Dutton Vocalion has released three3 more
impressive titles in their SACD range. The Black Motion Picture Experience /
Music for Soulful Lovers (CDSML 8531) is as a twofer release featuring The
Cecil Holmes Soulful Sounds. There’s a perfect symmetry about this particular
CD. Both albums were released on the famous Buddah label back in 1973 and both
were released in Stereo and Quadrophonic pressings. Vocalion’s new CD marks the
debut of both albums in both formats. Both titles were originally released back
in the height of the Blaxploitation boom. The first of the Holmes albums
consists of a great selection of major Blaxploitation themes including Super
fly (1972), Shaft (1971) and Across 110th street (1972), but there’s
also a great deal more than the usual, often repeated titles. Slaughter (1972)
is a nice addition to the track listing, considering a soundtrack album was
never released. Holmes also diverts somewhat curiously with tracks such as Also
Sprach Zarathustra from 2001 (1968) and the Love Theme from Lady sings the
Blues (1972). However, there’s a very nice funky edge to these tracks which never
make them seem out of place and therefore fit in rather seamlessly.
Music for Soulful Lovers works as a perfect accompaniment
to The Black Motion Picture Experience. Again, the album consists of many popular
songs from the period, so expect more vocal tracks. But of course, the vocals
are deep, evocative and very, very smooth. Aside from some very nicely produced covers of songs by Barry White,
Stevie Wonder and The Stylistics, the album also contained three original
compositions, all of which are silky and slick. In fact, it’s Holmes himself
who provides the Barry White-influenced vocals ontwo of these tracks – and hey,
it actually works extremely well!
Vocalion’s mastering by Michael J. Dutton
(from the original master tapes) is pin sharp and contains the punchy clarity
that we have come to expect. Great notes and super use of the irreplaceable
artwork make this a damn near perfect retro experience. (Disc total 73.17)
Vocalion have returned to familiar territory
with their release of Henry Mancini’s twofer CD The Return of the Pink Panther
/ Symphonic Soul (CDSML 8535). Released in 1975, both albums were also launched
in Stereo and Quadrophonic versions. So it’s nice to see Vocalion’s CD make a
welcome debut on the hybrid SACD format. As far as Mancini pairings go, this
selection works extremely well. The choice of Return of the Pink Panther is
undoubtedly a smart move as it is arguably the best of the Panther soundtracks.
Recorded at London’s CTS studios, there’s a nice range of styles spread across
this memorable score. Released on the cusp of the disco era, there’s naturally
a great deal of funky guitar riffs (provided by session musician Alan Parker)
as well as some beautiful pieces such as ‘Dreamy’ which saw Mancini himself
take to the piano. The highlight piece is arguably The Return of the Pink
Panther (parts 1 & 2) which accompanied the theft of the Pink Panther
diamond. It’s a great piece of composition which incorporates both the Pink
Panther theme, a slow (but increasing dramatic) tension builder and a full on
frenzy of brass and strings for its climax.
Supporting Mancini’s soundtrack release is
his studio album, Symphonic Soul. The album was recorded in L.A. and manages to
merge the funky mid 70s sound with Mancini’s lush orchestrations. Mancini
brought a few of his own new compositions to the album including the wonderful
title track. He also took this opportunity to introduce a new souped-up version
of his memorable Peter Gunn theme. There’s also some well-established period
pieces to be found among the track listing including a great variation of The
Average White Band’s funk anthem ‘Pick up the pieces’ and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly’.
Vocalion’s mastering by Michael J. Dutton
(from the original master tapes) is reflective of the label’s usual high
standards whilst a detailed 8 page booklet rounds off the packaging perfectly. (Disc
The year 1968 proved to be one of the most dramatic in American history. With the Vietnam War protest movement in high gear, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the decision by President Lyndon B. Johnson to not run for a second term, the Chicago riots and the the chaos in the Democratic party that lead to Richard Nixon's return from the political graveyard, at times it seemed like the very fabric of American society was falling apart. So it came as no surprise that the exhausted citizenry would try to find some temporary solace through popular entertainment. The movie "Yours, Mine and Ours" was a considerable hit partly because it starred two Hollywood icons: Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda and partly because it was so far removed from the contentious factors that defined every day living for most people. The film marked Lucille Ball's second-to-last big screen appearance (her final one being the ill-fated 1974 screen adaptation of "Mame"). She was never overly enamored of making theatrical films since she had such a loyal following on television. "Ours" was a notable exception and the film provided her with a good role in which to show she still had the timing that made her a comedy legend.
The film is based on the story of a real-life North and Beardsley families and inspired Helen North Beardsley (played by Lucy in the film) to write a book titled "Who gets the Drumstick?", which explored the humorous anecdotes of running a household with 22 children. Lucy had read the book and saw the potential for a screen adaptation. She enlisted her long-time sitcom writers Bob Carroll, Jr and Madelyn Davis to come up with a story for a feature film. Melville Shavelson, an old pro and directing comedy films, was brought on board to helm the production and co-write the screenplay. The coup was casting Henry Fonda as the husband, Frank Beardsley. The final script tossed out most real-life accuracies in favor of Hollywood schmaltz, which may be why Helen North Beardsley's book isn't officially credited as a source. (In real life, the Beardsley clan ended up mired in divorce and sibling disputes that extend to this day.) The film opens with Frank Beardsley (Fonda), a career naval officer returning from an extended stint at sea. Recently widowed, Frank has ten children ranging in age from late teens to infants. His brother and sister-in-law (the real heroes of the story) have been caring for them all until he returns. Once Frank assumes the dual duties of both mom and dad, he predictably finds the workload overwhelming. He keeps bumping into Helen North (Lucy), an attractive nurse on the naval base and the two are immediately attracted to each other. She has also recently been widowed and has eight children of her own. Amusingly, when the two go on their first date, each is reluctant to reveal to the other that they have such a large family. When the beans are spilled, they decide they can make the situation work to their advantage by getting married.
What follows is predictable bedlam as the kids resist being forced to share their home with the "other' family. Much time is spent on Helen trying to placate both sides and managing to alienate everyone. Meanwhile, hubby Frank resumes his naval duties, thus leaving Helen to deal with the 24/7 chaos but he does amusingly institute a navy-like system of keeping order in the house that mimics Capt. Von Trapp's methods in "The Sound of Music". The film is typical of these big family comedies in that the smaller kids tend to be lovable while the teenagers are self-centered and arrogant. It will not require a spoiler alert to state that in the end a crisis unites everyone to form one big, happy family. The film plays out like a big screen version of a sitcom with every predictable sight gag imaginable, albeit with a bit of saucy sexual humor thrown in. Nevertheless, it manages to be entertaining throughout thanks in large part to the engaging cast. Lucy and Fonda have genuine screen chemistry. Van Johnson pops up occasionally as Fonda's fellow naval officer and close friend and manages to get few laughs in a cliched buddy role. Tom Bosley makes a brief but amusing appearance as a physician who makes a house call on the Beardsley abode only to find the situation mind-boggling in terms of the sheer craziness on display. The film was obviously supposed to serve as a vehicle of tolerance for very large families but unintentionally seems to be a promotion for Planned Parenthood. Despite taking place during the height of the Vietnam War protests, when elder son Tim Matheson ends up being drafted, the family sends him off with all the concern that might be expended on a kid going to 4-H camp for a week. The film is devoid of any reflection of the political and social strife that had affected every American family during this crucial year. However, no one goes to see Lucille Ball in order to be reminded of social problems and director Melville Shavelson does an admirable job of making a cornball scenario play out more successfully than might have been imagined.
The movie has been released on Blu-ray by Olive Films and the transfer looks great. The only bonus extra is a work print trailer that doesn't seem to be finalized.
Director Bernardo Bertolucci with Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider on the set of "Last Tango in Paris". The film's notorious sexual content overshadowed its artistic merits. Among them: a brilliant Oscar-nominated performance by Brando in which he laid bare inner demons that haunted him personally over the course of his life. Brando always dismissed the film by saying that he never knew what it was about but he also implied he regretted doing it because it revealed far too much of his inner turmoils. Maria Schneider was only 19 years-old when she made the movie and would later say that, she too, regretted the experience because she claimed to have been sexually manipulated by both Brando and Bertolucci. Nevertheless, the film remains powerful viewing even today in an era in which it would be unthinkable for a legendary leading man to make a movie this bold and groundbreaking. -Lee Pfeiffer
Business isn’t exactly booming for private
detective Peter Joseph Detweiler, better known as P.J. His makeshift office is
in a bar belonging to his only friend Charlie, his sporadic jobs include
entrapping cheating wives and he is not above drowning his sorrows in liquor. So
when wealthy magnate William Orbison offers him a substantial fee to be a
bodyguard for his mistress, Maureen Prebble, he jumps at the chance. What P.J.
doesn’t know is that Orbison has already hired someone else to commit a murder.
How this murder and the shamus’s new job intersect is the crux of the terrific
1968 neo-noir from Universal, P.J. (U.K.
title: New Face in Hell.)
Private detectives were prominent in the late
1960s and included Harper (1966), Tony Rome (1967), Gunn (1967), and Marlowe (1969).
P.J. appeared in the midst of this
surplus, which may account in part for its box office failure. The movie quickly
disappeared, at least in its original form. Due to one extended and bloody
sequence in a gay bar as well as to other scenes of violence and sexuality,
Universal drastically cut and re-edited the movie for its television network
presentation. Since then, it has never been officially released on home video
and the original version may be lost forever.
Philip Reisman, Jr.’s screenplay is based on
his original story co-written with producer Edward Montagne. The script initially
unfolds as a conventional mystery but gets increasingly complicated with each
twist and turn. Maureen appears to definitely need a bodyguard, in view of threatening
letters as well as a shot fired into her bedroom. And there is no shortage of
suspects who would like to see her dead. Orbison’s emotionally fragile wife,
Betty, resents the very thought of her husband’s paramour. Betty’s relatives despise
Maureen because of her emergence as principle beneficiary in Orbison’s will. Orbison’s
Executive Assistant, Jason Grenoble, due to his apparent affluent upbringing, is
displeased about being used as a flunky. Making P.J.’s job more difficult is Orbison’s
decision to take everyone, including relatives and mistress, to his hideaway in
the Caribbean island of St. Crispin’s. And it is in this tropical setting that
P.J. is forced to kill a suspect. This seems to be the end of the case. But it
is really only the end of the second act. The third act is filled with
intrigue, deception, blackmail and three brutal deaths.
John Guillermin is an underappreciated
director who created admirable films in many genres, including mystery, adventure,
war and western as well as the disaster and monster genres. His success could perhaps be due not only to his
skill but to a style that is unobtrusive. He directs P.J. in a straightforward fashion, not allowing any directorial flourishes
to interrupt the flow of the story. With cinematographer Loyal Griggs, he cleverly
contrasts the seedy sections of New York City with the natural beauty of St.
Crispin’s. However, this beauty is soon tainted by the presence of Orbison, whose
wealth the island’s economy requires to flourish. Guillermin allows each of the
characters within Orbison’s contingent enough screen time to make an impact.
Basically, they all appear to be self-centered, greedy and nasty. Orbison is
especially sadistic, in addition to being notoriously miserly. Maureen doesn’t
apologize for providing sexual favors in exchange for future wealth. Betty is
willing to be repeatedly humiliated to obtain her customary allowance. Grenoble
continually demeans himself to keep his well-paid position. And then there is butler
Shelton Quell, who is not as harmless as his effeminate mannerisms suggest. This
is a sordid group of characters that P.J. is involved with but his dire
financial state has apparently extinguished his conscience, particularly since
he soon becomes intimately involved with the body that he is guarding. P.J.’s
essential irony arises from the fact that he is equally greedy, at least
initially. He also seems to be morally bankrupt. When he encounters Orbison
leaving Maureen’s cottage, it doesn’t faze him that they have just engaged in a
quickie. P.J. knows that he has sold his gun to Orbison just as Maureen has
sold her body.
In the early 1960s, George Peppard became a
major star in expensive films such as The
Carpetbaggers and How the West Was
Won. In mid-decade, he starred in another big-budget film, The Blue Max, the first of three movies
he would make with John Guillermin. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he starred
in several smaller-budgeted movies. While some of them, especially Pendulum and The Groundstar Conspiracy are exceptional, others are unremarkable.
The commercial failure of these movies diminished his star status and he was
relegated to series television. This was regrettable because he had genuine
star quality as well as considerable talent.
As P.J. Detweiler, Peppard creates a unique
private eye that puts him apart from his cinematic brethren. P.J. initially appears
disillusioned with his life and work. Like many film noir protagonists, he is one
of society’s alienated outcasts. He is not just down and out but seems resigned
to his dismal situation. When he is offered the lucrative position of
bodyguard, he is so destitute that he agrees to a humiliating audition of
fisticuffs. As he begins his job, he appears impassive to the decadence of
Orbison’s environment. However, after he has been duped and discarded, he
asserts himself and becomes a traditional detective who is determined to pursue
clues and solve the mystery. But unlike traditional detectives, he doesn’t
derive any pleasure from the solution to the crime. The fact that he has been maneuvered
into facilitating a murder has emotionally drained him. At the end of the film,
he forces a cheerless smile at Charlie but he is unable to sustain it,
replacing it quickly with a look of despair. All of these emotions are
reflected in Peppard’s superb portrayal.
Admittedly I'm not proficient in analyzing Italian "giallo" films. They represent a peculiar genre combining film noir with tinges of crime and overt sexual behavior, often of a perverse nature. Director Giulio Questi's bizarrely-titled "Death Laid an Egg" is a 1968 production that has acquired a significant cult appeal. It's easy to see why. The movie is a mind-bending exercise in quasi-surrealism combined with Hitchcockian elements of kinky people involved in murderous activities. Much of the action takes place in- get this- a state-of-the-art chicken processing plant run by Anna (Gina Lollobrigida), a sexy and dominating woman who constantly berates her long-suffering husband Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The couple has a marriage of convenience and spend much of their time bickering about how to run the plant, which is in financial trouble and is beset with problems with recently fired workers who hang about and exhibiting threatening behavior. The plant is of great concern to their financial investors who are pushing Anna and Marco to develop a mutant form of chicken that will dispense with such unnecessary parts as the head, thereby improving profitability. This strange premise sets the basis for the story, which only gets weirder as the plot progresses. Anna and Marco's marriage is threatened by the presence of their sensuous, live-in secretary Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin), a sexually liberated teenager who has a magnetic hold on the couple. Marco is scheming how to get away from Anna and start a new life with Gabrielle but he's financially dependent upon Anna's fortune in order to survive. Meanwhile, Anna is equally smitten by her and the two women even sleep together, implying they, too, have a sexual relationship. However, Anna is having an affair with another man, Luigi (Renato Romano) who she considers to be her real lover. They are scheming how to manipulate Anna and Marco for their own financial advantage. Complicating matters is Marco's hobby-- which is checking into a roadside hotel frequented by prostitutes and abusing and even murdering the ladies of the night in ritualistic S&M practices. There is also a Felliniesque scene in which pampered members of the social elite engage in a strange party game that involves randomly selected guests forming pairs and entering a deserted room where presumably they are to explore their inner-most sexual fantasies. Toss into the mix a subplot in which chemists realize their dream of creating the mutant chicken, which pleases the financial backers of the processing plant- only to have Marco react with disgust about the development, leading him to suffer a breakdown of sorts that threatens his own livelihood. Got all that? If so, then please explain it to me.
The film's scattershot plot devices make it hard to follow. Director Questi moves the action along at too-brisk-a-pace to fully comprehend what we need to absorb in order to fully comprehend the characters' motivations and who is doing what to whom. You'll probably find yourself revisiting key parts of the movie in an attempt to gain a better understanding of what is going on. Having said that, the film is stylishly presented and is bizarre enough to hold the viewer's attention. Helping matters are the performances of Trintigant, Lollobrigida and Aulin. The first two actors were royalty of the European cinema at the time the movie was made and they deliver the goods. Perhaps most surprising is the fact that young Ewa Aulin, whose brief career has left her regarded as a flash-in-the-pan sex symbol of the era, gives an impressive, nuanced and admirable performance in the presence of her two esteemed co-stars. The film also benefits from an inspired score by Bruno Maderna that perfectly captures the bizarre mood of this very bizarre film.
Fans of "Death Laid an Egg" have had to subside on sub-par home video releases of the movie but now the creative folks at Cult Epics have issued a Blu-ray/DVD edition that must be a substantial improvement over existing releases. The film is presented in its original Italian language version with English sub-titles in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but IMDB lists the original theatrical ratio as 1.85:1, which may explain why the opening credits are subjected to some of the names being partially cropped. Still, it's an impressive release and there are some welcome bonus extras including the original trailer, isolated soundtrack score and a nice photo gallery of promotional materials. The movie is certainly an acquired taste but if you're feeling adventurous, give it a try.
Cary Grant was one of the few actors to defy the effects of aging. The older he got, the more popular his films became. By the late 1950s Grant had become uncomfortable making movies because he realized audiences only wanted to see him as a romantic lead and he felt self-conscious about studio insistence that he be seen on screen romancing female leads who were often decades younger than him. Nonetheless, Grant kept forestalling his frequent vows to retire from acting. He had taken much more control over his career by forming his own production company and the result were some of the biggest hits of his career ("Operation Petticoat", "That Touch of Mink", "Charade"). Grant's primary motivation for not retiring was his desire- or rather, obsession- with winning an Oscar. Alfred Hitchcock had advised him that the best way to do so was to get away from playing the typical Cary Grant type on film and choose a role that was opposite from his usual image. Grant thought this was an inspired idea and agreed to star in a promising vehicle titled "Father Goose", which was written by Peter Stone, the screenwriter of Grant's megahit "Charade". The WWII era comedy would allow Grant to give a tour-de-force performance as Walter Eckland, an amiable, scrubby beach bum who intends to sit out the war in the South Pacific by lazing about getting drunk all day. His tropical paradise is threatened when he is dragooned into service as a coast watcher by his old crony Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard) of the Australian Navy, who informs Walter that he is cutting off his supply of booze unless he makes frequent reports on Japanese ship movements. Each time he does so, Frank will reveal where another bottle of liquor has been hidden. Walter reluctantly concedes, not out of patriotism, but out of personal inability to last long without a drink. (The banter over the radio between Grant and Howard is priceless). Things get complicated, however, when Walter ends up having to rescue a group of young schoolgirls and their teacher, Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron) after they have been shipwrecked on a nearby island. Most of the predictable fun comes from watching Grant's W.C. Fields-like persona having to cope with his young charges as well as their strict teacher, who forbids him from engaging in his generally deviant behavior. Grumpy and unshaven, Grant appears as he never had on film before and he gives one of the best performances of his career. He supposedly felt awkward in the inevitable love scenes with Caron, who was young enough to be his daughter, but the chemistry works on film. Grant's Walter is also a reluctant hero in the mode of Humphrey Bogart's Rick from "Casablanca". He's late to the challenge of doing his bit for the war effort, but he naturally comes through in the end. The film runs almost two hours but it's kept at a breezy pace by the talents of director Ralph Nelson and the jaunty score by Cy Coleman (including the memorable song "Pass Me By") adds immeasurably to the fun.
The Olive Films Blu-ray special edition has some impressive bonus extras. They include an audio commentary by ubiquitous film historian David DelValle. As someone who has recorded numerous audio commentaries, I always find they play out better when I invite other film scholars to join me. Oft times, a single commentator can delve into dull, professorial discussions. However, DelValle defies the odds and his solo track is thoroughly engaging and informative. DelValle did his homework and got access to Cary Grant's personal script from "Father Goose", which adds some insights into his mindset during filming. Additionally, he quotes liberally from Leslie Caron's memoirs about the making of the film, providing candid observations about Grant's unpredictable on-set mood swings. There is also an on-camera interview with Grant biographer Marc Elliott that is very interesting, though Elliott gets his facts wrong when he attributes Grant's late career traveling one-man stage shows as an inspiration for the Academy finally granting him an honorary Oscar. In fact, Grant's Oscar was presented to him in 1970, more than a decade before he initiated his stage appearances. Nevertheless, he provides some fascinating insights into Grant's personal life. There is also a filmed interview with Ted Nelson, son of director Ralph Nelson, who correctly points out how talented his father was- and indeed, how underrated Nelson's contributions to TV and movies of the era were. There is also a 1964 newsreel that includes the funeral of President Herbert Hoover followed by Leslie Caron receiving the "Star of the Year" award from American theater owners. Rounding out the package is a fine essay about "Father Goose" Village Voice writer Bilge Ebiri.
Cary Grant never got a competitive Oscar and indeed was never even nominated for "Father Goose", though Peter Stone won for his screenplay. Yet, he had the satisfaction of seeing the movie become a major hit. He would make only one more film- "Walk, Don't Run"- before going into retirement, leaving a legacy few other actors have equaled.
Olive Films used to take a lot of heat from retro movie lovers for putting out classic movies in bare-bones video editions. Looks like they got the memo because their recent releases feature highly impressive bonus features, as evidenced by this first rate edition of "Father Goose".
"Running on Empty" is one of Sidney Lumet's best films but the 1988 release remains one of his least-seen, despite winning enthusiastic reviews upon its release. Perhaps the offbeat storyline and lack of "boxoffice" names in starring roles prevented potentially appreciative audiences from seeing it. However, the good news is that the Warner Archive has made the title available on Blu-ray. Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti play Arthur and Annie Pope, a married couple who, in the 1970s, were part of a radical leftist group akin to the Weathermen. They carried out a scheme to destroy a facility that was manufacturing Napalm but the bombing had an unintended consequence: a security guard ended up blinded and partially paralyzed. Now it's 1988 and the couple have been on the run ever since, the FBI having doggedly pursued them the entire time. The Pope's situation is complicated by the fact that they have two sons: Danny (River Phoenix) is a senior in high school and his brother Harry (Jonas Abry) is a precocious pre-teen. The family is constantly pulling up stakes and moving out on the spur of the moment if they suspect the feds are closing in on them. When we first meet them in the film, the family is on the run again. They sustain themselves by Arthur getting short-term jobs in each new location, as Annie stays home with the boys. They are aided and abetted by a clandestine secret network of left-wing sympathizers who provide them with seed money to help them manage a lower-middle class lifestyle. Still, the nerve-wracking nature of their existence is taking a toll on everyone, especially Danny, who is of an age where he wants and needs stability. When the family ends up renting an apartment in a New Jersey suburb on the outskirts of New York City, Danny finally finds a niche in the high school. His music teacher, Mr. Phillips (Ed Crowley) recognizes the boy's musical abilities and arranges for him to apply to Julliard for a scholarship, which he wins against all odds. This development causes a family crisis. Arthur maintains that in order to attend the school, the family will finally have to come up with positive proof of Danny's real identity- a revelation that would be sure to bring in the authorities and separate him from the family indefinitely. Annie argues that it's time to put Danny's life dream ahead of their own priorities and claims she can ask her wealthy, estranged father who she has not been in contact with for years, to allow Danny to live with him in Manhattan. Arthur, who has an authoritarian streak, insists that the family stay together. Complicating matters is that Danny has fallen hard for his first true love, a sassy classmate named Lorna Phillips (Martha Plimpton), the daughter of his music teacher. She lives a privileged life but is unhappy because she doesn't adhere to society's idea of conventional behavior. The two teens become emotionally dependent upon each other- but when Arthur learns the feds are closing in again, Danny confesses his real identity to Lorna in order to explain why he has to leave in order to keep his family together.
If all of the above sounds a bit soap-operaish, it doesn't play out that way. Under Lumet's steady and assured direction, and working from a terrific screenplay by Noami Forner, every cast member delivers a superlative performance, including those in supporting roles. (Kudos to the casting director, Todd Thaler, for rounding up such a talented group.) Hirsch is great as the sincere but flawed father who barely hides a dictatorial nature. Lahti is equally good as his committed, but long-suffering wife. The scene stealers are River Phoenix and Martha Plimpton, both of whom deliver superb performances. There is no action, no violence, only pure human emotion. After so many years on the run, fractures appear in the relationship between Annie and Arthur. She had always been content to allow him to dominate the family's actions but now she is daring to defy him. There are so many beautiful and touching scenes in "Running on Empty", but one of the best is a quiet one in which young Danny and Lorna express their love for each other. It's one of the most richly rewarding romantic scenes in any film. There is also a beautiful and touching scene in which Annie defies Arthur by secretly arranging to meet with her estranged dad (superbly played by Steven Hill in an abbreviated but pivotal role). Tensions mount until the highly emotional final scene.
"Running on Empty" provides no villains. The FBI men are shadowy figures but they are just doing their jobs and trying to enforce the law. Annie and Arthur are haunted by the fact that their act of violence claimed an innocent victim but their ideology prevented them from ever taking responsibility for their actions. They are still committed idealists who believe in taking down the Establishment, even if they no longer adhere to doing so through violent means. The film is not only thought-provoking but thoroughly entertaining. It's another outstanding achievement, albeit it a relatively unheralded one, from one of America's master film directors.
For many years Pierce Brosnan has taken control of his own legacy through his production company Irish DreamTime. He's had some mixed results but the bottom line is that he has remained a popular, consistently working leading man. Brosnan's hi-tech thriller "I.T." was released in 2016 with a limited theatrical run that apparently didn't generate any substantial business. The film has been released on Blu-ray where it has been largely savaged by reviewers. Having watched the film, I'll dare to go in the opposite direction and swim against the tide. I found the film to be thoroughly entertaining and very slickly made with rich production values that mask its relatively modest budget.
Brosnan is well-cast as Mike Regan, a mega-wealthy industrialist who is gambling everything he has on the launch of a bold new enterprise. Essentially, it's an Uber-like service that caters to rich executives who need air transportation on a minute's notice. Regan's company has a fleet of private jets ready to serve this limited clientele in return for sky high fees. When we first meet Regan, he's frantically overseeing his company's first official unveiling of the business plan. He still has to get approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission, but feels he has nothing to worry about in that regard. However, upon personally launching the hi-tech, expensive video presentation in front of business executives, the press and potential investors, a serious glitch threatens to spell catastrophe when the video malfunctions. Regan is spared disaster by the intervention of Ed Porter (James Frecheville), an innocuous temporary employee who Regan doesn't even know. Thanks to Ed's quick thinking, the video presentation resumes quickly and is deemed a success. A grateful Regan personally thanks Ed and rewards him with full-time employment. He also invites him to his modern mansion house with a freelance assignment to rewire the outdated wi-fi capabilities. When Ed arrives at the house, Regan introduces him to his wife Rose (Ann Friel) and his attractive teenage daughter Kaitlyn (Stefanie Scott), who is a high school student. Regan gives Ed the royal treatment and encourages him to stay for drinks. Ed, meanwhile, has an ulterior motive. Upon having seen Kaitlyn tanning herself poolside while clad in a bikini, he decides to wire the home in a very unique manner that no one will be aware of. By the time he's done, the Regans have the ultimate hi-tech wiring system- but don't suspect that Ed has secretly installed microscopic video cameras and microphones that allow him to monitor every movement and conversation, which he views at his loft on a wall-sized video screen. Unbeknownst to Regan, Ed had also made some "improvements" to his state-of-the-art sports car that will allow Ed to manipulate the controls and a video system installed on the dashboard. Regan soon discovers that his friendly overtures to Ed have blurred the line between in the employer/employee relationship. Soon, Ed is showing up uninvited at the family home. Of more concern to Mike and Rose is Ed's increasingly obvious interest in Kaitlyn, who seems smitten by the older man. When Ed crosses the line, Regan ends up firing him in a very belittling manner and thereby opening a Pandora's Box of troubles for himself, his wife and daughter.
Ed seeks immediate revenge and he has plenty of tools at his disposal. A master hacker, he forges documents that are leaked to the SEC, causing Regan's pending deal to fall under suspicion of being illegal and gumming up the approval process. He also releases provocative footage of Kaitlyn in the shower that was secretly shot with the hidden cameras. The result is her humiliation among her friends and schoolmates. Regan catches on that his entire world is in the hands of a mentally unstable former employee and he decides to fight back. After trying to physically intimidate Ed- a tactic that fails- he uses his own hi tech genius, the shadowy Henrik (wonderfully played by Michael Nyqvist), who constructs a plan to turn the tables on Ed by hacking the hacker and turning his own world into a nightmare. The result is a cat-and-mouse game between Regan and Ed that escalates to a violent final confrontation between the two antagonists.
Hemmings is “Alfred the Great” in the epic story of the legendary Saxon King.
The film opens as Alfred is about to take his vows as a priest when the Danes
invade to pillage and rape their way across England. Michael York is Guthrum,
the Viking leader of the invaders. After fierce battles, the Saxons and Danes form
a truce and Alfred agrees to Guthrum’s additional terms; swapping hostages.
Guthrum picks Alfred’s wife, Aelhswith (Prunella Ransome), as hostage and takes
her with him across the English Channel to Denmark.
Viking scenes are played for every last ounce of lusty Pagan Medieval violence
and gusto. A relaxing night out with Vikings is no stop at your local coffee
shop. Axe tossing games, knife fights and rape ensue in the great hall while
Guthrum cheers on the Viking good times. Aelhswith retreats to her room to be
with her baby and handmaid, but she’s followed by Guthrum who rapes, though
ultimately she willing accepts him as her lover.
back in England, Alfred continues his struggle to unify the warring Saxons
under his leadership. Alfred is literally wallowing in the mud, surviving along
with his closest associates as they find allies in thieves and other common
folks who are eager to join him against the local barons. They develop tactics
and after savage battles with the feuding kingdoms and form an alliance under
Alfred’s leadership just as an invading fleet of Danes is seen approaching
through the mist-covered river. Another
great battle between Saxons and Danes ensues and Alfred is reunited with his
wife and child. The movie is a serviceable epic, but it’s lacking in several
areas. For one thing, the casting is off. Michael York has far more charisma in
every scene than David Hemmings. The movie would have benefited if York had
played Alfred and Hemmings Guthrum. There’s very little in the way of chemistry
between Hemmings and Ransome and it was entirely predictable that Aelhswith would
become enthused about being Guthrum’s lover.
movie marked the second big screen
appearance, of Sir Ian McKellen who would gain fame in many roles including the
fantasy Tolkien Middle Earth series as Gandolph. The movie also features appearances by
other familiar and up-and-coming actors like Colin Blakely as Asher, Peter
Vaughan as Burrud, Julian Glover as AEthelstan (try and say that name fast
three times) and Vivien Merchant as Freda. For some reason Merchant does not
speak a single word in spite of her prominent role in the movie. According to
critic Pauline Kael, who was no fan of this film, Merchant may have refused to
say her lines because the dialog was unspeakable.
wanted to like the movie, but it isn’t one of those films you yearn to watch
more than once or twice in a lifetime. It has its moments, but lacks the
grandeur you might expect in a film about Alfred the Great. Why was Alfred so great? You’ll have to find
out on your own because you won’t know after watching this biopic.
the Great” was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in summer of 1969 and shown in
some territories in an extravagant roadshow presentation with the 35mm format
blown up to 70mm. The Warner Archive DVD transfer is good and clocks in at 122
minutes with the trailer as the only extra. Recommended primarily for fans of
British historical epics.
Click here to order Cinema Retro's special edition tribute issue to "Where Eagles Dare".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Writing in the Daily Mail, journalist Philip Norman recalls his visit to the Austrian set of "Where Eagles Dare" to interview Richard Burton. As a star-struck 24 year-old, he was given personal access to Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who had accompanied her husband to the film set. All was going swimmingly until an ill-fated, late night social gathering took place in the hotel lobby where Burton and other cast members were still clad in the uniforms of German army officers. An unstable American fan approached Burton to tell him how much he admired him- but when he became intrusive, a war of words broke out and the man pulled a pistol on Burton, threatening his life. In true cinema style, the unflappable Burton dared the man to either use it or stick it up his arse! The tense scene was diffused by the unexpected appearance of Taylor, clad in her nightdress, who paraded into the lobby and seemed more disturbed about the noise from the argument than the man threatening her husband's life. Click here to read the remarkable and amusing tale.
The beginning of
Nicholas Ray’s The Savage Innocents—by
no means the most typical or best film from this iconoclastic director—touts
the ethnographic appeal of its Inuit focus. With debatable accuracy, the 1960
international coproduction illuminates, in somewhat superficial fashion, a “race
of nomads” called “The Men.” The narrator says we call them Eskimos,
individuals who live a life of ostensible simplicity “in the age of the atom
bomb.” For a good portion of the movie, this is the basic premise, in terms of
theme and (loose) narrative. It is a fictional, cursory study of a small and select
segment of this Arctic population. On the outside looking in, there is a fundamental
crudity in their behavior, their stilted English dialogue, their purity and
naiveté, and the animalistic manners and utterances of main character Inuk
(Anthony Quinn). But try as it might to make this all academically engaging or
exotically entertaining (the narrator’s classroom recitation only hampers the enthusiasm),
Ray’s film—and it scarcely seems like a Nicholas Ray film—is generally burdened
by a stale, shallow depiction of the region’s inhabitants as they carry on
their day-to-day existence
Based on Hans
Rüesch’s 1950 novel “Top of the World,” with the adaptation credited to Rüesch,
Franco Solinas, and Baccio Bandini and the screenplay credit to Ray, this
episodic film inserts transitory snippets of Inuit life into a rough indigenous
portrait, with most early scenes revolving around Inuk as he seeks someone he
can “laugh” with (an ethnic euphemism for intercourse). In this sexist,
patriarchal society, submissive brides are bartered for like the coat of
freshly slaughtered seal, and once obtained, they are met with particular expectations
and responsibilities. Eventually, Inuk settles on Asiak, played by the Japanese
actress Yôko Tani (apparently one non-Caucasian ethnicity is as good as the
next). However truthful this representation may be, the decidedly inequitable
nature of the courtship makes for obnoxious viewing, especially given the
foolhardy nature of Inuk’s marital quest. Forgiving the mannered discourse of
he and the other characters, what keeps this principal portion of The Savage Innocents watchable is Quinn
and his full-bodied, committed performance. Already a three-time Oscar nominee,
and winner twice, his is a wildly animated, energetic exhibition, like a crude
hybrid of caveman and one of the beasts that roam this frozen terrain (and
supposedly, his performance served as the inspirational impetus for Bob Dylan’s
1967 song “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn”)).
In addition to the
relationship wrangling, The Savage
Innocents touches upon the natural perils of its hostile environment and
provides a glimpse at the population’s traditions and toils, from hunting
tactics to the structural design of domesticated igloos. As the men revel in
boorish roughhousing and hearty laughter (real laughter, that is, which grows
so forceful it’s rather off-putting), the film essentially unfolds in a series
of incidents with no clear objective. Where the picture picks up is when this intermittent
cultural sketch shifts to a genuinely suspenseful scenario. Into the world of
the White man, Inuk and his kind reveal their gullibility, first seen in
dangerous firearm fascination and later, more comically if still cruelly, when
they are exposed to alcohol and pop music (including a song about an iceberg,
of course). Via the local missionary (Marco Guglielmi), Inuk is also introduced
to Christianity. “The Lord be with you,” says the priest upon greeting Inuk and
Asiak. No, it’s just them, answers Inuk in a literal interpretation of the
apparent question. Unfortunately, a further misunderstanding results in Inuk
accidentally murdering the priest (“His head was too soft”) and subsequently
getting arrested (one of the local troopers is played by a pre-Lawrence Peter O’Toole, who for some
reason had his voice dubbed by an uncredited American actor).
In an amusing article for The Washington Post writer Emily Yahr looks back on the legacy of "My Heart Will Go On", the Oscar-winning theme song from James Cameron's "Titanic" twenty years after its premiere. It's become in-vogue to express one's hatred for the song even though, as Yahr points out, the track was acclaimed when it debuted and became a massive sales phenomenon, thanks to Celine Dion's vocal skills. As with any cultural phenomenon, "Titanic"- which also won the Best Picture Oscar- has been virtually disowned by film scholars as being too corny, predictable and obvious in its attempts to pull the heartstrings. Yet, I suspect that at least some of these critics secretly still get considerable enjoyment out of the film, if not for its emotional elements, than at least for its still impressive technical aspects including Peter Lamont's brilliant production design (which also was recognized with an Oscar). In a way this may be a Hollywood version of what could be termed "The Trump Effect"- many people are too embarrassed to express their support for the film publicly but behind closed doors they fawn over it. Doubtless, there will inevitably be a backlash to the backlash and the movie and the title song will be re-evaluated favorably if only because it will become too bland and boring to be among those who knock it. I have not seen "Titanic" since 1997, which seems to indicate that my enthusiasm for the movie is somewhat diluted (I've watched Don Knotts' "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" several times over this period of time.) Yet I don't bare the film any ill will, as I remember enjoying it quite a bit. Similarly, my only gripe with "My Heart Will Go On" is that it was played so incessantly at the time of its release that there was seemingly no escape from its grip. I recall a birthday party for my daughter at which a group of ten or eleven-year-old girls were singing it passionately with misty eyes. Can you truly hate a song like that? Apparently so, according to the Washington Post article, which quotes the film's female lead, Kate Winslet as saying the track makes her want to throw up. Ouch!
If I were to sum up my view
of “The Thin Red Line” in one phrase, it would be; “Stream of Consciousness Filmmaking.”
I don’t think I’m alone in my reaction to director Terrence Malick’s 1998 take
on the Battle of Guadalcanal, one of the bloodiest conflicts in the Pacific
front during WWII. The narrative follows Private Witt (Jim Caviezel), who has
gone AWOL with Private Hoke (Will Wallace) and is living among the native
people on one of the Solomon Islands. The men are shown living peacefully among
these people who have welcomed and accepted them. They are soon repatriated
after an American troop carrier cruises to the island, presumably looking for
them. Witt faces his First Sergeant Edward Welsh (Sean Penn), who assigns him
to a disciplinary unit as a stretcher bearer in lieu of a courts martial.
The movie narrative flows
like a summer breeze through tall grass on a sunny day. Calm scenes of the men crawling
and hunkering down at the base of a grassy hill as they attempt to take out a
Japanese machine gun emplacement are interrupted by the chaos of bullets buzzing
like bees as men are killed and wounded in an attempt to take the high ground
and kill the Japanese. Capt. James “Bugger” Staros (Elias Koteas) is ordered by
Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte) to take the hill, but after heavy losses he
refuses to send any more of his men. Tall is relentless screaming in his orders
to Staros via radio until he replaces him with Capt. John Gaff (John Cusak) who
eventually takes the hill with the help of Hoke and Welsh.
Long passages of silence
interspersed with scenes of beauty and ugliness are juxtaposed with scenes of men
crying out in fear, pain and death. Scenes flash back to Witt with his mother
and girlfriend before he departs for service in the Army, then switch to the
thoughts of men contemplating the battle before them and the actions of others
in their chain of command. The thoughts of these men at war range from the
longing for peace and the necessity to sacrifice to what actions will result in
promotions and medals. Witt represents the longing for home and the need to
return to a life before the horrors of war.
It’s hard to tell exactly whose
story is being told as the story's arch switches from character to character.
We hear their thoughts and see the movie’s action through their eyes and facial
expressions, often in close-up, switching to long moments with no dialog and
scenes depicting the natural sounds and surroundings on the island. In some
ways this is the story of the island itself with the ugliness of a crocodile
emerging from the green algae covered pond as the soldiers cross into enemy
territory juxtaposed with beautiful scenes of flowing river water on the eve of
a destructive battle. Most of the narrative is that of Witt, the thoughtful
soldier and Tall, the glory seeking commander, but it’s not that clear cut as
the narrative style is alternately complex or simple depending on ones point of view. The
movie is not for everyone, especially those who prefer a solid and traditional
narrative structure. It’s filled with a cast of recognizable actors, most in
supporting roles, carefully cross-stitched into the narrative structure.
One of my favorite scenes in
the film (it’s hard to pick one) is a light scene at the end of the movie when
Capt. Charles Bosche (George Clooney) arrives to take command of the men after
they take the hill. He describes his role as the father and the First Sergeant
Welsh (Penn) as the mother, much to the chagrin of Welsh. It’s a funny moment
which helps to ease us to the end of the movie’s narrative structure. They are
the thin red line between the battlefield and civilization and the metaphor of
the family structure is as true for those serving in the military as it is at
The movie was released in
1998 and was the first film directed by Terrence Malick since “Days of Heaven”
in 1978. Both movies have a similar narrative structure, but “The Thin Red
Line” creates something far more complex in what is arguably a far superior
film to “Days of Heaven.” Other directors have had long gaps between the
release of their films, most notably Stanley Kubrick, David Lean and Sergio
Leone. Like those directors, Malick would spend lengthy periods preparing and
editing his movies.
The movie was released by
20th Century Fox in late December of 1998 and released on DVD the following
year. The DVD is bare bones except for a selection of songs by the Melanesian
people depicted in the movie. The picture quality is outstanding in a beautiful
2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and the movie clocks in at 170 minutes. For
those seeking to delve more deeply into this movie, I would recommend the
Director Approved Criterion Collection Blu-ray released in 2010 which includes
an audio commentary, outtakes (the movie was edited down from four hours), documentaries,
the trailer and a booklet essay. Either version is recommended depending on the
viewer’s interest in this movie.
Though often dismissed as a low-budget “Made for TV”
feature, director Franklin Adreon’s Cyborg
2087 enjoyed a brief theatrical run prior to its debut on broadcast television
in March of 1968. In April of 1967 the
film was packaged alongside such similarly low-budgeted, independent features
as Death Curse of Tartu, Sting of Death, and even a second Adreon
“time travel” themed film, Dimension 5.
Though this somewhat lackluster film seemed
destined for relegation to the late-night drive-in horror movie circuit, Cyborg 2087 nonetheless displayed some
small measure of staying power. That
same summer, Adreon’s film was still making the rounds of the secondary flea-pit
theater circuit, sometimes serving as the under bill to Sidney J. Furie’s contemporary
political thriller The Naked Runner
featuring Frank Sinatra.
Though he had worked on serials and a handful of feature
films in the early stages of his career, director Adreon was laboring almost
exclusively in television by the mid-1950s. Cyborg 2087 does appear as
something cobbled together both inexpensively and hastily for the small
screen. The initial tipoff is the film’s
lackluster and visually non-appealing set designs. Cyborg
2087 is a film visually hobbled by poor production values due to the
paucity of budget. The futuristic
control room seen briefly at the film’s beginning is non-imaginatively designed
and unusually threadbare, missing nearly all of the electronic baubles and
flashing accoutrements one might expect. The film’s optical effects are practically non-existent and the
occasional appearance and disappearance of Garth 7’s Star Base 7 space-time traveling capsule are not impressive at
all. In fact they’re less innovative than
those of the camera tricks employed by cinema pioneer Georges Méliès in 1902.
For a science-fiction film, a good portion of the movie’s
daylight scenes are shot incongruously on an obvious “Old West” Hollywood
set. Director Adreon was either pressed
for time or simply didn’t have the skill to compose shots that made the best
use of the ghost town’s obvious clapboard facades. The fact that the buildings lining the
streets of Desert City are little more than mock-ups are made apparent by the sight
of mountain range vistas peeking out directly from the windows. Cinematographer Alan Stensvold’s photography
is curiously flat throughout, and he has the bad habit of illuminating the
film’s nighttime scenes with a giant, hot-white spotlight. This slapdash method of lighting blows out any
mystery the darkness might portend and casts heavy, non-impressionistic shadows
in every direction. The too-talkative screenplay
of Arthur C. Pierce, his resume of low-budget sci-fi melodramas already duly
established, does attempt to dish out a few thoughtful and interesting ideas,
but they’re never imaginatively mounted. This is a science-fiction title offering little in the way of suspense or
Though the script is admittedly not Shakespearean in its
construction, it still might have worked if the performances of the assembled troupe
of actors didn’t range from merely adequate to painfully woeful. Though Michael Rennie’s character, Garth 7,
appears stiff and non-emotive throughout, I’m willing to give him a pass… he’s
a Cyborg, after all, a non-human “Cybernetic Organism.” With his silver space boots, matching pistol
belt, but otherwise bland service mechanic’s overalls, the lanky Garth 7 cuts a
particularly un-dashing figure, save for an impressive brush of silver hair atop
his cranium. While he does carry a
semi-cool ray gun in his holster, the pistol he’s saddled with can only temporarily
paralyze targets, not kill them. If
nothing else, this is good news for the nostalgic whiskey drinkers and their
attendant German shepherd who re-visit the ruins of the derelict “Lucky Dollar
Casino and Dance Hall” of Desert City. Conversely,
Garth 7’s futuristic pistol is a useless weapon against the very folks he needs
most disarm: a pair of Cyborg “Tracers” who have followed him from 2087 on a
mission to eradicate him.
It’s here where we get to the crux of it. Garth 7 has time-traveled from the year 2087
back to April 1966 in an effort to get the professorial Dr. Sigmund Marx (Eduard
Franz) and his assistant Sharon Mason (Karen Steele) to abandon their
groundbreaking and militarily useful research in the field of radio
telepathy. If only Garth 7 can convince Dr.
Marx to do this, the impending totalitarian society of 2087 that will arise
from the invention’s misuse can be averted. Garth 7 grimly warns - with the foresight time travel has allowed him - that
the “Warlords of tomorrow will use radio telepathy for evil purposes.” He assures that the domestic political
situation is pretty bad in 2017… Um, I mean 2087, as the military has
effectively misused radio telepathy to control the thoughts of the populace. Independent “free-thinkers” are punished and even
children are cruelly snatched from the arms of their mothers and made instant wards
of the State.
It’s hard to decide if David O. Selznick’s “Duel in the
Sun” is a work of twisted genius, or just the worst, corniest, unconsciously
hilarious movie ever made. It hovers in a weird place somewhere between a
Eugene O’Neill tragedy and a sketch that Carol Burnett might have come up with
on her old TV show. Remember when she lampooned Gone with the Wind? She came
down the staircase in a gown made from the curtains that used to hang on the
window, complete with curtain rod draped across her shoulders? There are scenes
in “Duel in the Sun” that are unintentionally almost as funny as that.
Based on a Niven Bush potboiler and directed by King
Vidor (along with several others), the film tells the tale of half-breed femme
fatale Pearl Chavez, a woman whose passion and hopes for a better life are
doomed by her heritage and a script straight out of a soap opera. Selznick cast
Jennifer Jones, who was his paramour at the time, as Pearl, hoping to duplicate
with her the success he had with Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with
the Wind.” Jones gives it everything she’s got, in a performance that is
fascinating, even entrancing at times, but occasionally so over the top that,
occasionally, you can’t help snickering.
The story begins with a sequence that was actually directed
by William Dieterle after the production was finished. Selznick felt that some
explanation of Pearl’s provocative sex-pot behavior was needed in order to make
her a more sympathetic character. Vidor refused to return to return to direct
the additional scenes after already having been through numerous reshoots
during production. Herbert Marshall was added to the cast to play Pearl’s
father, a refined, educated man caught in a humiliating marriage to a wild Native
American woman. Pearl witnesses her father’s murder of her mother when he
catches her with another man. Before he is hanged, he arranges for Pearl to go
live with Laura Belle McCanles (Lilian Gish), a refined woman he once loved and
who is now married to Sen. Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore), owner of Spanish
Bit, one of the biggest ranches in Texas.
When she arrives, Pearl discovers the McCanleses have two
sons, one good and the other a downright dirty dog. I guess you could say if the
McCanles ranch were the Garden of Eden, Laura Belle and Jackson would be Adam and
Eve, and Lewt (Gregory Peck) and Jesse (Joseph Cotten) would be Cain and Abel.
But what does that make Pearl? Joseph Cotten is well cast as the honest,
upright, dutiful Jesse. He’s been to college and is a lawyer. He likes Pearl
quite a bit. And she seems to like him until she lays eyes on the tall
handsome, cold hearted Lewt. Why Gregory Peck was chosen to play Lewt will
remain a mystery for all time. He is totally out of his element as the senator’s
favorite son. He’s called on to treat Pearl like dirt. He slaps her around,
forces her to swim all day in a pond without any clothes on until it gets dark,
and finally forces himself on her. Sorry. I just don’t see Atticus Finch doing
something like that, but I guess everybody has a dark side.
There’s a big plot element that comes into the story
about a third of the way through. The railroad wants a right of way through
Sen. Jackson’s land, and, dang it, he ain’t about to give up one inch of
Spanish Bit. There’s a showdown with the rail workers, and when Jesse refuses
to order McCanles men to fire on them, the senator calls him a traitor and
orders him off the ranch. So that leaves Pearl alone with Lewt, and try as she
might to be the respectable young woman her father wanted her to be—a woman like
Laura Belle—she can’t help being obsessively attracted to Lewt. He messes
around with her, but when she tries to get him to marry her, he won’t, because
his father is an Indian-hating racist and would disown him if he did.
Well, there’s a lot of agonizing and squirming around as
Jennifer Jones climbs all over the scenery. Even Gish and Barrymore reach
various levels of melodramatic absurdity. In one scene the old blowhard senator
goes into a long monologue about the night he almost lost her to Pearl’s father
and how he rode all night to get back to her. Meanwhile, she’s lying in bed
listening, sick with some fatal disease. Moved by his sudden emotional outburst,
she sits up and reaches out to him. The senator keeps rambling on as only a
Barrymore can, oblivious to her condition, until finally Laura Bell falls out of bed flat on her face on the floor. Can’t you just see Tim Conway
and Vicki Lawrence doing that scene on The Carol Burnett Show?
From all of this you might think this is a movie to be
avoided. But that’s not actually the case. Despite its being referred to in the
annals of movie history as “Lust in the Dust,” there are some rare moments of
insane brilliance. The movie ends with one of the most talked about scenes in
movies. Pearl and Lewt, dying of their twisted love for each other at the foot
of Squaw Head Rock, is unconventional and almost beyond anything you could say
about it. Martin Scorsese says “Duel in the Sun” was the first movie he ever
saw and you can see the obvious influence it had on one of today’s most
Kino Lorber’s KL Studio Classics Blu-ray release includes
the roadshow version of the film with Dimitri Tiomkin’s prelude, overture and
exit music. There are other extras, including audio commentary by film
historian Gaylyn Studlar, interviews with Celia, Carey and Anthony Peck, as
well as a trailer gallery. It’s quite a package and quite a film.
The German video company Explosive Media has released a number of impressive western titles, among them: "Night Passage", a top-notch 1957 western showcasing James Stewart and a terrific supporting cast. The film was to be yet another collaboration between Stewart and director Anthony Mann but things fell apart when Audie Murphy was cast as Stewart's brother. Mann objected, saying he found their physical differences too unbelievable for that concept and felt the film would be undermined by the casting. Mann dropped out and television director James Neilson took over the troubled production. Neilson was able to exploit the wonders of Technirama, a short-lived widescreen process that was competing with CinemaScope in an attempt to lure increasingly prosperous Americans away from their new television sets and get them back into movie theaters. The screenplay was by the estimable Borden Chase. adapting a story from The Saturday Evening Post, as he had done for Howard Hawks' 1948 masterwork "Red River".
In "Night Passage", James Stewart plays Grant McLaine, a middle-aged drifter and cowpoke who had once been hired by the railroad to thwart a string of robberies committed by the Utica Kid (Audey Murphy), who is later revealed to be McLaine's kid brother. Seems that the railroad boss Ben Kimball (J.C. Flippen) became steamed when McLaine allowed the Utica Kid to escape on one occasion, though he did not know the two men were brothers. Kimball was convinced that McLaine and the Kid were in cahoots and fired McLaine. Now a new series of payroll robberies is occurring on the transport train with dismaying regularity. Kimball rehires McLaine, though he still harbors suspicions about him being in collusion with the Utica Kid and his gang. In fact, the Kid is indeed with a new gang, but this time it's run by Whitey Harbin (Dan Duryea), a cold blooded thief and killer who is plotting another robbery of a payroll shipment. McLaine ensures he is aboard the train, but he has secreted the payroll money on himself. When the gang boards the train after devising a way to waylay the security guards, they find no money in the safe- so they take Kimball's wife Verna (Elaine Stewart) hostage until they are paid the $10,000 in payroll funds. Meanwhile, McLaine finds himself caring for a precious pre-teen orphan boy, Joey Adams (Brandon DeWilde), who helped him hide the payroll money when the crooks boarded the train. The rest of the film follows McLaine as he tracks the gang to their hideout and has a rather tense reunion with his brother, who ignores his pleas to quit his career in crime. The entire affair ends with an exciting shootout at an abandoned mine camp that pits the two brothers on opposite sides.
"Night Passage" wasn't well-received by either critics or audiences back in the day, but watching the film now, it's pleasures become obvious. Stewart is in fine form and gets excellent support from the aforementioned co-stars. The film is peppered with many familiar faces including Jack Elam, Paul Fix and Ellen Corby. Dianne Foster is a beautiful tom boy who has a crush on the Utica Kid. Of interest to retro T.V. fans are the appearances of two future legendary sitcom dads, Herbert Anderson ("Dennis the Menace") and Hugh Beaumont ("Leave It to Beaver") in dramatic roles. As for Anthony Mann's concerns about the casting of Audie Murphy, it works well enough. The two iconic actors share some genuine chemistry and their age difference is far less preposterous that that of 48 year-old John Wayne playing the older brother to 22 year-old Michael Anderson Jr. in another fine Western, "The Sons of Katie Elder". It should be said that the film's most riveting performance is by Dan Duryea, playing against type as a loud, crude and brutal bad guy. He steals every scene he is in. Dimitri Tiomkin provides one of his typically rousing scores and the cinematography by William Daniels captures the grandeur of the California and Colorado locations.
One of the lobby cards featured in the photo gallery section.
The Explosive Media presentation is superb. The transfer is flawless and stunning in its beauty. As usual, the company has provided some interesting extras in addition to the trailer. They include extensive galleries of production photos and international film posters, pressbooks and lobby cards. The Blu-ray release includes tracks for both English and German language presentations. It's a pity the Explosive titles, which are all region-free, are not available outside of Germany (primarily through Amazon Deutschland) , however, they sometimes appear on eBay in other countries. This is an excellent presentation of a very underrated film.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
TOM WOODRUFF, JR. & ALEC GILLIS OF studioADI
THE studioADI COLLECTION
WITH 20TH CENTURY FOX CONSUMER PRODUCTS
THE HIGH-QUALITY FINE ART PIECES
WILL INCLUDE ALIEN³ AND ALIEN: RESURRECTION
HAND-CRAFTED WORKS OF ART
CREATED BY THE SAME ARTISTS AT THE SAME STUDIO WHO MADE
THE CREATURES FOR THE FILMS
The studioADI Collection Will Initially Consist of Seven Unique
The Queen Alien Embryo from Alien³, The 1/3 Scale Queen
Alien Head and
The Newborn Alien Full Body Design Maquette from Alien:
Los Angeles, CA (November 20, 2017) For 30 years, Los
Angeles based Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. (studioADI) has been the premier
Creature Effects studio in the motion picture business. studioADI was
co-founded by the Academy Award winning duo of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff,
Jr. in 1988. The team has been
responsible for 3 decades of iconic Creature Characters from the Alien and Predator
franchises to the recent smash hit horror film IT. Today Woodruff and Gillis announced The studioADI
Collection, art inspired by their iconic creations from Alien³ and Alien:
The studioADI Collection consists of high quality fine
art pieces which are not mere collectibles replicated by factory workers. These
are hand-crafted works of art created by the same studio and artists who
originally created them for the films, from the actual molds used in the
production of the history-making films Alien³ and Alien:
“This is the collection designed for fans of these
entries into the Alien franchise as well as aficionados of the art of creatures
and monsters of iconic pedigree,” said Woodruff.
“The studioADI collection is our tribute to the films
that have been an important part of our legacy as artists. Each piece of art
reflects the same detail and passion we poured into the characters when we created
the original Alien films,” said Gillis.
Full descriptions and dimensions of all the art will be
available December 1. Some pieces will
be available as exclusive limited editions. The pieces will be priced from $250.00 -
Below are descriptions of two items:
“The Newborn” from Alien: Resurrection was the
terrifying mix of human and Alien DNA gone wrong. This Full-Scale Bust is cast
from hand-laid translucent polyester resin from ADI's original production molds
and is painted to the same exacting specifications by ADI's painter who painted
the character for the original film. The piece measures
“The Queen Alien Embryo” was seen in David Fincher's Alien³
was nestled next to the beating heart of Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver.
Cast in translucent urethane and hand painted by the same ADI artists who
created the piece for the film in 1991.
At 7" x 9" this piece of art is perfect for
The studioADI Collection launch on December 1, 2017 will
include the following art pieces, which are all hand-crafted and individually
made to order:
Alien Study Model from Alien: Resurrection
Alien Warrior Half Head from Alien: Resurrection
Newborn Alien Head from Alien: Resurrection
Scale Queen Alien Head from Alien: Resurrection
will celebrate their 30th Anniversary in 2018, and the launch of The studioADI
Collection is the first of many exciting announcements Gillis and Woodruff have
planned in conjunction with this historic milestone! Always in-demand, they move into their 30th
year riding high on the huge success of IT and their creature makeup creation
for Pennywise, an instant iconic Movie Monster. Upcoming projects include Bright, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The
Predator, and Godzilla: King of Monsters.
are Academy Award winning creators of special characters and character effects.
Calling upon a diverse range of talents and techniques, we create prosthetic
make-ups, animatronic puppets, actor duplicates and replica animals. With over
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character effects to the set to interact with actors, lighting, and practical
atmosphere. We pride ourselves on working with the industry's leading cgi
companies to find the right balance of digital and practical effects. We
continue to provide film-makers with realistic and economical character effects
that best serve the story and the production.
20th Century Fox Consumer Products
20th Century Fox Consumer Products licenses and markets
properties worldwide on behalf of 20th Century Fox Film, 20th Century Fox
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programming and entertainment content and 20th Century Fox Film, one of the
world’s largest producers and distributors of motion pictures.
It's that time of year when everyone thinks of those timeless holiday songs, movies and classic TV series- but some are cursed to remember the infamous "Star Wars Holiday Special" that was unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 1978. Designed to make a quick buck from exploiting the recent, unexpected success of "Star Wars", the show is regarded today as an Ed Wood-like achievement in that it's so patently awful in every respect that it has to be said it's uproariously entertaining, albeit in an unintended way. Don't blame young George Lucas, who had yet to emerge as a Force himself in Hollywood. Lucas was initially enthused about the concept but his involvement was very limited, as he was already at work on "The Empire Strikes Back". He would later denounce the show at every mention and once said he wished every trace of it could be obliterated from the planet. Although it has never been officially released on home video, bootleg versions have been flooding the web for many years. In recognition of the dubious achievement that the show represents, writer Lindsey Romain of the Thrillist web site lays out some of the bizarre facts behind the even more bizarre show (Click here to read). All you need to know if you're unfamiliar with the infamous program is that it starred Bea Arthur and Harvey Korman (who appeared in black face as a woman!), although members of the film cast were dragooned into appearing, tossing out awful one-liners written by some otherwise very talented writers like Bruce Vilanch and Pat Proft. Watch the above video for the inside story of an infamous misfire that unfortunately didn't exist in a galaxy far, far away.
Writing on the Atlantic web site, Christopher Orr accuses Woody Allen of being essentially a lazy filmmaker whose work in recent years has been over-rated. Orr is no Woody-basher. In fact, he defends the filmmaker's earlier works but says that he is squandering his potential by continuing his eccentric habits which include keeping his cast members as disengaged from the films as possible and intentionally ensuring that he forms no personal bonds with them. Orr also says that Allen's penchant for having as few takes as possible often compromises the final product. Allen himself would seem to agree, having stated in a 2015 NPR interview "“I’m lazy and an imperfectionist. Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese will work on the details until midnight and sweat it out, whereas for me, come 6 o’clock, I want to go home, I want to have dinner, I want to watch the ballgame. Filmmaking is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence.” Still, one might feel that Orr is being rather harsh with Allen's achievements, since he has made one film a year over the last fifty years. While Orr correctly states that many of Allen's efforts receive little attention or audience interest, he seems overly-dismissive of his biggest hit, "Midnight in Paris" as well as minor delights such as "To Rome with Love". In the end, it's up to the individual reader to render judgment as to whether Allen is still an invigorating force in the film industry or someone who has been living on past glories. Click here to read.
year marked the 100th anniversary of one of the bloodiest battles in history,
the Battle of Verdun, fought through most of 2016 from 21 February to 18
December on the French border with Germany. “Verdun, Looking at History”
chronicles the story of the Battle of Verdun through the eyes of those who
fought there. Part documentary and part drama, it was shot on location between
1927 and 1928 a decade after the battle by French filmmaker Leon Poirier with
assistance from veterans who fought there and may well be one of the first
Battle of Verdun was one of the largest battles of WWI, lasting nearly a year
and resulting in an estimated one million casualties with about one third of
that number representing those killed. The French and German armies fought the
battle on the Western Front in the Northeast part of France near the border
with Belgium and Germany where the bombardment began after breakfast and ceased
by dinner time each day. The German’s goal was to inflict heavy casualties on
the French in order to drive them to surrender. The German plan ultimately
failed as the French held out, but the countryside was devastated by the
continuous and heavy artillery bombardments in such a small area for nearly a
year. The physical scars on the countryside are still present in the area to
hit a low point among the French during the summer of the battle. French
soldiers were indeed summarily executed for “collective indiscipline” and were forbidden
from surrendering. Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 classic “Paths of Glory” gives one a
sense of the absurdity of such military policies. In May of that year a French lieutenant
at Verdun wrote, "Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do what it is doing.
What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to
translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!"
say the emotional and physical scars resulting from the Battle of Verdun, both
on the people, the landscape and the French military, had an impact on the
French people goes without saying. The movie touches the surface of the impact
war has on those who fought and died and survived. It visualizes this for us,
but as is the case with all art, it gives us a taste of how those lives were affected
so we can experience a small part of it.
in the movie are identified generically through inter-title cards as “A French
Soldier,” “A German Soldier,” “A Mother,” “A Farmer,” “A daughter” and “A
General.” You get the idea. While we do not know the characters by name, I feel
like Poirier was trying to make each character the face for a thousand other real
people drawn in to this battle. His use of low angle shots in the recreated
battle shots with the camera literally in the trenches as soldiers crawl
through the mud really draws the viewer in.
movie moves between shots of the German generals and soldiers planning battle
strategies, the French soldiers planning and defending and the civilians as
they evacuate or say goodbye to family and sweethearts before joining the fight.
Shots of maps and inter-titles explaining communications help move the story,
but in an almost documentary style. Divided into three parts; “Might,” “Hell,”
and “Fate;” the 151 minute movie is an epic masterpiece of not only French
cinema, but in movie history.
DVD from Carlotta Films for this release contains three fascinating documentary supplements, all in
French with English subtitles. The first, “Restoring ‘Verdun,’” is 13 minutes
and recounts the interesting history of this film which was nearly lost until prints
were discovered in Russian film archives. The Germans confiscated all prints of
this movie and many others during the occupation of France in WWII. At the end of the war, the
Russians brought this and many other movies back to Russia from Germany, storing
them in their film archives. The battle footage recreated by Leon Poirier was
so realistic that it was used in many documentaries and movies over the years to
represent actual WWI combat footage. Poirier served in the French army at
Verdun which accounts for the accurate depiction of the battle. The Germans are
not depicted as caricatures of evil, but rather the movie is a statement on the
horror of war and becomes one of the earliest cinematic anti-war films.
Poirier’s filmmaking style was influenced by contemporaries D.W. Griffith,
Cecil B. DeMille and Sergei Eisenstein.
second feature, “Visions of ‘Verdun,’” is an 18- minute discussion by several French
cinema historians on the battle, the restoration, the music and the impact of
the movie and the battle on French culture and cinema. The final supplement is
a 29- minute documentary, “The French Take Their Revenge in Verdun”, created
using archive footage edited by the Film Department of the French Army in 1916.
released on 8 Nov 1928 near the 10th anniversary of the end of WWI, the movie
was rescued and restored in 2006 by La Cinematheque de Toulouse and this 2014 DVD
release by Carlotta Films US looks beautiful. The timing of the projection
speed is perfect and the inter-titles, including animated maps of the battle
front, were restored with English subtitles which aid the non French speakers
in appreciating this movie made in the pre-sound era. No silent film was ever
truly silent and this movie is no exception. It is filled with sound effects and music, which
was typical of the silent era. The piano score from the original release was newly
recorded for the restoration and cues on the sheet music aided in the proper
movies are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but as a snapshot of the
origins of cinema, this movie is well worth a look. The narrative style and
realism is certainly ahead of its time in this landmark film. Well worth a look
for fans of military history and classic cinema fans.
Now back in the "Star Wars" spotlight, Mark Hamill commands $295 per autograph- and another $286 to pose for a fan photo.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
The Washington Post takes a detour away from the endless political scandals with a front-page article by Amy B. Wang that explores the world of "Star Wars" autograph collectors and the soaring prices to obtain signatures from the series' stars. Wang attended a recent convention in New York City where collectors waited on line for hours to get the prized signatures- and paid dearly for the opportunity, with stars commanding in excess of $200 per autograph. Since Disney acquired the franchise, they have teamed with Topps to make available licensed autographed items in a systematic method via mail order. The advantage is that it eliminates the many fraudulent signatures that have coopted the on-line market but some fans complain that it also takes a good deal of fun out of the hobby by removing the "thrill of the hunt". Click here to read.
between his debut feature (1970’s The
Bird with the Crystal Plumage, which had enjoyed unprecedented success with
American audiences) and the equally excellent Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Dario Argento’s The Cat O’Nine Tails (o.t. Il
Gatto a Nova Code) is disappointingly inferior to both in almost every
respect. Despite this, almost everything with the director’s name on it –
emphasis on almost (and up until the mid-90s
at least) – is streets ahead of anything in a similar vein, so I hesitate to be
too hard on it.
Arno (Karl Malden), a former newspaper journalist forced into retirement when
he lost his sight, now lives with his niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) and earns
a crust compiling crossword puzzles. Out walking one evening, they pass a car
parked up outside an institute involved in genetic experimentation and sharp-eared
Arno overhears a snippet of suspicious conversation between the occupants.
Later the same night the place is burgled. A chance encounter with reporter
Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), who’s been sent to cover the story, results
in Arno assisting him to investigate the break-in. But when people associated
with the institute begin to die it seems that the burglar is prepared to kill
to obfuscate what he was up to…and Arno and Giordani realise they’ve stupidly
placed themselves in his crosshairs!
raise a hand here and confess that despite my admiration for Dario Argento’s
work and having seen most of his films on multiple occasions, of his pre-1990s
output The Cat O’Nine Tails is the
one I’ve watched least. Possibly only a couple of times in fact. As such it’s
one with which I’m not so familiar. With the arrival of a new Blu-Ray release
from Arrow Video I sat down to reacquaint myself with it for the first time in
several years and it all came back to me as to why I’ve not visited it often. On paper at least the script by
Argento and Dardano Sacchetti lays out all the key ingredients for a tasty
cocktail, so there’s little faulting it in that respect. But whereas the
director’s best gialli pivot on a burgeoning sense of urgency derived from the
misinterpretation of a witnessed moment, or perhaps a half-remembered clue,
this one’s a surprisingly sedate affair. Additionally, the film lacks the
outlandish plot, stylish camerawork and brutal murder sequences of its 70s
stablemates – never mind that it’s also missing a deliciously unhinged killer
lurking behind a veneer of respectability – and, let’s be honest, broadly
speaking it’s the canny employ of these elements in his pictures that helped
build Argento his fan base.
frivolous note too, anyone going in with title-engendered anticipation of a
kinky sequence involving a dominatrix wielding said implement will come away
disappointed; as an analogy, The Living
Daylights springs to mind insomuch as, just as that film’s nonsensical title
(from the perspective of audiences unfamiliar with Fleming) was dealt with in a
single throwaway line, so The Cat O’Nine
Tails is incorporated into a frankly silly remark by Giordani.
though, all these factors notwithstanding, perhaps most injurious of all is the
fact the movieis ponderously slow, more
methodical mystery-solver than knuckle-whitening chiller.
my remark about those mundane murder scenes, with the exception of a well-staged
sequence when the killer dispatches a witness to his crimes by shoving him off
a station platform and under the wheels of an incoming locomotive, they really
do lack creativity. The absence of unflinchingly gruesome set pieces akin to
those in the like of Deep Red and Tenebrae is keenly felt; I’m afraid a
few garrotTings and an attempted poisoning with a carton of milk (no, really!) fail dismally to cut the
mustard. That said, there are some memorably unnerving close-ups of the
killer’s twitching eyeball as he sights out each victim and at least he himself
gets a suitably wince-inducing comeuppance.
Franciscus, fresh off of Beneath the
Planet of the Apes, makes Giordani a decent enough heroic lead, although
for my money he’s overshadowed where characterisation is concerned by a top-form
Karl Malden as Arno, conveying the sightless gaze of a blind man impeccably. If
anything makes the film work it’s the
chemistry between these two actors. So good are they together in fact that I’d
rather like to have seen Giordani and Arno team up on another investigation. In
any event, notable among the rest of the cast are Catherine Spaak (loveliness
incarnate as Giordani’s love interest) and little Cinzia De Carolis as Arno’s
devoted “seeing eyes”.
Before inheriting the title "Master of
Disaster", a perfectly justified honour for his reputation of creating
some of the greatest disaster movies of the 1970s, Irwin Allen was also the man
responsible for some of the classic TV shows to emerge in the 1960’s. Voyage to
the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants have all
survived the test of time and become immortalised among the best in terms of
cultural importance. However, above all others, Lost in Space (1965-1968) is arguably
the series that endured. Very loosely inspired by Johan David Wyss's classic 1812 adventure novel
“Swiss Family Robinson”, the premise for the show was fairly uncomplicated and
followed the adventures of the Robinson family, a crew of space colonists who encounter
a number of strange and otherworldly situations after their ship is sabotaged
and thrown off its original course. A
great deal of the show’s appeal was the family, a full generational spectrum
which naturally connected with its audience. Of course, the crew also included
an essential antagonist, Dr. Zachary Smith. Smith was the man responsible for
sabotaging the Jupiter 2 and as a result, finds himself stranded aboard the
spacecraft. Completing the crew was the robot, a charismatic scene-stealer designed
by Robert Kinoshita, the man behind the iconic Robby the Robot from the 1956
sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (1956).
Another essential element of Lost in Space
was its music, an accompaniment that varied (and re-used) a great deal
throughout its three season history. Many respected composers had worked on the
series including Herman Stein, Hans J. Salter, Alexander Courage, Gerald Fried,
Robert Drasnin and Leigh Harline. However, one composer is perhaps associated
with the series above all others, the legendary John Williams. Williams of
course went on to compose some of the greatest film scores in history. It’s
near impossible to summarise the enormity of his success, but titles such as
Jaws, the Star Wars movies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, E.T.
the Extra-Terrestrial, and the Indiana Jones series should serve as a pretty
In recognition of the composer’s excellent
contribution to the series, Spacelab9 have released a glorious vinyl box set
featuring the music of Johnny Williams. The four LP’s consist largely of music
from four classic episodes, The Reluctant Stowaway, Island in the Sky, The
Hungry Sea and My Friend, Mr. Nobody. Spacelab9 have put a great deal of
thought and care in producing this highly impressive collection. Aside from
Williams’ original compositions, each of the individual albums is rounded off
with generous bonus material from each of the corresponding episodes. These extra
tracks feature music by the Louisville born Richard LaSalle. A respected
composer in his own right, LaSalle was responsible for the show’s library cues
which not only provided a certain familiarity but were also vital to the show’s
distinctive overall soundscape. Main and end titles are also included for
series 1, 2 and 3 as are some alternate versions and relevant bumper cues.
Lost in Space: The Complete John Williams
Collection is certainly a cohesive set which collates Williams’ entire
contribution neatly into one package. It’s a smart and intelligent move which
also widens its appeal to fans of the composer and not just fans of the TV
March 1990, I paid a visit to my one and only source for all things foreign
horror. A small comic book hole-in-the-wall roughly half-an-hour from my house
was a New Jersey version of Stephen King’s Needful
Things. This store, long gone because of the Internet age, boasted VHS
bootlegs and imported foreign laser discs of uncut horror film titles I had only
read about in black and white fanzines written and printed by young adults.
This is where I saw the uncut version of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981), a film that had
played theatrically seven years earlier in a horrifically butchered
eighty-minute version that removed some forty-five minutes of footage from an
already convoluted albeit brilliant film.
movie that came to my attention at that time (despite having been released on
VHS here a year earlier, though I was unfamiliar with it) was the uncut edition
of Dick Maas’s 1988 thriller Amsterdamned,
which was shot on location in the Netherlands in the summer and fall of 1987. When I
put the VHS tape into my player I was presented with an image that was so dark,
so grainy, and so difficult to see that I had no choice but to shut it off
several minutes into it. I was disappointed because I had read that it was a
fairly decent movie. I never would’ve imagined at that time that it would take
me some twenty-seven years to see it. Thanks to the fine folks at Blue
Underground, Amsterdamned has now
been restored to its original glory and is available in a Blu-ray and DVD combo
pack. The result is a stellar 2K scan and high definition presentation of one
of the most enjoyable and intriguing thrillers that I have seen in quite some
time. While the story itself may not seem entirely fresh, the cinematic
execution is top-notch.
Amsterdamned is essentially an aquatically-themed
thriller concerning a scuba-diving lunatic stalking seemingly random folks in
the city of Amsterdam. The killer spends much of his time lurking about the
polluted canals of the titular city. The camera is kept at eye level (think
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws from 1975) as
he snakes through the water, his presence telegraphed by the bubbling and
gurgling of his oxygen tank and Darth Vader-like breathing which acts as a
harbinger of death for anyone unlucky enough to cross paths with him. After he
kills his first victim, an unfortunate prostitute from the infamous Red Light
District, a murder spree with no discernible motive is set into play. Eric
Visser (Huub Stapel) is the cop assigned to the case. He has a thirteen-year-old
daughter who is precocious and tries her best to help him along now that his
ex-wife is nowhere to be found. Much of the film revolves around Visser and his
partner chasing the killer through a series of “Damn, he got away again!” set-pieces, and while this may
sound boring and derivative, director Maas has a visual style that keeps things
tense, interesting and moving forward. There is a fairly elaborate canal chase
involving the killer and Visser in separate speed boats that is very well-mounted
and edited together that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Lewis Gilbert
mounted a similar chase in the James Bond film Moonraker (1979) and used rear projection for some of the close-ups
of Jaws (Richard Kiel), but director Maas does it all for real here, much like
the other predecessor in this arena, Geoffrey Reeve’s Puppet on a Chain (1971) which also set a boat chase through
being under the gun by his superiors to catch the killer, Visser manages to
find time to romance a scuba diver named Laura (Monique van de Ven) who is
jovial and cheerful and agrees to a date. Their passing fancy with one another comes
under close scrutiny from her friend and psychiatrist Martin Ruysdael (Hidde
Maas) who used to be a scuba diver (red flag!) but gave it up years ago. Visser
and Laura become closer and consummate their relationship. Laura becomes the
perfect damsel in distress towards the film’s end and despite the revelation of
the killer, Amsterdamned still
manages to pack a decent punch.
director also wrote the musical score (think John Carpenter) and it works very well
for the film. It exudes a definite air of tension. Amsterdamned boasts the best Jaws-inspired
underwater scare that pays homage to the Ben Gardner death from that film. It
ends with (what else?) an Eighties pop-tune called (guess!) “Amsterdamned”!
The Universal Vault series of made-on-demand DVDs has released "The Secret War of Harry Frigg", a long overlooked and largely forgotten 1968 WWII comedy starring Paul Newman. The film''s release was sandwiched in Newman's career during a particularly productive time following the releases of "Cool Hand Luke" (which gained him an Oscar nomination), the critically acclaimed western "Hombre", his directorial debut with "Rachel, Rachel" (4 Oscar nominations) and his mega-hit "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". "Frigg" is a completely lightweight affair done on the cheap with California locations substituting for Italy. The film casts Newman in his trademark role as an anti-Establishment wiseguy. When we first see him, he's a lowly private serving in Italy at the height of the Allied invasion. Frigg is a malcontent whose rebellious nature results in him spending most of his time in the brig. He's gained a reputation as an escape artist but never succeeds in staying free for very long. Frigg is summoned to meet General Homer Prentiss (James Gregory), who offers him an audacious deal. Seems that five Allied generals were captured by Italian troops in a Turkish bath. The Allies can't afford them to be interrogated for long and Prentiss wants Frigg to parachute behind enemy lines posing as a general in the hopes that he, too, will be captured. The scheme is to have Frigg imprisoned with the other generals and then develop an escape plan for all of them. Frigg agrees after working out some perks he will get from carrying out the high-risk plot. Upon landing in Italy, he is summarily captured as planned. He is taken to a lavish country villa where the other generals are being held. Frigg is pleasantly surprised to find that the Italian officer who serves as a warden, Col. Ferrucci (Vito Scotti), is a likeable, charming man who treats his prisoners as honored guests and lavishes them with amenities. Still, the real generals impose upon Frigg, who they think is their superior officer, to orchestrate an escape plan. However, Frigg becomes accustomed to Ferrucci's constant supply of gourmet food, fine wine and expensive cigars. He is even more enamored when he meets the owner of the villa, a beautiful countess named Francesca (Sylva Koscina). Frigg discovers a secret passageway that leads outside the compound but which also conveniently goes into Francesca's bedroom. Before long, he's also enjoying plenty of sexual perks. By the time Frigg is motivated to actually plan an escape, it's too late. An German officer (Werner Peters) arrives at the villa to announce that Italy has just surrendered and that German troops will now occupy positions formally held by Italian troops. He summarily takes charge of the prisoners and also arrests the hapless Ferrucci, who ironically had just been promoted to the rank of general. The group is taken from luxurious surroundings to a harsh prison camp where they are monitored constantly and deterred from escape by an electrified fence and a mine field. Nevertheless, Frigg is unfazed and sets about planning his most ambitious escape.
in Year Zero! rolls out calmly in a Leave it to Beaver 1950’s idyll, the four member Baldwin family readying
an early four A.M. start for their much anticipated camping and fishing vacation. It doesn’t look much like four swipes past midnight,
despite the groggy time-checking complaint of teenage son Rick Baldwin (Frankie
Avalon). The sun, in fact, is high and
shining brightly overhead as the family loads themselves into their sleek Mercury
Monterey hitched to a shiny Kenskilltrailer
home. Rick’s parents, his saturnine
father Harry (Ray Milland) and doting mother Ann (Jean Hagen), ignore their
son’s sleepy protestations and they all climb merrily into the car along with
sister Karen (Mary Mitchel).
The family vacation is spoiled some two hours later when,
while driving into the mountains to their Shibes Meadow campground destination,
a blinding flash of light and a sonic boom sounds behind them. The family scampers out of their car to
witness a giant billowing mushroom cloud plume upwards toward the heavens. There’s little doubt in their minds that the
unthinkable has transpired. There’s an
interim when all communication with the outside world has been lost; the family
is even unable to receive messages via the Conelrad civilian alert radio
system, the Cold War era’s preferred conduit of emergency broadcasts. When they are finally able to receive news
via their car’s AM radio, they’re not surprised - but still horrified - to
learn that all of Los Angeles and its “surrounding areas” have been irradiated
in a nuclear attack.
The family soon learns via a second radio bulletin that
Los Angeles is not the only U.S. city to lie smoldering in ruin. New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia have also
been similarly attacked, as have the capitol cities of Rome, London, and
Paris. We’re never told exactly who is
responsible for these reprehensible sneak atomic weapon attacks, but since its
1962, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume the Godless Commies were behind it
all. Interestingly, or perhaps
prophetically, Panic in Year Zero!
was released to cinemas in the summer of 1962, only a few months preceding the Khrushchev
vs. Kennedy nuclear chess game that was the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Unlike most pure entertainment films that emerged from
American-International, Panic in Year
Zero! is an unrelentingly grim relic of the atomic age. Milland’s Harry Baldwin, ever the patriarchal
father, will go to any extreme to protect his family. His earliest protective measures are noble,
but he’ll soon turn completely paranoid – and commit a series of increasingly alarming
cold-blooded acts out of sheer desperation. This film, in the manner of a similarly themed sci-fi title, Stanley
Kramer’s On the Beach (1959),
concentrates not on those incinerated but instead entirely on those who have survived
a nuclear attack. The protagonists in
the film are not foreign invaders or militarists; the folks Milland is most
wary of are, sadly, his fellow citizens.
His adversaries are the similarly frightened people who, having
survived the blast, have gone mobile. Those who have piled into any moving vehicle they can commandeer to seek
some solace in the relative safety and refuge of the mountains. As he witnesses the endless parade of
automobiles streaming into the remote areas outside of Los Angeles, Baldwin doesn’t
see his fellow countrymen as scared witless refugees seeking safe haven. They are, instead, deemed potential competitors
for dwindling resources.
Baldwin switches instantly into survival mode, and is
distrustful of everyone. With the radio
reporting incidents of looting in and around the outskirts of America’s urban
areas, citizens are being instructed by the civil defense corps to seek refuge
in the fallout shelters. Baldwin decides
that his family’s chances of survival will increase exponentially if they do
the exact opposite as told. He chooses to go deeper into the mountains,
certain that “survival will have to be on an individual basis.” His soft-hearted wife disagrees with his cold-hearted
survivalist instincts, but she’s not able to sway him in his position. It’s 1962, after all, and he’s the man of the
In 1988 Oscar-winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (“In
the Heat of the Night”, “The Poseidon Adventure”) got fed up with what he
called “the eel pit of Hollywood,” and moved to Thailand to start a new life. According
to the LA Times, he’d grown tired of
the power plays, the egos, the hypocrisy and the dictum that homage must be
paid to the box office. He left and never came back.
Hollywood has always had its dark side-- just read “Hollywood
Babylon.” Silliphant’s “eel pit” was never a more apt description than when, a
few years later in 2015, the film industry was rocked by WikiLeaks release of
some really nasty Sony emails that gave a glimpse into what powerful producers and
studio execs really thought of some of their stars. Scott Rudin called Angelina
Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat.” Clint Culpepper called Kevin Hart “a
whore,” and Amy Pascal said Leonardo DiCaprio was “despicable.” And the news
coming out of Hollywood these days is even worse. Allegations of sexual
harassment up to and including rape by powerful studio heads and A-list stars are
being revealed on an almost daily basis. Careers are ending faster than they
can yank the latest multi-million dollar “blockbuster” flop out of theaters.
And somebody or somebodies may go to jail.
Over the years there have been several attempts
to document Tinseltown’s seamy underbelly on film. Movies like “The bad and the
Beautiful,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “The Last Tycoon” gave it a try with
varying degrees of success. But without doubt the most scathing portrait of La
La Land ever put on film has to be Robert Aldrich’s “The Big Knife,” (1955).
This stark film, shot in black and white and 1.85:1 widescreen, is a searing depiction
of a “half-idealist” actor caught in the clutches of a powerful, merciless
studio boss who will stop at nothing, including blackmail and murder, to get
his way. Based on a stage play by Clifford Odets, the poet laureate of the
working man, and adapted for the screen by James Poe, “The Big Knife” tells the
story of screen star Charlie Castle (Jack Palance), who is described in voice
over narration at the beginning of the film as “a man who sold his dreams but
can’t forget them.” He once had artistic aspirations as an actor, but through
his own weakness he succumbed to the lure of big money and became instead a
drunk, a womanizer, and the property of studio head Stanley Shriner Hoff (Rod
Forced to make some lousy pictures for Hoff, who
is content with making money and couldn’t care less about things like redeeming
social value or artistic integrity, Charlie sees a way out. His contract is
about to expire. Hoff wants him to sign up for seven more years, but Charlie’s
wife, Marion (Ida Lupino), insists he refuse to sign. She sees it as a matter
of survival. She has seen the steady corrosion of Charlie’s soul over the years
working for Hoff Pictures. She and Charlie have been temporarily separated on
and off for the last couple of years, but she tells him if he signs the new
contract she’ll leave for good.
Based on Odets’ stage play, most of the film
is confined to one set, the spacious play room of Charlie’s Bel Air mansion.
Aldrich and Cinematographer Ernest Laszlo, using deep focus lenses, create a
claustrophobic atmosphere, shooting from low and high angles, with lamps and
chandeliers in the foreground, conveying the terrifying sensation of the walls
closing in on Charlie, as one character after another shows up to take away
another piece of his soul.
First is columnist Patty Benedict (Ilka
Chase), a barracuda who questions why Charlie has kept Buddy, his publicity man
on the payroll after he had served several months in prison for a drunk driving
hit and run that killed a child. Charlie tells her he’s been a friend for
years, and why dig that old news up? She also noses into the state of Charlie’s
marriage. When Marion appears (Charlie unaware she had entered the house), she
tells Benedict it’s none of her business. The columnist leaves in a huff and
warns Charlie she better not read about their break up in anybody else’s
column. Charlie scolds Marion for talking to Benedict that way, and when she
rebukes his obsequious, hypocritical act with her, he replies, in typical
Odets’ fashion: “I’m in the movie business. I can’t afford your acute attacks
“The Big Knife” is loaded with hard-hitting dialogue
that probably sounds over the top today, but in the context of the film, and in
the period in which it was made—a time when filmmakers and writers like Chayefsky,
Serling, and Inge were more concerned with moral value than writers are
today—it all works. When Charlie discusses his future with his agent Nat
Danziger (Everett Sloan), he considers the meager possibilities and concludes:
“Every way is a way to die.” Later in the story, when the walls get even closer,
he picks up a bottle and tells him “I’m getting sloshed in my own mud and
neon.” In a confrontation with Hoff and his hatchet man Smiley Coy (Wendell
Corey), who try to force him to sign the new contract, he tells them: “This is
all a bleak, bitter dream, a dish of doves. You throw this mess of naked
pigeons in my face. What am I to do?”
Further pressure comes from Buddy’s wife, a
tramp who throws herself at Charlie, cold and callous, heedless of the way it
will destroy their friendship. This betrayal becomes even more brutal when the
truth that he and Buddy share regarding the hit and run accident is revealed.
Finally, there is Shelly Winters as Dixie Evans, a starlet who knows too much
about the hit and run and is seen as a threat not only by Charlie, but more
importantly by Hoff and Smiley Coy. She’s the final straw that eventually
breaks Charlie’s back. As Dixie says: “First they louse you up and then they
call you a louse.”
Wesley Addey is on hand as (Horatio “Hank”
Teagle) a writer friend of Marion and Charlie’s, who calls Charlie a
half-idealist. “Half-idealism is the peritonitis of the soul,” he tells him.
But even that friendship is tainted by the fact that Hank has asked Marion to
leave Charlie and marry him. Every straw that Charlie gasps for only pulls him
down deeper. Wendell Corey perhaps best sums up Charlie’s character when he
calls him: “The warrior minstrel with the forlorn hope.”
The "Last Jedi" roving mini vacuum depicts the image of Darth Vader.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
A couple of years ago I was in London to attend the royal premiere of "Spectre". While inside a Boots pharmacy, I came upon the official Gillette "Spectre" electric razor, which was amusing since there isn't a any reference or scene in the film relating to said razor. The box was also devoid of any imagery from the film except for the logo. I thought at the time that the obsession with manufacturers to tie their products to a hot movie franchise has reached an extreme. The release of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" only reinforces that belief- and I'm not alone. As Variety writer Matt Fernandez points out in a recent article, the products licensed to tie-in to the film are as surrealistic as any space alien seen in the franchise. Do people really buy bananas or a pineapple simply because there is a tag with the film's logo attached? The people at Dole certainly think so. They've made the connection between fruit and outer space with a campaign based on "Unite for a Healthy Galaxy". How about "Last Jedi" bags of salad or a mini roving vacuum with Darth Vader's image? Makeup tie-ins to the Bond franchise have been around for decades but at least that makes sense: 007 movies always feature gorgeous women dressed to the nines. But a "Last Jedi" make-up line? Really? I guess every lady wants to look her best while brandishing her light saber in an attempt to save the universe. Then there are the "Last Jedi" line of fine fountain pens, ice cream and, of course, the "Last Jedi" Storm Trooper line of razors from Phillips, which should fit snugly on your collectibles shelf next to the one you have from "Spectre". Click here to read.
Vinegar Syndrome has released a special edition of the 1975 erotic film "China Girl" as a special edition Blu-ray/DVD. Before the advent of home video, hardcore movies had to rely on adult movie theaters for exhibition. Consequently, at least some attempt at achieving a level of sophistication was generally undertaken. "China Girl" is one of the more ambitious productions from this time period. The film is a quasi-James Bond thriller and the Maguffin is some nonsense about some bad people trying to steal the formula for a mind control process that is known to only a handful of scientists. The titular character is an Asian beauty named Madame Woo (Pamela Yen in her only screen credit). Woo is employed by an organization known as DRAGON that is systematically hunting down the scientists to extract the portion of the formula that they carry with them. This is achieved by subjecting them to a bizarre torture (if you want to call it that): they are tied up and sexually stimulated by a bevy of naked women until they go insane with pleasure and disclose the top secret information. U.S intelligence sources are in a panic mode because the only remaining scientist has not been compromised. She is Teresa Hardgrave (adult film legend Annette Haven) and the government sends a hunky agent, David Chase (Tom Douglass in his only credited screen role) to look after her well-being. Does he ever...Almost instantly, the two become lovers even as the plot thickens. DRAGOn has dispatched one of its top agents, torture master Y.C. Chan (James Hong) to capture Teresa, which he succeeds in doing. She is brought to the mansion house of Madame Woo, who tries to intimidate Teresa into cooperating. When she refuses do do so, Teresa is given the same "torture" the other scientists endured: she is subjected to a bisexul orgy, but emerges unscathed and very much happier. Her ability to withstand a time-tested method for extracting information infuriates Chan, who promises to use more traditional methods on Teresa, who has since been seduced by Madame Woo herself (don't ask!).
Despite some hokey elements, "China Girl" is an extremely impressive achievement in adult filmmaking during this era. The film benefits from a sizable budget which director Paolo Ucello (real name Paul Aratow) uses wisely. Much of the film features fancy hotels, expensive cars and other extravagances not usual found in a hardcore production. There are also impressive location shots in San Francisco. As for the acting, most of it is adequate or better, with Haven as wisecracking, kick ass heroine who remains nonplussed no matter what danger she is confronted by. It should be mentioned that a genuine star appears in the film: James Hong (billed here as "James Young"), an acclaimed supporting actor whose credits include such stellar productions as "The Sand Pebbles", "Blade Runner" and "Kung Fu Panda". Hong keeps his clothes on throughout and his presence lends an air of further respectability to the film. The sex scenes are intermittent, as the story takes prominence, but they are well-staged and highly erotic. The Vinegar Syndrome is outstanding on all levels. The film's previous DVD release by another company was said to be awful and Vinegar Syndrome has come to the rescue. The release includes a recent audio interview with Annette Haven, who comes across as an intelligent, likable lady. She states that she felt she elevated the quality of the adult films she starred in by presenting the sex scenes in a manner that would appeal to couples. She insisted that some of the coarser "money shot" elements of the genre would not appear in her films. Haven's talents extend to her ability to provide a good performance in terms of screen acting and she went on to have some success in mainstream movies before retiring from the industry. The Vinegar Syndrome release also includes the original trailer and reversible sleeve art. The discs are also region-free and can be played internationally.
Time/Life has released the entire "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" series in a boxed set. Here is the press release:
“Before there was “Saturday Night Live” there was “Rowan
& Martin’s Laugh-In.”*
Hosted by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, this
groundbreaking variety show was a fast-moving barrage of jokes, one-liners,
running skits, and musical numbers.
A group of regulars--Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Jo
Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Judy Carne, Alan Sues,
Chelsea Brown, and Gary Owens--plus frequent guests like Barbara Feldon,
Flip Wilson and Don Rickles left a lasting impression on America.
To celebrate Laugh-In’s 50th Anniversary, the
Complete Series is now available for the first time ever on DVD.
Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete
Series includes every episode from all six seasons, including
exclusive new bonus features and a free DVD. You’ll get:
140 episodes from all six seasons on 38 DVDs, all
available together for the first time ever, and only right here
The Pilot Episode which originally aired September
An exclusive bonus DVD and exclusive bonus features
only available in this collection including the 25th Anniversary Cast
Reunion, Bloopers, plus interviews with Lily Tomlin, Executive Producer and
Creator, George Schlatter, Dick Martin, Gary Owens, Ruth Buzzi, and many
Guest stars include Tim Conway, Bob
Newhart, Debbie Reynolds, Liberace, Raquel Welch, Sammy
Davis, Jr., Jonathan Winters, Carol Channing, The Monkees, Sonny
and Cher, Barbara Feldon, Bobby Darin, Diana Ross, James
Garner, Michael Landon, Steve Lawrence, Flip Wilson, Don
Rickles and more!
All DVDs housed in a deluxe collector’s box
Plus, you’ll receive Laugh-In Memories, a Collectible
Memory Book filled with jokes, pictures from the show,
behind-the-scenes photos, and a note from producer and creator, George
By the mid-1950s Burt Lancaster was one of the biggest stars in the world. He used his clout to form his own production company so that he would not be chained to exclusive contracts with specific studios as so many of his peers were. Lancaster could pick and choose his own projects and how they were brought to the screen. He harbored dreams of becoming a full-time director and stated publicly that he intended to retire from acting in order to fulfill this fantasy. So far, so good. However, Lancaster, who was never lacking in confidence or ego, managed to alienate seemingly everyone in his orbit by making disparaging remarks about directors and their profession in general. This didn't sit well with those he offended and Lancaster was denied entry into the Director's Guild of America when it came to helming his first film, an adaptation of Felix Holt's frontier novel "The Gabriel Horn", which he was bringing to the big screen in Technicolor and CinemaScope under the title "The Kentuckian". Lancaster had lined up some top-rate talent for the production, which was the first of a multi-picture distribution deal with United Artists. Acclaimed Western novelist A.B. Guthrie Jr. was the screenwriter, the esteemed Laszlo Kovacs was the cinematographer and Bernard Herrmann was the composer. This was a fairly big-budget production that eschewed Hollywood's penchant for studio-bound sets and stock photography in favor of actually filming on location in rural Kentucky.
The story opens with Elias Wakefield (Lancaster), a widowed backwoodsman and his young son Little Eli (Donald MacDonald) as they gleefully march through remote wooded areas in Kentucky heading toward a far-away river where they intend to ride an elegant steam ship to a new life in Texas. The promise of vast land and unlimited potential is too much for Elias to resist and he's scrimped and saved up $200 for the passenger fare aboard the boat. He also wants to put some distance between him and Little Eli and two members of a clan that have been carrying on a long feud with the Wakefields and who are intent on tracking down and killing Elias. Things go awry when they reach a town where the locals are anything but friendly. Elias is framed for a crime and jailed. The corrupt locals intend to allow him to be killed by the would-be assassins who have arrived in town. Elias is saved by Hannah (Dianne Foster), a lovely young woman who is suffering as an indentured servant to a cruel owner of a tavern. She frees Elias and joins him and his son as they flee towards the freedom Texas offers. Along the way, they are captured by lawmen and Elias has to use his life savings to buy Hannah's "contract" out with her employer. Although Elias treats Hannah with sisterly respect, it's clear she has romantic designs on him that she keeps subdued. Upon arriving in another town to visit Elias's brother Zack (John McInintire) and his wife Sophie (Una Merkel), the trio finds the new locale not much friendlier than their last encounter with civilization. Although they are warmly greeted by Zack and Sophie, the rest of the local population mocks them as unsophisticated hicks. Because they are destitute, Elias has to go into Zack's career as a tobacco seller where he finds unexpected success. Hannah, however, finds herself back in servitude with yet another cruel tavern owner, Bodine (Walter Matthau in his big screen debut). Elias enrolls his son in school for the first time and manages to fall for his teacher, Susie (Diana Lynn), who returns the sentiment. As their love affair grows, Elias alienates his own son, who accuses his father of dashing their plans to move to Texas. Also alienated is Hannah, who suffers in silence while the man she loves romances another woman. Things come to a head when Elias has a knock-down brawl with Bodine, whose penchant for wielding a bullwhip exacts a terrible toll on him. Then the killers from the rival clan show up and lay in wait to assassinate Elias.
"The Kentuckian" was not the great success Burt Lancaster had hoped for. Critics were anemic if not downright cynical about the film with Bosley Crowther of the New York Times mocking it mercilessly. When the movie under-performed, Lancaster uncharacteristically went public with his frustrations at the magnitude of work it took to both star in and direct the film. He ate considerable crow and said he underestimated how much talent it took to direct a movie, thereby winning him favor with a profession he had previously offended. (Lancaster's only other directing credit is as co-director of the 1974 crime thriller "The Midnight Man". ) Although "The Kentuckian" has plenty of corny and predictable elements to it, the film is reasonably good entertainment. Lancaster, who was always among the most charismatic of leading men, delivers a solid performance and he is aided by an able cast of leading ladies and fine character actors. Young Donald MacDonald gives an impressive performance as his son and Matthau, who would later denounce the role he played as ludicrous, is nevertheless a suitable villain in the Snidley Whiplash mode. The cinematography is very good, though the movie does feature some of the worst "day for night" effects imaginable. Scenes that are set in the dead of night are presented in bright sunshine. Bernard Herrmann's score is appropriately rousing and the film features some good action sequences. Perhaps the most under-valued aspect of the movie is its intelligent screenplay which presents the characters with engaging back stories and dilemmas. Lancaster chose to stress the human side of the story instead of spectacle and violence.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks great and contains the trailer along with a welcome gallery of other trailers pertaining to Lancaster movies.
From the Cinema Retro archives: Boxoffice magazine covered Gregory Peck being awarded "Star of the Year" and Suzanne Pleshette named "The Most Exciting New Star" at the 1962 Theatre Owners of America convention.
Cinema Retro has received the following announcement from McFarland publishers.
Horror and exploitation films have played a pioneering
role in both American and world cinema, with a number of controversial and
surreal movies produced by renegade filmmakers. This collection of interviews
sheds light on the work of 23 directors from across the globe who defied the
conventions of Hollywood and commercial cinema. They include Alfred Sole (Alice,
Sweet, Alice), Romano Scavolini (Nightmares in a Damaged Brain), Stu Segall (Drive-in
Massacre), Joseph Ellison (Don't Go in the House), David Paulsen (Savage
Weekend, Schizoid), Jörg Buttgereit (Nekromantik, Schramm), Jack Sholder (Alone
in the Dark, The Hidden), Marinao Baino (Dark Waters), Yoshihiko Matsui (Noisy
Requiem) and Jamil Dehlavi (Born of Fire). More than 90 photographs are
included, with many rare behind-the-scenes images.
As one might expect from any 1960’s James
Bond pastiche, an assortment of cool spy gadgetry is on display in Franklin
Adreon’s Dimension 5 (1966): microchips
secreted in the rear compartment of a Bulova wristwatch, a poison dart firing
pen, an exploding briefcase, and a cool bullet-firing point-and-shoot 35mm
camera. If that’s not enough – and with
possible exception of the invisible car from Die Another Day (2002) - Dimension
5 offers us one of the more ridiculous and dubious items found in any secret
agent arsenal… a “time-convertor” belt.
We’re first introduced to this device during
the film’s mildly exciting pre-credits sequence. In the first few minutes we’re treated to
what one expects from a nifty ‘60s spy thriller: a bit of a car chase, a
surprising punch-to-the mouth of a double-crossing Asian villainess and a
swooping helicopter rescue. What we do
not anticipate is agent Justin Power’s (Jeffrey Hunter) unusual means of escape
from the clutches of his pursuers. If
trapped by enemy spies, agent Powers’ need only activate the power ring on his
index finger. The ring sends a signal to
the time-convertor waist belt and instantaneously whisks him from harm’s way. This is, alas, a bit of a cop-out; a too
convenient plot device that – literally - sweeps the good guys from the forces
of evil with little suspense or effort. If
it’s any consolation, we later learn that over-use of the time-convertor belt carries
an element of danger. There is one
chance in one hundred that the user might be transported into the past or future
with no possibility of a return to the present.
Having recently watched director Adreon’s
sleepy and unsatisfying Cyborg 2087,
I must admit approaching Dimension 5
with low expectation. Happily, my fear
was unfounded as the team at United Pictures Corp. managed to cobble together a
reasonably viable 60s’ spy thriller chock full of the genre’s stock
accoutrements. Screenplay duties were
handled by Arthur C. Pierce, more noted for his contributions to
science-fiction films than espionage tales. Pierce’s “original” screenplay borrows freely from the James Bond EON
playbook, especially that of Goldfinger
(1964) which was then a recent blockbuster Though the set designs of art
director Paul Sylos for Cyborg 2087
were not only unimaginative but practically non-existent, he manages to redeem
himself on Dimension 5. His martini-cool design of the multi-level
combination office-control room-wet bar at Espionage,
Inc. is a perfect example of 60’s lounge elegance. Cinematographer Alan Stensvold’s work here is
also measurably glossier than demonstrated in Cyborg 2087. Though Paul
Dunlap’s score is serviceable, it’s not particularly memorable. His soundtrack features no musical cues or bravado
fanfares worthy of James Bond’s John Barry or of Matt Helm Messrs. Bernstein,
Montenegro or Schifrin.
In still another tip-of-the-hat to the cash
cow Bond film formula, Dimension 5
offers us both an ersatz “M” (Donald Woods as “Kane”) and an ersatz “Q” (Jon
Lormer as “the Professor”). This is
alternate-universe, “bizarro world” Bond. If James Bond’s cover was that as an agent of Universal Exports, Justin
Power’s converse cover is that of an associate of California Imports, Inc. There are some Playboy-era woeful, groan-producing double entendres sprinkled
throughout. Boss Kane and agent Powers
engage in a bit of locker room talk when the spy lustily describes female
fellow agent Ki Ti Tsu (aka “Kitty”) (actress France Nuyen) as a “penetrating
study.” Kane lasciviously concurs with
his agent’s assessment and – obviously ignoring the parameters of Espionage, Inc. policies on sexual
harassment – tells Powers to “school” his standoffish new partner on “a
horizontal curve.” Wink, wink.
Powers and Kitty’s mission is to search out the
feared and secretive underworld figure known alternately as both “Mr. B” and
“Big Buddha.” “Mr. B” is, perhaps
unsurprisingly, portrayed by none other than Harold Sakata, (yes, Oddjob himself), the iconic henchman to
Gert Fröbe’s Goldfinger. “Mr. B” is, as explained,
an unpleasant and unreasonable sort of fellow. His dossier claims him as the former head of Peking’s secret police as
well as the leader of a sinister crime syndicate known throughout the
underworld as the Dragon Organization. The Hong Kong office of the good guys
suspects the Dragons are planning a major terrorist operation. It’s in this belief that they’re holding one person-of-interest
in custody, the belligerent and uncooperative Mr. Chang (Gerald Jann). “Mr. B” is, perhaps, the ultimate Scrooge: we
learn he’s threatening to ruin everyone’s favorite winter holiday by destroying
all of Los Angeles via a Christmas Day Hydrogen Bomb attack. Just as Goldfinger smuggled in the components
of two “atomic devices” into the U.S. via a series of couriers, so has Big
Buddha brought in the various machineries to assemble his H-Bomb.
If Goldfinger’s scheme was to wreck the U.S.
and world economies by radiating the gold supply of Fort Knox, Big Buddha’s
scheme – described here as a “fantastic red plot” and also, not coincidentally,
orchestrated by Chinese Communists – is a call for the removal of all Allied
forces from Southeast Asia. Mr. B’s more
political and personally less pocket-lining threat is not an empty one. His warehouse on a waterfront pier is already
stockpiled with the necessary canisters of deadly Unranium-238, brought in undetected
via a Japanese freighter and secreted in satchels of imported rice.
Michael Coate, columnist for The Digital Bits website, has once again obtained insights from James Bond scholars (including Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer) to commemorate the impact and legacy of the first James Bond film, "Dr. No", which was released 55 years ago. Click here to read their personal memories and reflections on the film that started it all. Click here to order Cinema Retro's giant special issue about the making of the film.
A UK gun amnesty program yielded some unexpected results when, among the weapons turned in to law enforcement authorities, was the actual sub-machine gun film prop used by Clint Eastwood in the 1969 WWII classic "Where Eagles Dare". The gun was turned in by an anonymous man who claimed to have worked in the film industry. In the movie, Eastwood- disguised as a German soldier- wields the weapon with devastating effect as he, Richard Burton and Mary Ure wreak widespread destruction on a castle occupied by enemy forces. The prop gun will be donated to the Royal Armories Museum in Leeds. Click here for more (Thanks to reader Peter Davis for the heads up.)
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
In 2017, after ten years of service, MI6 Confidential has
introduced a new special format: a limited-run 100-page perfect bound issue of
the magazine taking a deep dive into one particular facet of the franchise.
This first special issue was contributed by Oscar-winning art department veteran
Peter Lamont spent more than 40 years working in art departments of the James
Bond films. From draughtsman to production designer; from Goldfinger to Casino
Royale, Peter worked on every picture but one. One of the films for which he
has collected a great deal of documents and has many fond memories is Roger
Moore's debut as 007, Live And Let Die.
A lot of that material could not be squeezed into his recent autobiography, so
Peter came to MI6 Confidential with an offer too good to refuse. In this
special 100-page perfect bound edition of MI6 Confidential magazine, Peter
tells the story of making the film, location by location, as they appear in the
film. It is lavishly illustrated with rare stills from the film, behind the
scenes photographs never committed to print, and notes and storyboards from
Lamont's personal collection. Let our friend and Bond veteran be your guide to
the eighth official Bond adventure and Sir Roger Moore's first.
This Special Issue:
100 page special magazine; professionaly printed; perfect
A personal dedication to Sir Roger Moore from Peter
More than 50 of Lamont's never-before-printed behind the
Over 25 documents, storyboards and ephemera from the
A richly illustrated narrative with stories behind the
Peter's memories of characters like Derek Meddings, Harry
Saltzman, Syd Cain and Roger Moore
CLICK HERE TO ORDER (Very limited quantities remain!)
American filmmakers have been fascinated by horror and the fantastical since the birth of cinema itself, with one early example cited here being an 1898 New York screening by the Thomas Edison Company of a short film featuring a witch and an appearance from Mephistopheles. Partially inspired by the work of French magician Georges Méliès, it was not long before ghosts, demons, witches and devils would become commonplace in the silent films being produced in New York, and eventually Hollywood itself.
Jonathan Rigby’s American Gothic (Signum publishing) is a fascinating and idiosyncratic exploration of the American horror film, a genre which has inspired filmmakers to create some of the most memorable moments in cinema history. More than a simple encyclopaedia, the book charts the historical development of the genre through not only the classics such as Phantom of the Opera, Dracula and The Cat and the Canary, but also through the hundreds of cheaper independent films and supporting features which are often forgotten but are no less enjoyable. Each chapter, written in his inimitable prose style, covers a specific period and discusses in detail not only the films but the filmmakers, actors and studios involved. Rigby is not afraid to criticise films which many hold sacred, as well as finding positive aspects amongst the failures. Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi loom large of course, their enduring appeal spanning at least half of the period covered here. Having slipped almost inevitably from their 1930s heights into B-movie lows, Karloff still managed to maintain some level of dignity despite the cheapness of the material, whereas the same could not be said for Lugosi, who suffered the ultimate indignity of finishing his career in the Z-grade films of Edward D. Wood Jr.
Out of print for more than ten years, American Gothic has now been revised and expanded by Jonathan Rigby, completing his horror trilogy alongside English Gothic and Euro Gothic. What this book confirms is that American cinema has been the world’s leading producer of the horrific and terrifying, in sheer number if not always in quality. Whereas those other two books cover the entire history of film in their respective countries and continents, Rigby has had to curtail American Gothic’s coverage at 1959, arguably when things were about to get really interesting. This was perhaps as much for his own sanity as well as for the length of the book. With dozens of rare and exceptional film stills and publicity materials, American Gothic is an essential read for any serious enthusiast of horror or cinema history. Here’s hoping that Rigby will eventually pluck up the courage to tackle the next sixty years.
Allen’s second feature film as director/writer/actor is ranked #69 on AFI’s 100
greatest comedies list… and it is indeed a very funny, zany picture (arguably
one of Allen’s funniest) that today says more about the early 1970s than
perhaps was intended at the time. But would millennials find Bananas funny in this day and age? Would
they get the jokes? Can an audience that hasn’t “grown up” with Woody Allen
movies get past what has been said about his personal life since the 1990s? I
can’t answer those questions. But I can place
Bananas within the context of when it
was released and attest that it still makes me laugh.
this point in his career, Allen was mostly interested in making low budget movies
with little substance, but with lots of gags. He was still developing his
nebbish bumbling on-screen persona (his character’s name in Bananas is “Fielding Mellish,” and that
in and of itself is funny). And, as he would do so throughout the decades, he
co-stars with either the current or former lady in his life—in this case,
Louise Lasser, to whom Allen was married from 1966-1970 (they remained friends
after the divorce; Bananas was made
immediately afterwards, so go figure). The jokes are plentiful, bang-bang-bang,
all the way through—today some of them fall flat and some are shockingly
inappropriate given the “standards” of 2017, but others are still as classic and
hilarious as they were in 1971.
story concerns a revolution in the fictional Latin American country of San
Marcos. New Yorker Mellish, in trying to impress liberal activist Nancy
(Lasser), goes to San Marcos to get involved. Eventually he becomes a
revolutionary himself, ending up replacing the dictator as the country’s
president (albeit in disguise). On a diplomatic visit back to the U.S., he is
exposed and put on trial for fraud. Nevertheless, Mellish ends up getting
together with Nancy anyway for a happy ending.
asked why the film was entitled Bananas,
Woody Allen replied, “Because there are no bananas in it.”
1971, the film was rated M—for mature audiences. This rating was eventually
replaced by PG. In those early days of the 70s, society was still experiencing
a sexual revolution that had begun in the 60s. Hollywood movies pushed the
envelope in this regard, and sexual humor was commonplace in comedies. Bananas is full of it. While it’s not
quite R-rated material, it is assuredly not for younger kids. If there had been
an equivalent rating back then, it would have been PG-13. (One memorable bit is
the scene in which Mellish peruses the adult magazines in the crowded
convenience store in New York and attempts to buy one mixed in with Time, Newsweek, and others; the
proprietor ringing him up calls loudly out to his colleague, which everyone in
the place hears, “Hey, how much is a copy of Orgasm?” Mellish, is, of course, suitably mortified.)
courtroom scene is perhaps the highlight of the picture. A black woman who is
allegedly “J. Edgar Hoover in disguise” testifies against Mellish; the court
reporter reads back testimony that is the antithesis of what was actually said;
and even Miss America shows up to testify. There are other notable moments—for
example, famed TV sportscaster Howard Cosell has two memorable sequences in the
movie, and a young and unknown Sylvester Stallone pops up (uncredited) as a New
York subway mugger.
with Allen’s first feature, Take the
Money and Run (reviewed <here>), the filmmaking is clumsy and
unsophisticated. The director was still learning the ropes, but that’s not
what’s important here—Bananas is all
about the laughs.
Time’s limited edition (only 3,000 units) Blu-ray looks fine in 1080p High
Definition, taking into account the low budget video quality of the original
film. The 1.0 DTS-HD sound is terrific. The only supplements are an isolated
music track and the theatrical trailer. Julie Kirgo provides the essay in the
Bananas is a little time
capsule that captures where we were at in 1971 (there is even a sight gag
involving then U.S. president and VP, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew). Ribald
jokes, political satire, and freedom of expression—if this is your bag, then
check out Bananas… but leave your
political correctness at the door.
stylish Western “Da Uomo a Uomo” (“Man to Man”), written by Luciano Vincenzoni
and directed by Giulio Petroni, opened in Italy in 1967. Two years later, it reached American theaters
as “Death Rides a Horse.” In the film,
bandits attack a relay station at the Mesita Ranch where an express wagon carrying
$200,000 has stopped for the night to wait out a pounding rainstorm. After killing the guards, the four leaders of
the gang glimpse two women -- the ranch owner’s wife and daughter -- inside the
house. They invade the home, gun down
the rancher, rape and shoot the two women, and set fire to the place before
riding off with their loot. The only
survivor of the massacre is the family’s eight-year-old son, pulled from the
burning wreckage of the house by an unknown benefactor.
years later, now grown, the orphaned Bill (John Philip Law) lives alone at the
rebuilt cabin and practices obsessively with six-guns and rifles, hoping for a
chance to find the murderers and settle the score. Meanwhile, released from prison after
completing a fifteen-year sentence, an ex-convict named Ryan (Lee Van Cleef) rides into the
territory. He encounters Bill, briefly, when he stops by
the ranch to pause over the graves of the three people buried there. “I heard about it some time ago -- I’m
sorry,” he tells the young man mysteriously. Afterward, in town, two gunmen try to ambush Ryan in his hotel room, but
the ex-convict outwits and outshoots them. The sheriff, investigating, recognizes the spurs worn by one of the dead
men: they match one that hangs in Bill’s cabin, lost by one of the outlaws
outside the burning ranch years before. “Fifteen years, there’s been no new track, only a spur,” Bill tells
Ryan. “Then you come along, and there’s
three spurs.” It transpires that Ryan is
chasing his former partners in crime, who double-crossed him and left him to
serve time at hard labor. When he leaves
town, Bill follows, suspecting that his prey and Ryan’s are the same.
Rides a Horse” follows the template of Sergio Leone’s “For a Few Dollars More”
or “Per Qualche Dollaro in Più” (1965), which was also written by Luciano
Vincenzoni, in its structure of an older gunman and a younger one who form a
mutually respectful but shaky partnership to chase a common quarry. The teamwork has its advantages, but each
character has his own motivation for the chase, and ultimately each one strives
to reach his objective first, before the other. Vincenzoni’s script even recycles several other characters and
situations from his earlier storyline for the Leone movie, including Bill’s
fragmented, red-tinged flashbacks to the massacre. But the key differences between the two
pictures are as striking as the similarities, and “Death Rides a Horse” stands
nicely on its own merits. Like Clint
Eastwood’s bounty hunter Manco in the Leone film, John Philip Law’s Bill is
blond-haired and fast on the draw, but he’s also younger and less experienced
-- an amateur at manhunting, not a professional. This places him in stronger contrast to Van
Cleef’s steely and vaguely tragic rival and mentor, underscored by Ennio
Morricone’s signature themes for the characters: a mournful dirge that
represents the lingering trauma of the Mesita murders, a measured guitar and
drum tune symbolizing Ryan’s determination to find his former partners, and a
dissonant “vengeance” theme with a tortured flute solo. Where the enemy in Leone’s film was an
outsider on the American frontier, a depraved, dark-skinned bandit of mixed
Mexican and Indian parentage, the masterminds sought by Ryan and Bill have
burrowed into polite society and have become outwardly respectable business and
political leaders. Cavanaugh (the
wonderfully sleazy Anthony Dawson) runs a popular saloon and gambling
house. Walcott (Luigi Pistilli) is a
trusted town father. Ryan’s reappearance
inspires Walcott to use this advantage to pull off an even bigger score than
the Mesita Ranch heist. The conceit of
criminals masquerading as civic leaders would reappear in many later Italian
Westerns. In real life, as we all know,
crooks and opportunists rarely wind up as figures of power in commerce or
Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition of “Death Rides a Horse” presents Petroni’s film in
a sharp 1.85:1, 1920x1080p edition. The
image isn’t perfect (some graininess is apparent, especially in the dark
nighttime scenes); nevertheless, it relegates decades of substandard TV and
budget-video prints to the trash heap. The bonus features include English and Italian language options,
subtitles, perceptive running commentary by filmmaker and critic Alex Cox, and
trailers for other Italian Westerns from Kino Lorber, including a forthcoming,
remastered BRD of “For a Few Dollars More.” While we’re on the subject, here’s hoping that someone will produce
comparably good widescreen, hi-def U.S. editions of Petroni’s somber Zapata
Western “Tepepa” (1969) and Vincenzoni’s playful gangster film “Mean Frank and
Crazy Tony” (1973), with Lee Van Cleef as a seasoned mafioso and Tony LoBianco
as his admiring, younger disciple.
Cinema Retro's Todd Garbarini and Lee Pfeiffer with Anthony Harvey at a screening of The Lion in Winter at the Loew's Jersey City, 2009.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Anthony Harvey, the actor who became an editor only to finally become an esteemed director, has died at age 87 at his home in Long Island. Harvey was born in London and attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art with the hope of becoming an actor. However, he turned to film editing instead. On a whim he contacted Stanley Kubrick and convinced the director to hire him as editor on the 1962 production of "Lolita". Kubrick was so impressed that he hired Harvey again to edit his next film "Dr. Strangelove". Harvey's innovative method of fast cutting won plaudits from the industry. At one point, however, disaster nearly struck when footage of a complicated sequence he had edited went missing, leading him to have to recreate the complex decisions he and Kubrick had made from memory. Kubrick had originally intended Harvey to edit his long-in-the-works production of "2001: A Space Odyssey" but felt that Harvey had the potential to become a director. Harvey followed his advice and made his directorial debut with the little seen, but highly praised 1967 arthouse film "Dutchman". Shortly thereafter Harvey landed the plum directing assignment of his career: the 1968 production of "The Lion in Winter" starring two of the most mercurial actors in the business: Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn. Harvey told this writer that it was a case of baptism under fire but he succeeded in winning the respect of both of his stars. The production also boasted the big screen debuts of Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton. Harvey was nominated for an Oscar for the film, as were O'Toole and Hepburn. On the night of the awards, Katharine Hepburn beseeched him to accept on her behalf if she won, since she disdained attending film events. When Hepburn and Barbra Streisand both tied for Best Actress wins, Harvey gave an acceptance speech on Hepburn's behalf. He would remain friends with her until her death in 2003. Harvey's other achievements as film editor include The L Shaped Room" and "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold". His directing credits include the quirky cult film "They Might be Giants" (1971) which starred George C. Scott as a man who believes he is Sherlock Holmes.
This writer befriended Tony Harvey in 2001 when he consented to being interviewed for a documentary I was writing for Sony about the making of "Dr. Strangelove". Harvey related an amusing anecdote about his friendship with Kate Hepburn, who he would visit regularly at her home in Connecticut. She once told him that she so disliked show business that he was the only person from the industry she still kept in regular touch with. Tony recalled that, back in 1969, he arrived at Hepburn's house to deliver her Oscar, which he had wrapped in newspapers. He found Hepburn dressed in jeans and on a ladder painting her kitchen ceiling. She instructed him to tuck the Oscar package in the back of a cupboard so paint wouldn't drip on it. Tony recalled that years later he was at Hepburn's house and went into the cupboard for a glass, only to find the Oscar parcel still wrapped in newspaper and unopened.
Tony Harvey was a man of great manners, graciousness and wit. We at Cinema Retro mourn his passing.
Jim Nabors and Frank Sutton in "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Jim Nabors, who epitomized the image of a friendly country boy, has died at age 87 at his home in Hawaii. Nabors was plucked from obscurity when Andy Griffith caught his nightclub act in L.A. in the early 1960s and cast him in the role of Gomer Pyle, the affable but simple-minded filling station attendant in "The Andy Griffith Show". The program was always among the top shows in the ratings and Nabors' exposure on the show gained him instant fame. The character of Gomer became as iconic as Griffith's Sheriff Andy Taylor and Don Knotts' deputy Barney Fife. Nabors' popularity extended into a second career as a pop singer. When he first sang on an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show", many viewers thought his operatic baritone voice was dubbed. However, they soon learned that Nabors had a magnificent singing voice. His career as a singer saw him perform for decades to sold-out audiences in top venues around the world. His albums went gold and platinum. Nabors starred in one of first television spin-offs with "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C". The show was another major hit produced by Andy Griffith. In the series, which ran from 1964-1969, Nabors continued to play an inept but honest and lovable character who took pride in being a Marine. The United States Marine Corps agreed to extend cooperation to the series because of the positive light Nabors cast on the corps. Nabors found the perfect foil in Frank Sutton's Sgt. Vince Carter, his long-suffering superior who bore the brunt of Pyle's penchant for causing problems. The two men would be reunited years later as co-stars on Nabors' TV variety hour. Nabors also dabbled occasionally in feature films, co-starring with his friend Burt Reynolds in "Stroker Ace", "Cannonball Run II" and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".
Don Knotts, Andy Griffith and Jim Nabors.
In real life Nabors was gay and had been with his partner of 38 years, Stan Cadwallader, at the time of his death. The two had married in 2013. Nabors always looked back fondly on "The Andy Griffith Show" and the people associated with it. He remained loyal and grateful to Griffith for elevating his career. In 1986 Nabors returned once more to the role of Gomer Pyle for the TV movie "Return to Mayberry", which reunited him with most of the living cast members. The telecast proved to be a ratings blockbuster.
British sex film was a truly unique beast. Finding its feet at the back end of
the 1950s, proliferating throughout the 60s and 70s, and all but gone the way
of the dodo by the early 80s, sex may have been the selling point but scarcely
was it delivered upon. Usually depicting the act itself as a bit of a lark and
something to be sniggered at, due to restrictive British laws at the time the
menu in this country was mostly comprised of light titillation as opposed to
the more, er... shall we say ‘gratifying’ material being served up to European
and Stateside audiences. With little to see beyond pert pink posteriors and
bountiful bare bosoms, visuals whose stimulation value was already negligible were
often further quashed by the wince-inducing sound of a slide-whistle.
films that general audiences probably think of in regard to this period of time
– if indeed they think of them at all – are the likes of the Confessions
comedies, which is hardly surprising, for their appeal was unprecedented and
the first in the series, Val Guest’s Confessions of a Window Cleaner, was the
highest grossing British film of 1974. Yet looking at the 70s alone it’s
remarkable just how many light-hearted boobs’n’bums films were birthed. I
should know, I saw a fair few of them at a crummy, long-gone little cinema in
Winchester. Most of them were excruciatingly awful too, albeit in an inexplicably
1992 ‘Doing Rude Things’ by David McGillivray was published and at that point
was the only book of its kind. An assembly – and expansion upon – a series of
articles that had originally appeared in the short-lived ‘Cinema’ magazine 10
years earlier, it chronicled the highs and lows of almost a quarter of a
century’s worth of British sex films, from 1957’s Nudist Paradise to 1981’s
last gasp, Emmanuelle in Soho.
to those with a passion for British exploitation cinema the name David
McGillivray will be a familiar one. A former writer for, among others, the
BFI’s lamentably deceased ‘Monthly Film Bulletin’, he would go on to pen
scripts for such cinematic schlockers as House of Whipcord, Satan’s Slave and Schizo,
several of which also found him lurking on-screen in some minor capacity.
Associated in the main with the ilk of those aforementioned terrors, David’s single
foray into the arena of the 1970s sex film was the amusingly monikered comedy I’m
Not Feeling Myself Tonight, a frothy brew awash with familiar thespian talent
of the era. [Oh, yes, it should be mentioned that a plethora of household names
populated these critically dismissed but publicly embraced oddities. From
Bernard Lee and Arthur Askey to Irene Handl and Jon Pertwee, from Brian Murphy
and Barry Evans to Windsor Davies and Richard O’Sullivan, dozens of ‘respectable’
actors shelved their pride to participate in these movies. But then in the
clime of widespread unemployment that plagued the industry back then – and is regrettably
still rife – work was work and beggars couldn’t afford to be choosers.]
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Acorn Media.
season of the smash hit U.K. dramedy, plus over 1.5 hours of bonus content;
Martin Clunes (Arthur & George) and Caroline Quentin (Men Behaving Badly)
stars Sigourney Weaver (Aliens, Avatar), Art Malik (True Lies, Homeland),
Blu-ray Debut from Acorn on December 12, 2017
gentle comedy with loads of wit and zest” —The Globe and Mail
stirring, and completely addictive” —Slate
quirky” —Los Angeles Times
bloody hilarious” —London Evening Standard
considered one of the most successful British series in the U.S., U.K. and
worldwide, DOC MARTIN, Series 8 makes its DVD/Blu-ray debut on December 12,
2017 from Acorn TV, an RLJ Entertainment, Inc. (NASDAQ: RLJE) brand. Martin
Clunes (Men Behaving Badly) returns as Dr. Martin Ellingham in the eighth
series of this smash-hit British comedy. In these all-new episodes, the doctor
continues his practice in the picturesque seaside town of Portwenn, while
raising his son with wife Louisa. The DVD and Blu-ray 3-Disc Sets feature 8
episodes, plus a bonus disc with behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews
their ups and downs as a couple, Dr. Martin Ellingham and his wife, Louisa (Caroline
Catz, Murder in Suburbia), are finally living together with their son, James
Henry, but their problems are far from over. With Louisa’s encouragement, James
Henry has grown attached to Buddy the dog, but Martin is disgusted by the
four-legged friend. In need of a new nanny, Louisa finds herself juggling too
many responsibilities and considers switching careers, causing a rift with Martin.
Portwenn is abuzz as the residents prepare for a wedding. The Larges hope to
profit from the festivities, but when Martin’s aunt Ruth (Emmy® winner Eileen
Atkins, Cranford) considers selling the family farm, her decision causes
trouble for their business endeavors. As some relationships bloom and others
falter, can Martin cope with all the changes—or will he risk the fragile accord
he’s forged with his family? Guest stars in Series 8 include the return of Caroline
Quentin (Dickensian) and Sigourney Weaver (Avatar) as a forthright American
tourist anxious for the Doc’s time.
BONUS DISC: Behind-the-scenes
featurettes on the production process (70 min.) and interviews with the cast
and guest stars (41 min.), including Martin Clunes, Caroline Catz, Ian McNeice,
Joe Absolom, Eileen Atkins, Selina Cadell, and Caroline Quentin.
December 12, 2017 SRP: $39.99 each
Set: 8 episodes – Approx. 413 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles – UPC
3-Disc Set: 8 episodes – Approx. 413 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles – UPC
Kudos to the Warner Archive for its release of the 1955 crime thriller "Hell on Frisco Bay" in the Blu-ray format. The movie had been only seen in scratchy, pan-and-scan versions over the decades and it was presumed that the original camera negative had been lost. However, that was remedied when the camera negative was eventually located and subjected to a painstaking restoration. Since the movie doesn't have the resonance of more famous crime titles, the Warner Archive deserves praise from retro movie fans for putting the effort and expense into restoring this title. Complicating matters were some messy rights issues that also had to be dealt with.
The movie opens with Steve Rollins (Alan Ladd) being released from a San Francisco prison after serving time for a murder of a gangster that he was framed for. He's greeted by his wife Marcia (Joanne Dru), but he cruelly rebuffs her. Seems that while in stir, Rollins completely ignored her and refused to allow her to visit him or communicate with him in any way. His only advice to her was to get on with creating a life without him. Several years into his incarceration, she did just that. However, when Rollins learns that Marcia had a brief fling with another man, his male ego is damaged and the grudge extends to him simply wanting to collect his clothes from their home and move into a boarding house, which he does. He later explains to his former police colleague Dan Bianco (William Demarest) that there is an alternate reason for his harsh rejection of his wife: he wants to immediately set out to track down the killer who framed him and he doesn't want her to become a target of the mob. (Although it's never explained why he simply doesn't advise Marcia of this concern.) Rollins knows the murder he was framed for took place under orders from local crime kingpin Victor Amato (Edward G. Robinson, strangely billed on the movie posters as "Edw. G. Robinson"), who has a lock on business done on the local docks. He's a true sociopath without the slightest sentiment for even his most loyal colleagues. When Rollins confronts him, the situation becomes a cat-and-mouse game of who can eliminate who before the truth behind the murder is known. A compelling subplot has Rollins and Marica slowly becoming more civil to each other, as Marcia carries on with her career as a popular torch singer in a local nightclub. The script also centers on another interesting relationship concerning Joe Lye (Paul Stewart) and his girlfriend Kay Stanley (Fay Wray), a once-popular movie star who has fallen into obscurity. Joe was on death row when Amato used bribes and influence to get him released from prison. Amato reminds him of this every day and make is clear that he can put Joe back on death row if he doesn't slavishly carry out all of his orders. Things get sticky when Amato's penchant for humiliating Joe extends to trying to seduce Kay. As the action unfolds, Rollins interacts with this strange group of characters along with other mob underlings as he obsessively tries to clear his name. The film ends with him going mano a mano with Amato in an action-packed sequence set in a speedboat in San Francisco bay.
The movie, based on a novel, was produced for Alan Ladds production company and he hired director Frank Tuttle to helm the film. The two had previously collaborated on Ladd's breakthrough hit "This Gun for Hire". Despite the impressive Cinemascope and short-lived Warnercolor values, "Hell on Frisco Bay" still resembles an old-fashioned black-and-white film noir. It boasts an intelligent script, interesting characters and very impressive performances. Ladd is in his typical "quiet tough guy" mode and he allows the supporting characters to get the lion's share of the memorable screen moments. Top of the list is Edward G. Robinson, who is in great form, dispensing insults and cruel witticisms against everyone in his orbit. Paul Stewart gives one of his finest performances as the reluctant mobster who has sacrificed his self-respect for his freedom. The two female leads are also excellent in strongly-written roles, with Fay Wray particularly impressive in what was deemed to be a comeback role. The film zips along at a brisk pace under Tuttle's inspired direction until the exciting conclusion. It's all set to a typically impressive Max Steiner score.
The most impressive aspect of this release is the transfer the Warner Archive put so much effort into. It's truly superb on every level. The colors practically leap from the screen and the sheer brilliance of the picture is reason enough to add this one to your collection. The Blu-ray contains the original trailer.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Kino Lorber continues to produce special edition Blu-rays of obscure titles that are under most movie fans' radar screens. Case in point: "Nightkill", a little-remembered thriller made in 1980 for theatrical release but which ultimately "premiered" on television, much to the consternation of all involved. Ironically, the movie has the look and feel of a TV production with the notable difference of some disturbing images that were probably edited down for broadcast standards. Thus, the Kino Lorber edition is probably the first opportunity to see the original cut of the film, as it apparently was not released to theaters. The plot is "Diabolique" by way of Alfred Hitchcock. Jaclyn Smith, then riding high from her long-running role as one of Charlie's Angels, is cast as Katherine Atwell, a socialite living in Phoenix and living what appears to be a charmed life. She resides in a hilltop mansion and is the toast of the town because of a charitable foundation she has founded. There is one major caveat: her husband Wendell (Mike Connors) is a boorish rich snob with a violent temper who enjoys demeaning everyone in his circle of influence. He is particularly tough on his long-suffering corporate major domo Steve Fulton (James Franciscus), who must endure Wendell's cynical comments and outbursts. Katherine has come to hate her husband. Their marriage is a loveless one based on mutual convenience: he gets a trophy wife he can parade around as arm candy and she gets a lavish lifestyle and funding for her charity. However, she is frustrated by her loveless, sexless marriage and has taken up a secret torrid affair with Steve Fulton. One sunny afternoon, Katherine, Steve and Wendell are gathered in the Atwell's living room. Steve makes a drink for his boss, who promptly keels over and dies a painful death. Without having given Katherine any advance warning, Steve had poisoned Wendell. He tells the understandably panicky Katherine of his game plan: they will secrete Wendell's body in a large freezer inside the house, then collect a briefcase containing a million dollars that is being stored at an airport locker and fly off to another country so they can live the high life together. Katherine is tempted to alert the authorities, but ultimately decides to go along with Steve's plan. She soon regrets it. When Steve doesn't show up for their planned getaway, Katherine begins to worry. She goes through the arduous task of disposing of her husband's body in an abandoned mine shaft but later believes she sees him alive in various places. In the film's only absurd scene, a car that appears to be driven by her dead husband pursues her in a dangerous chase that she narrowly escapes from. It gets worse. When she opens the freezer that once held her husband's body, she gets another shocking surprise that I won't reveal here. Adding to the pressure is a bothersome detective (Robert Mitchum) who shows up at awkward times and asks increasingly awkward questions about her husband's whereabouts.
"Nightkill" was directed by Ted Post, a seasoned pro when it came to helming undistinguished-but-entertaining fare both on television and in feature films. (His best theatrical films were "Hang 'Em High", "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" and "Magnum Force".) Post was primarily at home in the television medium and perhaps that's why the movie has the look and feel of a TV production. Post didn't believe in artsy camera shots or other gimmicks. He shot in a basic style that didn't allow for distractions from the action on screen. He milks some suspense out of a sometimes cliched script that borrows too much from other sources. "Nightkill" may be middling in some aspects but it does take some unexpected turns concerning the motivations of the main characters. Jaclyn Smith gives an outstanding performance as the harried and distressed protagonist. The film is sprinkled with other interesting actors and performances. Mike Connors excels at playing against his good guy image as a rotten lout, Fritz Weaver has an unusually flamboyant character to play as a snobby lawyer who has the hots for Katherine, even though he is married to her best friend (Sybil Danning in a role that refreshingly doesn't require her to doff her clothes). Mitchum is his usual cool-as-a-cucumber self as the detective who may or may not be who he claims to be. The Arizona locations are a refreshing change of pace and the film keeps a zesty pace under Post's direction, right up until the rather surprising ending which some viewers may find unsatisfying. The most memorable scene involves yet another "woman in the shower in jeopardy" scene but with a disturbing twist that doesn't involve anyone attacking her.