RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST ARTICLES FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
By Lee Pfeiffer
Last year, the Harris Poll reported that John Wayne ranked among America's top ten favorite actors. This may seem like an incredible feat for a man who's been six-feet under since 1979, but the Duke's popularity continues to grow as evidenced by the tidal wave of DVD titles and tributes afforded him this year on what would have been his 100th birthday. Unlike many actors of the past, Wayne is not being rediscovered by a new generation. In fact, he's never been out of style. While younger generations have to be educated about the work of legends such as Bogart and Cagney, it seems people become acquainted with Wayne's image while still in the womb. Warner Brothers and Paramount have teamed up for a major Wayne DVD promotion that will put a dent in any collector's wallet if they hope to acquire all the latest releases and it's bound to evoke mixed emotions in many fans. (Henny Youngman once defined "mixed emotions" as having your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your new Mercedes.) On the one hand, all of the new releases are "must-haves" for serious collectors. On the other hand, there are so many titles being released simultaneously that not only your eyeballs but your wallet will be overtaxed if you try to absorb them all at once. Tops on the list is WB's "Ultimate Collector's Edition" of Howard Hawks' 1959 classic Rio Bravo. The film is available in several different scaled-down versions, but we'll pretend those don't exist. If you like the movie, there is only one choice and it's the Ultimate Edition.
Nicholas Ray’s Knock on Any Door was released on DVD
last summer as part of Sony Pictures’ Choice Collection. The 1949 film starred
Humphrey Bogart and a very young John Derek as a defense attorney and his
street punk of a client.It's not high
on the list of Bogart classics, and it's not even one of Ray's best (It was his
second film, made after the far superior They
Live By Night). Ray never particularly praised it, saying only that he
wished it could've been grimmer. Ray once pointed to Luis Bunuel’s LosOlvidados,
a film about Mexican slum kids that came out in 1950, as an example of the sort
of film KnockOn Any Door could've been.If Bunuel's film had come out first, Ray said, the inspiration would've
been there to make a more penetrating, realistic work. "I would have made
a hell of a lot better movie," Ray said.
On Any Door is usually labeled as
film noir, but nothing in the story has the subversive taint found in the best
noir films, and there’s none of the sleek, European ex-pat styling, unless one
counts the expressionistic lighting that cuts across the prison floor in a
scene where a convicted killer makes his long walk to the death house. KnockOn Any Door is more in line with the crime dramas turned out by
Warner Bros during the 1930s, which makes sense when one considers Bogart got
his start in those Warner Bros crime flicks, and it was Bogart’s film company,
Santana Productions, that produced Knock
On Any Door for Columbia Pictures.
While it wasn’t a
blockbuster, it performed well enough at the box office to establish Bogart’s
group as a serious production unit. It also gave us the quote, “Live fast, die
young, and have a good looking corpse,” a quote so nice it’s given to us twice
by the angry Nick Romano, played by Derek with all the seething anger he could
muster beneath his impossibly long eyelashes. According to Bogart biographer
Stefan Kanfer, Bogie tried to boost Derek's performance by pointing out that
most of the day's top actors, from James Cagney, to Edward G. Robinson, to
Bogart himself, had started out in crime movies, and that a good performance as
a heel is always eye catching. Not surprisingly, Derek goes for broke in the
film, to the point where he appears to be auditioning for a role in ReeferMadness. Lookat me! he seems to say in every scene, Look at my perfect profile, my quivering
lips; look at how twitchy I am when I play angry! I'm a real actor, damn it!
Derek was just a young,
inexperienced actor fresh out of the paratroopers when he was cast as
"Pretty Boy" Nick Romano, "the Skid Row Romeo.”Romano, like so many Hollywood hoodlums, is a
good boy shoved down the wrong path in life after losing his father at a young
age, and then growing up in poverty. Attorney Andrew Morgan (Bogart) has known
Romano for years and has watched him struggle. When Romano is accused of
killing a cop, Morgan hesitates to help. For one thing, the partners at his law
firm don't want the negative attention such a trial could bring. Morgan also
isn't sure if he believes Romano is innocent.
On Any Door is actually two films woven together. We
see Romano's tale in flashback, as he goes from being a mama’s boy, to a
typical slum rat and petty thief, to a beleaguered family man who drinks too
much and can't hold down a job. We also see Morgan's crisis of conscious as he
works up the enthusiasm to help him. Morgan, a former slum kid himself,
believes people should help themselves. Gradually, though, he sees Romano as a
kid worth saving. By the film's end, Morgan vows to spend the rest of his life
helping kids like Nick Romano.
The Nick Romano character
was a bit ahead of the times. He looks and carries himself like a character
from a mid-50s juvenile delinquent movie, perhaps The Wild One, or Blackboard
Jungle, or even Ray's own RebelWithout A Cause. There were even rumors,
possibly apocryphal, that Marlon Brando was interested in the Romano role. Hot
off his stage success in A Streetcar
Named Desire, Brando would've been an interesting Romano, and with his
realistic acting, might have booted this movie into something close to a
classic. According to different sources, Bogart was originally planning to make
the film under the direction of Mark Hellinger, with Brando as Romano. When
Hellinger died in Dec. 1947, the project was temporarily put aside until Bogart
started Santana Productions. Brando, who had wanted to work with Hellinger,
allegedly turned down Bogie’s offers, paving the way for Derek. (I find it a
little hard to believe that Bogart was, as some biographers claim, pursuing
Brando to any great degree, considering Bogart was notoriously disdainful of
the self-indulgent method actor types emerging out of New York. The thought of
Brando and Bogart together is fascinating, but just the fact that Bogart
eventually chose Derek, who was light years away from the brooding Brando,
makes me think the whole Brando rumor was nothing but a PR flack's pipe dream.)
Derek, with his greasy mop
of thick black hair, looks the part of a dashing street hood, but his acting is
too melodramatic and hasn't aged well. At the time, though, Derek made quite a
splash, inspiring Hollywood gossip columnist Luella Parsons to write, "I
predict John Derek will be one of the big screen stars of 1949."Stardom didn't quite find Derek, although he
acted regularly for many years, appearing in everything from westerns to bible
epics.He's probably best known to baby
boomers as the husband/mentor and sometime director of Bo Derek.Even when Derek died in 1998, most of the obits
focused on the couple's May/December romance, which was fodder for gossip rags
during Bo's brief run at movie stardom.
Bogart is Bogart, and not
much more needs to be said. There's an excellent scene where, suspecting Romano
has stolen 100-dollars from him, Bogart as Morgan lures Romano into an alley
and wrestles him to the ground, pinning him in the dirt with some sort of
commando hold and then rifling through Romano's pocket to get back his money.
"You're a two-bit punk, and that's all you'll ever be,” Bogart snarls,
spraying saliva everywhere.Always a
sprayer and a drooler, Bogart’s lips and chin practically shine with spittle in
this movie, especially during the courtroom scenes where he has long speeches
and no one around to wipe his mouth. Bogart’s forehead also perspires like crazy in
the court scenes, until he looks like he's performing on the bow of a ship
during a storm. He's great, though, and his closing speech to the jury is among
the better scenes of his late '40s period.Heavy-handed? Sure, but Bogart could always make these scenes
compelling, whereas if another actor tried it, the bit would come off as
"Knock OnAny Door is a
picture I'm kind of proud of, and I'll tell you why," Bogart the producer
said in a press release trumpeting the film. "It's a very challenging
story; different; off the beaten path. The novel (by Willard Motley) was
brutally honest. We've tried to be just as direct, just as forceful, in the
picture. I think you'll like it better that way. "
proclaimed Knock On Any Door "a
hard-hitting, tight melodrama," the film's Feb. 1949 release was greeted
by mixed reviews. The notion that criminals were not always responsible for
their actions was a relatively new and unpopular concept. The film was
occasionally praised for its direct look at life in the slums, but Bosley Crowther
of ‘The New York Times’ wasn't impressed. "Not only,” wrote Crowther, “are
the justifications for the boy's delinquencies inept and superficial...but the
nature and aspect of the hoodlum are outrageously heroized." Crowther, who
may have invented the word ‘heroized,’ added that the film was riddled with
"inconsistencies and flip-flops," and that "The whole thing
appears to be fashioned for sheer romantic effect, which its gets from its
'pretty-boy' killer, victim of society and blazing guns."
Actually, the film
could've used some more blazing guns. The opening sequence is a stunner, with a
cop being gunned down on a dark street, and a sudden swarming of the
neighborhood by cops rousting every local man with a criminal record. The scene
is a mere tease, though, for the film settles down into a talky courtroom drama
and doesn't quite live up to its opening blast. But give Bogie and his Santana
crew credit for choosing this project as their debut voyage. They jumped on the
juvenile delinquent bandwagon before it had really taken off, predating the
screwed-up teenager craze by five or six years. In a way, Derek’s Nick Romano was
a forerunner of James Dean, Elvis, Sal Mineo, and every other greasy hoodlum
with puppy dog eyes that would populate the movie screens of the 1950s.
The Choice Collection DVD offers no extra
features, but the transfer is crisp and clear, all the better to see Bogart
The addictive pop culture blog Hill Place presents an impassioned defense of Tina Louise as Ginger over Dawn Wells as Mary Ann on the Gilligan's Island TV sitcom. Retro TV lovers have long been debating who was the hottest chick on the isle: sweet but sexy "good girl Mary Ann or "bad girl" diva Ginger. It's amazing how compelling this article actually is, as it delves into the behind-the-scenes rivalry between the two actresses. Click here to read
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's out-of-print DVD of director Anthony Mann's 1957 Western The Tin Star. Henry Fonda stars as Morg Hickman, a ex-lawman-turned-bounty hunter who delivers the body of a wanted man to a small town's sheriff's office. He gets a hostile reaction from the local population because of his unsavory profession. Nevertheless, Morg has to stay around a few days in order to collect the $500 reward money from Sheriff Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins), a young greenhorn who has reluctantly accepted the position of lawman after his predecessor was murdered. Morg perceives the likable young man as nervous and easily manipulated by some of the more obnoxious men in town. Morg ends up boarding with a young widow, Nona Mayfield (Betsy Palmer), who is a bit of a social outcast because her son Kip (Michael Ray) is half Indian. Before long, Morg and Nona form a chaste but loving relationship and he finds himself not only acting as surrogate father to Kip but also a mentor to Ben Owens. When a beloved local citizen is murdered by two brothers (Lee Van Cleef, Peter Baldwin), a local firebrand, Bart Bogardus (Neville Brand), goes against the sheriff's wishes and organizes a posse that is out for blood. Determined to take the men alive and ensure they get a fair trial, Ben enlists Morg's assistance. Under Morg's guidance, the pair bring the brothers back to jail- only to find that Bogardus intends to lead a lynch party to the jail that night. Ben knows that this is the ultimate test of his ability to finally earn respect from the citizens of the town. But in order to gain that respect, he'll have to face down a heavily armed, drunken mob.
The Tin Star is a superior Western, filmed in B&W in VistaVision and bearing the hallmarks of any Anthony Mann film: intelligent script (by legendary Dudley Nichols) and fine, realistic performances from an excellent cast that also includes a wonderful turn by veteran supporting actor John McIntire. Like The Ox Bow Incident, which also starred Fonda, the movie goes beneath the standard action sequences found in horse operas of this period and delves in to the issues of racism, justice and the price that must often be paid for displaying personal courage.
The DVD boasts a crystal clear transfer but does not contain any extras.
Timeless Media have released the epic 1976 adventure film Shout at the Devil as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The movie, produced by Michael Klinger and directed by Peter Hunt, is an big budget affair very much in the style of John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King, which was released the previous year. Both films follow the antics of a couple of charismatic rogues in exotic settings. The film is based on the novel by author Wilbur Smith, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The movie was shot in between Roger Moore's second and third James Bond films, The Man With the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me and boasts a "who's who" of Eon Productions talent. Peter Hunt had edited the early Bond films and directed On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Ironically, Moore and Hunt never worked on a 007 film together but in 1974 Moore starred in Hunt's excellent adventure film Gold, which was also a Michael Klinger production. Among the Bond veterans moonlighting on Shout at the Devil were main titles designer Maurice Binder, cinematographer Michael Reed and camera operators Alec Mills and Alan Hume, special effects wizard Derek Meddings, production designer Syd Cain, future Bond director John Glen, assistant director Frank Ernst, stills photographer George Whitear and publicist Geoff Freeman. All that was missing was Cubby Broccoli's name above the title. With so many old pros working on the movie, it's no surprise that Shout at the Devil is an opulent production, impressive in many ways.
The story is set in East Africa in 1913 in the days leading up to WWI. Flynn O'Flynn (Lee Marvin) is an American of Irish descent who is living the good life on the African continent. A poacher of ivory and a shameless con man, Flynn and his mute right hand man Mohammed (Ian Holm) routinely line up gullible victims for exploitation. Among them is a British dandy named Sebastian Oldsmith (Roger Moore), a man who is en route to Australia when he makes the fatal decision to spend a few days in a port city. He is befriended by Flynn, who robs him of every cent then gains his gratitude by pretending to lend him money-- which in fact came from his own wallet. O'Flynn coerces Sebastian to become a partner in the ivy poaching trade and brings him back to his comfortable lodge located in the African bush. Here, Sebastian meets and falls in love with O'Flynn's daughter Rosa (Barbara Parkins). The two marry and have a baby much to the bemusement of O'Flynn, who, more often than not, is drunk. O'Flynn and Sebastian's poaching ventures are occasionally thwarted by their arch nemesis, a German military bureaucrat named Fleischer (Rene Kolldehoff), who is the local government administrator and who is known for his heartless exploitation of natives and his ruthless methods of enforcing German law in the region. O'Flynn and Sebastian delight in playing cat-and-mouse games with Fleischer and wreaking havoc on his activities. However, when Germany and England go to war, Fleischer is allowed unlimited local power and he extracts a terrible revenge. O'Flynn and Sebastian are later coerced into volunteering to serve on a mission for the British navy. They must locate, infiltrate and blow up a German war ship that is deemed an imminent danger to Allied shipping interests in the region. The deadly mission allows O'Flynn and Sebastian the opportunity to finally settle their scores with Fleischer.
The film's leisurely running time of 150 minutes actually passes very quickly thanks to the brisk pace afforded by director Hunt, who once told this writer that the film was originally shot as an even longer roadshow presentation and that he had the only remaining uncut print of it in his garage (!) (One can only wonder what became of it after Hunt's death in 2002). This version at least restores a half hour of footage that was not seen in the American theatrical release. The movie also benefits from Michael Reed's widescreen cinematography, Maurice Jarre's rousing score and the excellent special effects work of future F/X legend Derek Meddings. There is also the delightful aspect of enjoying the genuine on-screen chemistry between Roger Moore and Lee Marvin. Moore plays straight man to Marvin's scenery-chewing character. This isn't the cool, understated Marvin of Point Blank and The Killers, but the eyeball-rolling, over-the-top Marvin of Paint Your Wagon and The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday. At times his facial expressions would seem to be more fitting in a cartoon. Nevertheless, he's never dull to watch and his lovable rogue schtick never wears thin with this viewer. (Moore and Marvin also have the kind of extended, knock-down, drag 'em out fist fight that permeated John Ford's films.) Midway through this largely comedic storyline, the script takes a sharp turn due to an act of unspeakable savagery that effects the lives of the three main characters and fills them with an obsession for getting even with Fleischer, who- until this point in the story- has been portrayed as a rather buffoonish, Sgt. Schultz-like character. The jarring disparity in tone may be off-putting to some viewers but the storyline that encompasses the mission to infiltrate and blow up the German war ship quickly dominates the action and leads to a compelling and action-packed conclusion.
Shout at the Devil was a hit with international audiences but a rather bungled release in America led to the movie being very under-exposed here over the decades. The Timeless Blu-ray/DVD combo boasts an excellent transfer but unfortunately the only extras are a selection of still photos, some of which look suspiciously like screen grabs. Nevertheless, this is an outstanding, old-fashioned adventure that retro movie lovers will definitely want to embrace.