Here's a bizarre double feature that opened in England in 1968: the would-be epic WWII movie The Battle of Anzio starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Falk on the same bill as Jerry Lewis' Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River. Note: in the USA, the Mitchum film was released under the title Anzio.
Don Knotts came to fame with his trademark comedy style of portraying a meek, excessively nervous character. He was Woody Allen before Woody Allen was Woody Allen. Knotts honed his skills on Steve Allen's show in the 1950s, with his "man on the street" Nervous Nellie routine sending audiences into fits of laughter. He co-starred with fellow up-and-comer Andy Griffith in the hit Broadway production of "No Time for Sergeants" and the subsequent film version. When Griffith landed his own TV series in 1960 in which he played the sheriff of fictional small town Mayberry, Knotts imposed upon him to write a small, occasional part he could play as Barney Fife, Griffith's inept but loyal sheriff. Griffith complied and the role made Knotts an icon of American comedy, allowing him to win an astonishing five Emmys for playing the same character. Five years into the series, Knotts was offered a multi-feature deal by Lew Wasserman, the reigning mogul of Universal Pictures. Knotts took the bait and enjoyed creative control over the films to a certain degree. He could pretty much do what he wanted as long has he played the same nervous schlep audiences wanted to see. The films had to be low-budget, shot quickly and enjoy modest profits from rural audiences where Knotts' popularity skewed the highest. His first feature film was The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, released in 1966 and written by the same writing team from the "The Andy Griffith Show". (Griffith actually co-wrote the script but declined taking a writing credit.) The film astonished the industry, rolling up big grosses in small markets where it proved to have remarkable staying power. Similarly, his next film, The Reluctant Astronaut also proved to be a big hit, as was his 1969 western spoof The Shakiest Gun in the West. Within a few years, however, changing audience tastes had rendered Knotts' brand of innocent, gentle humor somewhat moot. By the late 1960s audiences were getting their laughs from the new film freedoms. It was hard to find the antics of a middle-aged virgin much fun when you could see Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice cavorting in the same bed. Still, Knotts soldiered on, providing fare for the drive-in markets that still wanted his films. In 1969 he made The Love God?, a very funny and underrated film that tried to be more contemporary by casting Knotts as an innocent ninny who is manipulated into fronting what he thinks is a magazine for bird watchers but, in reality, is a cover for a pornography empire. Knotts' traditional audience balked at the relatively tame sex jokes and for his final film for Universal, How to Frame a Figg, he reverted back to his old formula.
Released in 1971, Figg casts Don Knotts as the titular character, Hollis Figg, a nondescript wimp who toils as an overlooked accountant in a basement of city hall. The film is set in a Mayberry-like small town environment but any other similarity ends there. In Mayberry, only the visiting city slickers were ever corrupt. The citizenry may have been comprised of goofballs and eccentrics, but they were all scrupulously honest. In Figg's world, however, the top government officials are all con-men and crooks. They are ruled by the town's beloved paternal father figure, Old Charley Spaulding (Parker Fennelly), a decrepit character who hands out pennies to everyone he encounters, with the heart-warming greeting "A shiny penny for your future!" In fact, Old Charley has plenty of those pennies stashed away. He and his hand-picked fellow crooks, including the mayor and police chief, have been systemically ripping off the state by grossly inflating the costs of local building projects and secretly pocketing the overages. Concerned that the accountants might get wind of their activities, they summarily fire them all except for Figg, who is deemed to be too naive to ever catch on. They justify the firings by saying it's fiscally prudent and replace the accountants with a gigantic computer that is supposed to be even more efficient. Through a quirk of fate, Figg and his equally naive friend, Prentiss (Frank Welker), the janitor for city hall, discover exactly what is going on. Figg dutifully reports his findings to the mayor (Edward Andrews), who convinces him to keep it secret while he launches his own investigation. Old Charley, the mayor and their cohorts decide to make Figg the fall guy for the corrupt practices. They give him a big promotion, a new red convertible and even hire a private secretary for him. She's Glorianna (Yvonne Craig), a leggy femme fatale who wears mini skirts and oozes sex. When her attempts to seduce Figg leave him paralyzed with fear because of his allegiance to his new girlfriend, the equally virginal waitress Ema Letha (Elaine Joyce), Glorianna gets Figg drunk, takes some embarrassing photos of him and the proceeds to have him sign a stream of incriminating documents that he has not bothered to read. Before long, Figg is blamed for all the missing funds and faces a jail sentence- unless he and the dim-witted Prentiss can figure out how to use the computer to thwart the real crooks.
How to Frame a Figg is the weakest and least-remembered of Knotts' films for Universal but it still affords plenty of laughs. Knotts is essentially playing Barney Fife under a different name and even wears that character's trademark outdated "salt and pepper" suit. Knotts never broke any new ground but no one ever called for him to do so...his familiar persona was just what audiences wanted. Figg also provides a plethora of wonderful characters from the period including the great Joe Flynn and Edward Andrews, who excelled at playing smarmy men of authority. Also popping up are such familiar faces as Billy Sands and Bob Hastings, both of whom co-starred with Joe Flynn in "McHale's Navy". The appearance of cast members from that show isn't a coincidence because the film was produced by Edward J. Montagne, who also produced "McHale's Navy". Some of the humor is a bit forced, especially scenes concerning the character of Prentiss, with Frank Welker overplaying the lovable dumb klutz bit. However, Montagne and Knotts were a comfortable fit and he produced and/or directed all of Knotts' Universal feature films. Figg was directed by Alan Rafkin, who had helmed The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Shakiest Gun in the West. He understood the Knotts persona and capitalized on it with considerable skill. Another alumni of all those films, the inimitable composer Vic Mizzy, provides a typically jaunty score.
Following the boxoffice failure of How to Frame a Figg, Don Knotts successfully morphed into a featured player in many Disney movies, sometimes teaming with Tim Conway. The two of them would perform together on screen and on stage for decades until Knotts' death in 2006. In the 1970s, Knotts also broadened his fan base with his role on the popular sitcom "Three's Company". There seems to be a great deal of nostalgia for his feature films nowadays among baby boomers, with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken especially popular. How to Frame a Figg is not of that caliber but it holds up well as a very amusing family comedy.
The Universal DVD release includes the original trailer.
Here's another rare one from the seemingly inexhaustible photo archive of Cinema Retro: a Bangkok, Thailand theater showing Darryl F. Zanuck's epic D-Day film The Longest Day in 1962. The acclaimed movie stood as the highest grossing black and white film until the release of Schindler's List in 1994.
The annual British Academy of Film and Television Arts has presented its awards for the year 2016. For a full list of nominees and winners click here. Cinema Retro's London photographer Mark Mawston was there to cover all the action on the red carpet. Here is a selection of some of his photos. (All photographs copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.)
Elvis Presley is almost always associated exclusively with movie musicals. However, he did stray from the genre to make a Western in which he didn't warble one lyric. The film is Charro!, which is available from Warner Bros. Just as seemingly every actor tried to get on board the spy movie phenomenon of the mid-1960s, by the end of the decade they were attempting to similarly capitalize on the spaghetti western genre. This 1969 film is non-descript as a western - not among the best of the era but far from the worst. It does merit special consideration because perhaps more than any other of his films, Charro! exhibits a persona that Elvis had never been able to reflect onscreen - thanks to Colonel Parker's iron-fisted control over his career and his insistence that The King appear in outdated teen musicals. The razor-thin plot has Elvis trying to distance himself from a murderous gang he used to ride with. Gang leader Victor French isn't the kind of guy you quit on so he frames Elvis for crimes he didn't commit then tortures him into participating in an audacious plot that finds them stealing a giant cannon from the Mexican army and using it to blackmail a town.
The Swinger (1967) and The Pleasure Seekers
(1964) are films featuring the charismatic Ann-Margret. Both films are considered to be typical
Hollywood pop cinema; light and frothy, flawed, but full of period bric-a-brac
and stylish music, much like the Elvis Presley movies of the day. In fact,
Margret had already made quite an impact starring alongside Elvis in the film Viva
Las Vegas (1964). Margret was certainly beginning to shine in all the right
places and had come a long way since emigrating from her native Sweden back in 1942.
The title song of The Swinger was written by
André and Dory Previn and the score composed by Marty Paich with additional
arrangements by Johnny Williams and Quincy Jones. The Swinger was originally
released in both mono and stereo and appeared on the RCA Victor label as one of
their DYNAGROOVE recordings. It’s a great collection of songs performed by the
enigmatic Margret in her own unique style and also features a couple of tracks
from the film’s composer Marty Paich. As the title suggests, the album is also
woven with ‘other swingin’ songs’ so expect some excellent additional material
such as ‘More’ from Mondo Cane (1962) all of which fits rather seamlessly into
the overall essence of the album. At
just 32 minutes (which was typical of an album for this time), Cherry Red has
sensibly taken the opportunity to pair this album up to make a very respectable
and ideal twofer release.
The Pleasure Seekers soundtrack was also
originally released on the RCA Victor label and featured a score by Lionel
Newman and Alexander Courage. In addition the album also featured four songs
from the writing team of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. The songs are of
course performed by Ann-Margret, with tracks such as ‘Bossa Nova’ and ‘Something
to think about’ adding a genuine lush, vibrant feel to the album. At 34
minutes, it works perfectly alongside The Swinger and rounds off the CD rather
The Swinger / The Pleasure Seekers (CD ACMEM324CD)
really does have a great deal going for it. Firstly, they are a match made in
heaven. Both albums showcase Margret’s distinguished vocal style and clearly
reflect her place in popular culture. Secondly, Cherry Red’s CD marks the first
time these two albums have ever been released on any digital format. It’s hard
to understand how they had previously slipped under the radar and never seen
the light of day before now. The audio quality is also very clean. Whilst there
is no indication of the source, both recordings are clear, with nice range and
are free from any form of background hiss. Cherry Red has also produced a very
nice 12 page booklet to accompany this release which is full of relevant and
interesting notes. The only minor grievance I have is in the booklet layout.
Whilst there is a lovely reproduction of the original album artwork of The
Swinger to the front of the booklet, the full page reproduction of the album
art for The Pleasure Seekers sits buried inside the booklet. Placing this
artwork to the back cover of the booklet renders it far more practical and
makes it completely reversible. It
provides the owner with an opportunity of choosing exactly what album cover
they want to display to the front. It’s a very simple option, but makes a world
of difference to the collector. Other than that, it’s a first rate release that
I’m sure will be welcomed and enjoyed by a great deal of people.
American politics have always been contentious. When people pine away for the good old days of political civility, well...they just never existed. Going back to the early days of the republic, candidates routinely lied about each other and passed around unfounded scandalous rumors. Even "Honest Abe" Lincoln secured the Republican presidential nomination by having his minions literally bribe people to pose as delegates and pack the convention hall. One thing is for certain, however: the country is seeing its most vibrant protest movements since the late 1960s, when the toxic mix of Vietnam, civil rights, women's rights and other emotional issues seemingly had everyone at each other's throats. In a New York Times article, writer David Bianculli recalls how the Smothers Brothers became unlike vessels of the counterculture movement. The clean cut comedy duo was hired by CBS to provide gentle family humor (Tom and Dick Smother's shtick always revolved around sibling rivalry.) What CBS didn't expect was political satire the likes of which the network never imagined. Suddenly younger people had a TV show that was geared for them and the Smother Brothers set off national debates in barber shops, diners and the family dinner table. CBS didn't like it one bit. The network was the home of such popular, non-threatening fare as "The Andy Griffith Show", "Green Acres", "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Petticoat Junction". Now, CBS magnate William Paley was getting complaints from top politicians. That set in motion a delicate situation: CBS would routinely try to censor segments of the show, but by doing so they were undermining the very audience that had made it a hit. Compromises were made but the politicos were not satisfied when seeing guests such as Pete Seeger and George Harrison intermingled with safe, traditional stars such as Jack Benny. (Seeger sang "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy", a thinly-veiled protest song about the Vietnam War that the network tried to cut.)
Ultimately, CBS caved and cancelled the show in its fourth season, using a bogus excuse that resulted in the Smothers Brothers getting a $900,000 payout- big money back in the day. Although the brothers skewed to the political left, one of their first targets had been Democratic President Johnson, who was constantly attacked for his Vietnam policy. His successor, Republican President Richard Nixon fared even worse. Johnson had complained personally to William Paley but after leaving office, made peace with the brothers by acknowledging that satire was an essential part of American politics. As for Nixon, it was learned later that he had siphoned funds from one of his presidential war chests to pay for a private investigator to find dirt on the Smothers Brothers. He never succeeded and Nixon would resign a few years later in the most notorious political scandal of the 20th century. Perhaps the brothers' ability to make both Democrats and Republicans feel uncomfortable was their greatest talent. Click here to read and view clips.
If you're a retro movie lover make sure that "Florence Foster Jenkins" goes to the top of your must-see list. The acclaimed comedy is an old-fashioned film in the best sense of the term. In it Meryl Streep gives another truly inspired performances. In fact it's getting downright boring extolling her virtues as perhaps the finest screen actress we have today. Streep has a field day giving a tour-de-force performance as the titular character, a real-life New York eccentric who apparently had built a cult following that has lasted for decades. Set in the year 1944, we find Florence Foster Jenkins living a very comfortable life in her lush Manhattan apartment. She is catered to by her younger husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), who acts as protector and mother hen over his emotionally and physically fragile wife. Florence suffers from a variety of serious health issues that has resulted in her marriage to St. Clair remaining chaste (he even resides in his own apartment.) Although Florence is his meal ticket to a life that allows him many luxuries, including dalliances with other women, St. Clair clearly adores his wife and oversees every aspect of her daily existence. This includes her obsession with opera music. Florence had a lifelong passion for it and dedicated her life to pursuing an operatic singing career. There was only one problem: she was the worst singer imaginable. Despite her passionate embrace of opera, Florence's renditions of these works inevitably resulted in her bellowing out barely recognizable, high-pitched assaults on the eardrums of anyone who had the misfortune of being within hearing range. However, Florence had one major ally in her quest: her bank account. A very wealthy woman, she was also a philanthropist who donated huge sums of money to the arts and New York's private clubs that pertained to the arts. Consequently, she was beloved by the relatively small number of people in this social circle who politely attended her "concerts" and enthusiastically applauded her efforts. Encouraged by the but insincere enthusiasm of her friends, Florence began to believe she was a truly great opera singer. All was well as long as her performances took place exclusively in front of such tolerant audiences where St. Clair could control every aspect of the show and pull enough strings to ensure she would always get a rousing reception.
The film begins with Florence's quest to hire a suitable pianist to help her with her daily auditions (such was her influence that some of the great names in music would tutor her privately). Florence settles on hiring Cosme McMoon (yes, that was his name), a nebbishy, shy young man (played by Simon Helberg) whose abilities as a virtuoso are unrecognized. Desperate for money, he cannot refuse St. Clair's generous salary offers (i.e bribes) to pretend that Florence is a great talent. He agrees and manages to ingratiate himself to her and grow fond and protective of her as well. Things go smoothly, though we do see that Florence is bravely struggling with a deteriorating medical condition. Alas, a major crisis emerges when Florence announces that she has rented Carnegie Hall and intends to give a concert there- and to invite on a gratis basis servicemen who are in New York on leave. St. Claire immediately recognizes the dilemma: up until now no critic has been able to review Florence's performances because they were all held at private venues. He knows all too well what awaits her when the press attends the performance at Carnegie Hall. The final section of the film shows her disastrous performance and St. Clair and Cosme's efforts to convince her that it was a triumph. However, they can only pull this off if they ensure that Florence does not have access to the reviews- and she determined to see them. This results in a frantic situation that approaches that of a farce in which extraordinary efforts are made to keep the bad news from the lovable lady.
"Florence Foster Jenkins" is a true gem of a movie, the kind they supposedly don't make any more. Everyone is dressed to the nines, sips champagne and engages in Noel Coward-like witty banter. Streep, Oscar-nominated for her role, is superb as ditzy would-be diva, accentuating her eccentricities but never allowing her to look unsympathetic. Hugh Grant channels Roger Moore's mannerisms so explicitly that one suspects his performance is an homage to the actor. In any event, this is the best work he's ever done and he should have been nominated for an Oscar for his role as the charismatic, charming rogue. It's hard to steal scenes from these two pros but Simon Helberg (of TV's "Big Bang Theory") manages to do so. He's a joy to watch and, like Grant, seems to have been cheated out of a possible Oscar nomination. Kudos, too, for the outstanding production design Alan MacDonald and the fine work of composer Alexandre Desplat.
The Paramount Blu-ray?DVD/digital format special edition features a wealth of interesting extras including interview with Meryl Streep about her life and career and featurettes dedicated to the production design, music, script process, etc. There is also a marvelous interview with Gino Francescino, who has been the curator of Carnegie Hall's historical memorabilia since 1986, much of which is shown (including rarities relating to the real-life Jenkins concert, which sold out but was never filmed or recorded). There is also a selection deleted scenes.
All told, this is a "must-have" release for movie lovers who want to take a sentimental journey back to the golden age of moviemaking.
Alec McCowan (right) with Vivien Merchant and Jon Finch in Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy".
Alec McCowen, acclaimed British actor of stage and screen, has passed away at age 91. Theater was McCowan's first love and his one-man adaptation of the New Testament formed the basis for his critically-praised show, "St. Mark's Gospel". He would receive three Tony nominations throughout his career. He was classically trained as an actor and appeared in many high profile stage productions around the world. McCowen made occasional appearances in high profile films. His best-remembered role was as the London detective in Alfred Hitchcock's 1972 classic "Frenzy". In the part, McCowen had to track down a serial rapist and murderer who is terrorizing the city. He played the role with wry humor especially in scenes in which his doting wife, played by Vivien Merchant, insists on cooking him elaborately prepared dinners of barely edible food. McCowen also played the role of "Q", the gadgets master, in Sean Connery's final James Bond film, "Never Say Never Again" in 1983. Click here for more.
The classic movie streaming channel FilmStruck launched in October. This is a joint venture between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection that allows subscribers to access classic and cult movies from the Criterion Collection through streaming services and view exclusive bonus content. Hundreds of films are available through the service and the library's titles will keep expanding on a regular basis.
The latest press release lists the streaming services that FilmStruck is now available on:
FilmStruck, the streaming movie service for film
aficionados, is now available on Google Chromecast second generation and
Chromecast Ultra devices. Continuing its rapid platform expansion, the
streaming service will also launch on Roku, Playstation 4 and Xbox One in
the coming months. FilmStruck, featuring the largest streaming library of
contemporary and classic arthouse, indie, foreign and cult films and the
exclusive streaming home to the Criterion Collection, is available for
streaming on Apple TV 4th generation devices,Amazon Fire TV, web, iOS and
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
By Lee Pfeiffer
Criterion has released a deluxe Blu-ray edition of director Peter Brook's 1963 screen adaptation of William Golding's landmark novel Lord of the Flies. As virtually anyone familiar with literature of the latter half of the twentieth century probably knows, the story involves a group of British schoolboys who are among the refugees deported from England out the outbreak of what is, presumably, a third world war. Their plane is shot down over the ocean but it crashes off shore from a remote island. All of the adults die but the boys miraculously survive and make their way to dry land. Realizing their survival is in their own hands, the boys (the age of whom ranges from pre-pubescent to early teens) set about the task of building shelters. They quickly master the essentials of staying alive and learn to start fires and to hunt and fish with reasonably effective hand-made tools. Inevitably, the fragments of a society begin to coalesce but there is stark contrast in philosophies. Jack (Tom Chapin) is an assertive, take-charge older boy who quickly learns he can use his aggressive personality traits to rise to a leadership position. Jack proves his worth by quickly going native and relishing the opportunity to play king. His skills are essential when it comes to providing food for the group. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ralph (James Aubrey), a sensitive and thoughtful boy who rivals Jack as leader of the group based on his intellectual superiority. When the rivalry becomes heated, Jack and his numerically superior group of followers resort to violent methods to suppress Ralph and his friend Piggy (Hugh Edwards), a pudgy and harmless boy who must indulge many degrading insults and taunts. The resulting battle of wills leads to numerous tragedies and a conclusion that finds Ralph alone and being hunted down by his former schoolmates, who intend to kill him.
It's clear that Golding intended to use this scenario as a microcosm for society in general. He initially regarded himself as an optimist regarding human nature but that changed during his service in WWII, when he witnessed behavior that he thought was so horrendous that he became convinced that evil is far more prevalent in the world than he had suspected. That cynicism is carried over into the film, which is such a literate version of the novel that no one is credited as a screenwriter. Director Brook would assemble his cast of young boys (none of whom had any acting experience) and read passages and dialogue from the novel prior to filming each scene. The technique worked remarkably well. Brook's shoestring budget of $300,000 was cut in half after his ill-fated, short-term alliance with famed producer Sam Spiegel, who began to make significant changes to the production in the hopes of making it more commercial. When he insisted on adding a group of young girls to the mix, Brook ended their partnership but had to pay Spiegel half of his meager budget to cover expenses he had never even authorized. Left with only $150,000 in the coffers, Brook (who is primarily known as an acclaimed director of avant-garde theatrical productions) managed to get everyone to the island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico, where most of the footage was shot. Brook could not afford a seasoned cinematographer so gambled on hiring a local still photographer, Tom Hollyman, whose work on the film is simply remarkable (though he would never make another motion picture). Hollyman's footage was supplemented by footage taken by Gerald Feil, who was given a hand-held camera and told to shoot anything he found interesting. The result is a superb compilation of both men's accomplishments. The movie was shot in B&W for budgetary reasons but it also worked beneficially in terms of the impact of this stark, bleak tale. Raymond Leppard's brilliant score combines British schoolboy songs with ominous jungle themes. It must be pointed out that, despite the impressive performances of the young cast members, only one- James Aubrey- decided to gravitate into acting as a profession. The real hero, however, is Brook himself, whose exercise in the ultimate "guerrilla movie making" still stands the test of time as a powerful and fascinating film.
Criterion's special Blu-ray release does justice to the movie on every level beginning with a superb transfer that emphasizes the glorious cinematography. The extras in the set are:
Audio commentary track featuring Peter Brook, producer Lewis Allen, cinematographers Tom Hollyman and Gerald Feil
Audio of William Golding reading excerpts from the book, accompanied by scenes from the film
Deleted scene with optional commentary track
Insightful interview with Brook from 2008 (in which he pointedly says he never made a commercial movie because he refused to compromise with the studios in terms of his artistic vision)
Wonderful home movies taken by the young cast members.
1980 British TV interview with William Golding (one of the few he ever gave)
A new interview with cinematographer Gerald Feil
The original trailer
Feil's 1975 short film documenting Peter Brook rehearsing cast members in Brooklyn for one of his off-beat productions. For those of us who do not "tread the boards" for a living, the rehearsals seem bizarre and resemble an exercise class more than an acting rehearsal. Some of it is unintentionally funny: the kind of pretentious scenario that is often spoofed by Woody Allen, with actors chanting and seeming to run about without rhyme or reason. Yet, who are we to argue? Brook's reputation as a major theatrical director remains firmly intact.
A collector's booklet featuring essays by Peter Brook and film critic Geoffrey Macnab
In summary, the Criterion release of Lord of the Flies is essential viewing for classic movie lovers.
The Spy Command web site provides an interesting article outlining changes made for home video release to specific episodes of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", "Hawaii Five-O" and "The F.B.I.". Some of the changes are rather "in the weeds" stuff that might only be noticed by diehard fans but the specifics are still very intriguing to read- especially about a "Hawaii 5-O" episode that was only telecast once and is not available on video, and an episode of "The F.B.I." that never aired at all. Click here to read.
Cinema Retro columnist Tom Lisanti co-authored (with Louis Paul) the book "Femme Fatales: Women in Espionage Films and Television, 1962-1973" for McFarland publishers. The book has just been issued in a softcover edition, revised and updated. Here is Tom Lisanti's story behind the creation of the book.
It was a long time coming, fifteen years in fact, but McFarland
and Company finally released a soft cover edition of the very popular and
well-received Film Fatales: Women in
Espionage Film & Television, 1962-1973 by Louis Paul and myself. The
book profiles 107 dazzling women (Ursula Andress, Raquel Welch, Dahlia Lavi,
Carol Lynley, Elke Sommer, and Sharon Tate, among them) who worked in the
swinging sixties spy genre on the big and small screens. Some include interviews
with these sexy spy gals. This new edition contains some profile revisions and
updates and a few new photos.
The idea for this book was all Louis Paul’s. We worked together
at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and became friends.
Louis is an expert on European spy movies, giallos, thrillers, etc. from the
sixties and seventies. He had a side video business and produced a fanzine
called Blood Times. I had been interviewing sixties actresses for
magazine articles and culled them for a book that was called Fantasy
Femmes of Sixties Cinema. While I was finishing it up, Louis suggested we
do a book on sixties spy girls. There were books on just the Bond Girls but we
thought we'd go beyond that to also include actresses from the Matt Helm, Derek
Flint, and Euro spy movies. And we also decided to include actresses who worked
in TV spy shows like The Man fromU.N.C.L.E., I
Spy, The Avengers, It Takes a Thief , etc. At
the last minute I pulled quotes from some of my interviewees on their spy
films/TV shows destined for my first book and saved for Film Fatales.
Robert Vaughn and Donna Michelle in the Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film "One Spy Too Many" (1966).
We felt that the book would reach a nice size audience because spy films have remained so popular due to James Bond. It is 2017 and they still are making Bond movies. It seems never ending and moviegoers just love the escapism. The affection for the 1960s Bond movies extends to the copycat films (Matt Helm, Derek Flint, Harry Palmer, Diabolik, etc.) and TV shows of the day. They all employed handsome debonair leading men, adventure, romance, diabolical villains, picturesque scenery, and some of the most beautiful actresses from Hollywood and Europe. The spy girls in particular remained popular because this genre gave them different type characters to play. A number of the actresses are exceptional and in some cases their characters are more memorable than the hero. In the book the roles are broken down into four distinct types: the helpful spy/secret agent/operative; the innocent caught up in the chicanery; the bad girl-turned-good; and the unrepentant villainess/femme fatale/assassin. This is why fans love their spy girls because of the varied facets found in this genre.
The Warner Archive continues to delve into little-remembered crime movies with the release of F.B.I.: Code 98, yet another in the seemingly endless attempts of J. Edgar Hoover to use popular entertainment as a vehicle to promote himself and his bureau as incorruptible pillars of American society. (As usual, Hoover ensures he is personally thanked in the credits, mentioned in the script, depicted in photos on office walls and appears in footage at the end of the movie.) Still, this is a tense little thriller that engages the viewer from minute one with its timely depiction of a task force trying to prevent acts of home-grown American terrorism. The plot centers on a group of business executives who are flying to a government conference. Their company provides crucial materials and engineering for the U.S space program. A nondescript employee of their company concocts a clever scheme whereby he manages to switch out a piece of luggage being loaded onto the executive's corporate jet. Inside is a time bomb. Only a quirk of fate allows it to be discovered and dismantled in time. The F.B.I. is brought in under the direction of field director Robert Cannon (stiff-jawed Jack Kelly). He works with the intended victims to sort out who might have had a grudge against them and this inevitably leads to delving into some sensitive areas of their personal lives- including illicit affairs between married people. The film is tense and engrossing throughout, thanks to expert direction by Leslie Martinson. The capable supporting cast includes Ray Danton (whose baritone voice always seems overly dramatic for any role he played), the always-watchable Andrew Duggan, Philip Carey, William Reynolds, Jack Cassidy (in pure heterosexual mode) and Vaughn Taylor as the mousey, unlikely would-be terrorist. To compensate for the low budget, there are some unintentionally amusing gimmicks to provide some sweep to the locations. An F.B.I. office in Vegas looks directly out onto the casinos on the strip; a Washington D.C. office is in direct line with the Capitol Building; a Florida office has a view of a space launching pad. Still, Martinson's use of real locations throughout most of the film adds to the dramatic intensity. The film takes pains to present every F.B.I. man as scrupulously honest and dedicated. The worst they are guilty of is flirting with secretaries.
F.B.I.: Code 98 is well worth a look. It's tightly scripted, well-directed and doesn't have a single wasted frame.
For author William Peter Blatty's interview in Cinema Retro, see issue #19 in our back issues section.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
With the recent passing of "Exorcist" author William Peter Blatty, the Washington Post takes a photographic journey back to the origins of the story that inspired Blatty to write the book. In 1949 the Catholic church issued a rare consent order to allow an exorcism to be performed on a young boy who priests feared had been possessed by a demon. Doctors and psychiatrists have long speculated that the cause of the boy's affliction was rooted in natural medical explanations but the priests reported that they witnessed events that could not have been caused by any earthly phenomenon. The priests involved remained made few public comments after the exorcism, though there are some sketchy diary entries that shed a bit of light on the proceedings. The boy who was the center of the case is still alive and is now 78 years old but has never commented publicly on his ordeal or his memories of it, if any. Unless and until he does, there will always be debate about what actually occurred in an ordinary house occupied by an ordinary family who would inspire one of the most extraordinary novels and films of the 20th century. Click here to view.
The Universal Vault series has released the 1970 film "Sometimes a Great Notion" on DVD. Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, the film starred- and was directed by- Paul Newman. His skills as both actor and filmmaker and amply displayed in this engrossing, off-beat drama that never found its intended audience during its theatrical release, despite a heavyweight cast. The film is basically a domestic drama, though set amid the staggering beauty of the Oregon wilderness. The Stamper family runs one of the biggest logging operations around. The family's crusty patriarch, Henry (Henry Fonda), attributes the family's success to the fact that they lead a hard scrabble lifestyle and do much of the grueling work themselves rather than simply farming it out to paid employees. Henry ensures that he keeps the keys to his kingdom close to his vest: the only positions of power are held by him and his two sons, Hank (Paul Newman) and Joe Ben (Richard Jaeckel). Henry espouses his philosophy of life, which is that there isn't much purpose to existence other than hard work, eatin', drinkin' and screwin' (though perhaps not necessarily in that order). When we first meet the Stamper clan they are embroiled in a dispute with a union that represents loggers. The union has called for a strike and it appears that the workers have been dormant for quite some time. The Stampers refuse to accede to union demands that they stop their logging operations in order to show solidarity with the workers. Henry will have no part of it. He and his sons insult union representatives that come to reason with them and, in fact, physically terrorize one of them. Henry and his sons have no use for unions and adhere to the pioneer lifestyle in that every man has to fend for himself. A byproduct of this philosophy is that the Stampers are riding high as the only operating logging operation in the area. Consequently, the family gets all the business that the striking workers would ordinarily enjoy. However, the Stamper's luck is about to run out. Union members secretly begin to sabotage their operation and on one especially painful day, the family endures several tragedies of Shakespearean proportions.
Although top-billed and coming off the success of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", Newman doesn't hog the spotlight. As director, he's quite generous in ensuring that his co-stars get ample quality scenes. The film evokes a very believable atmosphere in terms of exploring the type of no-nonsense, working-class people who populate rural areas. At first glance the Stampers are a content clan but there are cracks in the facade. Hank's wife Viv (Lee Remick) is fed up with the misogynistic lifestyle she is trapped in. Among the Stampers, the women folk are meant to be seen but not heard. She was bored as a teenager growing up in a one-horse town until young Hank drove through on his motorcycle and literally swept her off her feet. Her dreams of an exciting life were quickly dashed and she now finds herself cooking and cleaning for a family of men who barely acknowledge her presence. Even romantic overtures to Hank go unrewarded and Viv is fed up with his inability- or unwillingness- to challenge his father's Draconian ways of managing the family and the business. Hank's younger brother Joe Ben is a happy-go-lucky, humorous fellow whose own wife Jan (Linda Lawson) shares his Born Again Christian beliefs and is quite content raising their kids and living a traditional lifestyle for women in this place and era. Dramatic tensions rise when Henry's estranged son Leeland (Michael Sarrazin) (Hank and Joe Ben's step brother) arrives out of the blue after being away for years. He's a troubled drifter with no particular goal or purpose in life. Henry welcomes him back but advises him that if he wants to stay, he'll have to learn how to work as a lumberman. There is also tension between Leeland and Hank because Hank once slept with Leeland's mother (!)
As director, Newman excels at capitalizing on Richard Moore's magnificent cinematography and making the lumber business seem quite interesting. The scenes of tumbling timber are thrilling and suspenseful and makes the viewer aware of just how dangerous this profession is, with the possibility of injury and death always only seconds away. In the film's most harrowing and best-remembered scene, Joe Ben is trapped under a log in a rapidly-rising river as Hank desperately tries to rescue him. Jaeckel is terrific here in a role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. The scene is difficult to watch but Jaeckel and Newman have never been better. (At the time of the film's release, critic Rex Reed complained that some of Jaeckel's best work in the film never made it into the final cut.) Screenwriter John Gay deftly sidesteps some anticipated cliches and every time you think you know where the story is going, it ends up in another direction. There is irony in Newman directing and starring in a film in which the protagonists are right wing and anti-union, as Newman himself was a career union man whose left wing activism earned him a place on President Nixon's notorious "Enemies List". (Newman claimed it was one of the great honors of his life.) There are some weaknesses: we never get any background on the merits of the case made by the striking loggers so we have no frame of reference as to whether we should sympathize with them or the Stampers. Also, some of the supporting roles are underwritten, especially Lee Remick's. Aside from one good scene in which she divulges her frustrations to Sarrazin, there's not much for her to do. The movie builds to its tragic climax although Newman does make sure there is a triumphant moment in the last scene, even if its represented in a rather gruesome fashion. It's a pity that Newman chose to direct only a few films. He was as impressive behind the camera as he was in front of it. The film also benefits from a fine score by Henry Mancini and the opening song, "All His Children" (sung by Charley Pride) was nominated for an Oscar. When the film failed to click at the boxoffice it was re-marketed under the title "Never Give an Inch"- although that strategy failed to work. Hopefully it will finally find a more receptive audience on home video.
The DVD transfer is superb but once again, Universal provides a bare bones release with nary a single bonus extra.
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If you enjoy the golden age of Blaxploitation films you'll be happy to learn about Brown Sugar, the new streaming service that describes itself "Like Netflix- only blacker!". The service, which costs $3.99 a month, features a gold mine of cult classics of the genre ranging from the Shaft films to action flicks starring icons Pam Grier, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. The network says that many of the films in their catalog are not easily available on home video. Click here for more info.
HBO is producing "Francis & the Godfather", a behind the scenes recounting of the making of the 1972 crime classic. As most retro movie lovers know, although "The Godfather" is now considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, it had a rocky production history. Paramount just wanted a quickie crime flick for fast playoff and balked at director Francis Ford Coppola's insistence on costly production values. The studio also wanted to fire Al Pacino and forbade Coppola from hiring Marlon Brando for the title role on the basis that Brando's decade-long string of failures made him boxoffice poison. Coppola, through shrewd instincts and an occasional bit of good luck, sidestepped these potential minefields and delivered a masterpiece that spawned two sequels and became part of international pop culture. No casting or director has been announced. For more click here.
Though Vincent Price would eventually garner a well-deserved
reputation as Hollywood’s preeminent bogeyman, it was only really with André De
Toth’s House of Wax (1953) that the actor would become associated with all
things sinister. In some sense the
playful, nervously elegant Price was an odd successor to the horror film-maestro
throne: he was a somewhat aristocratic psychotic who shared neither Boris
Karloff’s cold and malevolent scowl nor Bela Lugosi’s distinctly unhinged
madness or old-world exoticism.
His early film career started in a less pigeonholed
manner: as a budding movie actor with a seven year contract for Universal
Studios in the 1940s, the tall, elegant Price would appear in a number of semi-distinguished
if modestly-budgeted romantic comedies and dramas. His contract with Universal was apparently
non-exclusive, and his most memorable roles for the studio were his earliest. In a harbinger of things to come, Price would
register his first genre credit with Universal’s The Invisible Man Returns (1940),
a curiously belated semi-sequel to the James Whale 1933 classic. Though a satisfying B-movie vehicle, Price’s star
turn as the mostly transparent Geoffrey Radcliffe would be difficult work; it’s
an imposing task to make an impression when you’re only physically present for less
than half of a film.
More rewarding and noteworthy was his role as the
vengeful Clifford Pyncheon in Universal’s free adaptation of Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s brooding thriller The House of the Seven Gables (1940). That same year Price took a second memorable
turn as the effete, wine-imbibing Duke of Clarence in Rowland V. Lee’s Tower of
London. Purportedly a historical drama, Universal couldn’t help but play up the
horror-melodrama elements of Richard III’s grisly ascent to the British
throne. The scene when the Duke of
Clarence meets an ironic fate at the hands of the conniving, merciless and
bloodthirsty tag-team of Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff is, without doubt, one
of cinema’s great exits.
Though the actor would tackle all types of roles for his
next employer, 20th Century Fox, he had begun his transition from leading man
once-removed to a roguish sort of character actor, one short of neither charm
nor avarice. In 1953 the actor’s career
would be forever changed when he accepted the role of the mad Professor Henry
Jarrod in House of Wax, Warner Bros.’ colorful 3-D remake of Michael Curtiz’s The
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). The
success of the sinister House of Wax inspired that film’s freelance producer,
Bryan Foy, to – essentially – remake the same film for Columbia Pictures within
a year’s time. Unlike Universal or
Warner Bros., Columbia seemed less eager to embrace and invest long-term in 3-D
technologies, and The Mad Magician was one of the studio’s final rolls of the
dice in that format.
Bryan Foy had began his show business career in
vaudeville so it was only natural that both House of Wax and The Mad Magician share
the greasepaint, steamer trunks, velvet curtains and theatrical back stories of
the producer’s youthful experience. As he
had with House of Wax, Foy again tapped the talent of his favorite scribe, Crane
Wilbur, to write what was essentially a House of Wax pastiche. Wilbur was a seasoned pro who could knock out
a quick copy that still had integrity; both of the Victorian-era horror films he
would craft for Foy stylishly unraveled in thrilling fashion with neat twists
and memorable dialogue. In a wise move,
the German born John Brahm, an undeniably brilliant director of moody,
atmospheric thrillers and melodramas – mostly for 20th Century Fox - was
brought on to direct.
The most notable returnee was, of course, Vincent Price,
now typecast and expected to again menacingly wield his distinct brand of on-screen
villainy. With his stagey, Shakespearean
acting style having been honed early in his career, Price’s performances occasionally
teetered between outright flamboyance and devilishly morose… perhaps even a bit
hammy. That said, the actor’s refined
mannerisms and theatrical gesturing was refreshingly different from the common
brutishness of the usual cinematic heavies. His characters tended to be tortured souls as well; his villains were conflicted
but not unsympathetic individuals driven to madness by life’s travails and treacheries.
In House of Wax and The Mad Magician, the actor similarly
plays the part of a maligned artist. In
both films, his protagonists hide behind a series life-masks created solely for
the purpose of deception. As sculptor Henry
Jarrod in the former film, the devoted artist sees his beloved wax figures go
up in flames due to the actions of an unscrupulous business partner; Jarrod’s
scheming, unsentimental associate is not at all interested in the artist’s
creations. He’s only interested in the
swift collection of ill-gotten monies from his insurance fraud scheme. In The Mad Magician Price similarly portrays Don
Gallico, a low wage, belittled designer of magic tricks and illusions. Gallico
is the creative energy behind successful owner Russ Orman’s (Donald Randolph) respected
theatrical magic factory Illusions, Inc. Tired of seeing his boss farm out his very personal creations to more celebrated,
famous magicians – most notably the egotistical and scheming Great Rinaldi
(John Emery) – Gallico optimistically and dreamingly pines of someday being
recognized as a great stage magician himself.
Gallico is certain that day is not far off. In an attempt to attract attention to his own
talent, the magician tests a self-produced illusionist show in a cozy theater
in Hoboken, New Jersey. This engagement
is merely a step stone to his ultimate dream of securing a coveted booking on
Broadway and 44th Street. While his most
recent and exciting illusion, “The Lady and the Buzz Saw,” pushes the envelope
of high tension to an anxious extreme, Gallico is certain his work in progress –
an escape-artist illusion involving a gas-fueled 3500 degree inferno dubbed
“The Crematorium” will be the vehicle to bring him stardom at last. But Gallico’s dreams are soon dashed when the
well-heeled Orman, who years earlier had unsentimentally stolen away the
illusionist’s gold-digging wife (Eva Gabor), informs him to carefully read the
fine print of their business contract. In
a nutshell, Orman owns all of Gallico’s intellectual properties: contractually his inventions are not his
own. Needless to say, this soul crushing,
career-ending turn of events does not bode well for the briefly self-satisfied
Orman… and others.
Actress Barbara Hale has passed away at age 94. She started as a glamour girl in feature films and commercials before landing the role of Perry Mason's secretary Della Street in the long-running TV series that lasted from 1957-1966. Starring opposite Raymond Burr as Mason, Hale won an Emmy for her performance in 1959 and Della Street became her signature role. In 1985 she and Burr reunited for a Perry Mason TV movie. The show received very high ratings and the two would continue to reprise their roles periodically in other new TV movies about the famed attorney. Hale, the mother of actor William Katt, had many feature films to her credit including the 1970 blockbuster "Airport" in which she played the jilted wife of gigalo pilot Dean Martin.
Sir John Hurt, the chameleon-like British character actor with an ability to immerse himself in an astonishingly wide variety of roles, has died from pancreatic cancer at age 77. The son of a British clergyman and engineer, Hurt originally studied to be an artist before the lure of the stage led him to the acting profession. His first major film role was in the Oscar-winning 1966 film "A Man for All Seasons". Acclaim followed quickly and Hurt made his next big impression on screen in the 1970 British crime thriller "10 Rillington Place". He received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the 1978 film "Midnight Express" and was nominated for Best Actor for his most acclaimed role as the tragic, disfigured John Merrick in the 1980 film "The Elephant Man". He earned a place in pop culture history for his role in Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi classic "Alien" for a scene in which the titular creature violently erupts from Hurt's stomach in one of the most famous scenes in the genre's history.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the 1973 Euro Western "The Man Called Noon", based on the novel by Louis L'Amour. The film was produced by Euan Lloyd, who had previously brought L'Amour's novel "Shalako" to the screen in 1968 starring Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot and an impressive supporting cast. "Noon" is no "Shalako". It's more in line with Lloyd's filmed production of L'Amour's "Catlow", which was released in 1971 (i.e instantly forgettable). Like so many Westerns of the era, it's a strange hybrid production top-lining well-known American stars with a supporting cast of European actors. The result is a reasonably entertaining but completely unremarkable horse opera that plays out with a familiarity akin to that of the well-trod shooting locations in and around Almeria, Spain. Richard Crenna, in a rare top-billed role in an action flick, plays the titular character, Rubal Noon, a notorious gunslinger. In the film's opening minutes he narrowly escapes an assassination attempt but is wounded in the process and, in that tried and true movie cliche, loses his memory. He doesn't remember who he is or why anyone tried to kill him. He is befriended by a shady saddle tramp, Rimes (Stephen Boyd), who informs him that he's wanted by the law and a virtual army of killers is after him. Rimes takes Noon to a ranch that serves as an outlaw hideout. It's owned by Fan Davidge (Rosanna Schiaffano), who has been kept captive on the ranch by the outlaws and forced to serve as their leader's mistress. Within seconds of meeting, Noon and Fan begin making goo-goo eyes at each other and we know that can only lead to trouble. It's at this point that the screenplay by Scot Finch becomes overly convoluted almost to the point of parody. A long series of facts and clues are presented to Noon that gradually help him discover his motivations and why so many people are after him. The jumbled explanations have something to do with avenging the deaths of loved ones and having knowledge of a secret cache of buried gold. However, by the time all of this is explained, there is no "A-ha!" moment of revelation. Instead, one just sits and ponders the long string of characters, names and confusing plot developments. On several occasions I backtracked on the Blu-ray disc, thinking I overlooked some obvious information but it still seemed like a confusing mess so I just gave up, sat back and enjoyed the frequent action sequences. Crenna does well enough in an undemanding, completely humorless role. The few moments of levity are provided by Boyd, who plays a character of dubious allegiance. Farley Granger shows up as a bad guy and Schiaffano is as lovely as ever, but the characters are poorly defined and the most impressive aspect of the movie are the well-staged stunts courtesy of legendary arranger Bob Simmons, who devised some of the best fight scenes in the James Bond series. Luis Bacalov provides the sometimes impressive requisite Morricone-like score. The finale of the movie finds the heroes holed up in a burning cabin surrounded by an army of antagonists. The scenario is similar to that in John Huston's "The Unforgiven" but with far less credibility. (Noon's method of terminating Granger's character is downright absurd.) The film was directed by Peter Collinson, who had shown great innovation and skill with his 1969 version of "The Italian Job". Not many of those skills are on view in "The Man Called Noon", which Collinson directed in a manner best described as workmanlike. Sadly, the young director never fulfilled his potential and ended up directing mid-range and mediocre fare before passing away in 1980 at only 44 years of age.
The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber has a crisp, clean transfer. There is a bonus trailer gallery that includes other Westerns available from the company including "Duel at Diablo", "Billy Two Hats", "Barquero", "The Spikes Gang" and "Navajo Joe".
“You’ve got to live a
little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little—that’s the story
of, that’s the glory of love.”
popular opening song by Billy Hill and sung by Jacqueline Fontaine, “The Glory
of Love,” sets the tone for this classic, delightful motion picture that
addressed a social issue at the time that we take for granted today—interracial
marriage. Hey, in 1967, this was a hot topic. The Supreme Court had decided the
Loving vs. Virginia case, which
prohibited states from criminalizing interracial marriage, only six months
prior to the film’s release (and that legal battle is dramatized in the film Loving, currently in cinemas). Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was indeed
timely, certainly controversial in more conservative areas of the country, and
a powerful statement about tolerance and the rights of American citizens.
comedy/drama was a hit and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best
Picture, Director (Kramer), Actor (Spencer Tracy), Actress (Katharine Hepburn),
Supporting Actor (Cecil Kellaway), and Supporting Actress (Beah Richards). It
won only two—Hepburn took home the prize, and William Rose was honored for his
intelligent and warm Original Screenplay.
Kramer produced many “important” pictures before taking up the directing chores
himself in the late 50s, and he often tackled difficult social issues—racial
issues in The Defiant Ones (1958),
nuclear war in On the Beach (1959),
the teaching of evolution in schools in Inherit
the Wind (1960), and the Holocaust in Judgment
at Nuremberg (1961). He seems to have been just the man for the job, as
this new 50th Anniversary Blu-ray release emphasizes—there are three separate
supplements on the disk about Kramer himself, plus an appearance by his widow
Karen in an introduction to the film, as well as his presence in two more
featurettes about the making of the picture.
anyone who’s never seen this wonderful movie, it concerns an upper class
liberal couple (Tracy and Hepburn) whose daughter (Katharine Houghton, who
happens to be Hepburn’s real-life niece) has surprised them with her engagement
to a black doctor (Sidney Poitier). Suddenly, the parents’ liberal attitudes
are challenged and they’re not so sure this is a good idea. Complicating the
matter, the daughter has invited her fiancé’s parents (Roy E.
Glenn and Beah Richards) to join them for dinner to “meet the in-laws.” A
cordial white priest (Kellaway) and a feisty black housekeeper (Isabel Sanford)
add to the crisis of musical chairs. It’s a talky film that takes place mostly
indoors in the family’s home—it would have made a terrific stage play—but
Kramer’s deft hand at directing keeps everything fresh. This is a film about
the writing and the acting, and everyone is terrific.
only mild criticism I would have—and it echoes that of many critics at the
time—is that Poitier’s character is too perfect. Apparently Kramer and the
screenwriter did that on purpose so there would be no way anyone, that is,
anyone white, could object to him.
After all, Kramer had no idea what kind of backlash the film would receive upon
was extremely ill during the filming; in fact, he couldn’t be insured. Hepburn
and Kramer had to guarantee their salaries as collateral to get the film made.
Tracy died about two weeks after the production wrapped. It’s one of his
greatest performances. His final speech at the end of the movie to the rest of
the cast concerning his “decision” about the marriage is sure to well up any
viewer’s eyes. Poitier is very good as well—1967 was his year, as the actor had
also appeared in To Sir, With Love and
In the Heat of the Night along with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn
steals the film, though, if that is possible opposite Tracy and Poitier. Her
eyes maintain that fine line between almost-crying and bawling throughout the
picture. It’s a magnificent performance.
The Sony Blu-ray (to be released February 7) looks splendid in its 1080p High Definition glory with a 5.1 DTS-HD
Master Audio. It comes in a deluxe digibook with plenty of photos and an essay
by Gil Robertson. The problem with the disk itself is that there are no new
supplements—they’re all ported over from the 40th Anniversary DVD... but if you’ve never seen them, they’re all
quite well done. You have a choice of four different introductions to the
film—the previously mentioned one with Karen Kramer, and others each by Steven
Spielberg, Quincy Jones, and Tom Brokaw. Along with the featurettes about the
film and Stanley Kramer, you get a gallery of photos and the theatrical
Guess Who’s Coming to
a milestone from the late 1960s—a relic of a turbulent time in America’s
history, but also an often funny—and gently principled—entertainment.
Many of Mary Tyler Moore's colleagues have shared their memories and thoughts on the passing of the acting legend whose character, Mary Richards on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", inspired a generation of independence-minded young women. Click here to read.
First things first; it’s obvious from 1966 through 1972
the seemingly idyllic small islands dotting the UK were no place to summer
vacation. In 1966 poor Peter Cushing
lost his left hand to a rampaging horde of flesh-eating silicates on the isle
of Petrie (aka the Island of Terror), a few miles east off of Ireland’s
coastline. In 1973, Hammer Horror icon
turned Celtic pagan Christopher Lee sacrificed an investigating Christian
martyr to the flames on the bonny banks of Summerisle in Robin Hardy’s 1973 grim
thriller-mystery, The Wicker Man. One year before The Wicker Man would have its
theatrical debut, Tigon-British Film Productions would release the
environmental-thriller Doomwatch (1972). Set on the isle of Balfe (actually Cornwall), Doomwatch tells the tale
of still another plagued and isolated island off the English coast. This time the inhabitants are desperately
trying to hide a seemingly monstrous secret from the prying eyes of outsiders. It goes without saying that the production of
these three films was likely not bankrolled by anyone from the British Tourist
Director Peter Sasdy’s 1972 sci-fi mystery, Doomwatch
recounts the story of Dr. Del Shaw (Scottish actor Ian Bannen), who teams up
with the island’s imported schoolteacher Victoria Brown (Judy Geeson) to
unravel the mystery behind the closeted deformities of the island’s native
inhabitants. Dr. Shaw, who works for a government-funded anti-pollution
campaign, somewhat pessimistically coded Doomwatch, soon finds out that British
navy - through an unscrupulous intermediary - had used the bay surrounding the
island of Balfe to secretly and illegally dump sealed canisters of radioactive
waste. Time and the sea have since
caused these seals to give way, with the resulting leakage infecting the
village’s fishing industry. As seafood
is the primary diet of the islanders, the exposure to toxins and unnatural
growth hormones has unleashed an outbreak of acromegaly. This disfiguring
disease is not an invention of screenwriter Clive Exton. As any scholar of classic horror can tell
you, this is the all-to-real growth-hormone aberration was suffered (and
tastelessly exploited) by Universal Studios in their casting of horror actor
Rondo Hatton as The Creeper. Though this
pituitary gland disease is a result of radioactive elements contaminating the
island’s fish supply, the natives are unaware of the Navy’s polluting of their
waters. The insular and deeply religious
community believes the island’s plague is simply God’s punishment for their
immorality and inbreeding. It’s this
deep-seated shame that has long prevented them from getting help from the
Sasdy’s film was loosely based off a BBC television
series of the same name (1970-1972) which featured a team of
activist-scientists fighting new, mysterious environmental and health threats
in the post-Atomic age. These television threats would include such plights as
enlarged radioactive rats, plastic-eating viruses, and chemical toxins that
could destroy all of Earth’s plant life. This fear of manmade and unchecked
environmental calamity was carried on in Doomwatch the film; the storyline
centers on the dangers of radioactive elements and the consequences of improper
storage and disposal methods of such harmful toxins. These issues were of
course, not uncommon during the time, as in the early 1970s environmental issues
were at the forefront of global public consciousness. Not coincidentally, in 1972, the year the
film was first released, the United States would pass the Clean Water Act with
the aim of eliminating toxic waste from global waters.
Though Bannen and Geeson are the film’s principal
players, the film sports a strong supporting cast of familiar faces. Geoffrey Keen, who plays Sir Henry, the man
responsible for the illegal radioactive dumping, will be recognizable to
filmgoers for his tenure as the Minister of Defence in six James Bond films
(beginning with Roger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me through Timothy Dalton’s The
Living Daylights). Another recognizable face is that of George Sanders, who
enjoyed a legendary long career in film and television and pop-culture (he
portrayed Leslie Charteris’ The Saint in no fewer than five films (1939-1941)
and even as the chilling Mister Freeze in TV’s Batman series of 1966.
Kino Lorber’s new Blu-Ray release of Doomwatch is of
definitely interest to film enthusiasts. Special features include an “On Camera
Interview” with actress Judy Geeson, audio commentary and introduction to the
film courtesy of director Peter Sasdy, and a gallery of film trailers for other
recent Blu-Ray releases of Kino-Lorber.
Mary Tyler Moore, the iconic star of TV and feature films, has died at age 80. During her life, she had battled alcoholism and diabetes but her career thrived from her very first major role, her Emmy-winning performances on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" beginning in 1961. Her own TV series, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" became a major hit and a great influence on women because of her portrayal as a strong, independent woman living a productive and happy life without a steady romantic relationship. Moore's success extended into feature films and she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the 1980 film "Ordinary People". For more click here.
Perhaps the first film we saw
that convinced us that Woody Allen could actually act—i.e., not be his nebbish, nervous comic persona from his early
directorial efforts—was Martin Ritt’s 1976 comedy/drama, The Front, which appeared a year before Allen’s Annie Hall.
The Front was
perhaps the first Hollywood film to tackle the subject of “the blacklist” that
occurred in the movie industry in the late 1940s and throughout most of the 50s.
This abominable practice was due to the investigation of “Communist
infiltration” in Tinsel Town by HUAC—the House Un-American Activities
Committee. It was truly a dark time in U.S. history, one in which friends were
pressured to “name names” or face the prospect of unemployment or worse, such
as jail time. Note that the Hollywood
studio heads were responsible for the actual blacklisting. The powers-that-be
decided to cooperate with HUAC by targeting stars, writers, directors,
producers, and other personnel who may have
had some connections to the Communist Party, even if it was as far back as the
1920s and 30s. It was insane.
Director Martin Ritt, who himself
was a victim of the blacklist, shows us just how insane it really was. The film
was written by Walter Bernstein, also a blacklist victim. Actors Zero Mostel,
Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough—who appear in the picture—were also once blacklisted.
The Front knows what it’s talking
about. There are laughs, to be sure, but there is also a subtle seriousness to
the proceedings that is frightening.
Allen plays Howard, a lowly
restaurant cashier who is friends with screenwriter Alfred (Michael Murphy).
Alfred gets blacklisted, so he gets Howard to be his “front”—Alfred writes the
scripts and then Howard puts his name on them and takes a percentage of the
fee. The problems start when the scripts are so good that Howard becomes known
as a talented writer and suddenly becomes in demand. Soon he’s the front for
several writers, and of course, it gets out of hand. During the course of the
story, Howard befriends actor Hecky (Mostel), who also becomes blacklisted, as
well as lovely and smart studio script editor Florence (Andrea Marcovicci),
with whom Howard falls in love. How is he going to keep his secret from
Florence, especially when she’s just as enamored of his “writing” as the studio
The Oscar nominated original
screenplay is savvy and biting, Ritt’s direction is assured and knowing, and
Zero Mostel is so good that he should have received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination
for The Front—but it is Woody Allen’s
performance that is the soul of the movie. He literally lights up the screen
with a fully fleshed-out character that, at the time, was a refreshing
surprise. His passion for the material is evident, and one could almost think
that the film is one of his own from his late 1980s period.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition sports an all-region 1080p High Definition
restoration that looks sharp. It is accompanied by a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
soundtrack, as well as an informative audio commentary by Andrea Marcovicci,
and film historians Julie Kirgo (who also provides the booklet notes) and Nick
Redman. Other supplements include an isolated score track (Dave Grusin, composer)
and the theatrical trailer.
As with most Twilight Time
releases, the Blu-ray edition is limited to 3,000 units, so snatch it up before
they’re gone. The Front is a timely
piece of political filmmaking that still resonates, especially today.
"La La Land" lived up to its hype by earning 14 Oscar nominations, tying "Titanic" and "All About Eve" for the most ever. Other films with multiple major nominations include "Manchester by the Sea", "Arrival", "Fences", "Moonlight", "Lion", "Hell or High Water" and "Hacksaw Ridge". The Oscar telecast takes place on February 26. Click here for full list of nominations.
should say upfront that with a couple of notable exceptions I'm not a big fan
of John Carpenter's work. I wish I was, I really do (and I'll never give up on
him), but I'm just not. It strikes me that for every exceptional film he made –
Halloween, Escape from New York, The Thing – there’s a handful of distinctly
underwhelming offerings: They Live, Ghosts of Mars, The Fog, Prince of Darkness,
Village of the Damned, Body Bags, Escape from L.A., Vampires, In the Mouth of
Madness…the list goes on. I concede that many of these films are widely revered,
so would stress again that these are titles that have left me personally
feeling unfulfilled and I readily acknowledge that my opinions are those of a
minority. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976),
which as with many of his films, Carpenter wrote and scored as well as
directed, was his second theatrical feature following Dark Star two years
earlier, and for me it resides upstream of the mid-water between the few titles
I greatly admire and the regrettable majority that I deem to be
the aftermath of the slaying of some of their pack by the police, the
formidable Street Thunder gang swear a "Cholo" – a blood oath of
vengeance – decreeing that they'll bring war to the streets of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile Special Officer Starker (Charles Cyphers) is transporting three
prisoners between penitentiaries when one of them falls seriously ill. Starker
decides to locate a police station to get the trio into confinement whilst he
summons a doctor. Unfortunately, the nearest is in the process of being
decommissioned and relocated to a new site and is thusly staffed by bare bones
personnel, but the officer overseeing the closure, Lieutenant Ethan Bishop
(Austin Stoker), nevertheless agrees to let Starker use the holding cells. Then
Lawson (Martin West) – the father of a little girl murdered by the gang (and who
subsequently pursued the perpetrators, shooting one of the head honchos dead) –
stumbles in to Anderson in shock and seeking refuge. Armed to the teeth, dozens
of gang members converge on the premises to make Lawson pay for killing one of
on Precinct 13 was fashioned by Carpenter as a modern day western and with
traces of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo coursing through its veins it's very much
that. Yet it's also impossible to ignore the aroma of George Romero's seminal The
Night of the Living Dead in its structure: a gathering of disparate characters,
the most intuitively improvisational of whom is portrayed by a black actor, are
holed up in an isolated location with little hope of help and where, despite
internal disputes, they're forced to put aside their differences and work
together to defend themselves from a relentless army of hostiles whose
merciless intent is to see them all dead.
a few mildly engaging scenes which serve to establish the panoply of
characters, Carpenter reaches out and grabs his audience by the throat with a
suspenseful and shocking sequence revolving around a little girl who realises
she's been served the wrong flavour of ice cream. Thereafter the director
incrementally stokes the tension with the aid of time stamps that appear at
regular intervals in the corner of the screen and not only lend the proceedings
a documentary feel but ratchet up audience apprehension as the titular assault gets
things kick off and the first wave of defenders has been taken out in a spray
of carnage it's pretty much high octane action through to the (slightly
anticlimactic) finish line. There are, however, some quieter moments
punctuating the mayhem and it's during these that Carpenter's excellent
characterisations are given room to breathe. Particularly enjoyable is the chemistry
and burgeoning mutual respect between lawman Bishop and felon Napoleon Wilson
(an impeccable Darwin Joston); come the end you can't help wishing these guys
could have taken off together on a new adventure. Also memorable in this
respect is Laurie Zimmer as an Anderson secretary who Wilson takes a shine to
and, once again, one is left wistfully musing that the relationship between
them might have been explored further.
particular standout scene during these welcome moments of quietude plays on the
innate human instinct for self-preservation; a character suggests that they
hand over Lawson to the gang in order to save their own skins, but Bishop nobly
refuses to be party to such an egregious undertaking.
already mentioned aside, there are fine performances too from Tony Burton,
Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis (the latter two would be reunited as father
and daughter in the director's next big screen release, Halloween).
by a typically infectious Carpenter score – particularly its thrumming core
synth theme – Assault on Precinct 13 is a raw and intense low-budgeter, the
creativity of which obscures its budgetary constraints, and which has not only
improved with age but in 2005 spawned a starry (and unexpectedly decent)
the film was shot as The Siege, its title changed at the behest of the
distributor in favour of something punchier. Although Assault on Precinct 13 is
arguably a better choice it's also a bit of a misnomer, since nowhere in the
film itself is there a "Precinct 13", let alone one that comes under
movie has been available on Blu-ray and DVD before, but its recent UK 40th anniversary
incarnation from Second Sight makes for an irresistibly double-dip-worthy
proposition. Aside from a pristine 2.35:1 ratio hi-def transfer from a newly
restored print the release includes some exceptional bonus goodies. On
both the individually available Blu-Ray and DVD, along with a terrific assembly
of interview material – Director John Carpenter, actors Austin Stoker and Nancy
Loomis, Art Director Tommy Lee Wallace (who also handled sound effects duties),
and Executive Producer Joseph Kaufman – there are two commentaries (from
Carpenter and Wallace), a trailer and some radio spots. Exclusive to the Blu-Ray
box set release are "Captain Voyeur" (a comical short black &
white student film written and directed by Carpenter in 1969), and a
partially-subtitled 2003 documentary entitled "Do You Remember Laurie
Zimmer?"; chronicling the extensive efforts by a French film crew to
locate the actress who retired from the business many years ago. It certainly
has “will they or won't they find her?” appeal, but rambles a little and would
have benefited from being pared down to half its 53-minute runtime. Also
exclusive to the box set are a selection of art cards and a CD pressing of
cinephiles know that Woody Allen is a huge fan of Ingmar Bergman. Allen has
paid homage to the Swedish master several times, and his 1982 work, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, is an
example. It draws upon one of Bergman’s very few comedies, Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), which is also the basis of the
Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical and later film, A Little Night Music.
Smiles takes place at the
turn of the last century (1800s to 1900s) in a rural village in Sweden, and the
story follows the bawdy escapades of several couples. Likewise, Allen’s Midsummer takes place in the same time
period, although the story is transplanted to “the country” somewhere in New
York state, and concerns an ensemble of six characters—three couples—who also
embark on bawdy escapades.
original film, in turn, is inspired by the works of Anton Chekhov. Smiles of Summer Night is light,
intellectual, and explores manners and morals with an undercurrent of serious
sexuality bubbling underneath—just like some of Chekhov’s comedies. The Russian
playwright’s comedies are not belly-laughers; instead they are subtle, amusing,
and effervescent. You smile at them.
Bergman’s Smiles is the same way, as
is Allen’s Midsummer.
said, Midsummer is not one of Woody
Allen’s better films. It’s all right—it’s not bad, it’s just very, well, light.
A fluff piece. Something he made to fill some time. He had actually shot Zelig prior to making Midsummer, but the visual effects of the
former film were taking longer than expected—so Allen wrote, produced, edited,
and released Midsummer in the interim
(Zelig was released in 1983).
are perhaps two significant aspects to Midsummer—one
is Gordon Willis’ gorgeous color cinematography, which excellently captures the
“enchanted” forest and pastoral mood of the film, and the other is that it’s
the first of Allen’s releases featuring Mia Farrow as a co-star. Unfortunately,
as opposed to several other of the director’s movies made later in the decade, Midsummer does not show off Farrow’s
talents particularly well.
plays Andrew, an “inventor” married to Adrian (Mary Steenburgen). They are
having marital problems, although their love for each other is evident. They’ve
invited two couples out to the country for a weekend—Leopold, a randy old
professor (Jose Ferrer) and his young fiancé Ariel (Farrow), and
Maxwell, a randy young doctor (Tony Roberts) and his adventurous nurse, Dulcy
(Julie Hagerty). Throughout the course of the weekend, couples mix,
relationships are challenged, and the promise of sex dominates everyone’s mind.
Throw in a little magic (the forest is “enchanted”),
and you have a light little romp of a comedy.
Time’s limited edition Blu-ray (only 3,000 units) features a 1080 High
Definition transfer that beautifully brings out the colorful settings. It comes
with a 1.0 DTS-Master Audio soundtrack, plus an isolated music track (the score
is made up of lively classical pieces by Felix Mendelssohn). The theatrical
trailer is the only supplement. The booklet contains an informative essay by
film critic Julie Kirgo.
the grand scheme of Allen’s nearly fifty titles, Midsummer resides somewhere in the lower third, to be sure. Nevertheless,
it provides 88 minutes of amusement in the way a nice European pastry is
pleasing to the palate. Enjoyable while it lasts, but then it’s gone.
In 1924 a film titled "The City Without Jews" premiered in Vienna. The movie was an adaptation of a novel by Hugo Bettauer, who viewed it as a dark satire of what unchecked racism could lead to. In the novel, a fictional city named Utopia orchestrates a round-up and forced exile of all of the Jews who inhabit the city, making them scapegoats for all of the problems that have left residents frustrated. . However, after the quality of life deteriorates and services begin to fail, the city fathers issue a mea culpa and request that the exiles return to Utopia (which is an obvious metaphor for Vienna). The film was directed by Hans Karl Breslauer. It won acclaim but its legacy was to be defined by ironies and tragedies. Bettauer wrote the novel to denounce anti-Semitism even though he had already converted to Christianity. He would be murdered by an anti-Semite a year after the premiere of the film. The director of the film would never make another movie and join the Nazi party in 1940, although he may have done so because of political expediency since Nazi Germany took over the nation, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, in the "anschluss", or annexation, of 1938. At the time the film premiered Adolf Hitler was serving a jail sentence for his failed coup against the Weimar Republic. While in jail, Hitler effectively used his status to become a martyr to ultra right-wing fringe groups who were growing increasingly militant amidst the economic catastrophe that was engulfing Germany. After Hitler was elected to national office, he would wait out the death of the beloved elderly president von Hindenburg. Upon von Hindenburg's passing, Hitler established himself as dictator and appealed to desperate people who would willingly cede their civil rights to a strongman who promised he could fix everything. One of the first casualties of the Nazi regime was freedom of speech. The propaganda ministry forbade the public display of any film or published work that might be viewed as undermining the totalitarian nature of the regime. Thus, "The City Without Jews" was pulled from circulation. This was not surprising, given the fact that the movie and its source novel predicted exactly what the Nazi government had in mind for the Jews of Europe: forced evacuations and ultimately mass exterminations.
"The City Without Jews" was presumed to be a "lost" movie until 1991 when an incomplete version was discovered and screened at the Vienna Film Festival. However it lacked its powerful final sequence in which the Jews are invited to return to Utopia. The Daily Beast reports that last year a complete version of the movie was improbably found at a Paris flea market. The Film Archive Austria is raising funds to protect and preserve it, as the movie existed on highly flammable nitrate stock. Those behind the effort to completely safeguard the film also feel the movie has an unfortunate parallel in today's world where hate crimes and intolerance of minorities is on the rise.
by Anthony Bushell, who also co-directed (with Reginald Beck) and appears
on screen as a courtroom attorney, 1951's The Long Dark Hall opens with two
brutal, night-shrouded murders in rapid succession, priming the audience for
what promises to be a tasty serving of Brit-noir. Regrettably, with the
identity of the murderer openly revealed in the first scene and the wrong man
hastily arrested for the crime, it tailspins into a mediocre courtroom drama
with a crushingly dissatisfying denouement. Seldom has a film been quite so
severely undermined by such an incredulously vapid wrap-up, one so abrupt in
fact that you have to wonder if they misplaced the last dozen pages of the
script, forcing them to hastily improvise!
shadowy figure who considers himself ‘an instrument of justice’ and whose name
we never learn (Anthony Dawson) is stalking the streets of London murdering
showgirls. When Rose Mallory (Patricia Wayne) is found dead, the finger of
suspicion points to Arthur Groome (Rex Harrison), a respectable married man who
was having a troubled affair with her. Standing trial with only circumstantial
evidence to convict him, Groome's efforts to play down his relationship with
Rose make him look ever more guilty. Convinced of his innocence and prepared to
overlook his infidelity, Groome's wife Mary (Lilli Palmer) remains stoically at
his side throughout. But the murderer has another agenda and, finagling a
meeting with Mary outside the court one afternoon, he begins to worm his way
into her trust.
Long Dark Hall was scripted by Nunnally Johnson and W.E. Fairchild from an
Edgar Lustgarten novel, "A Case to Answer", its story relayed
through extended flashbacks as a writer researches material for his new book.
Structured as such, one could take issue with several blatant plot anomalies
born thereof, but the real problem is that in laying all its cards on the table
from the get go and failing to keep an ace up its sleeve, beyond the question
of how – or if – Groome will escape his predicament, in terms of suspense the
movie has nowhere to go. Which is a bit of a shame because there are some very
fine, committed performances on the show here. Rex Harrison imbues the
beleaguered Groome with sufficient enough self-reproach over the whole sorry
business that in spite of his flawed judgement one can't help but root for him;
this was an era when the crime of murder carried the death sentence, yet he blithely
continues to play economical with the truth. As good as Harrison is though,
it's Anthony Dawson who snares the most memorable scene in the film. Arriving
at the Groome residence in the midst of a thunderstorm and welcomed in by Mary,
his charming facade slips away and he makes unwelcome advances on her. Wreathed
in menace, the whole sequence is lit and shot to perfection. Dawson, whose best
films in a long career were those in which he portrayed shifty and despicable
rogues (Dr. No, Dial M for Murder, Curse of the Werewolf), was never more
intimidating on screen than he is in this scene. The ever-dependable Raymond
Huntley is on excellent form as the investigating officer and there are fairly
brief but memorable appearances by a boyish Michael Medwin and dear old Ballard
Berkeley (in another of his policeman turns, promoted this time round to
Superintendent). Also showcased here is the film debut of Jill Bennett, who
gets but a single line of dialogue before falling victim to Dawson's knife.
spite of its deficiencies, if one can forgive the painfully weak ending, The
Long Dark Hall makes for entertaining and undemanding enough post-Sunday-luncheon
fare. And if nothing else there's curiosity value to be found in the fact the
film represents one of the cruellest examples of art imitating life: When it
was being made Harrison and Palmer were husband and wife and no doubt still recovering
from the strain placed on their marriage by his fling a couple of years earlier
with actress Carol Landis, who’d committed suicide when the relationship hit
the rocks. Palmer supported Harrison throughout that whole ordeal. One imagines
it wasn't too difficult for Harrison to conjure up the desperately forlorn and
contrite expression on Groome's face as he stands in the dock.
film has been released on DVD in the UK as part of Network Distributing's
ongoing 'The British Film' collection. Presented in 1.37:1 ratio, it's a
nice transfer from the original film elements. The sole supplement is a short
gallery of international poster art and lobby cards.
Adapted fairly faithfully from Shaun Hutson's celebrated
novel of the same name, upon its release in 1988 director J.P. Simon’s Slugs slunk
comfortably into the subgenre of "nature gone crazy" frighteners
which over the years had found mankind besieged by worms, spiders, rats, ants,
frogs, bees and, er, rabbits (no, really!). And, just as the best of them had
it, Slugs’ beasties weren't of the common or garden kind, they were of the
supersized, extra squishy variety...with teeth…oh, and a taste for human flesh.
The inhabitants of a small American town – the site of a
former dumping ground for toxic waste – fall victim to a nightmarish contagion
of slugs and it's up to Council Health Inspector Mike Brady (Michael Garfield)
to sort it out. He quickly learns that not only are they deadly but that
they've contaminated the fresh water system. With the mutilated dead bodies of
townsfolk piling up and the authorities dismissing Brady's outlandish theories,
he turns to scientist John Foley (Santiago Alvarez) for help. Foley concocts an
efficacious amalgam of chemicals he believes will destroy them and the two men
set off to locate the slugs' breeding ground in the sewers.
J.P. Simon is better known to connoisseurs of terror cinema
as Spaniard Juan Piquer Simón, whose most notorious celluloid
offering was crazed 1982 slasher Pieces. Slugs sacrifices the
inherent sleaze factor of that film and doesn’t even attempt to match its
infamous ultra-gory effects. But what the two do share in common is
that the performances of the participants are uniformly risible and both films
are hampered by truly wretched dialogue, the mostly stilted delivery of which
only accentuates just how awful it is.
And yet, again as with Pieces, these frailties – if,
when attributed to a film with such a dubious pedigree as Slugs, they can
even be called frailties – add a welcome vein of unintentional humour.
Take, for example, this early dialogue exchange between
Brady and his wife when she draws his attention to some slugs in the flowerbeds
Him: Jesus Christ, those things are big!
Her: I told you they were big.
Him: Big? They're gigantic!!
He reaches down to touch one and recoils.
Him: Damned thing bit me!
Her: What kind of a slug bites someone?
Him: I don't know, but he's living in your garden!!
Slugs’ functionality as a "horror film" is
understandably subjective, being directly proportionate to one's feelings about
the titular gastropods. Let's face it, they aren't scary, or even intimidating
for that matter; never mind run, you could stroll away from them.
However, what most people do probably deem them to be is pretty repulsive. And
on that score Simón employs his cast of thousands to admirably
I want to start this review by saying right out that if
you have a particular interest in the Cinemascope movies of the mid-1950’s, and
if you are a film soundtrack fan, especially the music of composer Bernard
Herrmann, you want the new Blu-Ray of “Garden of Evil” (1954) from Twilight
Time. I can’t remember the last time I had such a good time watching a film and
going through the special features provided on this disc.
It’s not that “Garden of Evil” is such a great flick.
It’s not. It tries to be a profound examination of men’s lust for gold and a
beautiful woman, but ends up at best being a melodramatic potboiler that’s long
on talk and short on action. “If the world were made of gold, I guess men would
die for a handful of dirt,” Gary Cooper says at the end of the film. It’s a
great line. It sounds like something Bogart could have said at the end of
“Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” But the script by Frank Fenton (based on a
story by Fred Frieberger and William Tunberg) lacks the depth of the John
Huston classic. Nevertheless, “Garden of Evil” is still a highly enjoyable
Cooper plays Hooker, an American adventurer stranded in
Puerto Miguel, Mexico when the boat that was taking him to the California gold
fields develops engine trouble. Stranded along with him are fellow passengers Richard
Widmark, who plays Fiske, a card sharp, and Cameron Mitchell as Luke Daly, a
young hot head, who thinks he’s tough and good with a gun. The three Americans are
basically stuck with each other in Puerto Miguel as they try to figure out what
they’re going to do in Mexico while waiting six weeks for the boat’s engine to
That question is quickly answered in a cantina when Fiske
starts to tell Daly’s fortune using a deck of cards and holds up a red queen. Who
should walk in at that particular moment? None other than the red-headed queen
of Fox’s 1950s Cinemascope productions herself—Susan Hayward as Leah Fuller.
She storms into the place (as Hayward was often prone to do), saying she’ll pay
$2,000 in gold to any man who will come with her up into the mountains to
rescue her husband, who is trapped in a gold mine. Only one of the Mexican’s in
the bar, Vicente (Victor Manuel Mendoza) takes her up on her offer. The others are
too afraid of the Apaches up there. But our three intrepid Americanos can’t
resist the $2,000 and the fiery redhead who’s offering it and agree to go along
The journey is long and arduous. Hayward takes them up a
dizzying mountain trail that has a cliff with a drop of a thousand feet, give
or take a mile or two. Art directors Edward Fitzgerald and Lyle Wheeler came up
with some fantastic matte paintings for these scenes. The vistas that spread
out on the vast Cinemascope screen are breathtaking and add a weird touch of
fantasy to the film. I couldn’t help thinking of the scenes from the old Tarzan
movies, when the ape-man and his companions were climbing the Mutia Escarpment.
The use of the matte paintings to enhance the natural scenery of the Guanajuato,
Mexico location, I suspect was deliberate, to establish a demarcation between
the everyday world of Puerto Miguel and the mysterious Garden of Evil, where
the mine is located. The place was given its name by an old priest who, I
presume, knew about things like good and evil.
They arrive at the mine after several days’ journey and
find Leah’s husband, John Fuller (Hugh Marlowe), still alive. They dig him out
and set his broken leg in a splint. You’d think he’d be grateful, but it turns
out he’s a jealous insecure man, suspicious of the guys who came to his aid. He
thinks they want his gold and his wife. He’s partly right about that. Luke Daly
has already made unwanted advances and had to be knocked into submission by
Hooker. And neither Fiske nor Hooker have failed to notice Leah’s stunning
beauty, although they are more gentlemanly about it. Widmark as Fiske plays it
cynical, but in the end, he shows he’s not the cad he pretends to be and makes
a noble gesture on her behalf.
Cooper as Hooker, of course, is the upright man of honor
as always. At age 54 he was in a peak period of his career. He seemed to get
better as he got older. In films of that period such as “Vera Cruz,” “High
Noon,” and “Man of the West,” he gave some of his best performances, showing
that unusual combination of seasoned leather toughness and vulnerability. He
could do more with a squint or a twitch of the mouth than most other actors
could do with a page of dialogue. He dominates scene after scene just with his
mere presence, despite the star power of his co-stars.
Once the characters are finally all together at the mine,
the potboiler plot kicks in and the film gets a bit tedious, until smoke signal
appear on the rim and the Apaches move in. The rest of the story concerns
itself with the escape back through the mountains with Apaches in pursuit. Who
will make it? Who will die? And who ends up with Susan Hayward?
Watching Hayward, Widmark, and Cooper play against each
other is the kind of movie-going experience that cannot be equaled today. Veteran
director Henry Hathaway made good use of the wide Cinemascope lenses, shooting many
long takes with a stationary camera, filming the actors as though it was a stage
production. As film historian Nick Redman says in the Blu-ray’s commentary
track, by this time the studio had started using four-track magnetic tape to
record sound and there are moments that almost seem as if the actors are there
Not the most beloved entry in Alfred Hitchcock's
cinematic oeuvre – by either audiences in general or the director himself –
1939's Jamaica Inn (based on a Daphne du Maurier novel first
published three years earlier) is nevertheless a serviceable enough piece of
drama, which perhaps finds its most ideal place nowadays as an undemanding
rainy Sunday afternoon programmer.
Following the death of her mother, Mary Yellen (Maureen
O'Hara) travels from Ireland to England intending to take up residence with her
relatives at their Cornish hostelry the Jamaica Inn. After an unexpected
detour, which on face value proves beneficial when she makes the acquaintance
of local squire and magistrate Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton), Mary
arrives at her destination to find her browbeaten Aunt Patience (Maria Ney)
living in fear of a tyrannical husband, the brutish Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks).
It also transpires that the Inn is the refuge of a gang of cutthroats – of
which Merlyn is ringleader – who orchestrate shipwrecks along the
perilous coastline, murdering in cold blood any surviving crew and plundering
the cargo. When the gang set about lynching one of their own, James 'Jem'
Trehearne (Robert Newton), who's been lining his own pockets with the spoils,
Mary saves his life and together they flee into the night, eventually turning
to Pengallan for help. But Mary soon discovers neither Trehearne nor Pengallan
are what they first appear…
Extremist spoilerphobes who've not seen Jamaica Inn needn't
get too riled by the revelation that Pengallan is the film's principal
malefactor, since it's a card Hitchcock lays face up on the table very early in
the proceedings. Some might suggest too early, but the fun derived
from this stratagem is the discomfort that escalates as we the audience,
knowing he's a bad egg, watch our hero and heroine mistake him for a paragon of
virtue, erroneously placing their trust in the very man they’re trying to bring
Its screenplay having been penned by Sidney Gilliat and
co-credited to Hitchcock’s secretary Joan Harrison, author Daphne du Maurier
was reputedly dissatisfied with the changes made to her novel, and indeed the
resulting picture as a whole. And in many respects Jamaica Inn doesn't
really feel like "An Alfred Hitchcock Film" at all, not only because
it was rare for him to tackle period drama but also due to the fact the
performances are so atypically theatrical, certainly more so than in any other
of his pictures that I can think of. The ripest ham of the bunch is
unquestionably Charles Laughton, who also co-produced and so held considerable
sway over the production – for example, he drafted in J.B. Priestley
to finesse his dialogue – and for my money the actor pitched his
performance completely wrong. What the story cries out for but desperately
lacks is a strong arch-villain and, where Pengallan ought to be a festering
pool of corruption and depravity, the conceited air, sly sideways glances,
snide smirking and ludicrously fashioned eyebrows that garnish Laughton's
portrayal, he's more pantomime rascal than anything even remotely threatening.
Which isn't to say there's nothing to enjoy about his performance. He
rapaciously chews on the scenery, shamelessly thieving one's attention every
time he's on screen – even when he's background in a shot – and his lascivious
designs on Mary are queasily unsettling. It's merely that, in the context of
this particular story, I consider the campy approach was misjudged.
Continuing with the subject of villainy, after the
initial, impressively discomfiting scenes in which it looks as if Merlyn is
going to be a despicable force to be reckoned with, the character is revealed
to be Pengallan's puppet and regrettably loses some of his edge; later on there
are even attempts to turn him into a figure of pity. Perhaps the most
interesting of the cutthroats is Emlyn Williams as Harry the Peddler, whose
soft whistling as he goes about his felonious work imbues him with quiet
menace, though he's sadly a tad underused.
On the plus side though, Maureen O'Hara is spirited and
ravishing as the heroine of the piece; one can hardly blame Pengallan for
wanting to truss her up and take her home! And those most familiar with Robert
Newton in his legendary performance as the bewhiskered Long John Silver in
Byron Haskin's 1950 take on Treasure Island may be as taken aback as
I at the youthful and slightly effeminate good looks the actor exhibits here,
however his performance is admirable.
Having stated that Jamaica Inn doesn't feel like
a Hitchcock film, there are still some nice ‘Hitchcockian’ flourishes in
evidence. Notable is a sequence in which Mary wakes beside a sleeping Jem and,
espying a savage blade lodged in the sand within reach of his hand, tries to
slip away without rousing him. All the same, the scenario isn't milked to its
full potential, at least not in the same way similar moments are so
nail-bitingly structured in the director's other works.
King’s 1975 novel Salem’s Lot began
life as an unpublished short story (“Jerusalem’s Lot”) while Mr. King was still
in college. When he decided to expand it
into a novel he posed the question as to what would happen if Count Dracula
were to come back in 20th Century America, and his wife Tabitha
joked that he would probably get run over by a cab in New York City. It was originally titled Second Coming, however it was changed at the urging of Mrs. King because
it sounded like a “bad sex story” (she’s was right, and had a dirty mind to
boot!). The 439-page book was then made
into an effective TV-movie four years later, premiering in two parts on both
November 17 and November 24 on CBS. TV-movies
are a completely different animal than theatrical films as they are often shot
in a much quicker fashion. Salem’s Lot is no exception. The multiple-hour-long film was shot during a
seven-week stretch in July and August of 1979.
film’s construction is elliptical in nature and begins at the end with David
Soul as Ben Mears and Lance Kerwin as Mark Petrie, both obviously dirty, worn
out, and tired, as they collect holy water from a church in Mexico. They have been on the run for a while, but we
don’t know why. The action then switches
back to two years previous when Mears returns to the town of Salem’s Lot in
Maine (in reality the Victorian Village of Ferndale, CA). The small town feel is obvious from the get-go
as townspeople know and greet one another with polite familiarity. Novelist Mears drives into town and eyes the
Marsten House (a false front constructed for the film that was burned down at
the end; Peter Medak did the same thing in his masterful 1980 film The Changeling) and as it turns out he
had quite a scare there when he was a child. His attraction to the huge manse, which is reputed to be haunted, only
intensifies when he learns that two antique dealers, Richard Straker (James
Mason) and Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder), have purchased it and are opening up a
new shop in the Salem’s Lot business district. Barlow is reputed to be traveling throughout Europe acquiring new and
fancy merchandise to sell at the new store, however despite Mr. Straker’s
constant insistence that he will arrive shortly, his absence is felt. Mears, meanwhile, moves into a boarding house
temporarily to work on his new novel and finds himself romancing Susan Norton
(Bonnie Bedelia of Die Hard), a local
fan of his. Things in Salem’s Lot seem
to take a turn for the worse when Straker asks a moving company to lower a
crate into his basement; cold air emanates from the wooden enclosure and the
movers run off in fright. Several deaths
occur within the town, most horrifically among them children. When the vampire finally appears in the form
of Reggie Nalder, he is quite a sight to behold. Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), a teenage horror
film fan who also is an aficionado of magic, gets caught up in the mayhem and
when his parents are killed he vows revenge against Barlow. Together with Ben, Mark finds himself on the
run from vampires…
film’s signature image of a vampire in the form of one of the young boys with
bloodshot eyes floating outside of a window is still creepy by today’s
standards. Many young children suffered
through sleepless nights 37 years ago when the film aired, mostly due to this
sequence. The film also boasts a spooky
score by Harry Sukman which punctuates the action in a fashion that keeps in
line with similar made-for-TV movies of the period and is every bit as good as
anything concocted by composers Robert Cobert and Dominic Frontiere.
you watch the film you’re struck by just how many of the wonderful character
actors who appear are no longer with us: uncredited Reggie Nalder as Barlow;
Elisha Cook, Jr. and Marie Windsor, who both appeared as a couple in Stanley
Kubrick’s The Killing in 1955; James
Mason as Straker, and Kenneth MacMillian as the constable.
Salem’s Lot, in addition to many syndicated
airings, was released on VHS in the 1980’s by Warner Home Video in the form of
the 112-minute European theatrical cut, which removes 71 minutes (roughly 38%)
of the original television broadcast. While I am grateful that the 183-minute version is the one released on
this new Warner Blu-ray, it would have been nice to have had the 112-minute cut
on here as well just to be able to compare the two. Perhaps the master for that cut has been
misplaced? Director Tobe Hooper, still
riding the wave of the success of The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973) but having faltered with Eaten Alive (1976) and then getting fired
from the set of The Dark (1979),
regains his horror footing here before going on to make the little gem The Funhouse (1981) and the spectacular Poltergeist (1982). The sole extra on this otherwise bare-bones
release is a running commentary by Mr. Hooper, but this is sufficient and
should satisfy even the most die-hard fans of the film.
The Warner Archive has released a Blu-ray edition of director Vincente Minnelli's classic 1950 comedy "Father of the Bride". The movie's delights haven't faded a bit with the passing of the years and its premise is as timely as ever- namely, that planning a wedding is a major pain in the butt for everyone involved. In this case Spencer Tracy is the long-suffering dad, Stanley T. Banks, who lives an uppercrust lifestyle complete with live-in maid. Still, he isn't so wealthy that he can spend with wild abandon. When his teenage daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) announces she is engaged to heartthrob Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor), everyone's lives are turned topsy-turvy. Predictably, Stanley feels Buckley isn't quite worthy of having his daughter as his wife, a common prejudice experienced by about 90% of fathers worldwide who find themselves in the same situation. However, his wife Ellie (Joan Bennett) is enthusiastic about the wedding and goes all-out in assisting her starry-eyed daughter in ensuring that the big day is all she dreams it will be. Before long Stanley finds his leisure time is a thing of the past as a rapidly escalating number of chores (and expenses) relating to the wedding begin to snowball. The witty, Oscar-nominated screenplay, based on the novel by Edward Streeter, allows Stanley to narrate his own tale of woe, wallowing in self-pity all along the way and portraying himself as the ultimate victim: he's pressed to spend a king's ransom on the wedding even while his own opinions are consistently dismissed by those around him. Tracy, also Oscar-nominated, plays the part to the hilt with a slow-burn temper occasionally rising to the level of a full-blown tantrum. Before long the old adage is proven out that if a family can survive planning the wedding then the union may actually succeed. Liz Taylor radiates almost surrealistic beauty as the bride-to-be and the supporting cast is top notch with old pros Billie Burke and Leo G. Carroll joining in the fun. The only weak link is Don Taylor as the groom. The character is so ridiculously polite and wimpy that it defies belief that Stanley would view him as a threat to his daughter in any way. Under the direction of Vincente Minnelli, "Father of the Bride" remains an extremely funny film that doesn't strive for belly laughs but, rather, concentrates on a consistent string of low-key, highly amusing situations that will ring true to all viewers. The film's popularity resulted in a successful sequel, "Father's Little Dividend" and also inspired a very good remake (and sequel) starring Steve Martin in the 1990s.
The Blu-ray edition looks great and includes the original trailer and vintage newsreel footage of Elizabeth Taylor's real-life wedding as well as a visit to the set by President Harry S. Truman.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
William Peter Blatty, the novelist and screenwriter whose book "The Exorcist" became a literary phenomenon and a movie sensation, died Thursday at age 89. Blatty's success prior to the publication of the book in 1971 was largely based on comedic novels and screenplays. His greatest claim to fame in his early career was as screenwriter of the Pink Panther comedy "A Shot in the Dark". Blatty was studying at Georgetown University when he heard about a 1949 incident in which the Catholic church issued a rare approval for the exorcism of a young boy who was allegedly possessed by a demon. The story so intrigued Blatty that many years later it formed the basis of "The Exorcist", though he changed the victim to a young girl. The book was an overnight success and director William Friedkin's 1973 film version became one of the highest grossing films of all time. Blatty and Friedkin disagreed about the final cut of the film but did decide to release an alternate version in 2000 that contained scenes deleted from the original cut. Blatty directed and wrote the 1990 sequel "Exorcist III", feeling he could convey story elements that were not included in the first film or its disastrous 1977 sequel. However, "Exorcist III" opened to middling boxoffice and critical disinterest. Over the years Blatty complained that, despite the financial success "The Exorcist" franchise had afforded him, he was frustrated that he could no longer return to writing comedy, which was his first love. He said that studios and publishers always expected him to produce a horror blockbuster. For more click here.
(For an exclusive interview with William Peter Blatty, see Cinema Retro issue #19)
Second Time Around” is a 1960 comedy-western starring the late, great Debbie
Reynolds as a city widow with two children who decides to follow her and her
late husband’s dream of living out West. A friend of her deceased husband tells
her to come with the kids out to Arizona Territory where she can work in his
general store. She goes out alone at first only to find that by the time she
gets there the friend who owned the store has been killed. The sheriff (Ken
Scott) seems more interested in picking Debbie up literally at the train
station and carrying her off to the saloon than catching the killer. He tells
her that the store owner was killed by a man with a tattoo of a dagger on his
arm. Dum de dum dum. Remember that.
tries to find work in town but ends up working out on Thelma Ritter’s ranch.
You remember Thelm-a she was in dozens of films back in the fifties/sixties
playing the role of the good friend/landlady/confidante who always befriends the
female lead. We also meet Steve Forrest as a slick gambler; Andy Griffith, as
the bashful 35 year old son of a lady ranch owner (he’s more like Gomer than
Andy in this one); and Juliet Prowse as Steve Forrest’s girlfriend.
a nice cast and director Vincent Sherman does a pretty good job keeping the lightweight
story based on a Richard Emery Roberts novel moving. (Screenplay is credited to
Oscar Saul and Cecil Dan Hansen—a pseudonym for Clair Huffaker). There are two
main conflicts in the plot. The first is a romantic triangle between Debbie,
Andy, and Steve. Sharpster Steve keeps getting the best of poor Andy all
through the story, but Andy keeps plugging along. At one point Steve salts a
river with gold nuggets and gets Debbie to go out there with him and prospect
for gold. His main intention is to get her to fall in the water so she’ll have
to take all her clothes off to dry. Forced to spend the night wrapped in a
blanket, Debbie sort of melts to Steve’s charm but of course not all the way.
It’s 1961, after all.
an irate Andy rides out there in the morning and socks Steve on the jaw, and
when Debbie finds out that Steve salted the river she slaps both of them in the
face and walks off in a huff. Of course you know what happens next. Steve socks
Andy and he falls in the river. It’s that kind of comedy, folks.
second conflict is between Debbie and crooked sheriff Ken Scott. She starts a
recall petition to force him to run for re-election. She’s convinced he knows
more than he’s saying about her dead husband’s dead friend. Scott calls in
reinforcements to help him stop her, one of whom turns out to be a guy with a
tattoo of a dagger on his arm. Dum-de-dum-dum. And somehow it is very
satisfying to see that this particular baddie is played by none other than the
great Timothy Carey. Carey was an actor whose weird looks and hulking size made
him a villain extraordinaire in such films as “One Eyed Jacks,” “Revolt in the
Big House,” “The Killing,” and dozens more. He’s just as scary in this film. In
cahoots with the sheriff he and two other no goods rob a bank and steal the $200
Debbie just borrowed.
mad (that was basically Debbie’s thing, wasn’t it?) she gets people to sign the
recall petition and runs for sheriff herself. Guess what? This inexperienced,
tenderfoot female, who had never fired a gun before, and could barely lift feed
sacks into a wagon when she first got there, wins the election. You just
couldn’t keep Debbie down back in the sixties.
ridiculous as it sounds this is actually an entertaining 99 minutes. It’s
almost a time capsule of movies from that era—the kind of movie housewives and
mothers would go with their kids to watch at a summer afternoon matinee. You
could learn more about what the Sixties were really like from watching this
movie than you could watching 20 episodes of “Mad Men.”
a 20th Century Fox Cinemascope presentation, and the sound was
recorded using Fox’s then state-of-the-art stereophonic sound system. I don’t
know the technical aspects of how they recorded movie sound back then, but in some
ways it was a much better system than the current, digital high def soundtracks
in vogue today. It almost seems like they only used right, left and center
microphones to pick up all the sound. Hence the soundstage on my Bose Cinemate
II Home Theater was incredibly lifelike—much like watching a play on stage. You
could actually hear the dialog. Even more vibrant, without being intrusive, was
Gerald Fried’s music score.
the movie gets its title from the song that Bing Crosby sung in Fox’s “High
Time” which was released the same year. Henry Mancini did the scoring for “High
Time” but the producers wanted a tune for Bing to croon and hired Sammy Cahn
and James Van Heusen to write it. Nobody sings it this time around—it just
swells up suddenly for the first time in the middle of the movie during a love
scene between Debbie and Steve. I guess Fox wanted its money’s worth from the
DVD from 20th’s burn on demand Cinema Archive division has good
picture quality along with superb sound, but no special bonus features. But that’s
okay, seeing Tim Carey in a comedy was bonus enough.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Lionsgate:
Relive the imaginative and compelling cult classic, The
Man Who Fell to Earth, when the Limited Collector’s Edition arrives on Blu-ray
Combo Pack (plus Digital HD) January 24 from Lionsgate. International icon
David Bowie stars in his unforgettable debut role as an alien who has
ventured to Earth on a mission to save his planet from a catastrophic drought.
In honor of David Bowie’s legacy, the limited collector’s edition Blu-ray Combo
Pack includes never-before-seen interviews, brand new artwork, a 72-page bound
book, press booklet, four art cards and a mini poster. Hailed as “the most
intellectually provocative genre film of the 1970s” by Time Out, the remastered The
Man Who Fell to Earth Limited Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Combo Pack will
be available for the suggested retail price of $34.99.
Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) is a humanoid
alien who comes to Earth from a distant planet on a mission to take water back
to his home planet.
BLU-RAY/DVD/DIGITAL HD SPECIAL FEATURES
· David Bowie Interview
– French TV 1977
· New Interview
with Costume Designer May Routh Featuring Original Costume Sketches
· New Interview
with Stills Photographer David James Featuring Behind-the-Scenes Stills
· New Interview
with fan Sam Taylor-Johnson
· New Interview
with Producer Michael Deeley
· New “The Lost
Soundtracks” Featurette, Featuring Interviews with Paul Buckmaster and Author
· Interview with
· Interview with
Writer Paul Mayersberg
· Interview with
Cinematographer Tony Richmond
· Interview with
Director Nicolas Roeg
David Bowie Basquiat, Labyrinth, The
in Black, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Mass. — Dec. 12, 2016 — For Immediate Release — The Film Detective announces
its classic movie app, streaming on Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. An established
leader in film restoration and distribution, with thousands of hours of
classic film and television restored from original elements, The Film Detective
offers viewers the chance to forgo DVDs or a cable subscription, while still
enjoying great entertainment. For a preview, visit thefilmdetective.tv
app launches with dozens of iconic titles, including rare silent films,
westerns, film noir, musicals and comedies. In addition to such golden age Hollywood
fare as Kansas City Confidential (1952), The Film Detective has
uncovered and restored such kitschy titles as Flash Gordon Conquers the
Universe (1940), The Vampire Bat (1933) and 20 episodes of The
New Howdy Doody Show (1976-77). The app refreshes content monthly for
timely programming around themes, holidays and anniversaries.
Film Detective also creates original, supplemental content, with legendary
broadcast veteran Dana Hersey (longtime star of Boston’s WSBK-TV’s
groundbreaking series, The Movie Loft), offering behind-the-scenes
information and fun-facts about the movies. The Film Detective’s original
content starts with The Outlaw: The Movie That Couldn’t Be Stopped, a
mini-documentary highlighting the film’s controversial journey to success.
addition, the app offers licensed content such as the recently discovered,
HD-restored, lost Ed Wood TV pilot Final Curtain (1957); the
Oscar-winning documentary The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1975); and
such beloved family classics as Sounder (1972). The Film Detective
has also licensed the Independent International Pictures library which includes
over 200 classic exploitation films, including the Al Adamson collection (Satan's
team is excited to bring vintage cinema to life in the digital age through The
Film Detective app. It gives consumers a library of content without purchasing
DVDs, Blu-rays or subscribing to cable. Viewers can now enjoy old favorites and
long-lost gems on demand. This is truly cutting the cord,” commented Phil
Hopkins, Founder of The Film Detective.
Film Detective uses Zype, the video distribution service for OTT, to manage and
publish their premium content and foster relationships with classic movie and
TV fans. “A premium subscription service is the natural progression for The
Film Detective,” said Zype’s CEO, Ed Laczynski. “Zype is thrilled to help The
Film Detective bring content to streaming media devices and to help
cord-cutters re-discover the classic film and television content they grew up
a free trial period with subscriptions starting as low as $3.99 per month or
$34.99 annually. Three films will stream free each month. iOS distribution will
be available in 2017.
The Film Detective:
Philip Elliott Hopkins – who has been a fixture in the entertainment industry
since 1999 – has channeled his life-long
passion for collecting classic films into The Film Detective, a leading
purveyor of restoration and distribution of broadcast-quality,
digitally-remastered programming, including feature films, television, foreign
imports, documentaries, special interest and audio. Since launching in 2014,
the Massachusetts-based company has distributed its extensive library of 3000+
hours on DVD, Blu-ray and through such leading digital and television broadcast
platforms as Turner Classic Movies, American Movie Classics, NBC, Bounce TV,
Hulu, Amazon, EPIX HD, MeTV, PBS and more. In 2016, the Film Detective launched
its OTT classic movies channel streaming on Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV. Visit
us online at www.TheFilmDetective.com
By 1959 Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were at the peak of the popularity with movie audiences. Genuine superstars, the larger-than-life actors were among the first to exert their independence from the major studios by forming their own production companies and becoming masters of their own destinies. Between them they produced and sometime starred in some excellent films. Among the most underrated of their numerous on-screen team-ups was their joint production of "The Devil's Disciple", based on George Bernard Shaw's scathing satire based in New England during the American Revolution. The film was criticized in some quarters (including the New York Times) for taking some severe liberties with Shaw's original work in order to elaborate the action sequences that audiences would expect to see in a Lancaster/Douglas film. Still, the movie retains the requisite wit that would have to be apparent in any adaptation of a Shaw story. The film had a troubled production history. It was in the works to be made as early as 1939. Over the years, names like Marlon Brando, Rex Harrison, Montgomery Clift and Carroll Baker had been attached to various announcements about production schedules that never materialized.When Lancaster got the film rights to the story it was announced it would go into production in 1955. By the time it all came together, Lancaster had teamed with Kirk Douglas for a joint production with Laurence Olivier now the third lead. The film was originally to be directed by Alexander Mackendrick who had recently worked with Lancaster on "Sweet Smell of Success". Shortly after filming began, Mackendrick was summarily fired. The director claimed it was because of his objection to revisions in the screenplay that emphasized action and sex over the elements that were pure Shaw. Lancaster and Douglas maintained that his release was due to their dissatisfaction with the pace of filming. In any event, Mackendrick's dismissal was good news for Guy Hamilton, the up-and-coming young British director who would go on to make four James Bond movies. As a replacement for Mackendrick, Hamilton's light touch and ability to mingle action with humor and romance made him a suitable director for this particular film.
Among the more significant changes between the play and screenplay is that the character of Rev. Anthony Anderson, played by Lancaster, has been elevated in importance to match that of Richard Dudgeon, played by Douglas. The film opens in New Hampshire village during the final days of the American Revolution. Anderson is a kindly, gentle man with a pretty young wife, Judith (Janette Scott), who tries to remain apolitical despite the momentous events taking place around him. The British under General Burgoyne (Laurence Olivier) have occupied the surrounding areas and taken harsh measures to eliminate rebel resistance. This is achieved by publicly hanging suspected rebels, sometimes on the basis of slim or mistaken evidence. When Burgoyne's men string up the father of notorious rebel Richard Dudgeon, it sets in motion a series of events that make it impossible for Rev. Anderson to remain on the political sidelines. Dudgeon, a wanted man, breaks the law by cutting down his father's body from the public square and bringing the deceased to Rev. Anderson's home. Anderson takes an instant dislike to Dudgeon because of his cynical sense of humor but agrees to bury his father with dignity in his church's graveyard. This results in tumultuous goings-on. Burgoyne orders Anderson arrested for treason but when the troops arrive at his house, Anderson is gone and Dudgeon, who is visiting, adopts his identity and is arrested in his place. This act of gallantry impresses Judith, who is already smitten by Dudgeon, as he represents the kind of dynamic man of action she secretly craves. (The fact that he looks like Kirk Douglas doesn't hurt matters.) Meanwhile, Anderson, has indeed turned into a man of action himself, engaging the British in battle. When he learns of Dudgeon's deception he begins to formulate a strategy that will ensure that Burgoyne is left with no choice but to spare Dudgeon from execution.
We won't make the case that "The Devil's Disciple" is an underrated classic but suffice it to say it has many merits and deserved a better fate from both critics and the public. Burt Lancaster may get top billing but he's saddled with a quiet, understated character throughout most of the film who comes across as a bit of a bore- at least until he takes up arms. Consequently, Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier get the lion's share of good dialogue and amusing scenes and both actors make the most of it. Douglas's interpretation of Dudgeon is as a man who scoffs at death and has a cock-sure determination that somehow he'll survive any situation. He also boasts a gallows humor that is more than matched by Olivier, who admires his intended victim and extends him every courtesy even as he prepares the gallows for his hanging. Olivier's bon mots are priceless, whether it's deploring the aristocrats in London who have botched British military operations in the colonies or simply chastising his lunkhead officers (Harry Andrews gets most of the abuse). Olivier's performance is all the more impressive given the fact that in his personal life he was coping with the mental breakdown of his wife, actress Vivien Leigh. He was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Actor.
The film also boasts some creative special effects with toy soldiers used to illustrate the military situation. Helping matters along is a lush score by Richard Rodney Bennett and some impressive B&W cinematography by Jack Hildyard. While "The Devil's Disciple" isn't the best of the Lancaster/Douglas screen collaborations (for that, see "Seven Days in May"), it's a highly enjoyable romp with much to recommend about it.
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray and it's a crisp, impressive transfer. There is a bonus trailer gallery of other Lancaster and Douglas titles available from the company: "The Train", "The Scalphunters", "Cast a Giant Shadow" and "Run Silent, Run Deep" along with the theatrical trailer for "The Devil's Disciple".
It looks like the big Hollywood musical is back from the cinematic graveyard as "La La Land" swept the Golden Globes with a record number of seven wins including Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Click here for more. Click here for complete list of winners and nominees.
Joe Dante's "Trailers From Hell" site presents director/producer Alan Spencer's spot-on analysis of Robert Wise's 1966 epic "The Sand Pebbles" starring Steve McQueen in his only Oscar-nominated performance. For our money, it's one of the great films of its era even if its depressing as hell, as some very bad things happen to some very good characters.
On the evening of Saturday, November 29, 2003, my wife and I had the blessing
of sitting front row at Carnegie Hall’s SRO “Tribute to Harold Leventhal.” On the bill that evening were a host of the
impresario’s clients: Arlo Guthrie, Pete
Seeger, the Weavers, Leon Bibb, Theodore Bikel, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and a
score of others. Sitting near us in Carnegie’s
red plush seats I spied such colleagues and clients of Leventhal’s as Judy
Collins, the actor Alan Arkin, Paul Robeson Jr. and what seemed the entirety of
Woody Guthrie’s east coast extended family. This was going to be a night of true celebration.
For the non-cognoscenti, Harold Leventhal was, at various times in his
eighty-six years, a song-plugger for Irving Berlin, a Broadway and off-Broadway
producer, a concert promoter of domestic and international musical acts, a film
producer, a radical, and the manager and publisher of some of America’s most
noted folk music artists. The tribute
was an amazing, unforgettable evening and near the finale of the two-hour long
program, Nora Guthrie, the daughter of legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie,
brought out a reluctant Leventhal to say a few words.
Leventhal, short and stocky, bespectacled and balding, was brief and
humble in his remarks. In a predictably characteristic
attempt to swing the spotlight away from his own considerable accomplishments,
Leventhal remarked in his Bronx-inflected speaking voice that he most treasured
working alongside the people that “America should be proud of,” those rare
artists of “complete integrity” who represented the best attributes of our
country’s ideals: The Weavers, Pete
Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston and Lead Belly. In the program book given to patrons that
night, there was a beautiful resurrected quote courtesy of Pete Seeger. Having been blacklisted and pilloried by
enemies for more than a half a century, Seeger – with Leventhal’s empathizing
guidance - managed to not only to endure the brickbats but handily outlast all his
detractors. “He has done something extraordinary for The Weavers,” Seeger said
of his old friend. “He risked his own
head and believed in us when nobody else did. You might say he believed in America.”
Woody Guthrie, the famed dust bowl balladeer and composer of America’s
unofficial national anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” was not a client of
Leventhal’s in the manner that Seeger was. Guthrie was not a stage performer in any traditional sense; he was a
writer – and a very prolific one – who would often appear on radio, on stage,
at union rallies, and hootenannies. But he
was just as likely to be found playing his guitar on the street, in derelict
saloons, on New York City’s subway system, or to fellow sailors of the merchant
marine. Guthrie’s first novel, the
occasionally self-mythologizing pre-Beat era autobiography Bound for Glory, was published by E.P. Dutton and Co. in 1943.
That book would inadvertently inspire a new generation of folk music
artists, not the least of whom was a nineteen year old fledgling folksinger
named Bob Dylan. Dylan, by his own
admission, became a “Woody Guthrie jukebox” after reading through a friend’s
copy of the book. He immediately abandoned
the coffeehouses of Minneapolis to visit Guthrie at Greystone Hospital in
Morris Plains, New Jersey, where the dying singer was institutionalized. Dylan’s first major concert engagement
following his signing with Columbia Records in the late autumn of 1961 was at Manhattan’s
Town Hall in April of 1963. That concert
was, of course, fittingly produced by Harold Leventhal.
Harold Leventhal had been familiar with Woody Guthrie’s words and
music since the 1940s; he had seen the displaced Okie singer-guitarist perform
at various left-wing functions and hootenannies during this time. He had also been familiar with Guthrie’s
humorous “Woody Sez” columns that had appeared sporadically in the Communist Daily Worker newspaper. But it was only after agreeing to manage Pete
Seeger’s new quartet The Weavers on the eve of the McCarthy-era in 1950 that
Leventhal would become a personal friend of Guthrie, who was already beginning
to demonstrate signs of Huntington’s disease.
In the early winter of 1956, with Guthrie’s health continuing to deteriorate,
Leventhal helped found The Guthrie Children’s Trust Fund, organized to get
Woody’s anarchic business affairs in some semblance of order. It was their ambition that Guthrie’s children
might benefit from the small stream of publishing and record sale royalties
that were, at long last, beginning to trickle in. It was Leventhal who commissioned Millard
Lampell, a blacklisted writer and colleague of Guthrie’s, to skillfully weave
together a program of Guthrie’s prose and songs into a program titled From California to the New York Island. Many of the spoken-word recitations from this
early stage play had been cribbed from Guthrie’s novel Bound for Glory.
The idea of bringing an adaptation of Guthrie’s Bound for Glory to the stage had long been in the making. In the late autumn of 1961, the folk music
magazine Sing Out! made a passing
mention of Leventhal’s recent acquisition of "the musical drama rights” to
the book. This was exciting news, with
such folk music world luminaries as musicologist Alan Lomax and promoter Israel
G. Young aggressively promoting the casting of Guthrie protégé Ramblin Jack
Elliott in the role of America’s premier ballad-maker. It was not surprising that Leventhal first saw
Bound for Glory as a stage production;
he had already served as producer of several off-Broadway offerings as Will
Geer’s From Mark Twain to Lynn Riggs
(1952-53) and Rabindranath Tagore’s King
of the Dark Chamber.
It’s not entirely clear why a stage production of Bound for Glory was not realized. The folk-pop music craze of 1963-1964 provided a fertile atmosphere in
which such a project could be fulfilled. Woody Guthrie, now mostly out of sight due to the devastating effects of
the incurable neurological disease Huntington’s Chorea was – perhaps for the
first time in his life - no longer simply a singer of the fringe. He was now and incontestably America’s most
iconic folk music hero. Guthrie would
finally succumb to the malady in October 1967.
Ed Robbin, an editor of the west coast Communist newspaper People’s World, first met Woody Guthrie
in Los Angeles in 1938, during the time the folksinger had a fifteen minute a
day radio program on the politically-liberal station KFVD. Guthrie’s program was one of the station’s most
popular: he quickly cultivated an appreciative audience of dispossessed and
homesick Okies and Arkies. These were
Woody’s people, the poor folk who had fled their dirt ravaged homes and farms in
the dust bowl for the promised “Garden of Eden” that was California. It was Robbin’s suggestion that Guthrie
contribute folksy, humorous Will Rogers-style commentaries to the otherwise staid
People’s World. In 1975 when Bound for Glory was to finally commence production as an ambitious
film project for United Artists, Robbin reminisced that Harold Leventhal had
long “been trying to put together a story of Woody's life that would work for a
movie script. Three different scripts were written over a period of seven
Having long been an amateur scholar and collector of all things Woody
Guthrie, seven years ago I was fortunate enough to acquire an antiquarian copy
of one of the two ultimately unproduced Bound
for Glory screenplays. The one
hundred and thirty-six page screenplay I found, Bound for Glory: the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie, had been
written by William Kronick and Oliver Hailey. Kronick was principally known as a writer-director of documentary films,
Hailey a playwright and television scribe who would contribute scripts to such
1970s shows as McMillan & Wife
and Bracken’s World. With only the slightest information to go on,
I tried my best to research exactly when this unproduced screenplay was first
commissioned. Happily, a visit to the
newspaper archive at the New York Public Library was successful.
In the April 23, 1968 issue of the Los Angeles TimesI uncovered the briefest
of mentions, that Hollywood producer "Harold Hecht has signed playwright
Oliver Hailey to write the screenplay for Bound
for Glory, film biography of folk singer- composer Woody
Guthrie." This bit of news was later confirmed by the actor David
Carradine, who would eventually – if only by default - land the role of Woody
Guthrie. In a 1976 interview with the New York Times, the eccentric, self-satisfied
star of television’s Kung Fu series
recalled, “About eight years ago this producer, Harold Hecht, was going to make
Bound for Glory, based on Woody’s
autobiography, and my agent sent me to see him.” Carradine admitted this meeting at Hecht’s
“palatial mansion in Stone Canyon” didn’t go particularly well. There was a clash of personalities with
neither man having much use for the other.
In any event the proposed Hecht/Hailey/Kronick film project was soon abandoned. Robert Getchell (scripter of Martin
Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
(1974), would be the lone screenwriter to eventually deliver a workable
storyline. Robert F. Blumofe, who would
co-produce Bound for Glory with
Leventhal, offered that Getchell was hired because "early scripts, written
by friends of Guthrie, were too broad, too close to the man.” "You
can't tell all of Woody's life," Blumofe told the Los Angeles Times, who suggested the process to bring Bound for Glory to the big screen took
nearly four years. This
remembrance corresponds to Harold Leventhal's own assessment. Leventhal conceded there were serious and
ultimately fatal issues with the pre-Getchell screenplay drafts under
consideration: "Our trouble was that we were trying to cover too much
ground... When we finally decided to center our story on the two or three
key years of Woody's development, around 1938, then the whole thing came
In April of 1975 Arthur Krim of United Artists gave director Hal Ashby
(Shampoo, The Last Detail, Harold and
Maude) the green light to get Bound
for Glory into production. This gesture was a display of great confidence
in Ashby as helmsman, since the role of Woody Guthrie had not yet been cast. The original casting process was an
interesting one, rife with unrealized possibilities. Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson were reportedly
both offered the role. The former balked
due to his inability to play the guitar in even the most rudimentary manner, the
latter choosing instead to star opposite a hero, Marlon Brando, in The Missouri Breaks.
records have four super releases to get 2017 underway. The Rogues (1964) (CDLK
4601) features music composed and conducted by Nelson Riddle. The Rogues, a
rather short-lived TV series (aired on NBC from September 13, 1964, to April
18, 1965), starred David Niven, Gig Young and Charles Boyer as a trio of former
conmen. Whilst it won the 1964 Golden Globe award for Best Television Series,
the show has largely been forgotten. Thankfully, Alfred Perry of Four Star
Television had the vision to approach RCA with the idea of releasing an album
of Riddle’s music from the show. Vocalion’s beautifully mastered CD is a
straight re-issue of that album (LSP 2976). As you would expect from Riddle, a
hugely talented composer who had penned music from the TV series The
Untouchables and Route 66, his music for The Rogues is both rich and lush. It’s
a great example of a period sound with plenty of silky strings and of course
some wonderful swinging brass rhythms. Sound quality is remarkably good thanks
to Michael J. Dutton’s remastering of the original analogue tapes. It is also
nice to see Vocalion reverting back to providing a full and informative set of original
liner notes. Oliver Lomax provides a comprehensive account of Riddle, his
musicians and his unique approach to music. The Rogues is a release that
certainly justifies and fully deserves a fresh re-evaluation as well as some
it Is! (1968) (CDLK 4604) makes its debut appearance on CD and features the
music of composer Patrick Williams. Williams is a composer that rarely receives
the recognition that he arguably deserves. After working primarily as an
arranger in New York, he moved to California in 1968 to pursue a career in film
and television. How Sweet It Is! marked the first film score for Williams. It
was a fairly routine comedy outing (which received an X certificate in the UK)
and starred James Garner, Debbie Reynolds and Terry-Thomas. In his memoirs, Garner
would later reveal that both he and Reynolds hated the film but kept it
together for the sake of their fans. The film’s music, however, is far more
enduring. Williams provides a beautiful score ranging from some high tempo
jazzy numbers to some smooth and very romantic mellow sounds. It’s a score
which shares certain similarities to that of Neal Hefti’s prevalent sixties
sound, often romantic but with a playful underlining trill woven throughout.
The soundtrack also features two vocal tracks that fall into the easy listening
genre and are provided by the Picardy Singers. Vocalion’s CD sounds remarkable
thanks again to Michael J. Dutton’s remastering of the original analogue tapes.
Liner notes on this occasion are just a straight forward reproduction of the
original RCA LP (LSP 4037) sleeve notes. As a straight re-working of the
original album, it is also relatively short at just under 28 minutes, which is
a great shame as it practically cries out for more of the same.
aren’t too many people I know amongst the soundtrack community who don’t enjoy
the recordings of Hugo Montenegro. Whilst he was an accomplished composer in
his own right ((Lady in Cement (1968), The Ambushers (1967) and The Wrecking
Crew (1968)), he is perhaps remembered more for his unique arrangements –
usually of other composers’ music. Vocalion’s new CD treats us to not one, but two
of his great albums. Love Theme from The Godfather (1972)/Music from A Fistful
of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More & The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1968)
(CDLK 4595) provides the listener with arguably his very best work. Back in
1972, RCA released Love Theme from The Godfather as a quadrophonic LP (APDI-0001).
Vocalion have reissued both albums here on CD in the SA-CD format and therefore
retaining its multi-channel format (this CD is also stereo compatible). Love
Theme from The Godfather is an album of varied styles containing a mixture of
both film music and popular tunes of the time. Ranging from Lennon &
McCartney’s Norwegian Wood to Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk, the content is
diverse and eclectic – but all comes together in a quirky and highly enjoyable
way. Music from A Fistful of Dollars,
For a Few Dollars More & The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has largely
attained widespread recognition over the decades. An extremely popular album, soundtrack
collectors continue to hold their vinyl as cherished possessions. Naturally, a completely remastered version of
that album is also extremely welcome. Michael J. Dutton has done a fabulous job
in providing a crisp freshness to these classic recordings and it appears to be
perfectly justified in releasing this twofer by way of a Hybrid CD. Frankly, they
have never sounded so good. As well as including the massive single chart hit The
Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the album also includes the single cut for Hang ‘Em
high – Clint Eastwood’s first American western made upon his return from Europe
after completing Sergio Leone’s Dollar trilogy. It’s perhaps a little
disappointing that no new liner notes were produced for this release; instead
there is a straight reproduction of the original album notes. Considering the
versatility and calibre of Montenegro’s work, it would have been nice to
include some form of appreciation of his career in music. However, the proof
here is solidly in the music itself, and on that basis, it’s a winner in every
HBO will debut the documentary "Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds" on Saturday, January 7, having moved up its planned March telecast date in light of the deaths of Fisher and Reynolds within 24 hours of each other last month. Click here to read critic Hank Steuver's review of the film in The Washington Post.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from the University Press of Mississippi:
Winnie Lightner (1899–1971) was the first great female
comedian of the talkies. Blessed with a superb singing voice and a gift for
making wisecracks and rubber faces, she rose to stardom in vaudeville and on
Broadway. Then, at the dawn of the sound era, she became the first person in
motion picture history to have her spoken words censored.
In "Winnie Lightner: Tomboy of the Talkies" (University
Press of Mississippi, Hollywood Legends Series), David L. Lightner documents
how Winnie’s hilarious performance in the 1929 musical comedy Gold Diggers of
Broadway made her an overnight sensation. She went on to star in seven other
Warner Bros. features. In the best of them, she was the comic epitome of a
strident feminist, dominating men and gleefully spurning conventional gender
norms and moral values, which earned her the nickname of tomboy of the talkies.
When the Great Depression rendered moviegoers hostile
toward feminism, Warner Bros. crafted a new image of Lightner as glamorous and
sexy and assigned her contradictory roles in which she was empowered in the
workplace but submissive to her male partner at home. Because the new image did
not score at the box office, Lightner’s stardom ended. In four final movies, she
played supporting roles as the loudmouthed roommate and best friend of actress
Loretta Young, Joan Crawford, and Mona Barrie.
Following her retirement in 1934, Lightner faded into
obscurity. Many of her films were mutilated or even lost entirely. David Lightner
has beautifully captured Winnie's early years in vaudeville, her elevation to
revues, and her capturing of the very essence of talking pictures just as they
Tomboy of the Talkies is the first and only biography of
Winnie Lightner and finally gives HER the recognition she deserves as a notable
figure in film history, in women’s history, and in the history of show business.
This book is an evocative and fascinating read that will speak to fans of
DAVID L. LIGHTNER is professor emeritus of history at the University of Alberta.
He is the author of Slavery and the Commerce Power: How the Struggle against
the Interstate Slave Trade Led to the Civil War; Asylum, Prison, and Poorhouse:
The Writings and Reform Work of Dorothea Dix in Illinois; and Labor on the
Illinois Central Railroad, 1852-1900: The Evolution of an Industrial
Environment. He became interested in Winnie Lightner because of their shared
surname but is not related to her.
Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A.,
which opened on Friday, November 1, 1985 to lukewarm notices and underwhelming
box office despite being championed by Roger Ebert’s four-star review, is a
highly stylized, dark, and uncompromising crime thriller that boasts a
then-unknown cast with a story and a pace that feels more suited to the
1970’s. It also contains what I consider
to be the greatest car chase ever filmed and edited for a major motion picture,
which took no less than five weeks to plan and shoot. Having seen Mr. Friedkin’s brilliant East
Coast police thriller The French
Connection (1971) on VHS in 1986, I made it a point the following year to
catch up with his West Coast-based story of a Secret Service agent, Richard
Chance (William Petersen), whose best friend and partner Jim Hart (Michael
Greene) has been murdered by artist/currency counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem
Dafoe). Chance has one goal: put Masters away for life with no regard for how
he has to do it. Truthfully, he would
prefer to kill him. This causes problems
for his new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow) who comes from a family of law
enforcement officers and wants to do things by the book. Vukovich’s patience and unwillingness to go
outside the boundaries of acceptability is tested when: Chance surreptitiously removes
crucial evidence from a crime scene in order to get to Masters; springs a
prisoner friend (John Turturro) of Masters without Vukovich’s knowledge to get
him to testify; and most notably forces Vukovich to go along with a plan to
obtain cash needed to get closer to Masters while nearly dying in what is
arguably the cinema’s most exciting getaway car chase sequence. What makes the chase work so well is that
it’s physical, it’s possible (though highly improbable), and it’s not done in a
Fast and the Furious, over-the-top
sort of way. It also comes as a result
of a plot point and isn’t just there for the sake of having a chase scene. Chance also beds a willing parolee (Darlanne
Fluegel) who gives him information on current convicts in order to provide for
herself and her son Christopher.
the intricate plot and the phenomenal car chase, I initially didn’t like the
film. The mixture of Eighties-style pop
music by Wang Chung (which turned me off, but I now feel fits the movie like a
glove) and disreputable characters were off-putting, but subsequent viewings gave
me a change of heart and I now feel that this is the last truly great film
directed by Mr. Friedkin. Like the
inexorable Popeye Doyle in The French
Connection (he will stop at nothing to put drug dealers and users away),
Chance will stop at nothing to stop and punish Masters. The difference between the two films is that
the former paints Brooklyn and New York City as gritty and almost despairing
cities whereas the latter bathes the frame in a Los Angeles that we have not
seen before. While also gritty, grimy
and dark, this is a Los Angeles that is also highly glossy and beautiful, with
beautiful people who are about as real as the counterfeit bills that Masters
manufactures. This is the overall theme of
To Live and Die in L.A. which is to
say that it’s about fraudulence. People
use each other for their own personal gains. Masters is an artist but hates what he paints and burns his work in
frustration. Since he cannot find joy or
satisfaction in his own originality, he resorts to copying others, in this case
$20, $50, and $100 bills in a procedure that is painstaking and difficult.
The French Connection, To Live and Die in LA is also based on a
novel of the same name, this one written by former Secret Service Agent Gerald
Petievich. What makes the film almost
remarkable is the opening sequence which features a martyr who shouts “Allahu
Akbar” while blowing himself up on the roof a hotel where President Reagan is
giving a speech. This scene made little
sense to me 29 years ago, but is eerily prescient of the world that we
unfortunately live in today.
performances are excellent all around. William Petersen, whose film debut was as a bar bouncer in Michael
Mann’s Thief (1981), is terrific as
Rick Chance and plays him as a daredevil whose cowboy nature makes him a
dangerous person to be around. This is
established in an early sequence wherein Chance bungee jumps off of the Vincent
Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, CA. In
addition to the martyr sequence, this could also be one of the earliest
instances of this now highly popular activity showing up in a major motion
picture. John Pankow is also quite good
as Chance’s conflicted partner. The
stand-out is Willem Dafoe as Masters, whose icy expressions and demeanor can
change on a moment’s notice without warning. Darlanne Fluegel is mysterious as Chance’s muse; I first saw her in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). Debra Feuer is striking as Masters’
girlfriend and confidante. Dean Stockwell
is great as Masters’ lawyer. You can
almost see him prepping himself for the role of Ben in David Lynch’s masterful Blue Velvet the following year. Steve James is an actor I always liked ever
since I first saw him in the “Night Vigil” episode of T.J. Hooker in 1984. He
started in the industry as a stunt man in films such as The Wiz, The Wanderers, The Warriors, Dressed to Kill, and He Knows
You’re Alone prior to onscreen acting. Here he plays Jeff, one of Masters’ clients and his performance, though
small, shines. He also appeared in the
William Friedkin TV-movie C.A.T. Squad
in 1986, which was also written by Mr. Petievich. His premature death in 1993 from what is
rumored to be the medical treatment that he received after a cancer diagnosis is
a tremendous loss to the entertainment industry.