in the original "Frankenstein". Perhaps because of the botched marketing campaign, the film came and went quickly. In some major U.S. cities it was relegated to a few art houses before it disappeared. In fact the art house circuit was where it belonged but the ad campaign isolated upper crust viewers who favored films by Bergman and Fellini but balked when the saw the over-the-top elements of the ads.
Sony has released the film as a region-free made-to-order DVD and it boasts a very fine transfer but sadly no bonus extras. Still the company deserves credit for making this little-seen gem finally available on home video where its many attributes can finally be enjoyed by a wider audience.
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There have been two
films based on the story of Hugh Glass, the mountain man who in 1823 was
attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead in the territory now known as
South Dakota. “The Revenant” (2015), starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is the more
recent and better known. It won three Oscars, including best actor, best
director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), and best cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki). It
was hailed as a cinematic tour de force because of its on-location photography
and Iñárritu’s innovative filmmaking techniques, not to mention DiCaprio’s endurance-test
of a performance. In some ways, however, the film is so over the top in style
and execution that the director’s techniques tend to overshadow the substance
of the story. It also fictionalizes the true events it is based on in a way
that makes it more melodramatic than it needed to be. Even the New York Times
noted its “Pearls of Pauline” approach to storytelling.
A more satisfying and
truthful telling of the Glass saga can be found in the first filmed version—the
sadly overlooked and highly underrated “Man in the Wilderness” (1971) starring
Richard Harris. Directed by Richard C. Sarafian and scripted by Jack DeWitt (who
also wrote the “Man Called Horse” movies), “Wilderness” tells its story simply,
directly, and far more powerfully. It’s now available from Warner Archive in
Blu-Ray, and it’s time this movie got a second look.
The basic idea in the
two films is the same. Glass, one of the trappers in the Captain Andrew Henry
expedition, is attacked by a grizzly and so badly injured that no one expects
him to live. Henry orders two men to stay with him until he expires. It is at
this early point in the plot that the two films diverge. Iñárritu’s film
depicts one of the men left behind, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) as a completely
despicable character—almost an Oil Can Harry villain. He hates Glass and Hawk, the
half-breed son he had by an Indian squaw, who serves as the hunting party’s
scout. He kills Hawk, who catches him trying to murder Glass and tells Bridger,
the other man left behind, that he saw some Arikara Indians coming and
frightens him into abandoning Glass. The bulk of the film follows Glass as he
overcomes his wounds and the elements, and faces a final showdown with his nemesis.
While this makes an exciting story, it’s not entirely in accordance with the
facts, and forces the film to have a somewhat clichéd ending.
Sarafian’s version of
the story takes a different, more realistic approach. Rather than to portray
the two men left behind to watch over Glass (renamed Zach Bass in this version)
as evil incarnate, he makes Captain Henry the villain-- although villain is too
melodramatic a word. Played by Hollywood legend John Huston as a cross between
Ahab and an Old Testament God-figure, Henry is a harsh authoritarian without an
ounce of compassion. When we first see him, in a scene that calls
“Fitzcarraldo” (1982) to mind, he is standing on the deck of a boat being
hauled by 22 mules overland to the Missouri River. The white-bearded captain
looks down at the men riding alongside on horseback as if he were the Almighty
Himself, and he runs the expedition as if he were. When he learns Bass is injured, he not only
orders the party to leave him behind, he tells Fogarty (Percy Herbert playing a
fictionalized version of Fitzgerald) and Lowrie (Dennis Waterman) to stay with
him until morning and kill him if he is still alive by then. He tells them to
say some words over him. “Say ‘he fought life all his life,’” he instructs them.
“`Now his fight is with you, God.’ I reckon that’s where he figured it always
The captain had good
reason to know of Bass’s defiant attitude toward religion. He raised Bass from
boyhood after finding him stowed away on his ship, which makes his decision to
leave him behind even more inhuman. In a
series of flashbacks that ripple through Bass’s mind as he recovers from his
wounds and regains his strength, we learn what turned young Zack Bass against God
and religion. When his mother died of cholera on board a ship and is about to
be buried at sea, he’s told by a priest that cholera is God’s punishment for
sin and that her death “was God’s will.” When he’s told he must attend the
funeral, young Zachary locks the door to his cabin and refuses to go on deck. Later
in a classroom a stern, bearded minister grills the class on the question of
who made man and why. When Bass refuses to answer the question, the minister
smacks his hands with a wooden pointer over and over, shouting, “God made man,
Bass. God made man.” But the boy remains stubbornly silent.
In another flashback,
Bass’s young pregnant wife, tells him, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.
And in the earth, and the sea. Have you never seen it? Never felt it?” He says,
“No.” He says he doesn’t have much in common with God. He speaks to the unborn
child in his wife’s womb, apologizing that he won’t be there when he’s born and
for bringing him into a world that is “hell on earth.” The wilderness he
struggles to survive in is as much spiritual as it is material.
The theme of spiritual
revitalization was a subject that screenwriter Jack De Witt focused on more
than once in his writing. His scripts for the “A Man Called Horse,” films,
which also starred Richard Harris, and especially “The Return of a Man Called
Horse,” were about a man, and a people, who had lost their spiritual identity.
In “Return” Captain John Morgan finds life in England stultifying after having
lived in America with the Yellow Hand Sioux. He returns and finds the tribe
decimated and demoralized after white trappers took their land and killed many
of their people. It is only when Morgan and the tribe’s survivors participate
in the grueling Sun Dance Ceremony, that they regain their identity and the
spirit to fight again.
In “Wilderness” a subtler
transformation occurs, when Bass, alone and on the trail of the expedition that
left him behind, encounters a small group of “Rickaree’s” (the name the
trappers called the Arikara) in a forest. He hides behind a tree as a squaw
dismounts near him and squats in childbirth. Seeing the mother and the newborn infant,
he cannot help but think of the son he never met, and it’s as though for a
moment he gets a glimpse of the “heaven within” that his wife spoke of. It’s
the story’s turning point.
“Man in the
Wilderness” is an uncompromising film. Just as it refuses to paint its
characters as black and white stereotypes, it also provides no easy answers to
the questions it poses. Sarafian and DeWitt don’t sugar coat anything. Life in
the wild is presented as a constant battle for survival. Starving, Bass finds a
bison being devoured by wolves. Unable to walk, he crawls on hands and knees,
beats the wolves off with a stick, and takes a chunk of bloody raw meat and
eats it. There’s’ no respite from the
harshness of frontier life. Even when a bird flies overhead, Bass looks up at
the blue sky only to see a hawk pouncing down on it. The Arikaras are depicted
as killers, and any encounter with them will cost a white man his life. And yet
when they find Bass unconscious and near death, they leave him alone, because
of an amulet left on his body by the expedition’s Indian guide. And later when
Bass is well and they meet again, the Arikara chief (Henry Wilcoxon) evinces
admiration and a liking of the fur trapper’s courage and ability to survive.
Warner Archive has
done a good job transferring “Man in the Wilderness to a 1080 p Blu-Ray. It was
filmed in the mountains of Spain and Arizona by Gerry Fisher, and his cinematography
is shown on the disc to full advantage. The film in presented in wide screen
2.41:1 aspect ratio with DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono. The picture quality is
very good, but it’s too bad there wasn’t a stereo soundtrack available.
Presumably. like a lot of films in the 70s, it was shot in mono. The sound is
definitely lacking in bass and the high frequencies are a bit shrill—the only drawback
to an otherwise very good Blu-Ray. A theatrical trailer is the only extra.
Bottom line: “Man in
the Wilderness” is a definite must-have. One of the rare things that come out
of Hollywood only occasionally—a film that tries to tell it like it is.
“One Million Years B.C.” (1966)
with Raquel Welch was sufficiently profitable for Hammer Films that producer
Aida Young and studio executive Anthony Hinds were incentivized to create a
sequel.In final analysis, “When
Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” (1970) seems more a reboot of the earlier movie than
a sequel to it.Victoria Vetri, who had
been Playboy’s Playmate of the Year in 1968 as “Angela Dorian,” succeeded Welch
as the female lead, and Jim Danforth took over the FX role from the otherwise
occupied Ray Harryhausen, with assistance from David Allen and others.Filming began in October 1968 but post-production
FX work delayed final completion and release for two years, probably sinking
any publicity value from Vetri’s Playmate fame.The picture opened in the U.K. in October 1970, in western Europe in
January 1971, and Stateside in March 1971 from Warner Brothers-Seven Arts.The European print ran 100 minutes and
included a few frames of fleeting nudity and implied sex.The skin was negligible by today’s
premium-cable standards but apparently deemed unfit for small-town moviegoers
in the Nixon era.Warner-Seven Arts
deleted the nudity from the U.S. edit and secured a “G” rating for the kiddie
audience.The film had a brief life in
drive-ins, but wider exposure followed in syndicated TV airings in the ‘70s and
The first home-video releases of
“When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” were simultaneous editions from Warner Home
Video in 1991, in formats now as extinct as the dinosaurs themselves, VHS and
Laser Disc. Both products were struck
from the rated-G print. I paid the
$59.95 asking price for the VHS cassette and probably would have sprung for the
Laser Disc too, had I owned a player at the time. I was glad to have the movie in a form that I
could watch at leisure in those days before streaming video and Netflix, when
local video stores rarely carried such second-tier titles for rental. A DVD edition appeared in 2008 as a two-fer
with Hammer’s “Moon Zero Two,” retailed through Best Buy. The DVD created a brief stir because the
unrated European print had been used as the source, supposedly by accident,
even though the case carried the “G” rating. The new Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection also is sourced from the
European print, but this time the case warns (or teases, depending on your
perspective) that it is the “International Theatrical release version which
The opening credits attributed the
“screen treatment” for the film to critically acclaimed writer J.G. Ballard,
misspelled onscreen as “J.B. Ballard,” and the screenplay to British science
fiction, horror, and thriller veteran Val Guest, who also directed. The respective accounts of Ballard and Guest
are sketchy and inconsistent as to what each writer contributed to the final
product. Such as it is, the story isn’t
bad -- even in 1971, you didn’t go to a movie titled “When Dinosaurs Ruled the
Earth” expecting dramatic complexity -- although it mostly serves to fill time
between the appearances of Danforth’s gorgeous stop-motion dinosaurs.
Set of three door panels displayed in theaters during theatrical release.
Sanna (Vetri) is one of six young
blonde maidens chosen by the fanatical chief of the prehistoric Mountain tribe,
Kingsor (Patrick Allen), as human sacrifices to appease the tribal sun god for
recent celestial unrest. Little do the
primitive tribesmen know, but the tremors on earth and in heaven that scare
them are caused by the formation of the Moon separating from Earth, not by
divine displeasure. Sanna escapes in a
sudden windstorm, falls into the sea, and is rescued by Tara (Robin Hawdon), a
young fisherman from the neighboring Shore tribe. At the Shore village, where tribespeople are
trying to tie down an unruly plesiosaur, Tara’s girlfriend Ayak (Imogen
Hassell) becomes jealous of Sanna, who flees again when Kingsor comes to
reclaim her. Chases, escapes, and more
dinosaurs ensue, including a charming if biologically unlikely subplot in which
a mama dinosaur and her baby welcome Sanna into their family after mistaking
her for a newly hatched sibling. Where
the earlier movie closed with a catastrophic volcano eruption, Guest’s ends
with the tide receding an unnatural distance, leaving a bleak mud flat from
which a giant crab emerges (the surrealistic mud flat seems to have been
Ballard’s idea), and then roaring back again in a biblical deluge generated by
the newly condensed Moon. In another
charming touch, a raft carrying Sanna, Tara, and their friends Ulido (Magda
Konopka) and Khaki (Drewe Henley) washes gently to rest on a matte-painting
cliff in the final scene after the flood subsides and dawn breaks.
Many fans seem to feel that the
casting of “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” is inferior to the earlier movie’s,
but Vetri holds her own in the lead. The
script gives her more to do than “One Million Years B.C.” demanded of Welch,
and she delivers. She has screen
presence and she looks great in skimpy
togs that accentuate her impressive physical attributes. Hammer clearly understood that sexy outfits
sell tickets at the box office, even in movies whittled down to a
family-friendly rating. It’s a strategy
still employed today by moviemakers, more than forty-five years later: case in
point, the ads for the new PG-13 action movie “Ghost in the Shell,” which place
Scarlett Johansson’s generous curves in a skin-tight body stocking front and
center. Hawdon, Allen, and Hassell
support Vetri with plucky, straight-faced performances. That may be the most anyone can ask of actors
who are required by the script to strip down to their skivvies and talk in
made-up Stone Age language. Fans of
modern CGI may disagree, and probably will, but the dinosaurs designed and
animated by Danforth and his associates have more heft and personality than
anything in the recent, expensive blockbusters “Kong: Skull Island” (2017) and
“Jurassic World” (2015). The music by
Mario Nascimbene, the maestro of biblical and Viking soundtracks, adds a
measure of classic-cinema panache lacking in today’s mostly by-the-numbers
action and fantasy scores.
The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray is welcome as
the latest iteration of “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” for the home
market. The colors are strong, and the
definition at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio is about as good as can be expected from
older studio elements, short of a costly digital makeover. The disc includes the original movie trailer
and, anticipating the needs of the target Boomer audience, English SDH captions. It’s questionable in this instance whether
captioning is necessary, since the dialogue consists of fifteen or twenty
nonsense Caveman words repeated over and over again, but it’s the thought that
Ken (Dale Midkiff) and Bob (Preston Maybank) land
in a propeller plane and speed off on motorcycles to a large mansion. Ken calls
Julie Clingstone (Debbie Laster) via radio as Bob scales the side of the
building. Julie wants him to give her access to “the mainframe” when suddenly,
somewhere a puppet (yes, a puppet)
begins yelling Danger! Danger!, obviously aware of the imminent
intrusion. Edward Brake (Wellington Meffert) is sleeping in bed in the mansion
while Bob takes off his necklace and lays it on the ledge after reaching the
mansion’s roof. He rotates a parabolic dish and the puppet, operating some sort
of a crude computer and using telepathic powers, makes the necklace turn into a
sphere (think Phantasm). Bob starts
to bleed from the face and falls to his death. The action breaks into the
opening credits to “Nightmare” as sung by Miriam Stockley.
If you’re still reading this, I commend you,
because I would have stopped at the mention of the word “puppet”. There are few
films that leave me at a loss for words (Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 film Rubber is hands-down the most
infuriating movie I have ever watched; I might have to re-watch that one as I
must have missed the point completely),
but Henri Sala’s Nightmare Weekend
(1986) is, in the words of the late film critic Gene Siskel in his review of
1978’s Surfer Girls, one of the most
improbably lousy movies I have ever seen. This doesn’t stop one’s viewing of
the film from being a total loss,
however, as Nightmare is if nothing
else that we can be absolutely sure of a time capsule of the 80’s, with
artifacts of the Zeitgeist on full display: girls workout wearing leg warmers,
a guy dances nearly everywhere with a Walkman in his pants, a tough guy and his
Laura Brannigan lookalike chick get it on atop a pinball machine, and computer equipment is
crude, big and bulky. Clocking in at 85
minutes, Nightmare seems longer than
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part
II (forgive me for mentioning them both in the same sentence, I do
apologize). Edward Brake is an entrepreneur/inventor who has created a
computerized “Biometer” which changes naturally aggressive animals into docile
house pets. He ultimately wants it to be used for the betterment of society,
but it’s just not ready for prime time. His partner Julie can’t wait for him
and goes behind his back to team up with a nefarious organization that will pay
her millions for the Biometer. Edward’s daughter Jessica Brake (Debra Hunter) is a Carol Alt
lookalike who, with her friend Annie (Lori Lewis) and another woman, has been
chosen to be part of Julie’s experiment for which they will both be paid 500
dollars each for their involvement. The idea is to see how the Biometer works
on people. The aforementioned puppet, named George, is housed in Jessica’s room
and is operated by a computer named Apache, indubitably the precursor to the Apache HTTP Server (Danger! Danger! Sarcasm!), and is part of
the whole operation. The motley crew, and there are a lot of characters to keep
track of unnecessarily, all find themselves one way or another being affected
by the Biometer.
two biggest issues with Nightmare are
the screenplay and the editing. I love bad movies that are entertaining but
unfortunately this isn’t one of them. The
film never seems to make up its mind as to what it wants to be: horror,
soft-core porn, comedy, campy/serious? Scenes and shots are so
short it’s nearly impossible to keep track of the goings-on. It’s also
occasionally insulting to women as they are all pretty much on display simply for
Nightmare is a Troma
production which means that it exudes its own special, patented brand of strangeness.
It’s difficult for another film director or producer to attempt to ape the Troma
style as it is a singularly unique, signature and patented style of strangeness.
Shot in July 1983 in Ocala, FL on a budget of ostensibly half a million dollars,
description which, in the hands of a seasoned auteur like David Lynch, can be a
good thing. That isn’t the case here. Nightmarefalls into the “so-bad-it’s-bad”
camp. You feel like you’re watching auditions with an amateur acting troupe,
although amazingly other reviewers have championed the acting in an otherwise
disjointed film. That being said, if you’re a fan of the film, it has been
released as a DVD/Blu-ray combo from Vinegar Syndrome. The image has been scanned in 2K and looks
really nice and is a far cry from the VHS tape from 30 years ago. It also
contains an interview with producer Marc Gottlieb that runs just under 13 minutes.
He’s very engaging and fun to listen to as he describes the making of the film
and how they promoted it at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. Dean Gates, who did
the makeup effects, speaks for nearly 23 minutes and provides us with an
interesting perspective on the effects that he created in the days before movie
companies made the switch to CGI for most of this type of work.
Vinegar Syndrome has put together a really nice
package for this title. It has a reversible cover and very colorful
Weekend is best
viewed on a weekend while severely inebriated!
Hitler shaped history in ways we are still coming to grips with to this day. Our
understanding and interpretation of the devastation and evil he inflicted upon
the world involves not only warfare but his impact on the lives of individuals
who would become his victims. Some of his victims would become refugees, most
prominently Jewish and political dissidents who would make their way to America
and Hollywood. Their story is told in “Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to
Hollywood” available on DVD by Warner Home Video.
devastation of Europe resulted in an influx of movie talent to America and their
impact is extraordinary. The great German cinema brain drain started in the
early 1930s and delivered a variety of cinematic exiles, Jews and non-Jews
alike, who fled Nazi Germany to Vienna, Paris and London before making their
way eventually to Hollywood. Fritz Lang, Henry Coster, Fred Zinneman and Curt
Siodmak would join hundreds of other exiles after having their films banned or
after being precluded from working in Germany. Franz Waxman, Billy Wilder and
Peter Lorre fled to Paris and joined up with Henry Koster in 1933 before making
their way to America.
stories of these Hollywood legends began in the silent era in Germany where the
new aspects of cinema dominated the world with innovative visual style,
techniques and story telling. German Expressionist use of light and shadow
would be a major influence on Hollywood horror, film noir and comedy for
decades and continues to influence filmmaking to this day. Hitler’s cronies
tried to coax a few of them, notably Fritz Lang to head the German film
industry and make movies for Nazi Germany, Lang and the rest would have none of
this and left for America.
directed and produced by Karen Thomas and narrated by Sigourney Weaver, this
documentary combines archival interviews with contemporary voice actors portraying
various filmmakers and actors in the tradition of television documentaries like
Ken Burns’ “The Civil War.” Reading personal letters and movie production
notes, the technique is very effective and brings these filmmakers to life as
they work to find success in Hollywood. Movie greats from Marlene Dietrich and
Paul Henreid to Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder are also depicted using
archival footage, film clips, home movies, photos and recordings to not only tell
their struggles to adapt to American culture, but how they would influence
Hollywood movies for decades to come. Many were not able to achieve the same
level of success they had in Germany. Others shaped Hollywood and the movie
industry for decades.
narration brings the stories of these exiles to life in a fashion that will be
appreciated by movie buffs and casual movie fans alike. Imagine if these exiles
had not made it out of Hitler’s Europe. Imagine the loss to not just American
culture, but to the world. Imagine not having Franz Waxman’s score for “The
Bride of Frankenstein.” Thankfully we have the gift of Waxman’s score and (to
use one of my favorite directors as an example) Billy Wilder movies. This
documentary brings to life the stories of some of the exiles in the movie
industry who escaped the greatest tyranny in history.
Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood” is available on DVD by Warner Home Video as
part of their Archive Collection and is a burn to order release. The picture
quality is terrific considering the age of much of the photos, home movies and
movie clips. This fascinating documentary was originally broadcast on PBS in
2009, clocks in at 117 minutes and makes for a very entertaining history lesson.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Entity 1982 Directed by Sydney j. Furie, Starring Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David
Labiosa and George Cole. Eureka Blu-ray released: 15th May 2017.
theatrically in February 1983, The Entity was an impressive piece of fantasy
horror. The film was based loosely on the story of Doris Bither and the events
that took place in Culver City in 1974.
Award nominee Barbara Hershey stars as Carla Moran, a hard-working single
mother who, one terrible night is raped in her bedroom by someone or something
that she cannot see. After meeting with sceptical psychiatrists, she is
repeatedly attacked in her car, in the bath and in front of her children. Could
this be a case of hysteria, a manifestation of childhood sexual trauma, or
something even more horrific? Now, with a group of daring parapsychologists,
Carla will attempt an unthinkable experiment: to seduce, trap and ultimately
capture the depraved spectral fury that is The Entity.
Entertainment’s Blu-ray is presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio and is an
improvement over previous DVD releases. However, The Entity, like many other 20th
Century Fox releases of the 1980s, does suffer from a rather unavoidable grainy
picture. For some reason the major studios seemed to occasionally adopt this
blatantly ‘soft-looking' style of film. Unfortunately, there doesn’t really
appear to be any method of improving that look, and as a consequence, it is still
evident on subsequent home video releases. Certain daylight scenes display an
improved clarity but of course, a great deal of The Entity’s scenes occur at
night or within dimly lit internal sets. Blacks are far from solid or deep and
instead display a milky grey quality with varying degrees of density. Another
disadvantage of darker scenes is that it shows up several flaws such as dust or
speckle. These imperfections are also evident, mainly in earlier scenes rather
than later where these flaws noticeably begin to improve. Nevertheless, you are
left wondering if The Entity has received any form of remastering? The film’s
colour palette retains a slightly dull and flat appearance, which is a shame as
it is such an enjoyable movie. The audio is both clear and punchy – elements of
which help compliment Charles Bernstein’s chilling and memorable score.
Eureka’s Blu-ray provides very little in terms of extras. There’s a relatively
short theatrical trailer which has to be said, is of poor quality. Eureka
actually produced a new HD trailer for promotional purposes (see below) and is available to
view on Youtube. It’s even shorter than the theatrical trailer, but sharply cut
and includes some different dramatic music. It might have been an idea to also
include this on the disc as it would of least provided fans of the film just
that little bit more for their enjoyment.
the poor quality of previous DVD releases, many admirers of the movie may feel
that an upgrade to the Blu-ray format is essential. However, to the casual
viewer, it may arguably be worth holding on to that DVD for just a while
of the Dead (AKA Horror Hotel) 1960 Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, Starring
Christopher Lee, Patricia Jessel, Venetia Stevenson, Betta St. John and Dennis
Lotis. Arrow 2 disc Blu-ray and DVD released: 24th April 2017
filming began on The City of the Dead, Christopher Lee was already established
as a leading horror star. Hammer was paving the way with a new brand of horror
and Lee had played a huge part in their success playing the Frankenstein
monster, Dracula and the Mummy. The City of the Dead provided the perfect
opportunity for Lee to spread his wings further within the genre by moving into
the realms of witchcraft, the occult and American gothic.
in a small New England village (and hardly a city as the title suggests), Lee
plays Professor Driscoll, an authority on the occult who persuades one of his
students Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) to research his hometown of Whitewood,
once the site of witch burnings in the 17th century. Booking herself into the
Raven’s Inn, she soon learns that devil worship among the locals hasn’t been
consigned to the past.
City of the Dead has just about everything working for it. Firstly, it is
drenched in atmosphere and reminiscent of those beautifully crafted movies
produced a decade earlier by the likes of Val Lewton and his films for RKO. Fog
shrouded and shadowy dark sets provide the perfect backdrop for this hugely
enjoyable and extremely well made film. The film also benefits from a great
production team, a blossoming partnership consisting of future Amicus founders
Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg. In terms of its technical spec, The City of
the Dead is a genuine delight on the senses. Arrow’s stunning transfer captures all of Desmond Dickinson’s sumptuous
monochrome photography rather beautifully. Boasting a pin sharp picture with
lovely deep blacks and a wonderful balance in contrast, this new 4K digital
restoration (by the Cohen Film Collection and the BFI) is as close to
perfection as you are likely to see. The sound is also clean (and untampered)
presented in uncompressed mono 1.0 PCM Audio. It’s a wonderful viewing
experience, and a welcome change considering the film falls into the public
domain category, which, as a result has seen many inferior releases over the
years. The City of the Dead is an extremely important film, so it’s nice to finally
see it receive the treatment it so fully deserves.
A disgruntled consumer has filed a lawsuit seeking damages against MGM and 20th Century Fox over their release of a boxed video set that purports to contain all of the 007 films. According to Bond fan Mary Johnson, who filed the class action suit in the state of Washington, that claim is misleading because, upon opening the set found that it did not contain the 1967 spoof version of "Casino Royale" or the 1983 remake of "Thunderball" titled "Never Say Never Again". The two films have always presented a thorn in the side of Eon Productions, the producers of the Bond movie franchise. The roots of the problem extend back to the mid-1950s when Bond creator Ian Fleming sold the film rights to his first 007 novel "Casino Royale" for a pittance in the hopes of having Bond appear on the big screen. Instead the only film version turned out to be a one-hour live American TV broadcast on the program "Climax Theater" in 1954. Response was underwhelming and the Bond character seemed to be headed toward oblivion. However, Fleming's books picked up in sales and became vastly popular around the globe- especially when new president John F. Kennedy made it known he wa a fan. In the early 1960s Fleming signed away the film rights to his other Bond novels to producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who began making the movies under their Eon Productions banner. When the movies proved to be blockbusters, studios began to emulate the Bond franchise by launching a cinematic spy boom that lasted for years. By this time producer Charles K. Feldman had acquired the film rights to "Casino Royale". He wanted to jointly produce a film version with Broccoli and Saltzman but they rebuffed him. Feldman, who recently had a major hit with the mod spoof "What's New Pussycat?", decided that without Sean Connery to play Bond, there was no point in making a serious film version of "Casino Royale". Feldman opted to repeat the formula he had with "Pussycat": round up an eclectic big name cast and add elements of zany slapstick comedy. The film was released in 1967 overlapping to some degree Eon's release of "You Only Live Twice" with Connery.
The origins of "Never Say Never Again" are too long to go into here so here's a capsule version: in the 1950s Fleming teamed with producer Kevin McClory and writer Jack Whittingham to develop potential scripts for Bond-related movies that failed to attract any interest from studios. Fleming used elements of some of their work as the basis for his novel "Thunderball"- and was promptly sued by his partners for not crediting them for their contributions or allowing them to share in revenue. Fleming, who was in ill health, settled the suit and McClory ended up getting producer credit on the 1965 screen version of "Thunderball" as well as remake rights. When he tried to exercise those rights a decade later, Cubby Broccoli, who had by that point split with Harry Saltzman and was running the Bond franchise on his own, filed various lawsuits that stymied McClory's project until 1983 when it finally made it to the screen as "Never Say Never Again" starring Connery in his final appearance as 007. The Bond feature film franchise went on hiatus between 1989 and 1995 due to legal disputes between Cubby Broccoli and MGM. When the series was revived in 1995 with Pierce Brosnan as Bond, MGM was still battling McClory, who had for years attempted to capitalize on more "Thunderball" -inspired ways to exploit the Bond franchise. When he finally lost the battles in court, MGM moved to take control of even the "renegade" Bond productions and ended up buying the rights to "Casino Royale" and "Never Say Never Again". While the company never buried the the titles, as some Bond fans feared, they were never incorporated into any releases of the Eon Bond movies on home video. Their absence in boxed sets has long perplexed casual fans of the series who were not conversant in all the legal intrigues surrounding them. It has been suggested over the years that MGM promote the Eon films as the "official" Bond movies, but of course, that wouldn't be accurate since both "Casino Royale" and "Never Say Never Again" were legal adaptations of Fleming's works and thus no less "official" than the Eon films despite the fact that they are not held in as high esteem by fans. Perhaps the best solution from a legal standpoint is to state that such sets contain "All of the James Bond Films Produced by Eon Productions". In the meantime, the notion that this case should clog up a courtroom is almost certain to evoke the kind of public response reserved for people who sue McDonalds because their coffee is too hot. Seems to us that the simplest solution to anyone who is so traumatized by the absence of two films in a Bond boxed set is that they simply return it and get their money back.
It’s easy to see why Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight is generally regarded
as his finest post-Touch of Evil
achievement. This Shakespearean mélange is a dazzling showcase for Welles’
ingenuity, his evident appreciation for the film’s literary foundation, and his
relentless aptitude for stylistic inventiveness. However, its haphazard
production and its rocky release comprise a backstory as complicated as the
movie’s multi-source construction (the script, based on the lengthy play “Five
Kings,” written and first performed by Welles in the 1930s, samples scenes and
dialogue from at least five of Shakespeare’s works, primarily “Henry IV,” parts
one and two, “Richard II,” “Henry V,” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor”).
Plagued by what were at this point familiar budgetary constraints, Welles shot Chimes at Midnight over the course of
about seven months in Spain, with a break when the financial well went dry.
When the film was finally released in 1966, premiering at the Cannes Film
Festival, it won two awards and was nominated for the Palme d’Or. Unfortunately
for Welles, that was as good as it was going to get. Less amenable critics,
audiences, and, perhaps most importantly, distributors, relegated the film to
its decades-long status as an underseen vision from a used-to-be-great American
master, one who actually thought it to be his best film. Recent years have seen
a sharp turnaround, though, and when a new Janus Films restoration played in
New York earlier this year, it was enough to give this extraordinary work the
boost it needed. Following a series of theatrical screenings, the revaluation
and re-appreciation of Chimes at Midnight
has culminated in a stellar Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection.
As the film begins, Falstaff (Welles) is
navigating his fatherly-friend relationship with Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), who
is conflicted in his loyalty to his real father, King Henry IV (John Gielgud).
In the meantime, rival Henry “Hotspur” Percy (Norman Rodway) joins others in a
plot to overthrow the king, in retaliation for his brutal usurping of power
from Richard II. The ensuing drama is a complex web of political intrigue and
wartime struggle, balanced against the more intimate themes of betrayal,
friendship, family, and responsibility.
As the main character, a riotous, bulbous,
crass and somehow still charming nobleman, Welles gives one of his most
grandiose and memorable performances. In an interview on the Criterion disc,
historian Joseph McBride says it is “by far his greatest,” while in an
accompanying essay, Michael Anderegg writes, “Welles’s star performance as
Falstaff is one of his finest, tempering an unfettered exuberance with touching
vulnerability, his facial expressions and the modulations of his voice
projecting a cunning watchfulness at one moment and an openness to all of
life’s possibilities the next.” The slovenly outcast—rather “pathetic”
according to scholar James Naremore in his commentary track—is nevertheless
ambitious, scheming, and wisely opportunistic. Obviously reveling in such meaty
material, Welles plays Falstaff with a touching sympathy and a witty pomposity,
best juxtaposed when he is pranked and ridiculed by Hal and Poins (Tony
Beckley) in one scene, while in the next, his steadfast penchant for bluster
and exaggeration fails to waver in the face of shame. Unlike many of the other
individuals featured in the film, in Welles’ stage play, and in the various
Shakespearean texts, Falstaff has no historical grounding, which really doesn’t
matter. He was a popular character in Shakespearean times, always good for a
laugh, and in Chimes at Midnight, he is
similarly appealing as an endearing, comic individual.
While Welles is the clear figure of
prominence, Chimes at Midnight is
abounding in contrasting character types and a corresponding diversity of
performance. From a delightfully raucous Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet and a
rigidly formal Gielgud as Henry IV, to Marina Vlady as Kate Percy and Fernando
Rey as Worcester, Chimes at Midnight
boasts an exceptional cast with varying presentational styles. In scenes of
bawdy drunken revelry, where the words “grotesque” and “bodily humor” come to
mind (or at least they do in Naremore’s commentary), or in those sequences
distinguished by stoic primness, the actors all breathe exuberant air into what
could have easily strayed into the stolid territory of textbook Shakespearean
Leading the charge is, of course, Welles.
Under his tenacious direction, Chimes at
Midnight is a stunning assembly of formal brilliance and a masterfully
arranged adaptation, Welles’ inspired restructuring of the Shakespearean text a
testament to his familiarity with the subject. But even if he personally
oversaw details that could have been merely assigned (sketching the costumes
himself, for instance), Welles, especially in this film, benefitted greatly
from key collaborators. Edmond Richard, his cinematographer on The Trail (1962) (who would later do
excellent work with Luis Buñuel), production designer Mariano Erdoiza (his only
credit in such a role), and set decorator Jose Antonio de la Guerra all work to
contribute invaluable visual detail to the film. The Boar’s Head tavern is a
dingy and squalid retreat, a wooden structure that organically pulsates to the
rhythms of its rowdy clientele, while the King’s castle is a looming stone
chamber that, even in its sealed-off reserve, still yields vivid shafts of light.
To see just how these differing sets impact character interaction, one need
only to again go back to Welles’ portrayal of Falstaff. In the tavern, a
congenial, boozing Falstaff (the “king of winos,” according to McBride), holds
court as a larger than life figure, yet he awkwardly seems pinned within the
building’s narrow walls. “In a partly self-referential gesture—he was always
struggling with his weight—Welles goes out of his way throughout the film to
emphasize Falstaff’s sheer mass,” writes Anderegg, “his huge figure often
dominating the frame.” By contrast, at the castle, Falstaff is dwarfed by the
enormity of the structure and is reduced to being a disregarded shape amongst
the masses. In any location, though, Richard and Welles manage to strike just
the right visual balance of high-contrast black and white photography and
precise camera placement, which is nearly always conducive to a general
impression of tone, character stature, and narrative weight (nobody uses a low
angle quite like Welles).
Aside from the setting distinction between
the castle and the tavern, Chimes at
Midnight further builds on contrasting imagery. Close quarters crammed with
the bobbing heads of onlooking bystanders (many of whom were non-professional
chosen by Welles simply for the way they look) are countered by wide sweeping
natural arenas, like the setting of the Gadshill robbery, which is itself an
open patchwork of horizontal movement (Welles freely tracking through the
forest) and vertical expanse (it is a forest defined by pillaring sun-kissed
trees). The Battle of Shrewsbury, the most famous sequence from Chimes at Midnight, is similarly assembled
from juxtaposition, of speed, shot size, duration, and position. It’s an
extraordinarily well-orchestrated battle scene, an Eisensteinian montage of
quick cutting and movement textured by what Naremore points out as a Fordian
incorporation of atmospheric detail: wind, cloud cover, muddy terrain, etc.
With so much visual stimulus, the emotional
resonance of Chimes at Midnight can
potentially get lost in the crowd. By the time Hal comes to power and appears
to brush aside the pitiably loyal Falstaff, the creeping sadness that went
along with the dejected giant’s tragic optimism has become a potent, painful
betrayal—“The king has killed his heart,” says one observer. This is a film
heavily preoccupied with looming death and, worse yet, the fear of irrelevance.
Everyone’s lives are at stake in this tumultuous period, but what concerns many
more than that, particularly Falstaff, is the realization of not being wanted
or needed. Surely some of this was reflective of Welles at the time. Pushing
forward in the face of little money, limited technology, and an often
unreceptive audience, he continued to make films on his own terms, as best he
could (which was still as good if not better than anyone else). If Chimes at Midnight subsequently took
longer than hoped to be given a proper restoration and distribution, so be it.
Better late than never.