Directors Brent Hodge's and Derik Murray's new documentary "I Am Chris Farley" covers the bittersweet life and career of the comedy genius who died tragically ahead of his time. Through the cooperation of his family, friends and colleagues, the film presents a complete picture of the artist who was perpetually making audiences laugh even as he battled his own personal demons. The film opens theatrically in New York and L.A. on July 31 and will be telecast on Spike network on August 11, followed by availability through on-demand outlets. For more about the production, click here to visit the official web site.
SAID—REFLECTIONS ON LOVE, UNRELIABLE MEMORIES, AND THE ATOMIC BOMB”
By Raymond Benson
Alain Resnais achieved worldwide acclaim with his documentary short, Night and Fog (1955), which revealed to
the world the true horrors of what went on in the Nazi concentration camps. For
his first feature film, Resnais turned to fiction; and yet, he maintained a
somewhat documentary approach in showing the world the true horrors of what
occurred in Hiroshima, Japan when the first atomic bomb was dropped. Beyond
that, Hiroshima mon amour (“Hiroshima,
My Love”) is an art film that not only signaled the beginning of the French New
Wave (although many film historians do not count it as an example of that
movement), it also established Resnais’ singular, enigmatic and ambiguous style
as an auteur. The director would go on to make even more thematically-mysterious
pictures (namely Last Year at Marienbad)
and become something of a French equivalent of Terrence Malick. Sort of.
Hiroshima mon amour
quite accessible, though, and it will surely stay with and haunt the viewer
long after watching the film. Primarily it’s a love story between a French
woman (Emmanuelle Riva, who returned to the limelight in 2012 with her
Oscar-nominated leading role in Amour)
and a Japanese man (Eiji Okada). The man is married, but his wife is away. The
woman is “married” to the ghost of her first love, a German officer who died
just before France was liberated in World War II. For that forbidden love, she
was ostracized and punished by the population of her small town, complete with
head shaving and shaming. This so psychologically damaged her that now, in the
present (1959), she is willing to embark on a two-night stand with a stranger.
The leading characters’ names are never mentioned, although they end up calling
each other by the city from which they hail—“Hiroshima,” for the man, and “Nevers”
(her home town in France), for the woman.
picture follows the short romance over the course of two nights and a day
in-between, juxtaposed with numerous flashbacks of the woman’s experience
during the war. Overlaid on all of this is visceral footage of the atomic bomb’s
aftermath in the city of Hiroshima, where the story takes place. Do the
characters tell the truth to each other? Are their memories real or imagined? She
might state something as fact, but then the man will say it isn’t true. And
vice versa. A facetious way to describe it the film is that it’s “He Said/She
Said in a Dreamscape.”
this doesn’t sound like a good time at the cinema, but don’t be fooled—Hiroshima mon amour is a powerful,
deeply moving piece of filmmaking that still resonates today. It explores how
we remember traumatic experiences in our lives, what we censor, and what we
embellish. The black and white cinematography, by Michio Takahashi and Sacha
Vierney (the picture was a French-Japanese co-production), is stunningly
gorgeous. The performances, especially by Riva, are outstanding. The musical
score, by Georges Delerue and Giovanni Fusco, alternates between playful and
melodic accessibility to avant-garde Stravinsky-like dissonance. And the direction,
well, let’s just say that Alain Resnais went on to become one of the most
revered French filmmakers, and Hiroshima
mon amour could very well be his masterpiece.
Criterion Collection released the film on DVD over a decade ago and they have now
seen fit to provide us with a new 4K digital restoration on Blu-ray with an
uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Criterion will always be the Cadillac of
Blu-ray restoration of old classics, and their work on Hiroshima is outstanding. All of the extras from the previous DVD
release are ported over, and there are some new supplements as well, including:
a program on the film’s restoration; a new interview with film scholar Francois
Thomas, author of a book on Resnais; and a new interview with music scholar Tim
Page about the film’s score. The previous supplements include an excellent audio commentary by film
historian Peter Cowie; interviews with Resnais from 1961 and 1980; interviews
with Emmanuelle Riva from 1959 and 2003; and an essay by critic Ken Jones and
excerpts from a 1959 Cahiers du cinema discussion
about the film, both of which appear in the booklet.
simply, Hiroshima mon amour is a milestone
of important international cinema. You owe it to yourself to see it. Maybe you
already have. Do you really remember?
Criterion Collection gave us the DVD versions of these two excellent crime
thrillers twelve years ago. The company
has now seen fit to upgrade the release to Blu-ray.
loosely on a short story by Ernest Hemingway, both versions of The Killers begin with the author’s
premise and then take off from there in very different directions. It’s
interesting to see how the respective screenwriters adapted the story and then
created two disparate feature-length tales out of it. In Hemingway’s piece, two
hit men arrive in a small town looking for “the Swede.” They terrorize the
owner, cook, and a customer in a diner in an attempt to find the guy. After the
killers leave in frustration, the customer runs to the Swede’s boarding house
and finds him in bed with his clothes on. He warns the Swede about the men, but
the Swede says he’s not going to do anything about it. The customer goes back
to the diner and, after realizing no one cares, leaves town. And that’s it.
1946 version faithfully captures the short story—even down to the dialogue—for
the first ten minutes. Where the short story ends, the movie goes on and we see
the hit men actually kill the Swede (played by Burt Lancaster in his first
starring role). Enter Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien, with third billing, but he’s
really the protagonist of the film!) as an insurance inspector—it turns out the
Swede had a life insurance policy that benefits an old lady who helped him
once. Reardon is determined to uncover the story behind it all, and the rest of
the movie follows his investigation into the Swede’s life in crime (told
entirely in flashbacks). The Swede was a boxer who got mixed up with Big Jim, a
racketeer (played by Albert Dekker), and falls in love with Big Jim’s gal,
Kitty (played by smokin’ hot Ava Gardner, in one of her first starring roles;
Gardner had been kicking around Hollywood since the early 40s—this was her big
break). As we all know, it’s not good to mess around with the crime boss’s
Siodmak received an Oscar nomination for Best Director on the picture (it was
also nominated for adapted screenplay, editing, and music score). There’s no
question that The Killers is a
seminal film noir, one of the best of
the bunch produced when Hollywood was churning out these types of gritty crime
pictures by the dozens. Siodmak’s hand is assured as he brings in all the
trademark film noir elements—expressionistic
lighting, a femme fatale, stark
brutality, a cynical attitude, flashbacks, a “man haunted by the past,” and
more. The picture could serve as a Film
Noir 101 course. Lancaster is fine and Gardner is sexy and dangerous, but
it is O’Brien who holds the movie together.
1964 version is a different animal. It was produced to be the very first TV
movie, but NBC viewed the finished product and deemed it too violent for
television. Instead, the producers released it theatrically worldwide. Directed
by Don Siegel (billed as “Donald Siegel”), The
Killers Mach II stars Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager as the hitmen, who here become the focal point
of the new story. John Cassavetes plays the Swede character, only here he is a
racecar driver named Johnny. The femme
fatale, Sheila, is played by Angie Dickinson, and get this... the crime
boss is none other than Ronald Reagan in his last film role before he became a
film begins basically the same way, but the setting is different. The two
hitmen come looking for Johnny and they kill him. Marvin’s hitman character then
takes over the dramatic action originally performed by O’Brien in the 1946
version—Marvin is the one who wants to find out why he and his partner were
hired to kill Johnny, as well as what happened to a load of stolen cash that
Johnny may have hidden.
not as important or engaging as the 1946 edition, The Killers Mach II is worth watching for Siegel’s solid
craftsmanship. NBC was probably right not to broadcast the picture on
television in 1964—given the time period, the movie is pretty brutal. Marvin
and Gulager are creepy bad guys, Cassavetes delivers his usual fine work, and
Dickinson displays her charms with aplomb. As for Reagan—well, let’s just say
it’s not too difficult to buy him as a crook. In hindsight, given that this guy
became a two-term U.S. president, his performance lends a “must-see” element to
gives us new high-definition digital restorations of both films (the 1964
version is in color and in 4:3 aspect ratio, since it was shot for television).
They look terrific. The black and white contrasts in the ’46 version are
especially sharp and unsettlingly beautiful. Almost all of the original
supplements are here—Andrei Tarkovsky’s student film adaptation of the short
story from 1956; a video interview with noir
expert/writer, the late Stuart M. Kaminsky; a video interview with Clu
Gulager; Stacy Keach reading Hemingway’s short story on audio; the Screen Directors’ Playhouse radio
adaptation from 1949 featuring Lancaster and Shelley Winters; an audio excerpt
from director Don Siegel’s autobiography read by Hampton Fancher; and trailers.
The booklets feature essays by novelist Jonathan Lethem and critic Geoffrey
O’Brien. Not sure why Criterion left off the production, publicity, and
behind-the-scenes stills, actor biographies, production correspondence, Paul
Schrader’s essay, and music and effects tracks, all which were on the original
DVD release. If those things are important to you, then you may want to hold on
for the Blu-ray restorations alone, The
Killers double feature is an excellent buy, especially for fans of film noir and crime pictures in general.
Director Joe Dante is revered by his fans not only as a
filmmaker but also because of his genuine passion for classic and cult cinema.
Dante, like so many other filmmakers and actors who became successes, was a protégé
of Roger Corman, starting out as an editor. Before long, he had progressed to directing and had a hit with his 1978 horror flick "Piranha". His deft ability to make audiences cringe as well as laugh became his trademark. More successful films followed including a segment of the "Twilight Zone" feature film, his werewolf classic "The Howling", "Gremlins", which is considered a classic by the generation who saw it as children, "Innerspace", "Amazon Women on the Moon", "The 'Burbs", "Matinee" and "Small Soldiers". In recent years, Dante has been busy operating his extremely popular web site Trailers From Hell, which showcases original movie trailers from decades ago, complete with introductions and commentaries from esteemed filmmakers and movie scholars. Dante'S most recent movie, "Burying the Ex" is specifically geared to younger audiences. It involves a twenty-something guy whose sexy but overbearing girlfriend Evelyn dies tragically in an accident. He blames himself for her death but begins dating someone else almost immediately. Things are going swimmingly with his new love until the recently deceased Evelyn comes back from the grave and demands that they resume their relationship- and she's not taking "no" for an answer. Its an amusing romp that spotlights a cast of exceptionally talented young actors. The film represents true "guerilla movie-making", having been shot on a limited budget in L.A. over a period of twenty days. "Burying the Ex" was shown at the Venice Film Festival, where it won some favorable reviews including one from the influential Hollywood Reporter. Some other critics griped that the film was too modest in its ambitions want Dante to do movies that are more reflective of his talents as an esteemed director. Indeed, Dante has ambitions to do just that, with a long-planned film biography of Roger Corman. We caught up with Dante to discuss "Burying the Ex" as well as his plans for the future.
CINEMA RETRO: What drew you to this particular project?
JOE DANTE: It's based on a short film by the screenwriter Andrew Trezza, which I haven't seen. He gave me a script a few years ago and I responded to it because I thought it was funny and I liked the characters. I also think it's a situation that the audience can relate to. I think most people have been in a similar situation. They are in a relationship that isn't good for them and they don't know how to get out of it. They stick around longer than they should. I thought that to expand on that concept and make a screwball comedy out of it was a great idea.
CR: As someone who has been involved in editing, screenwriting and even acting, did you have much input into the final screenplay?
JD: Sure. We worked on it together. It was originally a little longer than it needed to be, I thought, and so we pared it down a little bit. You know, over a period of years when you're working on a project, you can't help but doodle in the margins and try to improve it. But it's still pretty much the script that I originally read. It's better for the fact that we had a little bit longer to work on it.
CR: Is it true that you shot the entire movie in twenty days?
JD: Yes. I think of it as a return to my roots.
CR: How long were the shooting days?
JD: We couldn't go over twelve hours. There was no overtime in the deal. So we just shot until we couldn't. On a film like this it's really important that you get the shots so you don't have to go back on a location. There aren't that many locations. In fact, they're all within seven blocks of each other. You have to adjust your schedule when you're working on a low budget.
CR: What are the pros of working on an indie film compared to a major studio production?
JD: The pros are that you are pretty much left alone. There's not a zillion dollars riding on the movie so there's not that kind of panic in the executive suites. You know, worries that, God forbid, the picture might be too offbeat or have too many rough edges or it might alienate a segment of the audience. You don't have to worry about any of that because it's not that big of an outlay. Unfortunately, to get that kind of freedom, you have to give up the bells and whistles and do without some of the tools you would usually have to make the movie. You also have to do it very quickly and you have to make decisions fast. But sometimes this lends a certain energy to these movies that a long schedule, big budget movie might not have.
CR: How involved were you in the casting process? The four leads are very impressive young actors. Did you rely mostly on the decisions of the casting director, Brad Gilmore?
JD: Well, Brad has been on the movie as long as I've been. We've been looking for casts for years because this picture was gestating for such a long time. Then all of a sudden it came together. There was a certain amount of money available for a certain time frame and it meant we had to make the movie right away- and we had to make it in twenty days. So the cast came together in one week, believe it or not. Serendipitously, it happened to come together with the exact same people we wanted in the exact right roles to the point that I didn't have to do a lot of directing. To me, the fun of the movie is the cast.
CR: It's also a typical Joe Dante film in the sense that there are many homages to the cinematic past, from Dick Miller's appearance to vintage movie art. Who else would have an Italian poster for "The Pit and the Pendulum" in a modern film?
JD: Who else has one?
CR: Yes, I'm afraid that many of us who are obsessed with older films are living, breathing examples of arrested development. I suppose we hope we never really grow up. By the way, what do you think of today's horror films compared to those you honor from the distant past?
JD: I think there is a lot of talent out there. The hurdle that they have to overcome is that the audience they are making the films for is so steeped in the details of how these movies were made before that it becomes very difficult to try to surprise and shock them with something new that they haven't seen. Unless you want to go to the lengths of "The Human Centipede", there really isn't a great deal you can to shock people.
CR: I'd like to see directors, including yourself, make movies like the original version of "The Haunting", in which the horror element is suggested rather than blatantly illustrated with special effects.
JD: I think those are the kind of horror films that work the best. They're also the ones I think have the longest legs because movies that rely on showing things very clearly can date very quickly. Whereas a movie like "The Innocents" or "The Haunting" or "Dead of Night" are still intensely creepy because of things that you don't see. There are things you think you see because the director and director of photography make you believe you are seeing them. To me, that's the best kind of horror movie. Those are my favorite ones. The current ones, I think, tend not to be very psychological, although there have been some very good ones. "The Orphanage" was quite good and so was "The Devil's Backbone", for example, is a very good horror film. This genre used to be considered a "B" movie genre but it's now an "A" movie genre and some of the subtlety has disappeared.
CR: The makeup effects in "Burying the Ex" are particularly impressive, given the limited budget and production schedule...
JD: Well, Gary Tunnicliffe, our makeup guy, had his work cut out for him because of our limited shooting day. There was only so much time to put the makeup on and to take the makeup off. That had to all be coordinated very carefully so we wouldn't lose time. We also didn't shoot it in sequence so he had to have a chart to remind of how decomposed Evelyn would be. That was also hard for Ashley Greene because, when you are building a character- especially a crazy character who has mood swings- you have to be careful about what you did yesterday and how does that fit into the movie.
CR: Speaking of the character of Evelyn, do I have to even ask if her name is derived from "The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave"?
JD: I started making trailers when I first go into the business. I've always loved movie trailers. I had a collection on 35mm and there was a lot of cool stuff but it was just sitting in a vault. I was never showing it to anybody so I thought, "This is crazy. These things need to be out there." I thought that just putting them on the internet wouldn't be exciting in itself. So I thought about doing commentary tracks for about five of these trailers. So I did and I put them up on the internet where they sat unnoticed for a while. Then my friends started to see it and they would say there were movies they wanted to talk about. So it just grew. I think John Landis and Edgar Wright were among the first contributors. It just became a thing to do and now we have over a thousand trailers on our site. There are fifty different commentators, all talking about what the movies meant to them and trying to get you to see the movie. Today, when there are so many movies available to see than there ever was in my lifetime, there needs to be some curating factor that tells people that this is a good movie, that this is a movie that you never heard of, this is a director that you've never heard of, this is an actor you should know. It's very rewarding to me when people come up to me and say, "I just saw this movie that I found on this site and it's a great movie and I'm going to see other movies by this guy now." That's what it's all about.
CR: Are you still toying with the concept of doing a Roger Corman biopic?
JD: I wouldn't say "toying"...I'd say slogging, trying to get somebody to finance the movie for about the last ten years. But I haven't given up and I still think it's a great project and we're looking at all sorts of alternate ways of getting it done. It's a funny movie about Roger doing "The Trip". Everything in it is true, which makes it even funnier. We came within a hair of making it twice. I think if we can get that close twice, we can get that close again.
CR: One last question. It's regarding the recent passing of Sir Christopher Lee, who you worked with. Would you care to share any thoughts about him?
JD: It's very sad but on the other hand, the man lived to be 93 years old. He went out at the top of his game, singing heavy metal, for God's sake. He's probably more famous now than he was in his Hammer heyday because of the breadth of his career. I know he was having health problems. He couldn't travel because he couldn't bear to sit in an airplane seat. So the factor of age was really encroaching quickly but it didn't slow him down. He's still got unreleased movies. He was a real character in person and a wonderful guy to be with. He was so amusing and so the opposite of his public persona.
We don't usually cover the world of stand-up comedy on Cinema Retro but this is one for the ages: a late career burst of brilliance from George Carlin that reminds us of why his legacy is safe as one of the most innovative comic minds of his time.
Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff collectively made countless films that varied widely in terms of quality. However, they always brought dignity to every role they performed. Sadly, the two icons of the horror film genre only worked together twice.The first time in the late 1950s in "Corridors of Blood" and the second and last time in what turned out to be the final film of Karloff's career, the 1968 Tigon Films production of "The Crimson Cult" (released in the UK as "Curse of the Crimson Altar" and in some territories as "The Crimson Altar" and "Black Horror"). Karloff barely got through the arduous shoot during a particularly cold and unpleasant British winter. However, always the ultimate professional, he persevered and continued the film until completion, even after having been hospitalized with pneumonia. The result is a film that is not particularly well-loved by horror film fans but which this writer enjoyed immensely on my first viewing, which came courtesy of the Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Perhaps the film looked better to me than it should have. It's got some loose plot points and the production doesn't fully utilize the skills of it's marvelous cast, which includes character actor Michael Gough and the iconic Barbara Steele. However, given the fact that we don't get lineups of great stars like this any more, I found the entire movie to be a joy to watch (despite of- or perhaps because of- it's sometimes blatant exploitation scenes.)
Things get off to a rather rollicking start with the very first frames of the movie which depict a woman clad only in leather panties and pasties who is mercilessly whipping another sexy young woman who is chained to an altar in a dungeon-like environment. Watching the action is Peter Manning (Denys Peek), who we learn is a respected antiques dealer who runs a high end shop with his brother Robert (Mark Eden). Peter looks completely out of place in this S&M scenario, even more so when we see the others who are witnessing what becomes evident as a Satanic Black Mass ceremony, which is taking place amid other scantily-clad men and women. Peter is approached by an exotic beauty who we will later learn is the reincarnation of a notorious witch named Lavinia, who was executed by local villagers a few centuries ago. As played by real life exotic beauty Barbara Steele in a largely wordless role, the character exudes both danger and sexual deviancy. She insists that Peter sign an ancient ledger after which he is given a dagger which he uses to promptly murder the young woman who is chained to the table.
The scene then switches to the antique shop where we find Robert concerned about his brother's whereabouts. He tells his secretary that Peter had gone to search for antiques for a few days in the remote rural village of Greymarsh, which coincidentally is the ancestral home of the Manning family. The only clue he has to his brother's movements is a cryptic note he had written to Robert from a manor house in the village. Robert decides to visit the house to see if he can trace Peter's location. Naturally, he chooses to arrive at the place in the dead of night and finds the villagers are engaged in riotous celebrations for an annual festival that rather tastelessly celebrates the execution of witches in a bygone era. The locals playfully recreate pagan rituals including the execution of an effigy of Lavinia. Arriving at Greymarsh Manor, Robert finds a wild party underway with a group of young people in an orgy-like state. The girls are pouring champagne over their nearly naked bodies and there are "cat fights" intermingled with lovemaking. Robert is understandably amused and fascinated. He makes the acquaintance of Eve (Virginia Wetherell), a fetching blonde with a flirtatious nature who informs him that she is the niece of the manor's owner, a sophisticated and erudite man named Morley, who greets Robert warmly but denies any knowledge of his brother. Morley says that he can't explain how Robert received a note from Peter on Greymarsh Manor stationary but nevertheless invites Robert to stay a few days at the manor while he continues his investigation. Predictably, Robert and Eve form a romantic bond in short order and she assists him in his efforts to find Peter. Meanwhile, Robert is introduced to Professor John Marsh (Boris Karloff), an elderly, wheelchair-bound academic who is the village's most prominent local historian. Fittingly, he is also a collector of ancient torture devices.
Most of the film centers on Robert and Eve attempting to track down Peter's doings in the village and his present whereabouts. It becomes pretty obvious that either Morley and/or Marsh are hiding some explosive secrets. The only question for the viewer is whether one or both of them have been complicit in Peter's vanishing. Robert's stay at the manor house is decidedly mixed experience for him. In the evenings he gets to enjoy rare, expensive liquors as he sits around chatting with Morley and Marsh. He also gets a willing bed mate in Eve. However, he is terrified by recurring nightmares that find him in the midst of a Black Mass ceremony where he finds his brother. In these bizarre dreams, Lavinia insists that Robert sign the ancient ledger, as Peter did, but Robert steadfastly refuses because he believes he will be murdered once he does. Robert discovers that his arm has been seriously cut by a knife- a key part of his nightmare. He thus begins to suspect that these aren't dreams at all, but real experiences that are taking place when he is in drugged condition. A trail of clues leads to some red herrings until Robert and Eve discover that the manor house has a hidden room where it is apparent Satanic ritual ceremonies are taking place. From that point, key plot devices begin to fall into place with a few minor surprises along the way. The movie is a great deal of fun from start to finish and seeing both Lee and Karloff on screen together is a real treat. Michael Gough makes welcome frequent appearances as an Igor-like butler who tries to warn Robert about the dangers of staying at Greymarsh Manor and Rupert Davies has a nice cameo as the local vicar. A few other observations: Virginia Wetherell is a first rate leading lady in this type of genre film so the fact that she never achieved greater name recognition seems unjust. Also the production design is first rate, as it generally is in British horror movies of this period. Kudos also to veteran director Vernon Sewell who crafts a consistently interesting film from a script that has some loose ends and weak plot points. He also has to contend with a good amount of T&A that seems to be inserted largely for exploitation reasons. The film's dramatic conclusion is meant to be intriguing and ambiguous but comes across as somewhat unsatisfying. However, in the aggregate, the movie is a great deal of fun- largely due to the presence of Lee, Karloff and Steele.
The film has been released by Kino Lorber as a Blu-ray special edition under its American title. The company has wisely ported over some of the content of special bonus materials that were available on a previous UK-only Blu-ray edition. These include a wonderful commentary track with Barbara Steele and well-known horror film historian David Del Valle, who has also produced a number of documentaries. Del Valle is uniquely suited to conduct the discussion of the film, as he personally knew many of the legendary figures of the horror film genre and his knowledge is encyclopedic. He and Steele have a good rapport because they are old friends. Both of them, however, denounce the movie because of its missed opportunities. The main criticisms revolve around the misuse of Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff in their only film together. Del Valle feels that there isn't much for them to do other than sit around parlors sipping drinks. He points out that this was Karloff's last film and he was in poor health during its production, yet was valiant enough to complete filming- and insist that a scene be rewritten so he could rise from his wheelchair, an act of defiance and courage considering his fragile state. Steele bemoans the fact that the screenwriters didn't allow her character to share any scenes with either Lee or Karloff, although she did spend time with them off set and clearly adored both men. However, the way the story is structured simply wouldn't allow the three characters to interact without fundamentally changing the story. One can understand Steele's frustrations as an actress, however, in not having the opportunity to share screen time with these cinematic legends. Del Valle also dismisses leading man Mark Eden (who resembles young George Lazenby) as a lightweight, a charge that seems debatable. I personally found Eden to be a likable and charismatic leading man. Both Del Valle and Steele acknowledge the film has some merits but you'd barely know it by the time they get done slicing it up scene by scene. Steele also provides some very interesting discussions about her non-horror films including quitting the production of "Flaming Star" in which she was Elvis Presley's leading lady. She also discusses her work with Fellini. In all, I found myself not agreeing with Steele and Del Valle's overall assessment of "The Crimson Cult" but I did find this to be an excellent commentary track, filled with wonderful anecdotes.
Barbara Steele as Lavinia, The Black Witch of Greymarsh.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains other bonus extras. The most interesting is an interview with composer Kendall Schmidt, who relates why he receives screen credit for the musical score in the video versions of the film. (Peter Knight is still the composer of record on the theatrical prints.) Schmidt, who is now a well-regarded photographer, relates that when Orion acquired video rights to the American International Pictures library in the mid-1980s, there were many films they could not secure the music rights to. Thus, Schmidt, who was a 24 year old starving composer, was hired to re-score these films. In some cases, he emulated the original composer's scores while in most other cases he created wholly original compositions. His score suits this film well but, not having seen the theatrical version, I can't compare his work with Peter Knight's. The Blu-ray also includes both the U.S. and British trailers with their respective title differences.
It should be pointed out that the picture quality of this release is as close to perfect as you can get. Colors practically leap off the screen and the transfer does full justice to the production design. In all, I found this to be a first rate release of an extremely underrated film from the "Golden Age" of British horror productions.
In this rare interview, conducted by publicist Dick Strout in 1962, the usually press-shy Steve McQueen discusses his personal life and career. Typical of interviews of this period, it's pretty much a plain vanilla affair with rather bland questions and equally bland answers, but McQueen interviews are rather hard to come by and this does illustrate a period in which the up-and-coming actor felt it was necessary to play the publicity game in order to advance his career.
The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York is showing The Essential John Ford film series. The series runs from July 3-August 2. There will be rarely screened early career movies as well as such classics as The Searchers, Stagecoach, Fort Apache and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. For full schedule click here.
Macnee with Honor Blackman in an early episode of The Avengers.
The distinguished British actor Patrick Macnee has passed away at age 93. Macnee personified the "typical" English gentleman in scores of films and TV appearances. He rose to fame as John Steed, the star of "The Avengers", the iconic TV series from the 1960s. He initially co-starred with Honor Blackman, then later Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson. He starred in "The New Avengers" in 1976. Macnee's also had a thriving career as a character actor in feature films. He appeared as young Jacob Marley in the classic 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol", as well as such diverse fare as "The Sea Wolves" , director Joe Dante's "The Howling" and spoofs such as "Young Doctors in Love" and "This is Spinal Tap". Macnee co-starred with his old friend Roger Moore in the 1985 James Bond film "A View to a Kill". He also appeared as the head of U.N.C.L.E. in the 1983 TV movie "Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E". Educated at Eton, Macnee possessed a dry wit and a charming personality. His 1988 autobiography was titled "Blind in One Ear". For more click here.
Hey, guys, the next time you become intimidated about asking a gorgeous woman for a date, maybe polite chitchat isn't the best strategy. Consider the case of London photographer Ray Bellisario, who had a chance encounter with Brigitte Bardot in 1968. Bellisario was ballsy enough to dispense with polite talk and simply told the legendary sex symbol to "Come with me". To his amazement, she did. Bardot managed to slip away from her handlers and headed to a local pub where Bellisario took some remarkably candid photos of her. Even better for him, she agreed to spend the evening with him in his hotel room. Bellisario refrains from giving any details pertaining to that portion of the "petite affair" but admits that after she kissed him goodbye the following morning, she was gone from his life for good. But Bellisario does have some amazing memories of this unforgettable evening in the form of his photographs which he has now finally gotten around to making public. Click here for more.
Jack Rollins, who along with his partner, the late Charles H. Joffe, had produced all of Woody Allen's films between 1969 and 1993, has died at age 100. Rollins and Joffe also served as Allen's manager. Rollins had also managed Robin Williams, Diane Keaton and Dick Cavett, among other show business notables. Rollins and Joffe were hired by Allen when he was an aspiring young filmmaker. They saw more potential in him than he saw in himself. Allen said of Rollins, "He pushed me to always be deeper, more complex, more human, more dramatic- and not to rest comfortably". Indeed, with Rollins and Joffe as his managers, Allen progressed from making popular, slapstick-oriented films to writing and directing some of the most acclaimed films in recent decades, winning Oscars for his efforts. Upon hearing of Rollins' death, Allen said "He was one of the very few people in my life who lived up to the hype about him. All the stories about how great Jack Rollins was are true." For more click here.
Family, friends and colleagues are mourning the death of Oscar-winning film composer James Horner who died yesterday when his single engine airplane crashed 60 miles north of Santa Barbara, California. Horner was piloting the plane and there were no passengers. It is not immediately known what caused the tragic accident. Horner won the Oscar for his score for the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster "Titanic". He was also nominated for Cameron's "Aliens" and "Avatar" as well as "Braveheart", "A Beautiful Mind", "An American Tail", "Field of Dreams", "Apollo 13" and "House of Sand and Fog". The 61 year-old composer's other scores include "Glory", "Patriot Games", two "Star Trek" feature films and the 1990 Disney film "The Rocketeer". He was working on the score for Cameron's sequels to "Avatar" at the time of his death. For more click here.
Dick Van Patten, the popular comedic character actor, has passed away at age 86. Patten was a child actor who eventually went on to perform in 30 Broadway shows. He also proved to be a popular presence on early TV shows such as "I Remember Mama". In the 1970s, he appeared on "The Love Boat" and a decade later had a hit show with "Eight is Enough". More recently, he co-starred on "Hot in Cleveland". Van Patten also made any number of hit feature films including such diverse fare as the Clint Eastwood western "Joe Kidd" and three movies with Mel Brooks: "High Anxiety", "Spaceballs" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights". For more, click here.
It's a debate that has been raging for decades. Did government experiments with atomic bombs in the desert of Utah contribute to the deaths of John Wayne and many other cast and crew members of the 1954 film "The Conqueror"? First some background: the film was produced by Howard Hughes before he became a legendary recluse. It was a big budget production that co-starred Wayne and Susan Hayward and was directed by actor Dick Powell. The film is largely remembered today as a rare instance of Wayne's generally sound instincts betraying him. Somehow Hughes convinced the Duke to play Genghis Khan. The result was as awful as you would imagine and the movie went down as one of the worst casting decisions in Hollywood history, with even Wayne disparaging his appearance in the movie. It may come as a surprise to readers, however, that Wayne and Hughes had the last laugh, at least at the boxoffice. Despite poor reviews, Wayne's popularity was such that "The Conqueror" became a substantial boxoffice hit. That's the end of the good news. Many years after its release, it was noted that a seemingly high proportion of people involved with the movie had died of cancer, most notably Wayne himself in 1979. Rumors began to circulate that the U.S. government's experiments with atomic blasts in the precise area where the film was shot must have contributed to these deaths. The theory was that cast and crew members became contaminated with remaining radioactive fallout. At the time the U.S. was still rather naive about nuclear radiation despite the dropping of two atom bombs on Japan in 1945. The government was exploding A-bombs above ground in desert regions. Years later, this was deemed to be unsafe under any circumstances and future tests were conducted below ground. The Guardian web site has reignited the debate over whether radiation played a part in the deaths of Wayne and his colleagues. This has been examined many times before and the results are always inconclusive. However, conspiracy theories abound, as they always do when high profile people are involved. JFK conspiracy theorists routinely cite a supposedly unnatural number of deaths within a relatively short period of time in regard to various individuals who had some connection to that infamous date in history. But sometimes coincidences do occur and can be a contributing factor. Those who knew Wayne point out that he was an avid smoker and had a lung removed in 1965. His widow Pilar once told this writer that the pressure of starring in and directing his 1960 epic "The Alamo" saw him chain smoking five packs of cigarettes a day, a factor that, in and of itself, would be the most likely contributor to his death from cancer. In any event, this will be a topic long debated. Click here to read and form your own conclusions.
Released in 1966, producer Ivan Tors' Around the World Under the Sea seemed at first blush like an exercise in stunt casting: cobble together some contemporary TV favorites into a feature film and have MGM and Tors divvy up the profits. However, that perception would be entirely wrong. While the film did boast some popular TV stars in leading roles, the film itself is an intelligent adventure flick, well acted and very competently directed by old hand Andrew Marton. The film stars Lloyd Bridges (only a few years out of Sea Hunt), Brian Kelly (star of Flipper), Daktari lead Marshall Thompson and Man From U.N.C.L.E. David McCallum. Veteran supporting actors Keenan Wynn and Gary Merrill are also prominently featured and Shirley Eaton, riding her fame from Goldfinger, has the only female role in this macho male story line.
The plot finds a team of leading scientists who come together to install earthquake warning sensors on seabeds around the world. The risky mission is undertaken in the Hydronaught, a nuclear-powered state of the art submarine/science lab capable of operating at the ocean's greatest depths. The physical dangers are only part of the frustrations the team has to cope with. The presence of Eaton, as a drop-dead gorgeous scientist, on board the confined all-male environment leads to inevitable jealousies and sexual tensions. (Although Tors specialized in family entertainment, even he couldn't resist a most welcome, completely gratuitous sequence in which Eaton swims around underwater in a bikini.) Unlike many films aimed at kids, Around the World Under the Sea boasts a highly intelligent screenplay that has much appeal to older audiences. The heroes are refreshingly human: they bicker, they panic and they make costly mistakes in judgment. Bridges is the stalwart, no-nonsense leader of the group, Kelly is his ill-tempered second-in-command who tries unsuccessfully to resist Eaton's charms, Wynn is his trademark crusty-but-loveable eccentric character. McCallum's Phil Volker is the most nuanced of the characters. A brilliant scientist, he can only be persuaded to join the life-saving mission by making demands based on his own personal profit. He also allows a brief flirtation with Eaton to preoccupy him to the point of making an error that could have fatal consequences for all aboard. Each of the actors gets a chance to shine with the exception of Thompson, whose role is underwritten. The scene stealers are McCallum and Wynn, who engage in some amusing one-upmanship in the course of playing a protracted chess game. However, one is also impressed by Kelly's screen presence. He could have had a successful career as a leading man were it not for injuries he sustained in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. (Partially paralyzed, Kelly went on to serve as producer on a number of successful film including Blade Runner.)
The film benefits from some wonderful underwater photography shot in the Bahamas, Florida and the Great Barrier Reef - all the result of a collaborative effort between the three top underwater filmmakers of the period: Jordan Klein, Ricou Browning and Lamar Boren. Although the special effects were modestly achieved, they hold up quite well today. Marton wrings some legitimate suspense out of several crisis situations including an encounter with a giant eel and a Krakatoa-like earthquake that almost spells doom for our heroes. How they escape is cleverly and convincingly played out. The movie also has a lush score by Harry Sukman (we'll leave it to you to pronounce his last name.)
Warner Archive's widescreen hi def presentation is available for viewing on the Warner Archive streaming service. Click here to access the site. (Subscription required).
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE DVD FROM AMAZON, WHICH ALSO INCLUDES AN ORIGINAL PRODUCTION FEATURETTE AND TRAILER.
Since he made his one and only on screen appearance as James Bond in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in 1969, George Lazenby has discussed his dramatic experiences before and behind the cameras many times. As any Bond fan knows, Lazenby was plucked from obscurity to replace Sean Connery, who had quit the 007 series after "You Only Live Twice" in 1967. Lazenby was a well-known Australian model but he had no acting experience. Midway through the film, he told producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman that he had decided to quit the role after this one film. Not even he temptation of a mega salary could convince Lazenby to sign on for more films. He became convinced Bond could not thrive into the 1970s. Ultimately, Sean Connery returned to the role for "Diamonds Are Forever" and would be followed by Roger Moore's long run as 007. Lazenby's acting career never took off but over the passage of time, he has had the satisfaction of seeing his movie regarded as one of the best by both enlightened critics and fans. He has discussed his trials and tribulations on the film set many times, acknowledging that he was sometimes egotistical and demanding, but also denying many other rumors regarding his behavior. In this rare 1970 interview, Lazenby discusses the controversies while the movie itself was still in general release. The uncredited interview is refreshingly intelligent and Lazenby is candid and honest about his opinions. He admits his suggestions for making Bond more contemporary were justifiably ignored but also denies reports that he did not get on well with the crew. He also says that his refusal to cut his hair and shave his beard cost him a studio-paid tour of America, so he paid for his own publicity tour. The documentary is one of the few that acknowledges that the film was a major boxoffice success, despite inaccurate initial reports that it was a bomb. Given the fact that he is critical of aspects of the production, it's rather surprising that Eon Productions allocated so much footage for use in this interview.
It's easy to look back on the Blaxploitation film craze of the 1970s as a short-lived period that spawned some cinematic guilty pleasures. However, time has been kind to the genre and if retro movie buffs view some of the films that emerged during this era they will undoubtedly find more artistry at work than was originally realized. Case in point: "Truck Turner", a 1974 action flick released at the height of the Blaxploitation phenomenon. I had never seen the film prior to its release on the new Blu-ray special edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. It's a violent, brutal film filled with ugly characters and "heroes" who deserve that moniker only because they aren't quite as abhorrent as the cutthroat antagonists they face. Yet, there is something special about "Truck Turner". Amid the carnage and frequent, extended action sequences, there is real talent at work here. Most of it belongs to Jonathan Kaplan, the director who had recently emerged as yet another promising protege of Roger Corman. In fact, Kaplan had just recently completed filming another Blaxploitation film, "The Slams" with Jim Brown, before being drafted into "Truck Turner". The idea of a white, Jewish guy directing a Blaxploitation film may seem weird today but at the time, most of the creative forces behind these movies were white guys, an indication of just how few opportunities existed in Hollywood for black filmmakers in the 1970s. The movies were also largely financed by white studio executives who benefited the most financially. Yet, it cannot be denied that the genre went a long way in opening doors for a lot of talented black actors and musicians, who often provided the scores for the films. Until the release of "Shaft" in 1971 (which was directed by a black filmmaker, Gordon Parks), most of the action roles for black characters seemed to be hanging on the durable shoulders of Sidney Poitier, Jim Brown, Harry Belafonte and the great character actor Woody Strode. Suddenly, there were a great number of opportunities for black actors and actresses to display their talents on screen. The vehicles in which they toiled were often low-budget potboilers, but it did increase their visibility and name recognition. More importantly, black action characters became commonplace henceforth.
"Truck Turner" has emerged as a genuine cult movie in the decades since its initial release. The movie's oddball appeal begins with the casting of the titular character, who is played by legendary soul musician Isaac Hayes in his screen debut. While Laurence Olivier probably never lost sleep over Hayes's decision to enter the movie business, his casting was a stroke of genius on the part of the executives at American International Pictures, which specialized in exploitation films for the grindhouse and drive-in audiences. Hayes had recently won the Academy Award for his funky "Theme From 'Shaft'" and had an imposing and super-cool physical presence. He also proved to be a natural in front of the camera. His emotional range was limited but he exuded an arrogance and self-confidence that the role required. Turner is a skip tracer/bounty hunter employed by a bail bond agency in the slum area of Los Angeles. A stunning opening shot finds literally dozens of such agency dotting the urban landscape- an indication of how out of control crime was in the city during this period. Turner and his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks) agree to take on an assignment to track down a local notorious pimp and crime kingpin named 'Gator' Johnson (Paul Harris), who has skipped bail, thus leaving the agency's owner Nate Dinwiddle (Sam Laws) on the hook for the money. Turner and Jerry pursue 'Gator' in one of those requisite high octane car chases that were seemingly mandatory in 70s action movies. This one is quite spectacular and features some dazzling stunt driving. 'Gator' is ultimately killed by Turner and this leads to the main plot, which concerns his lover, Dorinda (Nichelle Nichols). She was 'Gator's partner in a lucrative prostitution business. The two pimped out beautiful young women who they keep as virtual prisoners on a large estate. Dorinda is the Captain Bligh of madams, routinely abusing her stable of girls and demeaning them at every opportunity. She is enraged by Turner's slaying of 'Gator' and offers a bounty for his murder: half of her stake in the prostitution ring. The offer draws more than a few professional assassins to her doorstep, all of whom promise they can kill Turner. However, the only one who seems to have the ability to do so is Harvard Blue (Yaphet Kotto), a soft-spoken but vicious crime boss who would like nothing more than to make easy money from a major pimping operation. With a small army of assassins, he sets out to make good on his promise to kill Turner.
Like most action movies of this genre, the plot points are predictable. As with Charles Bronson's character in the "Death Wish" films, virtually every person who befriends Turner comes to great misfortune. This kind of predictable emotional manipulation is par for the course when you're watching 70s crime films and doesn't overshadow the fact that there is a great deal of style evident in "Truck Turner". The dialogue is saucy and witty. For example, Dorinda describes one of her "girls" as "Kentucky Fried Chicken" because "she's finger-lickin' good!" and another as "Turnpike" because "you have to pay to get on and pay to get off." If you think that's politically incorrect, consider that every other line of dialogue has somebody calling somebody else a nigger. Then there's the character of Truck Turner, who - like his fellow cinematic tough ass crime fighters of the era ranging from Dirty Harry to 'Popeye' Doyle to John Wayne's McQ- seems oblivious to the fact that he is endangering an abundance of innocent people in his obsession to get the bad guys. Turner engages in carjacking and threatens the lives of people who he feels aren't cooperating fast enough. He also has a sensitive side, though, as we see in his scenes with the love of his life, Annie (Annazette Chase). She's recently completed a jail term and only wants to settle down with Turner to live a quiet, normal lifestyle. Good luck. When the contract is put out on Turner, she becomes a potential victim and is terrorized by Harvard Blue and his gang. The film concludes with some terrific action sequences, the best of which has Hayes and Kotto going mano-a-mano inside the corridors of a hospital. They chase and spray bullets at each other amid terrified patients in wheelchairs and on gurneys and in one scene, carry the shoot out into an operating room with doctors in the midst of working on a patient! The finale, which centers on Kotto's last scene in the movie, is shot with such style that it almost approaches being (dare I use the term?) poetic. The supporting cast is first rate with Alan Weeks scoring strongly as Robin to Turner's Batman. Annazette Chase is excellent as the ever-patient object of Turner's desire and, of course, Kotto is terrific, as usual, managing to steal scenes in his own unique, low-key way. The most enjoyable performance comes from Nichelle Nichols, who is 180 degrees from her "Star Trek" role. As the ultimate villainess, she seems to be having a blast insulting and threatening everyone in her line of vision. Her final confrontation with Turner makes for a memorable screen moment, to say the least.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is up to the company's usual high standards in all respects. Old Truck never looked better on screen and there are some welcome bonus materials. Director Kaplan provides a witty and highly informative audio commentary, relating how American International was more interested in the soundtrack album they would be able to market than the film itself. (Hayes provides the impressive score for the film, including some "Shaft"-like themes.). He also said that he was originally drawn to the project because he was told the film would star either Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine or Robert Mitchum! Nevertheless, he speaks with great affection for Hayes and his colleagues and points out various character actors his used in the film including the ubiquitous Dick Miller, James Millhollin, Scatman Crothers and even Matthew Beard, who played "Stymie" in the Our Gang comedies. Another welcome bonus is director Joe Dante,obviously an admirer of the film, in discussion at a 2008 screening of "Truck Turner" at the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. He's joined by director Kaplan and stuntman Bob Minor. The reaction of the audience indicates this film enjoys a loyal following. There is also a segment from Dante's popular "Trailers From Hell" web site that features director Ernest Dickerson introducing and narrating the original trailer for the film. The trailer is also included in the Blu-ray, as well as a double feature radio spot ad for "Truck Turner" and Pam Grier as "Foxy Brown". In all, an irresistible release for all retro movie lovers.
It's the most bizarre mating of two diverse talents since Ernest Borgnine thought it would a good idea to marry Ethel Merman, though hopefully this one will have a happier ending. Cult movie director Rob Zombie has announced that he will bring a Groucho Marx biography to the screen. The film will based on the memoir "Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House" by Steve Stoliar, a fan who worked for the legendary actor and comedian as his personal secretary and archivist in the last years of his life. (Marx died in 1977 at age 86). Turns out the esteemed Mr. Zombie is a life long Groucho admirer. Who knew? We look forward to Zombie directing Dame Judi Dench in a biopic of Gracie Allen. For more click here
Biker films have been around for decades.
Although most cinephiles cite Marlon Brando’s The Wild One (1953) as the first great biker movie, it wasn’t until
the mid-1960s and the release of the 1966 Roger Corman-directed classic The Wild Angels that biker films really
exploded onto the scene. Made for $360,000 and grossing close to $16 million, The Wild Angels started a cinematic
cycle trend that lasted well into the 1970s.
Noticing that other enterprising filmmakers
were cashing in on their film’s success, legendary studio American
International Pictures quickly decided that another biker flick was in order.
They gathered Corman (to produce); Wild Angels
scribe Charles B. Griffith (Rock All
Night, A Bucket of Blood, The Little Shop of Horrors, Death Race 2000) to
write and, together, came up with the next biker extravaganza, 1967’s Devil’s Angels aka The Checkered Flag.
Directed by Daniel Haller (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The
Wild Racers, Dunwich Horror), Devil’s
Angels concerns a group of rebellious, anti-establishment bikers called the
Skulls who are searching for a police-free place they’ve dubbed Hole-in-the-Wall.
They roll into the small town of Brookville and are immediately ordered to
leave by the intimidated mayor (Paul Myer). The Skulls’ leader, Cody (played by
independent filmmaking icon; the late, great John Cassavetes), informs the
sheriff (Tobruk’s Leo Gordon) that
they’re not looking for trouble and that he, his girl Lynn (the beautiful Beverly
Adams from How to Stuff a Wild Bikini)
and the rest of the posse just need a place to crash for the night. The sheriff
decides to give Cody a chance and agrees to let the group spend the night on
the beach if they promise to remain there and then leave first thing in the
morning. Cody gives his word and the bikers take off along with a local beauty
contestant (Mimsy Farmer from Four Flies
on Grey Velvet) who’s infatuated with the group. The mayor berates the
sheriff for letting them stay in town, but the lawman doesn’t budge. While at
the beach, the group gets the girl high, teases her a bit and sends her running
back to town in fright. The mayor lies by telling the sheriff that the Skulls
raped the unharmed girl and Cody is arrested. When the sheriff learns the
truth, he immediately lets Cody go, but orders him and his friends to leave
town. Meanwhile, the Skulls, who don’t like being accused of rape, decide that
the town needs to be taught a lesson. With the help of a larger group of bikers
called the Stompers, they ride back into town (against Cody’s wishes),
completely take it over and put the authorities on trial. The mayor’s lie is
revealed and he is sentenced to a public beating which Cody goes along with.
The Skulls also feel that, because they were accused of rape, they are owed a
rape. Cody is totally against this. He tries his best to stop it, but all hell
winds up breaking loose. As the Stompers and the Skulls (including Lynn) tear
Brookville apart, Cody, realizing that his Hole-in-the-Wall doesn’t exist,
quits the group and rides off alone before the state police arrive.
With only a $4 million gross, Devil’s Angels may not have been a major
hit for AIP, but it’s still an
interesting and well-done biker film which features several highly recognizable
faces from 1960s/70s cinema and television such as Marc Cavell (Cool Hand Luke), Russ Bender (Bonanza), Buck Taylor (Gunsmoke), Bruce Kartalian (The Outlaw Josey Wales) and Mitzi Hoag (Deadly Game).
Although not nearly as well-remembered as the
Dennis Hopper/Peter Fonda 1969 classic Easy Rider nor as hard-hitting as Al
Adamson’s Satan’s Sadists from the
same year, Devil’s Angels is a solidly-made,
quirky and enjoyable exploitation film that benefits most from a wonderfully
complex performance by the legendary John Cassavetes as well as an entertaining
and thoughtful screenplay by the extremely underrated Charles Griffith. There’s
also a terrific musical score written by Mike Curb and performed by Sidewalk
Productions. Not to mention a catchy theme song by Jerry and the Portraits with
additional music courtesy of Dave Allen and the Arrows.
As far as the Skulls go, they’re mainly
benign (but not as cool as the goodhearted bikers from 1976’s Northville Cemetery Massacre) andjust looking for a place to be free.
The havoc they cause (with the exception of an accidental death) is mostly
light (and presented humorously) and they’re never really violent until the
very end, so if you’re looking for an intimidating band of evil hell raisers,
look elsewhere. As for me, I thoroughly enjoy this film; always have. It’s a
fun biker flick with a strong cast and a thought-provoking story. If you’re a
biker film fanatic or just a fan of AIP/Roger Corman in general, I definitely
recommend checking it out.
Devil’s Angels has been released
as a DVD-R from the MGM Limited Edition Collection. The film is presented in
its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio and, although it’s far from Blu-ray quality,
the movie is more than watchable. Also, the audio is clear, and the DVD’s
sleeve and menu feature the original and very cool-looking poster artwork.
recently I had been woefully ignorant of professional pornography from the
1970's but thanks to Vinegar Syndrome I am undergoing what might be considered
a master class in the genre. Their latest release to attract my attention is A
Saint... A Woman... A Devil... (1977) which has to qualify as one of the more
ambitious of its type I have eyer seen. This film is nothing short of an
attempt to use The Three Faces of Eve (1957) as the template story but taking
the material to places that Hollywood classic would never have dreamed. After
all, what better reason for a fractured personality than shameful feelings of
lust? And what better scenario than a main character that engages in sex with
multiple partners but then cannot remember those encounters? Ah, only in the
(Joanna Bell) hasn't been well since the recent deaths of her parents but she
appears to be doing just fine when her cousin Toby (Pamela Serpe) drops in
accompanied by her school roommate Sheila (Helen Madigan) for a holiday visit. The
shocked Toby discovers Sylvia on the living room floor with a door to door vacuum
cleaner salesman engaged in a bit more than a demonstration of just his
product's abilities. Toby doesn't understand what is going on because her
cousin has always been a mousy, boring and even religious person - not one that
would seduce a stranger in her own home! So, when the two visiting ladies
return later to make their presence known to Sylvia they find her praying at a
living room altar and she tells Toby about her current medical problems. It
seems that her doctor thinks her recent migraines and blackouts are
psychological rather than physical in nature but roommate Sheila isn't buying
any of it. She assumes that Sylvia is just a secret swinger and isn't bothered
when Sylvia seduces her on her first night in the house. This lesbian encounter
is done in the butch persona of "Tony" and Shelia is amused by what
she assumes is a sex game.
this time Toby has become convinced that Sylvia's childhood personality problems
have returned but decides to consult a priest rather than a doctor. The cleric
(Armand Peters) suggests it is possible that Sylvia is possessed and relates a
flashback of Sylvia's rape of a seminarian (Grover Griffith) in the church
itself! The religious man wisely recommends
psychoanalysis before ordering an exorcism and Sylvia's psychiatrist Dr. Ballaban
(this film's director Peter Savage) tells Toby that Sylvia has multiple
personalities which range from man-crazy Mona to lesbian Tony and devout but
slightly less repressed Mary. These separate personalities have grown as a
defense mechanism to the childhood abuse she suffered at the hands of her
schizophrenic mother (Helen Devine) who we see abuse Sylvia in more flashbacks.
The doctor decides to use deep hypnosis to try to unify Sylvia's various
personalities but Mona is the most resistant to the treatment because she
believes it will destroy her. Sylvia is completely unaware of her other selves
even though they are all part of her own personality so when Toby tries to
convince Sylvia to see Dr. Ballaban again the Mona personality takes over and
convinces a couple of junkies (Sonny Landham and Guido D'Alisa) to get rid of
the good doc before he can get rid of her.
this sounds pretty crazy then you are on the right track. Besides being a porn
film it also appears to be a bit of a vanity project by writer, director and
co-producer Peter Savage. If you think
he looks familiar you might have seen him in mainstream films such as Martin
Scorsese's Raging Bull or William Lustig’s Vigilante. The Lustig
connection seems to have started with this very film as he serves as the
assistant director and production manger for Savage here, gaining filmmaking
experience along with a number of other New York University film students. This
movie appears to have been one of many projects used to get future filmmakers
into the industry. Indeed, A Saint... A Woman... A Devil... is a technically
well made movie showing that - subject matter aside - these crew people have
the chops to make a good, solid film on a limited budget which Lustig would go
on to prove with his own work. Of course, no 1980's action movie fan can fail
to notice that actor Sonny Landham of 48 HRS and Predator fame is in this film
and he even performs in the hardcore sex scenes. I can't say I ever wanted to
see this but now I have I can inform you that if you feel the need to watch Mr.
Landham in 'action', here is your chance. But if you're like me and can't
imagine wanting to see fairly unattractive people copulate you might want to
give this movie a total pass. I don't mean to be cruel, but none of the cast
members of either gender are very attractive and by the time we are witness to
a fairly impressive home party/suburban orgy the ugliness of the people
onscreen had become noticeable enough to be a problem. I mean- wouldn't there
be some really gorgeous people in any given group of swingers? Or am I living
in a sexual fantasyland as based in reality as Middle Earth? Oh well.... dreams
Syndrome has put A Saint... A Woman... A Devil... out as a standalone release
instead of in their usual porn double feature DVD structure. I would have
thought they would take the opportunity to use the saved space for extras of
some sort as a number of the cast and crew are still around. Then again, they
might not be too keen to discuss this mostly closeted skeleton and wish its
decades old door had remained locked. The only extra is the non-porn R rated
version of the film that simply chops the hardcore sequences out to present a
pretty strange, low budget character study.
Brynner, Richard Widmark and George Chakiris share top billing in “Flight From
Ashiya” a 1964 Japanese- American co-production originally released by United
Artists. The movie is dedicated to and takes place within the world of the United
States Air Force Air Rescue Service. Created in 1946, the Air Rescue Service mission
is to rescue downed military aircrew. Their motto, which is displayed
throughout the opening credits, reads: “That Others May Live.” In 1947 the
mission was expanded to that of a special operations unit which later included
Navy SEAL like Pararescuemen or “PJs” supporting everything from
humanitarian rescue missions to NASA astronaut recovery.
story of “Flight From Ashiya” is a mix of military themed clichés and melodrama
which fans of this genre will find familiar. Two Air Rescue Service teams stationed
at Ashiya Air Base in Japan depart on Air Force float planes to rescue a group
of Japanese civilians who are clinging on to a make-shift raft after being shipwrecked
during a typhoon. With the typhoon still raging, the first float plane crashes
while attempting a landing on the choppy storm tossed water. The special
effects are well done for the era and the aircraft models look realistic. For
the new viewer today living in the era of over-used CGI effects, the models and
water tank footage may appear old fashioned, but it all works if the viewer
considers this movie was made decades before modern special effects.
three men at the center of the story suffer from what we commonly refer to today
as post traumatic stress syndrome. As they circle above the shipwreck survivors
while the typhoon rages, we learn through a series of flashbacks that each man is
opening up emotional baggage throughout the rescue which is packed with doses
of love, pain, guilt, hate, sorrow and loss. Brynner, Widmark and Chakiris are
convincing as military men and their performances allow us to forgive the
limitations of the special effects.
Chakiris plays Lt. John Gregg, a pilot stationed with Widmark and Brynner in
Germany prior to their assignment in Japan. He feels responsible for the civilian
avalanche victims he was unable to rescue in 1954. In his flashback, the team
initially manages to land their rescue helicopter, drop off supplies and take
back a few survivors. Brynner assists in delivering a baby and we see a hint of
Widmark’s troubled past in a brief flashback within this flashback followed by
a racially charged tirade toward Brynner, who we learn is half Japanese.
Chakiris insists on returning and Widmark reluctantly agrees. Their helicopter
can only carry a dozen people at a time and on the return trip the helicopter rotor
blades cause another avalanche which kills the remaining survivors.
plays Lt. Col. Glenn Stevenson, a tough Air Force veteran and survivor of a
Japanese prisoner of war camp. He was a civilian pilot and owner of a charter
airline flying supplies out of Manila, Philippines. On the eve of the Japanese
invasion of the Philippines and America’s entry in WWII, he meets his future
wife, Caroline Gordon. She’s a journalist covering the victims of a recent earthquake
for which Stevenson just happens to be flying supplies. Shirley Knight plays
Caroline in a brief and understated role as Widmark’s soon to be wife. They end
up in a Japanese prison camp and Widmark begs the Japanese camp commander for
medicine, which is denied. Their baby and his wife die in the camp and Widmark
carries this resentment to the other rescue missions.
plays Master Sgt. Mike Takashima, the senior paramedic of the team. He’s an
Army corpsmen in North Africa in 1943 during WWII during his flashback where he
meets a beautiful French speaking woman named Leila. He introduces himself
with, “Mike Takashima... father Japanese, mother Polish.” We soon learn that
she is Muslim and she and everyone else tells him their romance is not meant to
be. Not willing to give up, Brynner tells her, “My father was a Buddhist, my
mother a Seventh-day Adventist.” As Brynner searches for Leila on his
departure, she comes running to him just as a demolition team detonates an
unexploded bomb, killing Leila.
sweats a lot during the typhoon rescue mission. He’s the co-pilot and his guilt
over the avalanche deaths is relived when Widmark arrives as the replacement
pilot at the start of the movie. Widmark is faced with his racism and
resentment as he initially declines landing the float plane to rescue the
Japanese civilians. Brynner drops to the survivors with a life raft and offers
medical assistance. The three men wrap up their flashbacks and complete the
is convincingly commanding whenever he plays military men and this movie is no
exception. Likewise, Brynner is also terrific as Mike in spite of appearing
more Polish than Japanese. Widmark and Brynner are compelling in all their
films, this one included. They have a few key scenes together during the
typhoon rescue and the avalanche flashback rescue, but do not upstage one
is on hand for the younger audience members and is probably best remembered for
his skill as a dancer in “West Side Story” for which he won a best supporting
actor Oscar. He danced his way through other movies including the Jacques Demy
musical “The Young Girls of Rochefort” featuring
Catherine Deneuve and Gene Kelly. He also co-stared previously with Brynner in
“Kings of the Sun,” and later appeared in a stage revival of “The King and I.”
He worked with Charlton Heston in the drama “Diamond Head” and appeared in
other military themed movies like “633 Squadron” “Is Paris Burning?” and
McGuire Go Home.” He transitioned to TV roles in the 1970s and retired from
acting in the late 1990s to focus on making handcrafted jewelry.
Knight is very good in her brief scenes with Widmark. Primarily a stage and TV actress
with roles in dozens of TV series throughout her continuing prolific career,
Knight was occasionally cast in high profile movies including “Sweet Bird of
Youth,” “House of Women,” “Petulia,” “Juggernaut” and “As Good as it Gets.”
model and actress Daniele Gaubert plays the beautiful Leila in the Yul Brynner
flashback scenes. We see her briefly on the beach in a one-piece swimsuit and
she speaks only French onscreen. She had a brief acting career and is probably
best known as the star of Radley Metzger’s “Camille 2000.” She was married to
Olympic skier Jean-Claude Killy until her death from cancer at age 44.
Parker plays Lucille Carroll in the third female role, but she has very little
to do in the contemporary scenes back at the Air Rescue Service operations
center. It’s not clear exactly why she’s there other than to give concerned
commentary and look worried as radio reports come in. Parker was an American
model and actress who had parts in a handful of high profile movies and TV
series such as “Funny Face,” “Kiss Them for Me,” “The Best of Everything,” “The
Interns” and appearances in the TV series “Twilight Zone,” “It Takes a Thief”
and “Night Gallery.”
movie was directed by Michael Anderson, who had a long and prolific career and
is the director of many fan favorites. I remember watching his 1956 version of
George Orwell’s “1984” in high school after we read the book. Despite its
critics, I still enjoy his “Around the World in 80 Days” which was a broadcast
TV “event” in the era before home video and cable TV. “The Dam Busters,” “The
Wreck of the Mary Deare,” “Operation Crossbow,” “The Quiller Memorandum,” “The
Shoes of the Fisherman” and “Logan’s Run” are a few of the highlights in
Anderson’s prolific career.
From Ashiya” is predictable and melodramatic, but enjoyable and winds to a
satisfying 100 minute conclusion. The widescreen Panavision image looks very
well preserved and the audio is also more than satisfactory.. The DVD is
made-to-order through the MGM Limited Edition Collection and has no extras.
you are like me, you probably have a nostalgic heart. The fact that you read
Cinema Retro is a major clue. Have you ever yearned to spend an evening in the
past, a la Gil (Owen Wilson) in Woody Allen's “Midnight in Paris?” What if I
told you how to experience an evening with Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Marion
Davies, Will Rogers and Florenz Ziegfeld for a show at his famous theater that
is hosted by Eddie Cantor? Would you go?
real life can not actually bring you back in time to do so, Cynthia Von Buhler
can, and has, with her new iTheater production “Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic”
current running on Friday and Saturday evenings at the Liberty Theater on 42nd
Street in NYC. Cynthia's previous interactive and immersive shows
“The Bloody Beginning” and “The Brothers Booth” were wonderful productions that
brought audience members into the cast playing famous (and not so famous)
characters that interacted with the show and cast members. The Frolic takes you
one step closer and one step beyond.
show centers around the tragic death of Olive Thomas, a small town girl who
moved to NY in 1914 to seek her fame and fortune at 17 years old. She started
out as a model and won the title of “Most Beautiful Girl in NY.” The following
year she starred as a Ziegfeld girl in one of his most risque shows held late
nights in a smaller stage at the top of The New Amsterdam Theater. She had a
four-year film career and married Jack Pickford, the younger brother of film
star Mary Pickford. She died, under mysterious circumstances, in Paris, in 1920
when she drank mercury bichloride. It was one of the first heavily publicized
members 'travel' between Paris - the Cabaret du Néant (Cabaret of Nothingness).
VIP ticket purchasers party for half an hour at a “champagne orgy” with Alberto
Vargas and scantily clad Ziegfeld girls including the aforementioned ladies.
You can also visit the room of honeymooners Pickford and Thomas at the Ritz
Hotel but are eventually whisked magically back to NYC to watch the “Midnight
Frolic” and back to Paris for the death scene and investigations.
Moskowitz and Joey Calveri shine as the doomed couple and perform some
wonderful stage numbers. Delysia La Chatte is Josehine Baker incarnate. Chris
Fink as Eddie Cantor controls the show as emcee. Other standout performers are
dancer Brianna Hurley, Heather Bunch as “the down and out lady” and Erica
Vlahinos as Fanny Brice who will knock you out with her songs. The music is all
1920s but there are a couple of rearranged recent hit songs given a jazz era
arrangement that will pleasantly surprise you. Did I mention the aerialists?
Amazing. How they do it with so little clothing on is a wonder.
Midnight Frolic” is running under a well-deserved extension for the next two
weeks. I hope it will continue its run. I know I'm going back to see it again.
I didn't get to see everything - there is so much to see and do, so many nooks and
crannies to visit, too many flirtatious flappers, well, you get the idea. To
learn more visit speakeasydollhouse.com where you can also purchase tickets.
There is also a prix fixe dinner option available. I did not eat the night I
attended but people I spoke with enjoyed the meal. It must, however, be reserved in advance.
Details are available on the website.
web-site disclaimer: “PLEASE BE ADVISED: THIS SHOW CONTAINS JAZZ, LIQUOR
& FAST WOMEN” is well-deserved. So are all the rave reviews this show
had seen Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King only
once, back in 1991 on its initial release, and I liked it very much. As years
went on, though, my memories of it were such that I considered it to be
atypical of Gilliam’s work. For me, he’s always been a hit-and-miss director;
some of his pictures are absolute classics and others not so much. There is a
certain beautiful sloppiness to his direction; to use a painting analogy, it’s
as if he throws a lot of paint on the canvas and maybe it’ll turn out to be
something coherent, funny, and meaningful. Gilliam, I think, is much more of a
visual designer than a people-director—his films always look great, usually very original and envelope-pushing in
their conception and the execution of the visuals. They are often big pictures on large canvases. They
contain lots of effects work, wild costuming, over-the-top performances, and a
frenetic energy that is exhaustive. And
a lot of fantasy.
viewing The Criterion Collection’s brand new Blu-ray release of the picture for
the first time since 1991, I now realize that The Fisher King is absolutely not
atypical of Gilliam’s work. I remembered it as being an intimate study of
two characters who go from despondency to finding meaning in their lives, with
not much “Gilliam-esque” aspects to the picture. Whoa, my memory was flawed.
Gilliam’s wildness, his visual extravagance, the over-the-top performances, the
crazy camera angles, fantasy, and the acerbic humor is all there. And it’s
terrific, easily one of Gilliam’s best movies (it’s certainly the one that
received the most Oscar nominations—five, including Best Actor (Robin
Williams), Supporting Actress (Mercedes Ruehl, who won), Original Screenplay (by Richard LaGravenese), Art
Direction/Set Design (of course!), and Original Score.
Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is a “shock jock” DJ who burns out when one of his
listeners becomes a mass murderer based on something Lucas said on the air. Three
years later he has quit his job, become an alcohol and drug abuser, and hooked
up with video store owner Anne (Mercedes Ruehl in an outstanding performance).
Then he accidentally meets a homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams), whose
wife was killed by that mass murderer in the incident that also wrecked Lucas’
life. Lucas and Parry form an odd couple friendship and Lucas gets the bright
idea of playing matchmaker with Parry and the woman the homeless man dreamily
watches from afar, Lydia (Amanda Plummer).
suffers from hallucinations (he believes a horrific “Red Knight”—a fantastic
accomplishment in visual effects and costuming—is after him, and that he must
find the Holy Grail—shades of Monty Python!—in order to bring his sanity back
to earth). Williams delivers one of his wild, crazy-man, wacky performances,
and it’s a gem. Bridges, too, is no slouch and he matches his co-star’s antics
with a grounded portrayal that is the anchor of the piece. One must also
mention Michael Jeter, who almost steals the movie as another homeless man who
does a song and dance in drag that brings down the house.
short, The Fisher King may be
Gilliam’s most “humane” picture, for it takes a serious look at homelessness,
mental illness, and the trappings of life that contribute to these ills.
Perhaps that’s why I remembered the movie as being “atypical” of Gilliam... it
had a message of social responsibility and wasn’t some dystopian fantasy set in
another world, although the director’s presentation of New York City certainly places Manhattan in another world!
new restored 2K digital transfer, approved by Gilliam, looks fabulous, of
course, and the 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is terrific.
There’s an enlightening audio commentary by Gilliam. Other extras include new
interviews with actors Bridges, Ruehl, and Plummer; as well as Gilliam,
producer Lynda Obst, and writer Richard LaGravenese. A new interview with
artists Keith Greco and Vincent Jefferds explores the creation of the Red
Knight. There’s a wonderful video essay of Bridge’s on-set photographs,
narrated by Bridges. Footage from 1991 of Bridges training as a radio
personality with acting coach Stephen Bridgewater is a lot of fun. There are
several deleted scenes with commentary by Gilliam, costume tests, and trailers.
But the most poignant—and absolutely the funniest—extra is a 2006 interview
with Williams discussing the film. An essay by critic Bilge Ebiri completes the
you’ve never seen The Fisher King, it
should be high on your list of “to-be-watched” titles. And if you’re a Gilliam
fan, well, it’s a must-have for the collection.
Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” drew almost uniformly positive A-list reviews
on its limited theatrical release in December 2014 (to qualify for 2014 Academy
Award nominations), and on its official nationwide release the following
month. Not a surprise: Anderson has been
a darling of critics since “Boogie Nights” (1997), and his script was based on
a 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, an academically revered novelist. Box-office wasn’t so hot, though. The gross from the nationwide opening weekend
was $381,000, and the total gross by the end of April only $11.1 million, just
a little more than half the film’s reported budget. Observers theorized that the film was sunk
by Pynchon’s perplexing, labyrinthine
storyline about a pothead private eye in a Cinema Retro setting of 1970 Los
Angeles. Well, maybe, but “Chinatown”
(1974) was a commercial success with an equally twisty script, and Ross
Macdonald, the dean of complex PI mysteries, sold well enough that he regularly
made the New York Times bestseller list at the end of his career.
fact, Ross Macdonald and “Chinatown” are two strands of the movie’s DNA, along
with Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” (1939) and “The Long Goodbye” (1954),
the classic movies by Howard Hawks (1946) and Robert Altman (1973) that were
based on the two novels, Roger Simon’s counterculture PI Moses Wine in “The Big
Fix” (1973), turned into a 1978 film with Richard Dreyfuss, and arguably, the
Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” (1998). Mystery fans may enjoy teasing out the influences. Mainstream viewers may feel like they’ve
already been there, done that.
private eye at the center of Pynchon’s story, Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin
Phoenix), is visited at his beach shack by a former girlfriend, Shasta Fay
Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). Shasta
Fay’s sugar daddy, Mickey Wolfmann, a real estate mogul, has disappeared. Shasta Fay believes that he may have been put
away against his will by his wife Sloane and Sloane’s boyfriend. She asks Doc to investigate. Doing so, the amiable, ambling PI encounters
a series of high-rolling and low-life characters who seem to have little or
nothing in common with each other. With
a little digging, Doc begins to uncover one tenuous thread that seems to
connect most of them, an association with something called “The Golden Fang.” The name may refer to a schooner used to ship
dope from Southeast Asia, a criminal ring that uses the vessel, a fraternity of
dentists, or a secluded sanitarium where Doc has a fleeting encounter with a
spaced-out Mickey, or all of the above. With each character, the name carries a different connotation. When a cute Asian girl in a massage parlor
reveals an important clue to Doc in a foggy alley, veteran mystery fans may
wonder if Pynchon and Anderson are also channeling the venerable pulp trappings
of Sax Rohmer and Fu Manchu.
today’s moviegoers don’t read Chandler or Macdonald, or maybe attention spans
have gotten shorter over the years. Like
their predecessors, Pynchon and Anderson use a variety of tricks to keep
viewers off-balance, principally the relentless introduction of new characters
as suspects and red herrings, to the point that in one brief scene, Doc perplexedly writes all the
names on a wall board and draws lines from one to the other to keep them
straight. However, the ultimate
unraveling of the mystery, when it arrives, seems pretty clear. For a real headscratcher, try Ross
Macdonald’s “The Blue Hammer” (1976) some time.
film’s actual shortcomings lie more with Anderson than Pynchon, including
inconsistent tone, uneven casting, and a decision to use a tired dramatic
device as the way to relate the story -- voiceover narration by one of Doc’s
other pals, trippy astrologer Sortilege (Joanna Newsom). Some critics defended Anderson’s choice as
the only way that the filmmaker could feasibly spoon out chunks of information
that Pynchon conveyed in his novel through the running narrative. But it seems like an easy and lazy out of a
challenge that might have been surmounted in a more dramatically satisfying way
with a little more thought. At that, it
still leaves unexplained some prominent details that were clear in the novel
but hazy in the film. For example, who
is “Aunt Reet,” the eccentric elderly woman from whom Doc mines some basic
intel about Mickey Wolfmann? Played by
an unrecognizable Jeannie Berlin, the character actually is Doc’s aunt, as the
novel explains, but she’s a puzzling cypher in the movie as she comes and goes
in one brief scene. Neither are Doc’s
working quarters in a medical building explained. Is he actually a physician? You have to read the novel to find out why he
operates out of a medical office. I
suspect that these puzzling, unexplained details were actually the main source
of frustration for paying audiences, and not the mystery plot itself.
Phoenix is excellent as Doc, and Josh Brolin is amusing as his requisite cop
nemesis, his performance hovering somewhere between the menacing persona of his
character in “Gangster Squad” (2013) and his straight-faced send-up in “Men in
Black III” (2013). In a bit perhaps
inspired by “L.A. Confidential” (1997), Brolin’s character exploits the LAPD’s
ties with Hollywood to land small roles in Jack Webb’s “Adam-12.” On TV, Doc watches a scene from the old show
in which Brolin is digitally inserted in the background behind Martin
Milner. The film’s best stunt-casting
places Reese Witherspoon as Doc’s occasional playmate, Deputy D.A. Penny
Kimball, and the two have the single best exchange of lines in the film:
Doc: “I need something from you. I need to look at
“That’s it? That’s no big deal. We do it all the time.”
“What? You break into officially sealed
records all the time?”
(casting a jaundiced glance): “Grow up.”
Warner Home Video Blu-ray presents the movie in high-def, richly saturated
color. The special features include
three trailer-style clip compilations, each focused on a specific element of
the movie (paranoia, Shasta Fay, and the Golden Fang). An alternate, unused ending is included in
the fourth feature, “Everything in This Dream.” It hews a little closer to the final chapter
of Pynchon’s novel than the rather pedestrian finale that Anderson decided to
use instead, in which Doc and Shasta Fay sorta get back together. Nevertheless, although closer, it’s still not
up to Pynchon’s lyric, evocative conclusion. The package also contains a DVD version and a digital copy.
"Jurassic World" may have received mediocre reviews but the dinosaur flick has taken a gigantic bite out of the boxoffice with the second highest opening weekend gross in history (behind "The Avengers") with over $204 million. For more, click here.
In my review of Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release of the 1979 disaster film "Meteor", I observed that the disaster movie genre had peaked with the release of Irwin Allen's "The Towering Inferno" in 1974. Yet, that didn't stop studios from beating a dead horse in an attempt to squeeze some more juice out of the tried-and-true formula of gathering an all-star cast, then figuring out ways to drown, bury or incinerate the characters portrayed on screen. One of the more obscure attempts to keep the disaster film cycle relevant was "Avalanche", a movie produced by Roger Corman and directed and scripted by one of his proteges, Corey Allen, who would go on to establish a respectable career as a director of major television shows. When you approach a Corman production, you tend to give some special dispensation for certain cinematic sins that you wouldn't accord more mainstream productions. Corman, who happily embraces his legendary status as a man who made major profits from films with minor budgets, knew how to stretch the soup in the cinematic sense. Rarely armed with ample production funds, Corman cut corners whenever possible but still managed to retain a certain elegance to his productions. In 1978, he jumped on the fading disaster movie bandwagon with "Avalanche". He hired Rock Hudson as the leading man because Hudson, at this point in his career, realized that he was no longer a hot commodity as a boxoffice draw in feature films (although he did successfully transition to a popular presence on television.) Corman also cast Mia Farrow and respected supporting actor Robert Forster for additional name recognition. He secured permission to film at a major ski resort in Durango, Colorado and out-sourced the special effects work to a company called Excelsior!
The film follows the general formula of the disaster film genre in that the victims-to-be are gathered for a major social occasion, unaware that nature is working overtime to thwart their fun. Rock Hudson plays David Shelby, an arrogant developer who has invested his life savings to build a vacation paradise in the Rocky Mountains. He has disdain for local environmentalists who have warned him that his destruction of an an abundance of trees on his massive property has removed a natural barrier to the inevitable avalanches that will occur. Shelby is preoccupied with his grand opening festivities and is simultaneously trying to woo back his ex-wife Caroline (Mia Farrow), who is attending as his guest. He's also busy trying to entertain his sassy, wise-cracking mother, Florence (Jeanette Nolan), who is being shepherded around the resort by David's major domo Henry McDade (Steve Franken in a rare dramatic role.) Meanwhile, local environmental activist and nature photographer Nick Thorne (Robert Forster) becomes increasingly concerned about the massive buildup of snow on the mountain peaks that are directly in line with the resort. He attempts to alleviate some of the danger by strategically using a snow cannon to set off controlled mini avalanches. Intermingled with all of this are the expected subplots involving minor characters who are set up to be inevitable victims. Barry Primus is a TV sports announcer who is broadcasting from the grand opening and who must contend with the fact that his estranged wife Tina (Cathey Paine) is on premises and rubbing his nose in it by blatantly carrying on an affair with egotistical super star skier Bruce Scott (Rick Moses). Scott, in turn, is rubbing Tina's nose in it by blatantly sleeping with another woman, thus causing Tina to go ballistic and consider suicide. Meanwhile, David Shelby finds time to unwind by spending some quality time in a hot tub with with his naked secretary (thus allowing Roger Corman to slip in a bit of T&A). Although the story seems set up to have the disastrous avalanche occur during the opening night festivities, screenwriter Allen throws the audience a curve ball by avoiding that cliche and saving the action for the following afternoon when, amid a particularly vicious snow mobile race, a small plane piloted by one of Shelby's employees encounters bad weather and slams into a nearby mountain, thus triggering the avalanche. This is where the movie progresses beyond cliches and becomes unexpectedly enjoyable. All of the standard disaster movie shtick is present, as both lovable and loathsome characters meet predictable fates, but the film's limited production resources somehow work in its favor. We're well aware that we're watching a Corman production but somehow the inventiveness that is required to carry it all off is quite admirable. Certain plot points are introduced and inexplicably abandoned including an insinuation that Shelby has bribed local political officials to overlook his clear violation of environmental protection rules in order to build his resort. This was one of Rock Hudson's final films as an "above the title" leading man. He's grayer and a bit paunchier than we'd seen him during his heyday, but he still had star power to spare and made for a dashing leading man, whether its skinny dipping in the hot tub or personally leading rescue parties in acts of derring doo to extricate victims of the tragedy. The film's showpiece sequence is a climactic scene in which Shelby must rescue Caroline, who is dangling from wrecked bridge above a ravine. It's well-directed and genuinely suspenseful.
It' easy to pick apart a film like "Avalanche", as it squarely fits into the "guilty pleasure" category. However, the film does a lot with very little as opposed to other misfires in this genre that did very little with a lot (aka "The Swarm"). The Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition features the original trailer and a "making of" featurette in which Roger Corman extols the virtues of the film. He admits the effects were rather shoddy and recalls his outrage when he discovered the SFX company had added "red snow". Corman hit the roof and it was changed to a bluish substance that he admits still looks pretty phony. Robert Forster recalls that the "snow" was actually little pieces of plastic that were strewn by the hundreds of thousands over the scenic landscape. He remembers his dismay at the realization that none of these bits were biodegradable and many must still be contaminating the landscape of the Durango ski resort where the movie was filmed. Corman makes the claim that the film was actually a major financial success. He says his budget was only $1.7 million and that a TV sale for $2 million netted him an immediate $300,000 profit. The tale sounds a bit fanciful because it seems hard to believe that even in 1978 you could make a movie like this with three relatively big names for only $1.7 million. (Other sources give unsubstantiated estimates of the budget at around $6 million, which seems more plausible.) "Avalanche" is not near the top of the heap of disaster movies but it certainly doesn't rank at the bottom of the pack, either. The Kino Lorber release has an impressive transfer and the inclusion of those bonus extras make this title highly recommended for fans of this genre.
Charles Bronson was known for playing men of few words on screen. However, this characteristic stemmed from the actor's real life persona: he loathed giving interviews and avoided discussing his personal life. There are relatively few instances of Bronson being interviewed by media outlets but in 1993 he did go on camera to make some remarks. They ranged from the whimsical (he recalls rooming with Jack Klugman early in their careers and says that Klugman was enough of a slob to justify his being cast as Oscar Madison in "The Odd Couple" TV series) to the sentimental (he speaks movingly of his wife Jill Ireland, who had only recently died from cancer.)
Moody as Fagin with Mark Lester as Oliver Twist and Jack Wild as The Artful Dodger.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
There is an old adage that says bad things happen in "threes". That seemed to be the case when it came to distinguished British actors in the past week. On the heels of news that both Richard Johnson and Sir Christopher Lee had passed away comes notice that Ron Moody has also died. He was 91 years old. Moody was undoubtedly the least famous of these three gentlemen but he was no less talented. He originated the role of Fagin in Lionel Bart's classic stage musical, "Oliver!", based on the Dickens classic "Oliver Twist". Moody won kudos for his role as the charismatic con man and head of a London gang that employed young boys as pickpockets. He was astonished when he was chosen to play the lead in the 1968 film version, directed by Carol Reed. Moody's name recognition was practically zero to film audiences but his brilliant performance earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor as well as a Golden Globe. He would later say that he made some career mistakes in the aftermath of his triumph in the film. He was too selective about follow-up projects and, although he continued to act in feature films and popular TV series, it was mostly in supporting roles. A rare exception was having the lead in Mel Brooks' 1970 comedy "The Twelve Chairs". He also regretted turning down the role of Doctor Who. Nevertheless, Moody was by all accounts an upbeat person who relished time with his family and thoroughly enjoyed his profession. For more click here. For a tribute from his "Oliver!" co-star Mark Lester, click here.
Artist Jeff Marshall created this tribute to Sir Christopher Lee, which was presented to him by Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Sir Christopher Lee, the acclaimed British actor, passed away last Sunday in London. He was 93 years old. The family waited to make the announcement until all family members could be notified. Lee was an early contributor to Cinema Retro magazine and periodically provided interviews and personal insights into the making of his films. We, along with movie lovers everywhere, mourn his loss. Lee was more often than not associated with the horror film genre, a fact that often frustrated him. He would routinely point out that he made many diverse films and played many diverse roles in movies of all genres, from comedies to westerns. For many years he was most closely associated with the films of Hammer studios, the British production firm that revitalized the horror film genre in the 1950s. Lee starred in seemingly countless Hammer productions, often appearing opposite another British film legend, his friend and colleague Peter Cushing. In the late 1950s, the two co-starred in the first color version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (released in America under the title of "Horror of Dracula"). The film, which was controversial because of its use of sex and violence, was nevertheless a major hit and spawned numerous other Hammer appearances with Lee as Dracula. He would later tell Cinema Retro that he did some of them reluctantly because the quality of the scripts had deteriorated over time. In one film, he found the dialogue was so poor that he insisted that the play the role without speaking. Nevertheless, the films remained popular and added to Lee's status as a legend of the modern horror film genre. In 1962, Lee was proposed to play the villain Dr. No in the first James Bond movie by Ian Fleming himself (the two were distant relatives.) Lee was not available and the role went to Joseph Wiseman. However, in 1974, Lee was cast as the Bond villain Scaramanga opposite Roger Moore in "The Man With the Golden Gun." In 1973, he starred in the original version of "The Wicker Man" playing a larger than life villain that became legendary in cult film circles. The film was not a hit on initial release but over the decades has been considered as a classic of British cinema. Lee's extraordinary achievements were often overlooked because he also appeared in many films that were low-budget and sub-standard. However, he brought grace and dignity to every role he played. As the years passed, he found he had outlived most of his contemporaries. Of the other great horror icons he knew, he once lamented to this writer "I'm the last one left". He said he particularly missed Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, both of whom he considered to be among the most fascinating people he knew. He said that they would often speak by phone and had a long-running gag in which they would try to deceive each other by posing as a crank caller.
Christopher Lee with Cinema Retro publishers Dave Worrall and Lee Pfeiffer, years before the start of the magazine. The photo was taken at the offices of Eon Productions in London where Lee was signing some limited edition Bond lithographs by artist Jeff Marshall.
Christopher Lee saw a resurgence of appreciation for his talents from a younger generation of filmmakers who had literally grown up on his movies. He worked several times with Tim Burton. Peter Jackson cast him in "The Lord of the Rings" films and George Lucas gave him a high profile role as a villain in the reboot of the "Star Wars" franchise. He also worked with Steven Spielberg on the big budget 1979 WWII comedy "1941". In his public life, Lee was regarded as a serious man, not generally associated with humor. However, in private he was an outstanding raconteur with a wonderful sense of humor. Joining him for lunch or drinks would inevitably become a Master Class in some worthy subject. When in London, Cinema Retro co-publisher Dave Worrall and I would occasionally invite him to lunch at his favorite restaurant, Drones. Lunch with Lee was never a simple affair: you would be taught about what wines to order and the history of certain cuisine. The man seemed to be a walking textbook. He also loved classic cinema and discussing older films, which he had an encyclopedic knowledge of. Sometimes his conversations about film making led to unexpected humorous results. On one occasion, we were discussing Howard Hawks' 1959 western "Rio Bravo" and we both agreed that Walter Brennan stole the movie from John Wayne and Dean Martin by playing a cranky and amusing deputy. I then sought to impress Lee by doing what I thought was a spot-on impersonation of Brennan in the film. Lee scoffed so I challenged him by saying, "I suppose you could do a better Walter Brennan impression?" He said, "In fact, I can" and then proceeded to do so. The sight of the distinguished Lee doing impressions of Walter Brennan should have been captured on film but, alas, it was a moment lost in time. On another occasion, we met with Lee at Drones. I was attired in a jacket and necktie, but typically Dave Worrall decided to go casual. When we got to the restaurant, Lee looked disapprovingly at Worrall and drolly said, "If I knew we were dressing for the beach, I would have worn my bathing costume." Inside the restaurant, there was a very long mirror near our table. Lee turned abruptly and almost bumped into it, causing a nearby diner who had recognized him to quip, "That's understandable- you don't have a reflection!", a reference to his appearances as Dracula. Lee stared the man down and said, "As though I've never heard that one a hundred times before!"
Lee Pfeiffer introduces surprise guest Christopher Lee at a Cinema Retro movie tour event in London, 2006.
Lee was a private man who valued time with his wife Gitte, with whom he was married to for over 50 years. (They had one child, Christina). However, he would always make time to see Worrall and I when we were in London. On one occasion, I was meeting friends for afternoon tea at Harrods. On a whim, I called up Lee and asked if he would join us. He said yes and, to amazement of all, he turned up as a surprise guest and regaled us with wonderful stories. He also had a hobby that was passionate about: collecting patches from the various branches of the British military, which he once proudly showed us in his apartment. Lee served in WWII in the fight against Rommel in Africa. He rarely talked about his experiences because he said he was still technically under the Official Secrets Act. I would try to pry information from him by pointing out the unlikely scenario that Germany and England were about to go to war again, but he wouldn't budge. "When I give my word, I keep it", he would say. Indeed he did. I never got to hear much about his duties in helping to defeat The Desert Fox. Lee was also a sentimentalist, which might surprise many of his fans. He was especially saddened at the loss of Peter Cushing in 1994. The two men led very different lives. Cushing lived in the countryside and Lee preferred city life in London. They spoke often and would see each other occasionally. He told me that the last time he saw Cushing occurred shortly before Peter's death. The two actors were reunited for an interview session for a television program. Lee said that Cushing was clearly in poor health and near the end of his life. Both men knew it but didn't acknowledge it. They laughed and told stories as they usually did. However, when Cushing got into the car that was taking him home, Lee came to the realization that he would never see his best friend again. As Cushing looked back, Lee waved and said, "Goodbye, my friend". He said it was one of the most heart-wrenching moments of his life. Lee would say that he never again enjoyed the kinds of friendships he had with Cushing and Vincent Price, although he had the highest respect for Johnny Depp, with whom he worked on several films directed by Tim Burton.
Christopher Lee holding court as a surprise lunch guest at Harrods, 2002.
Lee was so devoted to his craft and so grateful for the opportunities afforded him that he seemed unaware of the aging process. Once Worrall and I had lunch with him when he had just returned from filming the first of his "Star Wars" appearances in New Zealand under the direction of George Lucas. In one pivotal scene, he had a light saber duel with the character of Yoda. Lee explained that there really wasn't a Yoda there, nor was there any light from the saber. They would be added later by a digital process. As an actor, he said this was particularly challenging. Yet he told George Lucas that he would do much of the scene himself to minimize the use of a stuntman. Lucas cautioned him but Lee reminded him that had been deemed a master fencer his youth and prided himself on his dueling skills. The scene proved to be very arduous and sure enough, later that night Lee began to feel some chest pains. He discretely visited a local doctor who asked him if he had done anything unusually strenuous. Lee initially said no but when the doctor heard he had been filming fencing scenes at his age, he informed him that most people would find that to be unusually strenuous. Lee admonished the doctor and told him that he had done all of his own fencing scenes in the "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers". When the doctor reminded him that was thirty years earlier, Lee said it was the first time that he realized he really was getting old. Yet, he never acted old. He was a living, breathing example of how leading an interesting life can help you avoid many of the ravages of old age. Lee remained up to date on all aspects of the motion picture industry and was also very interested in politics. He was a loyal Tory and was also a devoted royalist who had disdain for those who wanted to do away with the British monarchy. Fittingly, he was knighted by Prince Charles in 2009 for his "Services to Drama and Charity". In the latter part of his career, Lee embarked on releasing audio CDs that featured him crooning famous songs as well as contributing to hard rock concepts.
Dave Worrall and I last saw Sir Christopher Lee in October 2012 at the royal premiere of "Skyfall" in London. We had a chance encounter in the cavernous Royal Albert Hall. He looked quite frail but still cut a handsome figure in his tuxedo. As we parted, I had the feeling that, as with his experience with Peter Cushing, we might not see him again, which added poignancy to this brief encounter. Then again, the thought of the world without Sir Christopher Lee was unthinkable. On a certain level, I think I had convinced myself that he would outlive all of us.
To fully encompass Sir Christopher Lee's contributions to the world of cinema would require a thesis-like study. Suffice it to say that he was not only a major talent but a larger-than-life personality. He was also a great friend as well as a that rarest of species today, a true gentleman. The world will still turn without his presence. It just won't be nearly as much fun, nor nearly as interesting.
"Goodbye, my friend".
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In 2009 a gelding trained and owned by a couple of
cowboys from New Mexico won the Kentucky Derby running at 50-1 odds. Mine That
Bird hadn’t won a single race in the United States before that and only
qualified to run the Derby because of the stakes he’d won in Canada. Not only
that, Mine That Bird was small and slightly “crooked up front,” as his trainer,
Chip Wooley (Skeet Ulrich) says when he first sees him. He’s skeptical at first
when he flies up to Canada to see him and advises his boss/friend Mark Allen
(Christian Kane) to pass on him. But when he sees Mine That Bird whizz around
the track he decides they need to buy him. Asking price, half a million. The
Canadians who owned him had paid only $9,500 for him.
“50-1,” (2014) directed and co-written by Jim Wilson, producer of 1990’s Oscar
Winner “Dances With Wolves”, tells the story of Mine That Bird and the two
cowboys who beat the odds and brought him to the winner’s circle. It’s your
typical underdog-overcoming-all-obstacles kind of story, except that the focus is
more on the four main human characters involved, rather than the horse. In
addition to Wooley and Allen, William Devane is present adding some gravitas to
the film, playing Doc Blach, owner of Buena Suite Equine, who puts up some of
the purchase money. Madelyn Deutch rounds out the principal cast playing
another horse trainer brought in later in the story. It’s the interrelationships
between the four characters that dominate the script with the colorful New
Mexican and dazzling Kentucky Derby settings as background.
That Bird loses the first three races that he runs in the U.S., and Wooley, a
rough and tumble former rodeo star, in frustration rides his motorcycle out
into the desert to let off some steam and has a serious accident. His injuries
limit his activities out on the track, and that’s when Allen brings in a new
trainer (Deutch) to help out. Wooley is none too pleased to discover his
assistant is “a girl!” This part of the story portrays the conflict between the
two, with Wooley acting more or less as a jerk, resenting her presence, constantly
barking criticisms at her. Frankly, the scenes between Ulrich and Deutch seem
tedious, with the “conflict” somewhat forced and contrived. The fault was more
in the dialog and situations concocted by Wilson and co-writer Faith Conroy
than with the actors who did the best they could with what they had.
rest of the movie relates how Mine That Bird qualified for the Derby and
preparations for the race, including the hiring of veteran jockey Calvin Borel,
who plays himself. There are some more complications
involving the forgetting of registration papers and some inane comedy bits
involving Borel that seem more appropriate for an old “I love Lucy” episode.
movies about horse racing usually give equal time to the horse and its owners.
The human drama is presented along with the story of the horse’s struggle to
win first place. Sea Biscuit and Secretariat live in our memories as great
heroes of the track, as will American Pharoah. In “50-1”, unfortunately, the
human angle overshadows the horse’s story. It’s almost as though screen writers
Wilson and Conroy forgot that Mine That Bird was the story’s main character.
The script is so focused on the two cowboys, the female assistant and their partner,
that Mine That Bird seems to disappear
until the big race at the end. There are very few scenes showing what a Derby
contender goes through to get ready for the big race. Because of his short
stature and “crooked” body, much could have been made of how horse and trainers
compensated for these shortcomings. But Wilson seemed more fixated on the
squabbling quartet of characters.
deficiencies of the script not withstanding, Wilson makes good use of the
actual locales where the real life story
took place. I’ve got a soft spot for movies set in New Mexico where Sam
Peckinpah did some of his best work. The state is nothing if not photogenic.
The trip through Roswell for example is fun, with the camera picking out the
UFO Museum and all the fast food restaurants serving Alien Burgers. Wilson also
does a good job of capturing the atmosphere of Louisville and Churchill Downs
on Derby Day and the excitement of the race.
All in all, considering
the film’s limited budget and a so-so script that sticks too much to what is
probably the literal truth of what happened rather than a larger- than -life story about a racing
legend, “50-1”is, in this age of overblown special effects, impossible car
chases, and adolescent toilet humor, a movie about real people in a real place,
where the only aliens and spaceships in sight adorn the tourist attractions in
Roswell. It’s a refreshing change of pace.
The Sony DVD contains a
“Making of” documentary, and a blooper reel. Sound and picture are good, but the
film would be even more impressive if it had been released on Blu-ray.
Director Joe Dante is being honored at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood with a series of double feature, each introduced by Dante himself. Dante will also participate in a Q&A following a screening of his latest flick "Burying the EX". Click here for details.
a 14-year cinematic hibernation, the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park roar back with
a vengeance. This fourth installment in
the franchise had a lot to get right – it had to stand alone as entertainment
for the masses who haven’t seen the 1993 original and make the series seem
fresh and relevant, while fanning the flames of awe with which we (well, most
of us anyway) hold dinosaurs. It also
had to acknowledge that today’s world is far darker, more commercial and more
cynical than 1993. Jurassic World succeeds on all counts. Instead of picking up where Jurassic 3 left
off way back when, Jurassic World creates a new narrative – the park has been
open for years and is a thriving tourist destination. But like any theme park, it needs to be
updated to keep the public coming back. Although they have herds of Triceratops, pods of Velociraptors (the
baddies in the first film) and dozens of lumbering Apatosaurus, the park owner
wants bigger, badder, “cooler”, so they’ve created a new species, “Indominus
Rex.” (It should’ve been named “Ominous
Rex” as it makes Godzilla look like the Geico Gecko.) This beast is a hybrid
consisting of genes from many different species, so when it busts out, the park
truly has a problem on its hands – only now it’s not largely empty as in the
first film, it’s packed with 20,000 guests.
human cast is led by Chris Pratt and his work in Jurassic World should propel
him into the Harrison Ford leading man zone. His character, the park’s ex-Navy animal trainer, is a true Alpha Male, stoic,
decisive and cool. (Although he could have used a touch of humor to lighten him
up.) Bryce Dallas Howard is spot on as a
driven career woman responsible for the park’s operations. She’s frazzled because not only is her enigmatic
billionaire boss (Bollywood star Irrfan Khan) on site, but also her nephews (played
by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, marking his second Spielberg project after
War of the Worlds) have arrived, expecting a VIP experience with their aunt. Complicating
matters is a shady security operator named Hoskins (a swaggering Vincent
D’Onofrio) sent by parent company InGen (remember them?) to assess the military
possibilities for the park’s “assets” (aka dinosaurs).
the film picks up speed, there are numerous nods to the series’ iconic past –
one of the control room operators is wearing an original Jurassic Park t-shirt,
which he bought off eBay. (“In mint condition they go for $300.”) As the nephews try to escape the park, they
stumble into the original visitor’s center and hotwire one of the red and white
Jeep Wranglers from the first film. The
only original cast member to return is B.D. Wong, playing the park’s genetic
scientist, coolly unaffected by all the mayhem his creations have caused.
expected, the VFX is impeccable; the dinosaurs seem as alive as their human
co-stars. The “trailer moment” when the
huge Mosasaurus lunges up from
the Sea World-like tank to devour a dangling Great White shark really was
stunning, as is the flying Dimorphodon attack and – yay! – the return of the
Colin Trevorrow keeps things moving and gives the audience what it wants the
most – dinosaurs and more dinosaurs. This CR scribe caught the Imax 3-D version,
but Jurassic World will not disappoint in any format.
had no idea what to expect when I placed the DVD for “Scobie Malone” in my
player. Scobie, played by Jack Thompson, makes his way through traffic on a
sunny day in Sydney Australia as the movie credits begin. An Olivia Newton-John
sound-alike sings the Scobie Malone title song. Scobie breaks the third wall by
looking directly at the viewer as the title appears on-screen during his drive
as an invitation to join him on his adventure. Scobie gives the thumbs up to a
motorcycle cop during his drive. He winks, nods and flirts with pretty girls on
the way to his swinging bachelor pad.
lives at “Sunrise Patios” and the entry sign proclaims SINGLES ONLY with a
placard stating: NO VACANCIES. His bachelor pad is reached through the central
courtyard containing a large patio and pool. A pretty girl in a bikini is
changing the sign reading “Nude Sunbathing Prohibited” by crossing out “prohibited”
and writing “Encouraged!” She pauses in front of Scobie who reads the sign and
smiles as he catches her tossed bikini and she dives nude into the pool. Scobie
says hi to another sunbather and greets a pretty girl in his apartment with,
“Hello-Hello” as they strip and get into bed.
you had doubts that women can’t resist Scobie, the movie’s title song makes it clear
with lyrics like, “There’s a softness in his eyes. Try to catch him if you can.
If you catch him try to hold that man. Love him yes, but don’t expect to own
Scobie Malone. He’s an angel and a devil changing all the time.” The bedding is
interrupted with a flashback as we discover that Scobie is more than just a
swinging sex-craved bachelor, but also a serious homicide detective, Sergeant
Malone. He’s investigating the murder of a woman in the Sydney Opera House. The
credits continue with a new song, “Helga’s Web,” and we learn that Helga is the
name of the murdered woman at the center of this movie.
in 1975, “Scobie Malone” is billed as “a 70s ‘Ozploitation’ murder mystery with
a sexy wink to the crime genre.” The movie makes great use of location scenes
shot at the Sydney Opera House and uses a series of flashbacks to tell Helga’s
story which includes plenty of sex weaved into the mix of blackmail, mystery
and murder. Jack Thompson is terrific as Scobie Malone and it’s a pity that the
movie did not do better financially or receive a wider release outside of
Australia. Maybe it was all about timing because a few years later Australian
films and pop music were everywhere.
plays Scobie in his unique swaggering style. While not instantly recognizable outside
of Australia, he is certainly memorable from featured parts in “Breaker
Morant,” “The Man From Snowy River,” “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,”
“Flesh+Blood,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “Star Wars Episode
II: Attack of the Clones” in addition to many Australian screen and TV roles.
Morris plays Helga Brand. Morris is far less known here in America, but I’m
familiar with her from the down-under comedy TV series “Mother and Son” which
aired in Australia from 1984-1994 and played here in America on public TV. She
also appeared in the 1979 Peter Weir TV movie, “The Plumber” (better known as “The
Cars that Ate Paris”). She’s also the co-producer, co-writer and co-director of
the 2006 animated hit feature “Happy Feet.”
plays model, actress and high class prostitute Helga in “Scobie Malone.” She’s
also the mistress of the Australian Minister for Culture and blackmails him
with explicit pictures of them together. Their lives become even more
complicated when she convinces her boyfriend to blackmail a local gangster and
drug runner. Helga’s murderer is revealed in a series of flashbacks as Scobie exposes
those trapped in Helga’s web.
spite of the juxtaposition between swinging 70s bachelor Scobie Malone and
serious police detective sergeant Malone, the movie is quite entertaining and
an enjoyable slice of 1970s cop thriller with plenty of sex and nudity on the
side. In one scene, Scobie asks for advice on the case from a swimsuit-clad
woman lying next to the pool who is also an expert on photography. She eagerly
follows Scobie to his apartment and after advising him on cameras and film
exposures, she strips and heads for the bedroom.
on the novel “Helga’s Web” by Jon Cleary, this is actually the second movie based
on Cleary’s Scobie Malone book series. Rod Taylor played Scobie in the 1968
movie “Nobody Runs Forever” which was released as “The High Commissioner” in
America. The book series includes 20 novels, but to date there are only two
Scobie Malone movies.
movie, released by Australian label Umbrellas entertainment, is presented in widescreen on a region free DVD release. The picture image
is sharp and the movie sounds good with a couple artifact sounds left over from
the digital transfer. There are no extras on this bare bones release and there
are no subtitles. Overall this is a very worthwhile movie for fans of cop thrillers,
70s “Ozploitation” and fans of Scobie Malone.
"SCOBIE MALONE" is available as a region free DVD. Click here to order from Amazon.
Few actors had the screen and stage presence of Yul Brynner. There never was an actor quite like him and there hasn't been since. Like most thespians, Brynner had his share of good movies as well as those that fell considerably short of their potential. Nevertheless, the man never gave a false performance. He came across as supremely self-confidant even when he must have suspected the material he was given proved to be far below his considerable talents. Much of his self-confidence seemed to stem from an inflated ego. Robert Vaughn once told me that when Brynner arrived on the set of "The Magnificent Seven" in Mexico, he was still firmly in the King of Siam mode that had seen him win an Oscar. Vaughn said he carried himself as though he were real life royalty at all times. You didn't chat with him casually. Rather, he would grant you an audience. As Brynner's stature as a top boxoffice attraction began to wane, he returned over and over again to his signature role in stage productions of "The King and I" and found his mojo and star power were still very much intact when it came to touring in front of live audiences. His exotic look and manner of speaking were invariably intoxicating. Given Brynner's enduring legacy as a Hollywood icon it's rather surprising to remember that he had very few major hits. "The King and I" in 1956 was his star-making vehicle and his role in "The Ten Commandments", released the same year, helped build on his success. However, with the exception of the surprise success of "The Magnificent Seven" in 1960, Brynner proved to be more of a reliable boxoffice attraction than a powerhouse draw in the way that John Wayne, Cary Grant and Burt Lancaster were regarded. For most of Brynner's screen career, he top-lined in major studio releases that were relatively modest in terms of production budgets. Since this was during an era in which a decent profit for a film made it a success, Brynner remained popular for many years. By the 1970s, however, his clout had diminished considerably. He would have only one memorable big screen success during the decade- his brilliant appearance as the murderous robot in "Westworld" (1974). He would concentrate primarily on stage work until his death in 1985.
"Invitation to a Gunfighter" is the kind of mid-range vehicle that defined most of Brynner's career in Hollywood. Released in 1964 by Stanley Kramer's production company, the film is a perfect showcase for Brynner in that it lacked any rival star power and afforded him a smorgasbord of scene-stealing opportunities. The story opens in the wake of the Confederate surrender that marked the end of the Civil War. Matt Weaver (George Segal), a veteran of the Confederate army, is making an arduous journey home to his Texas ranch on foot through the desert. When the exhausted man finally reaches the small town he calls home, he gets a rude welcome. His ranch is now occupied by another man who claims he bought the deed from the township. Matt soon learns that he is despised by the locals because he is the only man to have served in the southern army. He is notified by the town's political kingpin, Sam Brewster (Pat Hingle), that a technicality has been used to seize ownership of his ranch. He also advises him to move on out of town because he is no longer welcome there. Matt, however, is not about to be cheated. He confronts the new owner of his house and is forced to shoot him dead in self-defense. Brewster manipulates the facts and accuses Matt of being a murderer. Matt takes possession of his ranch and uses firepower to hold off the townspeople. He is surreptitiously visited by his former lover Ruth (Janice Rule), who admits that she could no longer bear waiting for him to return from the war. She reluctantly married Crane Adams (Clifford David), a local union war veteran who lost an arm in the conflict. Since then, Crane has become an alcoholic with a violent temper and his relationship to Ruth has devolved into a loveless marriage of convenience.
Unable to lure Matt from his besieged homestead, Brewster takes the step of announcing to the town council that he will hire a gunslinger to kill him. Coincidentally, a man with the exotic name of Jules Gaspard d'Estaing overhears the offer. He is just passing through on a stagecoach ride but is immediately intrigued. d'Estaing convinces Brewster that he is a master gunfighter and demonstrates his prowess with a pistol. Brewster hires him on the spot but d'Estaing is in no hurry to carry out the mission. Instead, he sees the townspeople for what they are: cowardly hypocrites and delights in humiliating Brewster in front of them. d'Estaing is an intimidating presence to the townspeople. They can't pinpoint his ethnicity and know nothing of his background. He dresses immaculately, speak fluent French, plays the harpsichord and chain smokes Churchill cigars (though I wonder what they called them in this era before Churchill was born.) Ever provocative to his hosts, he stirs the pot even further by moving into the house of Crane and Ruth Adams. Predictably, it isn't long before Ruth is entranced by this larger-than-life man of mystery who dresses like a dandy and is highly cultured- the very opposite of her own husband and Matt. Tensions rise as Crane correctly suspects a romance may be brewing. d'Estaing insists he intends to carry out his mission to kill Matt, despite Ruth's protests, but he later makes it clear to her that he intends to manipulate the situation so that Matt is spared and Brewster is dragged down in disgrace.
The film, directed with admirable if unremarkable competence by Richard Wilson, is a slow-moving, talky affair that leads to some intelligent discussions about race relations and the horrors of bigotry. (This was, after all, a production financed by Stanley Kramer, who never heeded the old adage, "Leave the messages to Western Union!"). What saves the movie from devolving into a completely pedantic affair is the charisma of Yul Brynner. It also helps that he is playing an interesting character with a mysterious background and the revelations he makes to Ruth about his life only make him even more intriguing. This is a "thinking man's" western that touches on social issues as well as the desperate plight of women in the old West, when their survival often saw them entering dreadful marriages simply for financial security and protection. Brynner gets fine support from Janice Rule and rising star George Segal and Pat Hingle plays the town's pompous boss with appropriate, sneering superficial charm. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray boasts an excellent transfer and includes the original theatrical trailer.
"Invitation to a Gunfighter" is by no means a classic but it does afford viewers to spend some time with Yul Brynner and that is always time well-spent.
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The Museum of Modern Art will present rare big screen showings of "Hondo" and "Kiss Me Kate" in their original 3-D format during the months of June and July. Additionally, film historian Bob Furmanek will be presenting a variety of extremely rare vintage short films in 3-D. The festival runs from June 13-July 4. For details, click here.
Here is the original trailer from John Ford's epic 1959 Civil War film "The Horse Soldiers". It's one of Ford's most under-rated titles. Even he had bad memories of the film because of the death of a veteran stuntman who imposed upon him to allow him to do a particularly dangerous scene. Ford conceded against his better judgment and the man died. Nevertheless, it's a rousing, exciting and intelligently written story- with a great soundtrack and terrific chemistry between John Wayne and William Holden, who play adversaries even though they are in the same army.
Richard Johnson (far right) in the 1963 supernatural masterpiece "The Haunting" with Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn and Julie Harris.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Cinema Retro mourns the loss of our friend, actor Richard Johnson, who has passed away at age 87. Johnson was a classically trained actor, having attended RADA and was also one of the founding members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His acting career was interrupted by service in the Royal Navy during WWII but Johnson resumed his profession at the end of the war. He alternated between playing small parts in feature films and leading roles in stage productions. In 1959, he got his first significant screen role starring with Frank Sinatra and young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the WWII film "Never So Few". He was initially offered the role of James Bond but turned down the opportunity. He later told Cinema Retro that he had no regrets because he felt that he would not have made the series the international success it was. He claimed that "I was so right for the part, I would have been wrong. Sean (Connery) was so wrong for the part, he turned out to be right for it." He starred in director Val Guest's underrated thriller "80,000 Suspects" in 1963. That same year he got what many consider to be his most memorable screen role as the leading man in director Robert Wise's classic chiller "The Haunting". Johnson played an academic who conducts an experiment with three other people to see if an ancient mansion house is actually haunted. The experiment meets with terrifying and tragic consequences. Johnson also had a significant role in the 1966 WWII thriller "Operation Crossbow" as well as a major co-starring role opposite Charlton Heston in "Khartoum" that same year. In 1967 he played famed detective/adventurer Bulldog Drummond in "Deadlier Than the Male", which spawned a sequel, "Some Girls Do". He teamed with Heston again in 1970 to play Cassius in the star-packed remake of "Julius Caesar". He also starred with his friend Heston in three high profile TV productions: "A Man for All Seasons", "Treasure Island" and the Sherlock Holmes film "Crucifer of Blood", in which he played Dr. Watson. Over the decades, he appeared in many top British TV series, most recently playing recurring roles in the shows "Spooks" , "Midsomer Murders", "Doc Martin" and "Silent Witness". His more recent feature film appearances include "Lara Croft, Tomb Raider", "Snoop", "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" and his last film, "Radiator" which was produced in 2014. Johnson had been married several times, once to actress Kim Novak with whom he co-starred in the 1965 comedy "The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders". He is survived by his wife Lynne, who he married in 2004, and four children.
(Cinema Retro will be reflecting on the personal side of Richard Johnson in a future article.) For more click here.
Kadár and Elmar Klos’s 1965 film The Shop
on Main Street, which was the first film from Eastern Europe to win an
Academy Award, celebrates it’s 50th anniversary this year. The Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino, CA will
be holding a special one-night-only showing of the 128-minute drama on Tuesday,
June 9, 2015 at 7:30 pm. Scheduled to
appear in person are film director Ivan Passer and Michal Sedlacek, Consul
General of Czech Republic in Los Angeles.
From the press release:
THE SHOP ON MAIN
STREET (1965) was the first film from Eastern Europe ever to win an Academy
Award. Fifty years ago this powerful Czech drama won the Oscar for Best Foreign
Language film. Directed by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos, it was one of the key
films in the Czech New Wave that flourished in the 1960s, before the Soviet
invasion of 1968 stamped out this vital movement. Josef Kroner and Yiddish
theater legend Ida Kaminska (nominated for an Oscar for her performance) star
in this poignant tale of an Aryan functionary who takes over the button shop of
an elderly Jewish woman in a Slovakian town in 1942. They develop a tentative
friendship that is threatened when the Nazis begin rounding up all the Jews in
Esteemed critic Kenneth Tynan said this was "the most moving film about
anti-Semitism ever made." Oscar-nominated screenwriter Eleanor Perry (David and Lisa, Diary of a Mad Housewife) reviewed
the film for Life magazine and
called it "a masterpiece, a flawless examination of the toll of indecision
and the penalty of passive decency." Perry went on to write, "The
film's lasting power is that it poses a couple of additional questions to every
spectator: 'If it had been you, what would you have done?' If it ever is you,
what will you do?'"
Joining Stephen Farber for a post-screening discussion, special guests director
Ivan Passer and Michal Sedlacek, Consul General of Czech Republic in Los
Angeles. Mr. Passer was one of the directors of the Czech New Wave of the
1960s. His acclaimed film, Intimate
Lighting, was also made in 1965. He was the co-writer of Milos Forman's
films Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen's Ball. Like Forman, he
emigrated to America after the Russian invasion. In this country he directed
such films as Born to Win with
George Segal, Law and Disorder
with Carroll O'Connor, Cutter's Way with Jeff Bridges, and the Emmy-winning HBO
movie, Stalin, starring Robert
Please note that all special guest schedules are subject to change.
The Town Center 5 is located at 17200
Ventura Blvd., Encino, CA 91316. The phone
number is (310) 478 – 3836.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:'
History Press is delighted to announce that it will be publishing Some
Kind of Hero this October.
For over 50 years, Albert R.
Broccoli’s Eon Productions has navigated the ups and downs of the volatile
British film industry, enduring both critical wrath and acclaim in equal
measure for its now legendary James Bond series. Latterly, this family-run
business has been crowned with box office gold and recognised by motion picture
academies around the world. However, it has not always been plain sailing.
Changing tax regimes forced 007 to
relocate to France and Mexico; changing fashions and politics led to box office
disappointments; and changing studio regimes and business disputes all but
killed the franchise. And the rise of competing action heroes has constantly
questioned Bond’s place in popular culture. But against all odds the filmmakers
continue to wring new life from the series, and 2012’s Skyfall saw both huge critical and commercial success, crowning 007
as the undisputed king of the action genre.
by Bond scholars Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury, Some Kind of Hero is
based on over
100 new interviews
with the stars, directors, writers, filmmakers, studio executives and the men
who played James Bond. The authors have also drawn upon archives of rare and
unpublished material from around the world.
Some Kind of Hero is the culmination of many years researching and
interviewing the talented individuals
responsible for bringing the James Bond films to the screen. Authors Field and
Chowdhury commented: ‘As we delved deeper into the Bond mythos, we realised
there were many untold tales from many unsung heroes who played key creative
roles in the series. We hope that even the most devoted Bond fans will find
fascinating facets to the franchise in these pages. We have gained a new
appreciation of not only how the series was started but how that Rolls-Royce
standard has been maintained. When SPECTRE
is released later this year, we hope readers will gain some insight in yet
another chapter in the remarkable story of the James Bond films.’
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
MATTHEW FIELD began his writing
career with The Making of The Italian Job.
He has since co-produced a feature length documentary about the film for
Paramount Pictures. In 2008 he penned the autobiography of Oscar-winning film
producer Michael Deeley, Blade Runners,
Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off! Field’s James Bond
journalism has appeared in Mi6
Confidential and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
He is a regular contributor to Cinema
Retro. In 2012, he served as editorial consultant on MGM’s feature length
documentary, Everything or Nothing.
Matthew currently works for a leading film-marketing agency. His most recent
feature film credits include Stephen Frears’ The Program, Michael Winterbottom’s The Face of an Angel and the Australian period drama, The Dressmaker.
CHOWDHURY was born in London and read Law at university there
and in The Netherlands. He has since provided legal advice on various motion
picture, music, publishing, television and theatrical projects. He was the
associate producer on two feature films, Lost
Dogs and Flirting with Flamenco. In
2012, he penned the screenplay to the multi-award winning, Olympic-themed
short, A Human Race. Ajay is the
spokesperson for The James Bond International Fan Club, established in 1979. He
edited their James Bond journal, Kiss
Kiss Bang Bang, and for the last two decades has contributed to numerous
books and magazines on the James Bond legacy. He is regularly called upon by
worldwide media to commentate on all things 007.
CLICK HERE TO PRE-ORDER FROM AMAZON UK (NOT AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER IN THE U.S. YET)
For most of its running time, "The Sleepwalker" is a very compelling and intriguing mystery/drama. It centers on a young couple, Kaia (Gitte Witte) and her boyfriend Andrew (Christopher Abbott), who are attempting to do major restorations on a rural house that Kaia has inherited from her father. At first glance, the two lead a normal life: they laugh, engage in minor disputes, make love and, in general, seem to be in a stable relationship. Their lives become unbalanced, however, with the unexpected arrival of Kaia's half-sister Christine (Stephanie Ellis), a wayward soul with a free spirit and a quirky, unsettling personality. She arrives in the dead of night and announces to Kaia that she is pregnant. Christine makes herself at home in the house she once shared with Kaiva. It becomes clear that both young women, who have different mothers, have very diverse opinions of their deceased father. Kaia is defensive of him while Christine denounces him as a bully and implies he might have engaged in abusing the girls on some level. With Christine's arrival, Kaia takes on the role of mother, as much as older sister, and tries to control Christine's unpredictable behavior and impulses. Christine is outspoken and feels free to critique those around her, regardless of how inappropriate her comments may be. Andrew is clearly disturbed by her presence and wants her out of the house as soon as possible. However, things become more complicated with the arrival of Ira (Brady Corbet), Christine's exasperated boyfriend and father of her forthcoming child. Ira is as much a parental figure to the immature Christine as he is her lover. He and Andrew take an immediate dislike to each other. Andrew, who has a blue collar background, resents the highly educated Ira for what he feels to be his condescending attitude toward him. The two men have an awkward relationship that is made even more strained by Ira and Christine's request to extend their stay at the house. The situation becomes even more tense as Kaiva tries to deal with Christine's psychological problems which include an eerie habit of sleepwalking and engaging unknowingly in shocking acts such as masturbating in front of others. Kaia is well aware of Christine's mental problems, but her obsession with protecting her seems to go beyond that of a concerned sister. In fact, the two seem almost uncomfortably close in the physical sense. They doff their clothes in front of each other and they snuggle together in the same bed in a manner that approaches a mutually erotic attraction. In terms of the group dynamics, the two young couples attempt to have fun through dancing and drinking, tensions continue to mount. The relationship between Andrew and Ira leads to a shocking act of violence that coincides with Christine's mysterious disappearance from the house. Kaia, Ira and Andrew search frantically for her and even notify the police, but it's all to no avail.
"The Sleepwalker" has many admirable aspects. It represents an impressive feature film directing debut for Mona Fastvold, who previously directed music videos. Fastvold has an eye for composing tension-filled situations and gets top performances from a supremely talented cast of largely unknown actors. The film also boasts some very impressive camerawork by Zack Galler and a haunting musical score by Sondre Loche and Kato Adland. However, it is Fastvold the screenwriter who runs into problems. Working with a script co-written by Brady Corbet, who plays Ira, the compelling story line waivers between a Gen X version of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (i.e couples reveal uncomfortable truths about themselves and each other during a tension-filled evening of socializing) and a potential slasher film, as we gird ourselves for what we believe will be some unpredictable act of violence caused by Christine, who is a menacing presence throughout the film. However, the movie's merits are undermined by a completely unsatisfactory ending that leaves most of the key questions unanswered and is so ambiguous as to be incomprehensible. (After watching the final scene several times, I actually consulted other reviews of the film to see if I was simply too stupid to "get it". I found that other reviewers had the same reaction I had.) This seems to be a trend in modern movie-making: leave the audience feeling frustrated and cheated. Ambiguity in the finale of a film can be an attribute. A perfect example revolves around the motivations of the seemingly crazed music teacher played by J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash". Everyone I know who has seen it likes debating whether his final actions in the film were an act of retribution or benevolence. However, there are other films, such as "The Sleepwalker", wherein the ambiguity looks like pretentious gibberish. The movie ends so abruptly that one might suspect that the financing dried up and they had fifteen minutes in which to wrap up the entire production. By taking this tact, the screenwriters negate many of the admirable aspects of the film, which are plentiful. "The Sleepwalker" isn't the only movie to feature a completely unsatisfying ending. "No Country for Old Men" rides along brilliantly until the final scene, which appears to have been the result of a wrong reel having been inserted into the film. Up to that point, it is a brilliant piece of work but its impact is severely negated by a boring and seemingly "out-of-left-field" ending that many viewers complained left them cheated. There are numerous other films that have been indulging in this trend, which is baffling. Why would a director want to leave an audience resentful and unsatisfied, feeling that they have just wasted their time watching an otherwise admirable movie?
"The Sleepwalker" serves as a showcase for some impressive up-and-coming talent. It's too bad they didn't close the deal and produce a movie that lived up to its potential. The film has been released on DVD by MPI Home Video. The edition features a creepy original trailer and some truncated interviews with the director and cast culled from some footage shot for the film's screening at Sundance. Perhaps appropriately, the interviews- like the film itself- end too abruptly to be satisfying.
On June 16, the Warner Archive will release the 1975 screen version of Neil Simon's comedy classic "The Sunshine Boys" as a Blu-ray special edition. The film stars Walter Matthau and George Burns as Lewis and Clark, a legendary vaudeville comedy team who have not been on speaking terms since they broke up their act eleven years ago. For their work in the film, Matthau was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, George Burns won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Richard Benjamin, who co-stars as Matthau's harried nephew and agent who tries the Herculean task of reuniting the team for a television special about comedy greats, won a Golden Globe award. Cinema Retro had the opportunity to speak with Richard Benjamin about his memories of working on the film.
Cinema Retro: "The Sunshine Boys" must have had a very personal meaning to you, given the fact that your uncle, Joe Browning, was popular vaudeville entertainer.
Richard Benjamin: Not only that, but here I had grown up listening to Burns and Allen on the radio and all those shows- and in those days, parents and children listened to the same programs. So it was Burns and Allen, Jack Benny and all that. So when we were filming ""The Sunshine Boys", George Burns used to ask me to go to lunch every day, which was a thrill. One day, walking with him to the commissary, I asked, "Did you know my uncle? He was in vaudeville" and he said, "What was his name?" I said, "Joe Browning". He said, "Not only did I know him, but I know his act. Do you want to hear it?" He started to do my uncle's act! It was incredible. I mean here I am walking between sound stages with George Burns and he's doing my uncle's act. He said, "You know, he was a headliner. We weren't the headliners on some of those bills, your uncle was." It was amazing to hear all that. Obviously, the movie is a love letter to vaudeville and all those guys, so it had a lot of meaning for me.
CR: You also got to meet another legend of comedy, Stan Laurel. How did that come about?
RB: When I went to see my uncle, who lived at the Beacon Hotel on Broadway and 74th Street, which was a block away from where we were shooting "The Sunshine Boys", he had a one bedroom suite in his hotel. There was a trunk in the middle of the living room, right as you walked in. It was a big steamer trunk with his initials on it: "JB", and the "J" and the "B" were intertwined, you know the way they would do that? He was ready to go! If he got a call, he was ready. So anyway, years and years later, my friend who I went to Northwestern with was out here at UCLA doing a master's thesis on Laurel and Hardy. One day he said to me, "I'm going out to interview Stan Laurel. Do you want to come?" I said, "Are you kidding?" So he and I went out there. Stan Laurel and his wife were in a six story apartment building facing the ocean in Santa Monica. This was a place that Jerry Lewis had put them into because they evidently had no money at all. People never knew it but Lewis did things like this, but he never broadcast it. He set them up in that apartment. When we got there, there was a buzzer downstairs and my friend Jerry buzzed it. A voice came on and said, "Yes? (imitates Stan Laurel). We told him who were were and he said, "Come right up!" I thought, "My God! Through this little speaker, I'm hearing Stan Laurel! This is unbelievable!". So we went upstairs and there in the center of his living room is his trunk with the "S" and the "L" intertwined. He was ready to go, too, just like my uncle. Those guys had a motto: "Have Trunk, Will Travel". It was life to them.
CR: Prior to working on "The Sunshine Boys", you already had a working relationship with Neil Simon...
RB: Yes, they were casting the national company of "Barefoot in the Park" with Myrna Loy. Fortunately, a friend of mine who I went to school with, Penny Fuller, said she was understudying Elizabeth Ashley. I mean, listen to how these things work...She asked if I was reading for the national company. I said, "For what?" I didn't know anything about it. She said, "Your agent didn't tell you about it?" I said, "No". So I called my agent at that time and asked, "Can you get me a reading for this? I'm really right for it." He said, "Oh, Oh, sure...that's a good idea." But it never would have happened had Penny not told me. So I went in there and I did a scene- actually I did it with Penny- and Mike Nichols was casting it. I had never met him but I recognized his laugh from his comedy records with Elaine May. After the reading, he came up to me and said, "Well, that's fine." I didn't know what that meant. When I was walking out, my agent was there and he said, "You've got it! They're casting you!". So that was my introduction to Neil, through being cast in the national company. Then he and Mike cast me in the national company of "The Odd Couple" with Dan Dailey. Then Neil asked me to do "Star Spangled Girl" with Tony Perkins on Broadway. So there was a ten minute audition and I'm working for three years and doing all these other things with Neil. I mean, if Penny didn't tell me that, I don't know if you and I would be talking today. You could just miss something by inches, you know? That's the thing about this business. You really never, never know. Anything you plan on never happens but something else happens.
CR: Prior to filming, you had also worked previously with director Herbert Ross on "The Last of Sheila" (1973).That must have put you into a pretty good comfort zone going into "The Sunshine Boys".
RB: Yes, I was. Also the material was just fabulous and funny. Being with Herb again was great.
CR: Jerry Lewis always said of Dean Martin that being the straight man was the hardest job in all of comedy. In the film, you're the straight man between Walter Matthau and George Burns. You obviously found the formula for not overshadowing the stars while not being overshadowed yourself, especially since you won the Golden Globe for your performance.
RB: You couldn't be in a better environment. I mean, all these people and the experience they all had. With that material and being at MGM and having everything that you needed, it was pretty special- and I knew it at the time. I was grateful to be in it. It was really great and Herb was terrific.
CR: As you know, neither Walter Matthau or George Burns were originally envisioned for the film. Phil Silvers had auditioned for the role of Willy that Matthau ended up playing and Jack Benny had been signed to play Al but he dropped out when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. (Screen tests and make up test of Silvers and Benny appear on the Warner Archive's Blu-ray release of the film.) I presume you weren't involved with the production in these early stages...
RB: No, no, I wasn't. I saw on this new Blu-ray those tests but I wasn't on the film at that time.
CR: When George Burns took over the Jack Benny role, you, Matthau and Herb Ross got together with him to go over an initial reading of the script. Can you relate what that experience was like, especially since Burns hadn't made a movie in over thirty years?
RB: His character doesn't appear until about fifteen or twenty pages into the script. So he was just sitting there, kind of looking off into the distance. We were wondering why he hadn't opened his script. It was right in front of him in a folder. Well, we're flipping pages and reading and every once in a while we would look over at George and think, "Well, he should be opening that pretty soon." Then we started to worry that maybe he was just out of it and didn't quite know what was happening here. He didn't touch the script. He was just staring out the window. Finally, we got to his first page and we thought, "If he doesn't open it now, it's going to be kind of sad." I had the line before his so I said my line and without missing a beat he said his line. Then he said the next line, then next and next and next and next. He was just ripping those lines out there. He's not missing anything and he's very funny. So Walter says, "Wait a second! What the hell is this???" So George said, "Aren't you supposed to learn the script?" Walter said, "Yeah, yeah- but you don't have to learn the whole thing!" So George said, "Well, don't you know your lines?" I thought, "We're in for it now! We'd better be on our toes because there's no fooling around with him!"
CR: I understand you were on the set every day, even when you weren't required.
RB: Yes, because George wanted to go to lunch with me every day.
CR: As a native New Yorker, you must have appreciated all the locations that were used in the film.
RB: It was right where I grew up. But the scenes in Willy's apartment were a set. We shot that in California.
CR: It's really a terrific piece of work. It really looks like an apartment, right down to the set decorations. Al Brenner, the production designer, did a great job.
RB: Yes, that's the brilliance of Brenner and people like him. He was just fabulous. I think the lobby was the Ansonia in New York but the apartment was all a set. It was a tremendous amount of work. You know, the play is set all in the apartment except for the scene where they go to the variety show. The New York locations were great- like going to the Friars Club and the street scenes and Willy going to that garage when he is lost and where we shot the commercial for Frumpy's potato chips.
CR: I never realized F. Murray Abraham was in the garage scene.
RB: Yes, he was the mechanic who gives Willy directions.
CR: He was a decade away from winning a Best Actor Oscar for "Amadeus".
RB: I know. Isn't that incredible?
CR: A unique aspect of the film is that there is no musical score.
RB: Only that vaudeville scene that opens the credits- and then I think there's something at the end, but there is no music throughout the film. That's because nothing needs to be emotionally enhanced. It's all real.
CR: As an established director in your own right, don't you find it fascinating that there was a time when you could make a major commercial film that contained so many long sequences of nothing but dialogue?
RB: It would be a challenge to find actors who could do it. We had Walter from the stage and George from vaudeville who could both do long, long takes. What's great about that is that you build up power during those takes. It's like being out on a wire because if anybody screws up, you have to go back to the beginning. Stage actors love the challenge but there are other actors who can't do it. They can only little short things. You don't trust anybody when all they can do is all those little quick cuts because it's not life real life.
CR: It must have pleased you when the film opened at Radio City Music Hall.
RB: It was great because my wife's (Paula Prentiss) first picture, "Where the Boys Are", opened there. That was the first time I saw her on the screen. That was- and maybe still is- the biggest screen in the world. The theater seats thousands so it was quite something. Having grown up in New York and having walked past that theater my entire life and then having all that happen was thrilling. It's still thrilling to me.
CR: You've said that "The Sunshine Boys" is a valuable filmed record of a bygone era - vaudeville- that might otherwise be forgotten.
RB: I don't know if people even know what that era is any more. Those people lived more on stage than off. They did eight shows a day, seven days a week. They were on the road for fifty weeks or something like that. They knew audiences better than anybody because of that tremendous experience. There's nothing like it today. What gives anybody that kind of experience? But Neil wrote an extraordinary play. He's quite extraordinary. I think it was Walter Kerr who once said about Neil, "Yes, they are jokes but why they are so funny is because the truth is in them."
CLICK HERE TO PRE-ORDER "THE SUNSHINE BOYS" BLU-RAY FROM AMAZON. (AVAILABLE ON JUNE 16)
(Thanks to Carol Samrock of Carl Samrock Public Relations for her assistance in arranging this interview.)
The Warner archive has released the 1972 crime comedy "Every Little Crook and Nanny" as a burn-to-order DVD. The film boasts an impressive cast with Lynn Redgrave top-lined as Miss Poole, a comically stereotypical prim and proper young British woman of good manners who operates an etiquette school for boys and girls. When she is evicted so that the school can be utilized as a site for nefarious doings by crime kingpin Carmine Ganucci (Victor Mature), Miss Poole is facing destitution and the loss of her livelihood. When she goes to Ganucci to explain her plight, she is mistaken for one of many young women who are applying to be the crime lord's family nanny. He is instantly smitten by her good manners and eloquent speech and hires her on the spot. Miss Poole devises a plan to take advantage of the situation. She accepts the position and is soon regarded as an indispensable employee of Ganucci and his wife Stella (Margaret Blye). It seems Miss Poole is the only one who can control the couple's independent-minded, pre-pubescent son Lewis (Phillip Graves.). The kid is a real handful. He's sassy, sometimes arrogant and not prone to following orders, even though he seems to idolize his father for being a feared Mafia don. When Carmine and Stella leave for a romantic vacation in Italy, Miss Poole enacts an audacious plot to stage a phony kidnapping of Lewis in the hopes that she can extort just enough money from Carmine ($50,000) to reopen her etiquette school in another location. To carry out the scheme she enlists her former piano player at the school, Luther (Austin Pendleton) to pose as the kidnapper. The perpetually tense, nerdy young man bungles virtually every aspect of the caper but manages to get Lewis back to his apartment, where the young "victim" forms an instant bond with Luther's doting wife Ida (Mina Kolb), who not only views Lewis as the child she always wanted but uses his presence to chastise her husband for their sexless marriage. Meanwhile, Miss Poole reports the kidnapping to one of Carmine's low-level mob guys, Benny Napkins (Paul Sand). Benny is less-than-happy about being chosen to help Miss Poole deal with the kidnap situation, especially since he knows Carmine will have him murdered if Lewis is not returned safely. Miss Poole assures him that, if they can devise a ruse to get Carmine to send the $50,000 to them, they can retrieve Lewis before Carmine even realizes a kidnapping has occurred. To carry out this aspect of the plot, she goes to Carmine's lawyers (Dom DeLuise and John Astin), who immediately realize that their lives are on the line if they don't get Lewis back safely. An unexpected plot device is introduced wherein Carmine, oblivious to his son's fate, enters a deal with some minor criminals in Italy that requires payment of a sum of money that coincidentally equals the ransom demand. From this point, everyone gets confused (including the viewer) as the main characters scramble about, often working against each other's interests in order to save Lewis as well as their own lives. One of the more off-the-wall elements of the film is dual personality of Miss Poole, who generally acts like a dowdy Mary Poppins-like personality, but who is willing to drop her knickers in order to keep Benny Napkins in line.
The cleverest aspect of the film is it's witty title. Unfortunately, the screenplay, based on the novel by Evan Hunter, doesn't carry through on a promising scenario despite (or because of) the fact that it was developed by three writers. The director, veteran screenwriter Cy Howard, who had enjoyed a recent success with Lovers and Other Strangers, keeps the pace brisk and sometimes frantic, and gets spirited performances from a fine cast (Austin Pendleton is most amusing). However, the film never delivers the belly laughs the scenario seems to promise and the movie ends up being more likable than genuinely funny. The DVD includes an original trailer that amusingly plays up the return of Victor Mature as a leading man ("The ORIGINAL Victor Mature!"). Mature, who hit it big in the 1940s and 1950s, had only appeared sporadically on film in the decade prior to this movie. The film does afford him a rare opportunity to show off his skills with light comedy, and he delivers a very funny performance.
Star Vista/Time Life has released "The Best of the Ed Sullivan Show" as a six-DVD collection. The following is the official press release:
had a better eye for talent than Ed Sullivan. That simple fact was confirmed by
the broad range of incredible acts he brought into America's living rooms from
his Broadway stage between 1948 and 1971 on the greatest, longest-running prime
timevariety show in the history of television. This May, StarVista
Entertainment/Time Life will bring home audiences front row seats for THE
BEST OF THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, a 6-disc collector's set never before
available at retail. Priced to add to every TV aficionado's collection at
$59.95srp, the special edition
release delivers the biggest names in music, comedy and variety captured in the
prime of their careers, as well as all the astonishing novelty acts selected by
Ed as his personal favorites, culled from over 1,000 hours of classic
Alan King famously said,"Ed Sullivan can't sing, can't dance and can't
tell a joke, but he does it better than anyone else." And while the
host of the eponymous show may not have been as talented as his guests, he had
an uncanny ability to spot top-notch talent and welcomed everyone to his
stage: politicians, poets, sports idols, Broadway stars, musicians -- be they
rock, classical, jazz, opera, gospel, pop, rhythm and blues -- as well as
comedians, novelty acts, children's entertainment legends, and acts that defied
label. Sullivan filled his weekly showcase with something for everyone,
and he was so successful at it that he became America's most powerful cultural
arbiter. Presiding over many "firsts" on American
television, including appearances by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny,
Hank Williams, Jr., Itzhak Perlman and Harry Belafonte, Sullivan is probably
best remembered for bringing us Elvis Presley's three historic
appearances in 1956/'57, and the Beatles' three earth-shattering
performances in 1964.
23-year run, The Ed Sullivan Show presented a remarkable array
of over 10,000 performers and celebrities, including the most spectacular
ensemble of stars in show business and THE BEST OF THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW
reflects that across 6 carefully curated DVDs: "Unforgettable Performances,"
"The All-Star Comedy Special," "World's Greatest Novelty
Acts," "Amazing Animal Acts," the "50th Anniversary
Special" and an exclusive bonus disc never before available at
retail. The collection includes:
·Rare appearances by Barbra Streisand, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis, Jr.,
Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire and more
·Rock 'n' roll's greatest -- including Elvis Presley, The Beatles,
Buddy Holly, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds, Janis Joplin and more
·Comedic talents Milton Berle, Carol Burnett, George Carlin, Rodney
Dangerfield, Phyllis Diller, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Joan
Rivers, the Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson and more
·Classic Broadway performances from My Fair Lady, Man
of la Manchaand West Side Story
·The best of the daring acrobats, challenging balancing acts and
dexterous jugglers-selected by Ed as his personal favorites
·Zippy the roller-skating chimp, Heidi the Talking Dog, the
legendary Lipizzaner stallions and more than a dozen other amazing animal acts
·Sullivan in a rare comic sketch with comedy legends Lucille Ball
and Desi Arnaz
This historic DVD set contains over 2 hours of special bonus
features, including the only surviving on-camera interview with Ed and Sylvia
Sullivan, exclusive interviews with Milton Berle, Phyllis Diller, Shari Lewis,
Johnny Mathis, Michelle Phillips, Joan Rivers, Smokey Robinson, Señor Wences,
Flip Wilson and more.
of military movies will appreciate “Screaming Eagles” which purports to tell
the “Blazing Untold Story of the 101st Airborne’s HELL RAIDERS!” Unlike the
many years later fact-based exploits told in the “Band of Brothers” mini-series,
this 1956 movie offers a more personal and brief fictional account of Company D
in the days leading up to and after D-Day.
movie offers the usual war movie clichés that typify the war movie genre. We
meet the main characters in a roll call during a practice jump in the opening
credits. The men are identified as members of fifteenth paratroopers of Company
D, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.
story begins in England, June 1944, and three replacement soldiers arrive to
join “Dog” Company days before the Normandy Invasion of France. The
replacements meet Sgt. Forrest, played by Pat Conway, and Lt. Pauling, played
by Jan Merlin. The Lieutenant welcomes the new guys with a pep talk while Sgt.
Forrest singles out Pvt. Mason as trouble and makes it clear that he has to be
a part of the team. Pvt. Mason, played by Tom Tryon, has a chip on his shoulder
and quickly establishes himself as a hot-head. Martin Milner plays Pvt.
Corliss, one of the other replacements and Mason’s buddy.
Mason receives a “Dear John” letter and knocks over the other guy’s equipment
after getting drunk. On the eve of the D-Day invasion, the men reach out to Sgt.
Forrest who talks with Lt. Pauling. Forrest wants Mason out, but the benevolent
platoon commander gives Mason a second chance after talking with the men of “Dog”
Company. Mason screws up during a practice jump and the mistrust lingers
throughout the rest of the movie.
landing in France, the men discover they have missed their drop zone and their objective
by several miles. They hike through German occupied France and make their way
to the bridge which they have to take and hold in order to prevent German
advances to the Normandy landings at Utah and Omaha beaches. The men are
ordered to hold their fire so they don’t attract unwanted German attention. A
German soldier spots Lt. Pauling and Mason kills him with his knife as the
German gets off a shot which starts a fire-fight. Lt. Pauling is blinded in the
aftermath of the firefight by a wounded German soldier and Mason becomes Pauling’s
take a German occupied farmhouse and befriend Marianne, a French woman played
by Jacqueline Beer. They capture a German radio operator, but none of the men
speak German. Marianne speaks German, but does not speak English. Conveniently,
the blinded Lt. Pauling speaks French and they begin a series of misinformation
communications via radio to redirect the Germans away from the bridge. The men
of “Dog” Company make their way through a village and several fire-fights on
their way to the bridge with the aid of Marianne.
was an early movie in the careers of Martin Milner and Tom Tryon. Tryon may be best remembered from such movies as “I Married a Monster
From Outer Space,” “The Story of Ruth,” “The Longest Day,” “Moon Pilot,” “The
Cardinal,” “In Hams Way” “The Glory Guys” and many TV roles. He also had a
prominent role in the uncompleted Marilyn Monroe movie, “Something’s Got To
Give.” He also became a bestselling author.
is probably best remembered as the star of two iconic TV series during the 60s
and 70s. He starred in “Route 66” from 1960-64 and played Officer Pete Malloy
during the seven season run of “Adam-12” from 1968-75. He also featured in the
movies “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” “Halls of Montezuma,” “Operation Pacific,”
“Destination Gobi,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “Sweet Smell of Success,”
“Valley of the Dolls” and appeared in just about every TV series during the 50s
and 60s including “Twilight Zone” and a return as Captain Pete Malloy in the
brief 1989-91 series “The New Adam-12.”
Beer was Miss France in 1954 and married to adventurer/director/ writer Thor Heyerdahl.
She had small roles in several prominent Hollywood movies including “The
Buccaneer” (1958), “Pillow Talk,” “The Prize” and “Made in Paris” as well as appearances
in several TV series.
movie also features Alvy Moore, who is probably best
remembered by fans of “Green Acres” as Hank Kimball, Joe di Reda, Mark Damon,, Paul
Burke, Robert Blake and Ralph Votrian.
the use of American surplus vehicles painted up as German vehicles and post-
WWII aircraft used as stand-ins for planes of the era may be distracting to
nitpickers like myself, most viewers will likely not notice. Overall, there’s a
nice attention to detail and good use of archive combat footage. The German’s
speak German and the German radio
operator, played by Werner Klingler, is also credited as the technical advisor
for the German military.
was directed by long-time Hollywood contract director Charles F. Haas and was
released by Allied Artists in May 1956. The black and white widescreen image
looks terrific and the movie sounds great, landing at a swift 81 minutes
running time. There are no extras on this bare-bones burn-to-order DVD via the
Warner Archive Collection but this is a welcome edition for war movie fans.
One of the most rewarding byproducts of reviewing movies for a living is that you will often encounter some prominent gem that somehow managed to escape your attention previously. In certain cases, it's arguable that a film might well be more appreciated many years later than it was during its initial release. Such a case pertains to the 1965 crime drama Once a Thief. Directed by the under-rated Ralph Nelson, the film successfully invokes the mood and atmosphere of the classic black-and-white film noir crime thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s. Although this movie was widely credited as being Alain Delon's first starring role in an English language production, he was among the all-star cast seen the previous year in the big budget Hollywood production of The Yellow Rolls Royce. It is accurate to say, however, that Once a Thief afforded him his first opportunity to be the male lead in a major American film. The film was also significant in that it provided Ann-Margret with her first opportunity to show her skills as a dramatic actress. Her meteoric rise to fame had resulted from her roles in the musicals State Fair, Bye Bye Birdie and, most recently, opposite Elvis Presley in the smash hit Viva Las Vegas. In 1964, she made her dramatic film debut in Kitten with a Whip playing a deceitful "bad girl" in a film so bad it ultimately ended up being "honored" as a segment on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Another dramatic role the same year in The Pleasure Seekers was similarly unimpressive. However, 1965 proved to be her breakout year in terms of earning critical respect with back-to-back impressive performances in Bus Riley's Back in Town, Once a Thief and The Cincinnati Kid. Over the course of a few years, Ann-Margret would prove she was much more than just a talented singer and dancer. The decision to team her with Alain Delon proved to be an inspired one, as they practically smolder on screen together.
The film opens in a hip jazz club. Over the credits, we watch an astounding drum solo by Russell Lee, the likes of which had not been seen on screen until last year's Whiplash. The viewer is immediately impressed by the camerawork of veteran cinematographer Robert Burks, who had shot numerous Hitchcock classics in the 1950s and, most recently, The Birds and Marnie. The crowd at the jazz club indicates before we even see an exterior shot that we are in a very progressive place. At a time when the American South was still deeply embroiled in attempting to practice segregation, we see that the customers of the jazz club consist of both black and white patrons, all grooving almost hypnotically to an African American musician, whose drum solo almost transcends what seems to be humanly possible. We soon learn that we are in San Francisco, the American city that would most prominently embrace the on-going cultural revolution. The scene quickly shifts to a couple of thugs who rob a liquor store and needlessly murder its owner, a middle-aged Chinese woman, in front of her horrified husband. The scene switches again, as we are introduced to Eddie Pedlak (Delon), a handsome young immigrant from Trieste who drives the same classic sports car and wears the same sheepskin coat that were identified with the gunman in the liquor store robbery. Still, if Eddie is hiding his participation in such a heinous crime, he is able to put on the ultimate poker face. He eagerly greets his gorgeous wife Kristine (Ann-Margret) and their young daughter Kathy (Tammy Locke). Although they live in a modest apartment in a poor neighborhood, Eddie is eager to show his wife and daughter a major investment he has just made. Driving them to the bay area, Eddie proudly brings them aboard a small private boat that he says he has just managed to put a down payment on. When Kristine asks how he could afford to do so, he says he had been secretly squirreling away money from his modest paycheck as a truck driver. Yet, the viewer is suspicious. We have just seen a man who seemed to match Eddie's description rob a liquor store. Could the funds have come from those ill-gotten gains? Veteran detective Mike Vido (Van Heflin) certainly thinks so. He is convinced that Eddie is the man who once shot him in the stomach some years earlier when he attempted to thwart a robbery that was in progress. Since then he has haunted Eddie and refused to believe that he has gone straight. Vido is convinced Eddie was the man behind the liquor store robbery and murder, though his boss, Lt. Kebner (Jeff Corey), chides Vido for allowing his personal obsession with nailing Eddie for a crime to cloud his better judgment.
For much of the screenplay by Zekial Marko, who adapted the script from his own novel, the story plays like a modern version of Hugo's Les Miserables, with Eddie as the Jean Valjean character- a once minor criminal now trying to go straight- and Vido as the relentless detective Javert, who is determined to prove he is still engaged in illegal activities. Marko's script rings with a feel for street life and has an authenticity not found in most crime movies of this era. (Marko also turns in a sterling supporting performance as a career criminal who is acquainted with Eddie.) Vido's constant harassment of Eddie costs the young man several jobs, including his latest occupation as a trucker. In the film's most poignant sequence, he applies for unemployment insurance and must deal with an emotionless bureaucrat who tries to deny him benefits based on his criminal past. It's a moving and very emotional sequence and it's superbly played by Delon, who demonstrates that Eddie is a man at the end of his rope. The film takes an unexpected turn when he is acquitted of the liquor store robbery/murder, but his career is in ruins and he is distraught at his inability to provide for his family. Against his wishes, Kristine takes a night job as a waitress. This being 1965, Eddie is shamed by the fact that his wife has become the family breadwinner. He barely tolerates the situation until he learns that Kristine is actually employed by a nightclub and is being forced to pose as a single woman and wear a revealing uniform. He goes into a rage and forces her to quit. Their once happy marriage is now a shambles. At this point, fate intervenes with the unwelcome appearance of Eddie's older brother Walter (Jack Palance) who tries to enlist him in a major robbery of platinum from an industrial complex where Eddie recently worked. Walter estimates the haul to be worth over a million dollars but he and his sleazy henchmen need Eddie's knowledge of the place. At first Eddie heeds Kristine's pleas not to get sucked back into the world of crime, but with financial pressure building and no prospects for a legitimate job, he reluctantly consents to help plan the caper. The latter part of the film depicts the enactment of the plan, which is imaginatively staged and is filled with suspense. As these things generally turn out in crime movies, the robbery is a success, but double crosses between Walter and his henchmen prove to have disastrous consequences. Eddie finds himself marked for death and must enlist the most unlikely of allies- Detective Vido- when he learns that his daughter has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom until he turns the platinum over to his former partners.
Once a Thief offers a treasure trove of superior performances. In addition to Delon's impressive work, Ann-Margret excels as the young wife and mother who simply wants a "normal" life. We see her transformed from a happy-go-lucky woman who is both a doting mom and vibrant woman with a healthy love life (she is married to Alain Delon, after all) to a nerve-wracked emotional basket case who must cope with her husband being marked for death even as he frantically promises to get back their kidnapped daughter. Van Heflin brings understated dignity to the role of the world-weary detective and Palance does what Palance did best: play a charismatic heavy. The real scene-stealer is character actor John Davis Chandler as Walter's chief henchman, James Sargatanas. He is creepy to look at, with a slim build, premature white hair and omnipresent sun glasses. He resembles the guys from the hit team played by Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager in Don Siegel's 1964 version of The Killers - - only he's somehow even more menacing than those psychopaths were. This should have been a star-making role for Chandler, but it was not to be. Another familiar face among the crooks is Tony Musante, who would go on to appear in many memorable crime flicks. A special word about young Tammy Locke, who plays Kathy. She was only six years old when she appeared in the film and gave an amazingly accomplished performance. Director Nelson always possessed a skill at emphasizing the human aspects of his films and this one is no exception. You care deeply about the protagonists and their individual dilemmas. The film ratchets up the suspense in the final moments and Nelson manages to avoid a cliched happy ending.
The Warner Archive DVD boasts an excellent transfer and includes the original trailer and a very interesting production short in which we see composer Lalo Schifrin discussing with Ralph Nelson his theories for scoring the film. During an era in which film composers were largely taken for granted, it's nice to see the spotlight on Schifrin, who has been responsible for some of the most memorable TV and film scores of all time. Put this title on your "must-have" list.
Most cinema scholars not only cite Alfred
Hitchcock’s 1960 masterwork Psycho as
the start of the modern horror film, but also its iconic shower scene as the
beginning of a new level of acceptability of violent content in cinema. Over
the next few years, violence (and gore) would escalate in genre films such as
the Herschell Gordon Lewis splatter-fests Blood
Feast (1963) and Color Me Blood Red (1965).
By the end of the decade, George Romero’s excellent zombie-munching classic, Night of the Living Dead (1968), as well
as non-horror masterpieces like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), left no doubt in the minds of cinemagoers
that they were in a new era of in-your-face, cinematic violence and gore. As
far as horror movies go, the trend continued throughout the 1970s with now
legendary films such as Wes Craven’s The Last
House on the Left (1972), William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and Romero’s Night
of the Living Dead sequel, the ultra-gory, semi-satirical zombie masterpiece
Dawn of the Dead (1978). As the 1980s began, most horror films
were copying the structure of John Carpenter’s phenomenal 1978 classic, Halloween, but, due to being incapable
of duplicating that film’s expertly- mounted suspense, they instead added Dawn’s grisly effects. By 1981, horror
fans expected to see plenty of blood and guts on the big screen, so almost
every genre film released during that time happily obliged. Not all horror
movies took this approach, however. For instance, there was an Australian-made
film that deviated from the current violent trend and, instead, went for more
cerebral scares. That film was called The
After miraculously walking away unscathed
from a plane crash that killed almost 300 innocent passengers, 747 pilot Captain
Keller (Jesus of Nazareth’sRobert Powell), in an attempt to
discover exactly what caused the crash and why he was the only one to survive, joins
forces with a psychic named Hobbs (Jenny Agutter from Logan’s Run and An American
Werewolf in London) who strongly feels the restless spirits of the newly
Directed by accomplished British actor
David Hemmings (Blow-Up, Barbarella, Deep
Red), The Survivor is an
adaptation of a story of the same name by famed horror novelist James Herbert (whose
first novel, The Rats,was also adapted into a movie; 1983’s Deadly Eyes). The supernatural chiller,
which co-stars Australian actress Angela Punch-McGregor (The Island) and, in his final role, Hollywood legend Joseph Cotton
(Citizen Kane, The Third Man, Shadow of a
Doubt), was produced by Antony I. Ginnane (Snapshot, Dead Kids and Harlequin,
which also stars Robert Powell as well as David Hemmings). The $1, 200, 000
budgeted film also features a wonderful, but unusual soundtrack by talented
composer Brian May (Mad Max, Road Games and
the Ginnane-produced Patrick) and contains
an interesting story, powerful acting, beautiful daytime cinematography by
Academy Award-winning director of photography John Seale (The English Patient),as
well as impressive and somewhat frightening imagery (although, it would have
benefitted from a few more creepy images, atmospheric sequences and a clearer
narrative; not to mention slightly speeding up the pace).
So, was the idea to do a more psychological
horror film the way to go or should the filmmakers have gone ahead and added
the excessive gore that was demanded by horror audiences at the time? I have to
say that, artistically, the filmmakers, without a doubt, made the right
decision. It’s difficult to imagine this very suggestive movie soaked in bloody
effects as the gore would seem out of place and make the film feel extremely
unbalanced. However, The Survivor’s failure
at the box office was mostly due to it not packing enough of a bloody punch
that 1981 audiences demanded, so, in a business sense, I suppose the no-gore
decision was a bad one. Still, I’m glad the decision was made. Although by no
means a horror classic, The Survivor is
a well-made and evocative thriller that, almost 35 years after its release, can
finally be appreciated for what it is and not panned for refusing to meet
audience demands of its time.
The Survivor has been released
on DVD by the fine folks at Scorpion Releasing. The film is presented in its
original 2:35:1 aspect ratio and, although the night scenes are a tad too dark
and the film contains very minor scratching, the movie is otherwise extremely
sharp and more than watchable. Special features include a humorous and
informative introduction by Scorpion DVD hostess (and former WWE diva/TNA
knockout) Katarina Leigh Waters as well as an interesting and eye-opening audio
commentary by producer Antony I. Ginnane (moderated by Katarina) who talks
about, among many other subjects, David Hemmings’ visual style and the reasons
as to why the film was originally cut down prior to its release (the version
here is the full 98 minute cut). The disc also contains the original theatrical
trailer as well as trailers for a plethora of other great Scorpion releases
such as Mortuary, The Devil Within Her,
Don’t Answer the Phone and Final Exam.
If you’re looking for a moody, adult and more cerebral horror film, give The Survivor a whirl.
Robert Mandel's F/X is one of the
most entertaining and compulsively watchable thrillers of 1986. I originally
caught up with it on VHS and, while I was impressed with the film, the ending I
found to be both hokey and frustrating, mostly due to the completely
out-of-place 1982 song “Just an Illusion” by Imagination that plays over the
end credits. I felt that it undermined all that preceded it. However, like William Friedkin's To Live and Die in LA (1985) and David
Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986), F/X is a film that would only grow on me
after subsequent repeated viewings. I learned to forgive the inclusion of this
song as the final minutes should really be viewed as a visual pun on the film’s
overall theme, which begs the question “What is real and what is fiction?”
F/X, which was released on Friday, February 7, 1986, is also
sometimes known as Murder by Illusion. It gives us Rollie Tyler (played expertly by
Bryan Brown) as a master special-effects movie wizard who is approached by a
group of people who claim to be from the Justice Department and have a unique
offer for him. They want him to stage a fake assassination of Nicholas De Franco
(Jerry Orbach), a reputed mobster who is about to testify against his friends
just before entering the Witness Relocation Program. Naturally, they want to
give the impression that De Franco is dead before the real-life mobsters can
get to him first as a contract has been put out on his life. Rollie, whose
apartment is adorned with posters of Zombie
(1979) and Fade to Black (1980) and effects
prosthetics made for movies, is initially very hesitant, and when he refuses
their offer he is told that they will now go back to his biggest competitor to
do the job. He then asks them to give him 24 hours to think about it, and the
carrot at the end of the proverbial stick proves to be a very strong catalyst.
After setting up mobster De Franco, the fake assassination, which is similar to Michael Corleone’s hit on Virgil Sollazzo and Captain McCluskey, goes off
without a hitch (the notion of the Witness Protection Program, as it is known
today, is now common thanks to Goodfellas
(1990) and The Sopranos (1999-2007),
but back then it was virtually unheard of). Unfortunately for Rollie, the truth
about what he has just done is about to be revealed to him when he is suddenly
thrust into an unbelievable chain of events that he himself, despite his
stature in an industry that prides itself on make-believe, probably never could
the film may not seem very original nearly 30 years later, it still holds up
remarkably well for the material. One of the things that truly bolsters this
film from its intended origins (a low-budget made-for-TV movie) is the casting.
Bryan Brown is terrific as the special-effects man and Diane Venora, an actress
who is seen far too little these days, is equally likable as his
actress/girlfriend. Mason Adams, best known to American audiences in his role
as the managing editor in TV’s Lou Grant,
shines as the mastermind behind De Franco’s exodus from society. The real
fireworks begin however, with the introduction of Leo McCarthy (the phenomenal
Brian Dennehy), a police lieutenant who, along with his partner Mickey (Joe
Grifasi), is assigned to the case. The banter between Leo and Mickey takes on a
Mutt and Jeff dynamic as they try to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Czechoslovakian cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, who sadly passed away in March
of 2015, does a beautiful job lensing F/X,
taking what quite possibly could have been just an average “B” thriller and
elevating it to a highly cinematic “A” feature. Also on board is the late veteran character actor Trey Wilson from Raising Arizona (1987) and Miss Firecracker (1989). Roscoe Orman, who played Gordon on Sesame Street, appears here in the only
role that I have seen him in outside of that beloved children’s show.
F/X was filmed during the summer of 1985 and is a bit jarring
to watch now due to the complete and total absence of cell phones, computer
equipment that looks like it stems from the Stone Age and all of the Titanic-sized
American vehicles on the road. One scene shows a car plow through a series of
posters advertising Rambo: First Blood
Part II, which drives home (no pun intended of course) the make-believe
nature of moviemaking with its tongue-in-cheek in-joke and is also a nice nod
to Brian Dennehy, who fought Rambo in that series’ first film. I cannot say enough about Bill Conti’s score
which is a fully realized work, complete with an orchestra, the sort that you
don’t really see much of in movies nowadays, and it fits this movie like a
glove. From the film’s opening over the
Orion Pictures logo to the love theme to the cat-and-mouse chase through
Central Park to the spectacular car chase through Manhattan, this score can
easily be enjoyed on its own merits.
transfer of this film on Blu-ray is a considerable improvement over the
original VHS tape which was murky and plagued by issues related to the
inclusion of the Macrovision anti-copying code. The multiple laser disc releases and DVD releases were not much better,
but Kino Lorber has done an admirable job of releasing the film this time
around. There is some film gain apparent
in the darker scenes, but nothing terribly distracting. The extras on the Blu-ray consist of an
interview with director Robert Mandel (14:00) wherein he discusses the pleasure
he had in making the film and how he didn’t feel qualified to helm the job due
to his lack of experience directing thrillers or action films, though producer
Dodi Fayed, who died in 1997 in the car crash that killed Princess Diana, felt
otherwise. On the basis of Mr. Mandel’s
1983 drama Independence
which to this day has yet to be released by the Warner Archive, he was hired to
make the characters human and real. The
director comes across as affable and appreciative of those who contributed to
making the film.
The Making of F/X is a featurette that also runs 14
minutes in length and was shot during the film’s production, presumably to drum
up interest at the 1985 San Diego Comic Con , as actor Brown addresses the
camera and makes reference to a “convention”. Behind-the-scenes documentaries and fan conventions abound today, but 30
years ago there was very little information outside of Fangoria magazine that could illustrate how special make-up effects
were actually accomplished. Carl
Fullerton, the special makeup supervisor who now has over 70 film credits to
his name, provides his expertise to convince the audience of Rollie’s
role. John Stears, who won Oscars for
his work on Thunderball (1965) and Star Wars (1977), talks about the four
instances that he himself was approached by reputed mobsters to do what Rollie
does in the film. Apparently, these were
four offers that he did refuse (sorry, couldn’t resist). Terry Rawlings, a veteran of some of Ridley
Scott’s best work, is also on board as the editor and keeps the film moving
along at a brisk pace with great match shots and visual and aural segues.
out the extras are theatrical trailers for F/X
and the sequel from 1991, F/X 2
which, to me, looks like a Hollywood production, and is a film that I have not
Venora utters a prophetic line at the beginning of the film: “Nobody cares
about making movies about people anymore. All they care about are special
effects.” That seems to be true of
movies more now than ever before.