For many years an ad hoc group of volunteers struggled to save the landmark Loew's Theatre in Journal Square, the hub of commerce in Jersey City. The one-time movie palace had been allowed to disintegrate into a crumbling ruin by the 1980s and was slated for the wrecking ball. Concerned citizens from within and outside the city formed a group called The Friends of the Loew's. Working with sometimes reluctant city officials, they got landmark status on the theater where young Frank Sinatra saw Bing Crosby perform and became inspired to become a crooner himself. As the theater was painstakingly restored over a period of decades, crowds have been flocking to see presentations of classic movie screenings as well as live concerts. The theater is not 100% restored, however, and is still suffering from a lack of funding to pay for essential repairs such as the air conditioning system. The theater is only openly periodically, mostly on weekends and has operated at a slight financial loss. Still, the theater has been drawing enthusiastic crowds with many classic movie lovers taking the short PATH train ride from Manhattan to Journal Square. Cinema Retro has occasionally helped to host some of these screenings.
The Loew's in 1932.
There is now trouble in paradise, however. The new mayor of Jersey City, Steven Fulop, has determined that its time to bring the Loew's to its full potential. He is bringing in private investors to turn the venue into a world class entertainment palace. No one disputes the theater has more potential than is presently being realized but the Friends of the Loew's say they are being marginalized and pushed out of the equation with little recognition or appreciation for the work they have done in running the theater. They fear that if corporate bigwigs take over, the theater will lose its appeal for the core audience that has kept it going over the years. Consequently, the Friends of the Loew's have taken legal action against Jersey City and its Redevelopment Agency to stop the corporate takeover. For his part, Mayor Fulop claims that the Friends have been treated with all due respect but that only corporate funding and involvement will make the Loew's truly thrive again. Fulop, who was recently elected on a reformist agenda, has also been in the national news in regard to the controversial New Jersey "Bridgegate" scandal after Governor Chris Christy's staff canceled a number of promised meetings allegedly because he refused to endorse the governor for re-election. One thing is certain: New Jersey thrives on political controversy and now its even seeped into the seemingly uncontroversial topic of saving a wonderful old movie theater. For more on the Loews situation, visit the Friends of the Loew's web site by clicking here.
Click here for photo galleries of the Loew's including vintage shots from decades ago.
Diabolique magazine has launched an on-line petition drive to convince Warner Home Video to release Hammer horror classics on Blu-ray to the American market. Some of these titles are available in restored Blu-ray editions in the UK but American Hammer fans have had to sit silently and salivate while their overseas friends relish watching first-rate releases of these films. As our readers know, Cinema Retro has the greatest respect for the work done by Warner Home Video and the Warner Archive- and we believe this is a cause worth supporting because it would benefit not only the studio but legions of grateful Hammer fans as well.
CINEMA RETRO HAS RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING PRESS RELEASE:
Mark of the Devil: On a Classic Exploitation Film
After years of being hard to find, Mark
of the Devil (1970) has become one of the most popular works of German
exploitation cinema. Its unlikely evolution from notorious box-office success
to cult favourite (thanks mainly to the dedication of aficionados) is still in
need of analysis. The present symposium aims to make a contribution to the
research of this scholarly neglected chapter of European cinema. The focus of
the symposium naturally lies with Mark of the Devil and its sequel Mark
of the Devil Part II (1973), which will be approached from a film studies
Joe Dante's Trailers From Hell web site presents the original theatrical trailer for the British crime classic Get Carter starring Michael Caine, directed by Mike Hodges. Diretor Neil Marshall is an admirer of the film and provides the commentary track over the trailer, which can also be viewed without commentary. Click here to view
The Stanley Theatre still adorns Journal Square in Jersey City. Jehovah's Witnesses painstakingly saved the theatre from the wrecking ball many years ago and restored it to its original splendor. However, they also removed the screen and projection equipment so the theatre no longer is capable of showing films.
The Star Ledger takes a brief break from covering the current crop of New Jersey political scandals to remind us about the state's rich history of great movie theaters. Click here for a wonderful trip back in time to relish photos of some great theaters, most of which are long gone.
NOTE: THIS REVIEW PERTAINS TO THE UK REGION 2 BLU-RAY RELEASE
By Darren Allison
on the short story by Ernest Hemingway, Don Siegel’s movie was a remake of the 1946
Robert Siodmak film of the same name. Originally, the film was to be one of the
first to be made for American TV; however NBC deemed the film too violent for
TV and subsequently the film was shown in theatres. The move to theatres may
have been considered as a blessing in disguise, as the film enjoyed some rather
good reviews in America. In Europe however, it proved even more successful, in
fact, in the UK, The Killers went on to receive a 1966 BAFTA for Lee Marvin in
the Best Foreign Actor category. So it is with a great deal of excitement that
we welcome Arrow’s new Blu Ray release of this cult classic and consider how it
holds up some 50 years on.
Strom (Lee Marvin) is a cold blooded and experienced hit man. Along with his
young partner Lee (Clu Gulager), we join them as they enter a suburban school
for the blind. Suited smartly and wearing dark glasses, it soon becomes apparent
that the nature of their visit is far from pleasant. After violently attacking
the (blind) receptionist, Charlie and Lee proceed to search the corridors of
the school in search of their prey Johnny North (John Cassavetes). North, a onetime
big shot race driver, is now teaching car engineering at the school. Whilst
North is alerted that two men are in the school and closing in on him, he makes
no attempt to flee from the scene. After Charlie and Lee crash the classroom
and get confirmation of their target, North stands there, unflinching in his
fate – and openly receives the killers’ bullets.
is obvious from these opening five minutes that we are witnessing something
rather interesting. First, there is the violence. Whilst Charlie’s attack on
the blind receptionist takes place off camera, the heightened sound of her
brutal attack plays havoc in the mind’s eye. The atmosphere is loaded to the
max – witnessed first by Lee’s teasing tension building, the tipping of a vase
of water over the her desk, the mocking gesture of his fingers in front of her
blank, expressionless face. Suddenly, it becomes rather clear what may have
been going through the heads of NBC bosses upon their initial viewing of the
film! Secondly, Siegel cleverly employs the ‘Dutch Angle’ (or oblique angle)
technique when focusing on his two hit men as they both survey the school
corridors. Not only does he succeed in creating a rather unsettling POV for the
audience – but arguably suggests that we are certainly observing a couple of
‘unbalanced’ characters. Originating from German expressionism in the 1920s, the
procedure was (somewhat relevantly) used to depict ‘madness or unrest’ – making
it a rather interesting choice of direction on Siegel’s part. Thirdly, there is
Johnny North’s execution and the use of slow motion photography to showcase his
death. While Sam Peckinpah (who was a protégé of Siegel) had used slow motion on
TV in The Losers in 1963, Siegel’s use in The Killers is an extreme and early
example of its use (particularly in such violent fashion) in American cinema.
on from the opening ‘hit’, Charlie and Lee are on a train, Charlie is somewhat troubled
by North’s final actions, he’s never seen a man just stand there and take it.
Figuring there may have been more to this than a simple hit, they decide to
investigate deeper. They detour to Miami and track down North’s racing partner Earl
Sylvester (Claude Akins) who spills the story of North’s involvement with the
stunning Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson). From here on, the back story of a mail
heist is slowly revealed involving Mickey Farmer (Norman Fell) and Jack
Browning (Ronald Reagan). Reagan appears here in his last film role before
taking up politics and eventually becoming governor of California in 1966.
Gathering up the information and setting the pieces of the jigsaw in place,
Charlie and Lee track down the individuals in order to find the missing loot
and retire on the proceeds. A path of deceit, revenge and double crosses soon
begins to emerge and eventually leads to a bloody climax.
Blu Ray release of The Killers looks far better than I could have ever imagined.It is certainly a stylish presentation, apart
from a very rare blemish or dirt spec it is a very nice, clean print which also
benefits from a fine level of film grain. The Black detail is fairly consistent
throughout, whilst colours are vibrant (as one would expect for a title of this
period), resulting in a rich, realistic pallet with beautifully detailed flesh tones.
Unlike a lot of 60s films, The Killers offers little room to hide in terms of detail,
there are no soft focus shots when it comes to close ups of Angie Dickinson -
but it remains clear, with great depth and fine texture. Obvious composites
such as back projection on the train with Charlie and Lee can look a little fuzzier,
but hey, this is the 1960s and representative of everything that we’ve come to
love about the period. Sound is presented in clear, uncompressed 2.0 mono PCM
the film was originally filmed in Academy Ratio (for TV) Arrow has had the good
sense to present both the 1.33:1 version and the theatrical matted 1.85:1
(16:9) version. I have to say, after watching both versions I was very impressed
by the matted version. I’m usually somewhat critical of this process, as of
course the 1.33:1 contains more picture information. But the framing here is
really very good indeed, and naturally this is down to director Siegel. With
Arrow including both versions on their disc, they have certainly eliminated
themselves from any negative criticism – ‘should have used this, shouldn’t have
used that…’ so top marks for making that decision.
Original American lobby card showing Ronald Reagan in his last screen appearance before entering politics.
are also some very nice extras including Reagan Kills: an interview with New
York Times bestselling writer Marc Eliot, author of ‘Ronald Reagan: The
Hollywood Years’. Then there is Screen Killer: interview with Dwayne Epstein,
author of ‘Lee Marvin: Point Blank’ a very entertaining and detailed 30 minute
feature. Plus there is also a rare archive interview with Don Siegel (1984)
from the French television series ‘Cinéma Cinémas’ and, to round off a very
nice package, there is also a gallery of rare behind-the-scenes images.
the check disc I received for review purposes arrived in a generic clear case,
but the retail version comes with a reversible sleeve containing both the
wonderful original artwork (contained here) and a newly commissioned design by Nathanael
Marsh. Again, Arrow seems to have covered every eventuality in this department,
satisfying both the purists and those open to more modern concepts. Whilst
unable to give full details, there is also a booklet featuring new writing on
the film by Mike Sutton, extracts from Don Siegel’s autobiography and
contemporary reviews plus illustrations of original lobby cards, which I’m
sure, would have been a most enjoyable read. Overall, The Killers remains both
an important and incredibly powerful film that continues to flex a whole lot of
muscle. Lovers of 60s Cinema, Screen heroes, Don Siegel or simply great movies in
general, will certainly lap this one up. Miss it at your peril!
Gail Gerber passed away on
March 2, 2014 due to complications from lung cancer. Gerber was born on October
4, 1937 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and began studying ballet at age seven. Extremely
talented, at fifteen she became the youngest member of Les Grandes Ballets
Canadiennes in Montreal. Quitting the ballet troupe in the late 1950s and
abandoning a husband who was a jazz musician, she moved to Toronto to work as
an actress. She appeared on stage and in many live CBC television dramas. As
part of the act of legendary vaudeville entertainers Smith and Dale (who were
the basis for The Sunshine Boys), she
appeared on The Wayne and Schuster Show
and The Ed Sullivan Show. Moving to
Hollywood in 1963, the talented blonde with a flair for comedy quickly snagged
the lead role in the play Under the Yum
Yum Tree and appeared on such popular TV series as My Three Sons, Perry Mason,
and Wagon Train. She made her film
debut in The Girls on the Beach
(1965) co-starring The Beach Boys before her agent suggested she change her
name and, as Gail Gilmore, she went on to appear opposite Elvis Presley in Girl Happy (1965) and Harum Scarum (1965). She then returned
to the sands of Malibu to co-star with Edd “Kookie” Byrnes in Beach Ball (1965) before growing to
gigantic proportions along with five other delinquent teenagers, including Beau
Bridges and Tisha Sterling, who terrorize a town in Village of the Giants (1965). Gerber had a minor role as a cosmetician
in The Loved One, directed by Academy
Award winner Tony Richardson, and that is where she met its screenwriter Terry
Southern who was riding high due to the success of his satirical
novels Candy and The Magic Christian and the movie Dr. Strangelove for which he co-wrote the script. The two hit it
off immediately and, despite their marriages to others, became inseparable. Gail
even abandoned her acting career in 1966 to live with him in New York then
Connecticut where she remained his longtime companion until his death thirty
years later. During that time she taught
ballet for over twenty five years.
Gail Gerber and Cinema Retro columnist Tom Lisanti at the Independent Publishers Book Award ceremonies in 2011.
After Southern’s death in
1995, Gail spent most of her time living in New York City. During the last
twenty years of her life, she was the secretary of the Terry Southern Trust and
returned to acting playing a dotty old woman in the independent film Lucky Days (2008) directed, written, and
starring her friend Angelica Page Torn; and played a Wake Guest in avant-garde
filmmaker Matthew Barney’s just completed film River of Fundament (2014). She also, with myself, wrote her memoir,
Trippin’ with Terry Southern: What I
Think I Remember (from publisher McFarland and Company, Inc.) where she
detailed what life was like with “the hippest guy on the planet,” as they
traveled from LA to New York to Europe and back again. Gerber revealed
what went on behind the scenes of her movies and Southern’s including The Cincinnati Kid, End of the Road,
and, most infamously, Easy Rider. And
she relived the “highs” hanging out with The Rolling Stones, Peter Sellers,
Lenny Bruce, Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda, William Burroughs, Rip Torn and
Geraldine Page, George Segal, Ringo Starr to the lows barely scraping by on a
Berkshires farm during the 1970s & 1980s. The book received a Independent
Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Best Autobiography/Memoir of 2011.
It's getting harder to indulge in the annual ritual of eviscerating the Oscar ceremonies as boring and ineptly staged. As Cinema Retro readers may know, in recent years I have been among the few critics who have defended the staging of most of the telecasts. They certainly are lengthy but, with the exception of one or two ceremonies, most have been creatively staged and well-paced. Last evening's presentation of the 86th annual Oscar awards held true to that trend. Host Ellen DeGeneres, returning after a seven year absence, was genuinely funny and kept the action rolling at a brisk clip even though the show went a half-hour over its allocated three hour time slot. DeGeneres also worked surprisingly clean with the only tasteless joke made at the expense of a virtually unrecognizable Liza Minnelli. DeGeneres infused the often stuffy ceremonies with a sense of -dare I say it?- gayety. Her mood was infectious with the crowd and it became immediately apparent that even the losers were having a hell of a great time. If DeGeneres overdid any angle, it was working the audience- literally. She spent so much time running amidst the star-packed audience that it began to resemble an old "Stump the Band" segment on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. Some of this schtick worked better than others but DeGeneres' gamble on having pizzas delivered to the cavernous auditorium went over very well. Good thing, too...it was a risky gag that, if it had not been successful, the result would have been cringe-inducing. Similarly, DeGeneres put together an impromptu star-packed "selfie" of superstars that resulted in her meeting her goal of making this the most "Tweeted" photo ever.The ceremony was rather awkwardly built around an ill-defined theme of screen heroes. This resulted in a padded running time as montages of clips of famous screen heroes were shown. They were fun to watch but the segments were rather pointless as we watched disjointed examples of cinematic bravery that ranged from The Terminator to Atticus Fitch, James Bond and Batman.
The ceremony continued to the trend of having major stars show up to support the Oscars. Some years ago, it was considered chic not to attend. But last night featured a powerhouse lineup that included most of the nominees as well as genuine legends like Robert De Niro, Harrison Ford and even Kim Novak, who emerged from self-imposed exile. It was also great to see a true icon, Sidney Poiter (frail, but dignified), on stage fifty years after his ground-breaking Oscar win for Lilies of the Field. Bette Midler, looking better than ever, rendered a wonderful rendition of The Wind Beneath My Wings following the always-moving memorial film clip montage of all the great artists we have lost in the last year. Pink appeared on stage to sing a lovely version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow in tribute to the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz. It was a beautifully staged segment that was made all the more poignant by the presence in the audience of Judy Garland's daughters. The four Best Song nominees were well-staged including a soulful performance by U-2 that couldn't quite compensate for the fact that most of the songs were merely pleasant, but hardly memorable. A seemingly ageless Jim Carrey did a dead-on imitation of nominee Bruce Dern in the 1972 film The Cowboys. Sally Field made a presentation and looked wonderfully elegant. The Oscar winner's speeches seemed classier and more heartfelt this year. Jared Leto, winner of Supporting Actor for Dallas Buyers Club, gave a very moving speech that seemed to set a trend in which several Oscar winners took pains to thank their moms, a nice gesture that was enhanced by the fact that some of those moms were in the audience. Lupita Nyongo'o's speech showed sheer, sincere exuberance at having won, in contrast to some of the more pretentious "surprise" moments shown by some winners in previous years. Cate Blanchett's win for Blue Jasmine was well-deserved but her heartfelt speech droned on so long that one thought she would acknowledge every person in the Sydney phone book. John Ridley, winner for Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, was quite moving in thanking a mentor who gave him solid advice throughout his years as a screenwriter. Matthew McConaughey reined in his eccentric behavior and gave a rambling but still inspiring acceptance speech after winning Best Actor for his triumphant performance in Dallas Buyers Club.
As for the prizes themselves, virtually all were justified. Surprises were few and included Spike Jonez winning for Best Original Screenplay for the little-seen comedy Her and Alfonso Curaon winning Best Director for Gravity but seeing his film lose Best Picture to 12 Years a Slave. American Hustle became the third film in Oscar history (along with Gangs of New York and the remake of True Grit) to score ten nominations only to end up being shut out.
In all, a solid evening of classy entertainment...and here's hoping Ms. DeGeneres is up for hosting next year.
"Goldfinger" is not only the name of Sean Connery's classic 1964 James Bond flick, but its also the monicker that the Spanish press has attached to a high profile real estate scandal that has been plaguing Connery for years.
Sir Sean Connery is man known to value his privacy. So he is not a bit pleased to be the marquee name in a slow-rolling but high profile real estate scandal in Spain, where he resided for many years in the town of Marbella. Connery and his wife sold their property in 1999 and relocated permanently to the Bahamas. Shortly after the Connerys sold their estate, it was demolished and a massive apartment complex was built on the land. Spanish prosecutors claim that the construction project was a boondoggle orchestrated by local politicians in violation of the law and various zoning ordinances. The Connerys have been fighting attempts to get them to appear in Spanish courts since 2010. They deny knowing the politicians involved in the scandal on a personal basis and also deny that they dodged paying taxes on the proceeds of the sale of their home. Sir Sean is particularly outraged because the story, which is front page news in the Spanish press, resulted in his home address being publicly revealed. He probably also isn't pleased that he is being linked to the scandal through the very name it is being referred to, which is a reference to his film Goldfinger. For more on the complex case click here.
Will Smith was "honored" as Worst Supporting Actor for his role in the bomb sci-fi flick After Earth at the annual Razzie Awards, designed to celebrate the worst achievements in filmmaking. His co-conspirator, son Jaden Smith, did not escape recognition, winning Worst Actor in a Leading Role. Jaden and dad were also accorded Worst Screen Duo for the film which earned scorned from both critics and the public. Poppa Smith is generally immune to critical notices but After Earth was seen as a blatant, expensive attempt to build a career for his son. It lost mega bucks at the boxoffice. The sketch comedy Movie 43 also won numerous Razzies. For the complete list click here.
Alain Resnais, the acclaimed director of controversial films such as Last Year at Marienbad, has passed away at age 91. To his admirers, Resnais was the epitome of the avant garde filmmaker, producing movies in the name of art, not commerce. His detractors felt some of his work represented style over substance and dripped with artistic pretensions. However, his 1955 30 minute film Night and Fog remains to many as the most devastating record of the Holocaust ever filmed. For more click here
Well, here we go again. The annual pointless but fun ritual of weighing in on my predictions for the major Oscar categories. This year is more challenging than most because there are plenty of fine films but no clear front runners, though certainly there are a number of nominees that are far more favored than others. I'll put out my predictions, but I have to admit I don't feel certain about any of them. Keep in mind that these predictions don't always reflect my own personal preferences
12 Years a Slave- Oscar loves "message" movies and although this film is difficult to watch, it does relate a true and inspiring story about one man's incredible courage. My pick for the Best Picture Oscar. Runner up: American Hustle. The acclaimed film Gravity seems to have some serious momentum but Oscar generally snubs sci-fi and horror-related flicks.
Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave. It's rare that the best picture doesn't result in an Oscar for its director, though last year Argo won Best Picture and it's director, Ben Affleck, wasn't even nominated. Still, that was a fluke that has rarely happened in the past and I don't think it will occur again this year. Runner up: David O. Russell for American Hustle.
Cate Blanchett for her amazing performance in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. Runner up: Amy Adams for American Hustlealthough you can never count out sentimental favorite Judi Dench who many people feel was unjustly snubbed for a Supporting Actress snub for Skyfall.
It's a toss-up between Chiwetel Ejifor for 12 Years a Slave and Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club. It could go either way. Ejifor might be seen as a newcomer with plenty of opportunities ahead of him (plus there are probably only ten people in the Academy who can pronounce his name.) McConaughey has been kicking around for twenty years, making some good films and a lot of celluloid garbage, but his performance in this film is true method acting and a brilliant achievement on any level. My choice: McConaughey.My preference: Bruce Dern for Nebraska, admittedly partially out of sentiment and the fact that he has been underrated as an actor for decades.
Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle would be the lead contender but she won Best Actress last year for Silver Linings Playbook which was also directed by David O. Russell. The Academy might think they are overdoing it by giving her the award two years in a row. My choice: newcomer Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave.
Jared Leto gave an amazing performance as a transvestite hooker in Dallas Buyers Club and critics love streetwise, eccentric characters. He could be the favorite but I think Barkhad Abdi is strong competition for Captain Phillips. It's a really tough call but I'll go with Leto.
American Hustle- This might be the consolation prize for not winning in other major categories. The fact that the film is an almost entirely fictionalized look at the Abscam caper of the late 1970s/early 1980s won't hurt it since the film doesn't present itself as anything other than a playful romp "inspired" by some true life events.
12 Years a Slave
We'll know in a matter of hours how off the mark I am! Enjoy the show.
There has been a very positive response to Cinema Retro's coverage of "B" WWII movies in our recent issues. Writer Howard Hughes has concentrated on the films produced by Oakmont Productions, the British-based company that financed and released such modestly-budgeted gems as Attack on the Iron Coast, The Thousand Plane Raid, Hell Boats, Submarine X-1 and Mosquito Squadron. These films had no lofty pretenses of being potential Oscar winners. Instead, they were made simply to generate a modest profit. However, they tended to be intelligently scripted and well-directed and acted, with showcase roles afforded to stars who didn't usually get top-billing (Lloyd Bridges, Christopher George, David McCallum). The 1970 film Underground was not an Oakmont production but is largely indistinguishable from the company's catalog of titles. It stars Robert Goulet as Dawson, an embittered American agent for military intelligence who is based in England. Dawson is wracked by guilt because his mission behind German lines in occupied France ended disastrously. Both he and his fellow agent (his wife) were captured. Dawson, under extreme torture, revealed his wife's true identity and she suffered a horrendous death at the hands of the Gestapo. Dawson managed to escape and make his way back to England, though how he achieved this remarkable feat is glossed over in the script. The film opens with Dawson bluffing his way aboard a plane carrying a fellow agent on a new mission over occupied France. Dawson, who is determined to atone for his previous failure by taking on this mission himself, disables the agent and parachutes in his place to meet his contacts in the French Resistance. His French underground colleagues find him to be a bitter, unpleasant man and it isn't long before they realize that he is an imposter for their real contact. Nevertheless, Dawson persuades them to let him carry out the important mission which involves kidnapping a high profile German general who has vital intelligence information and bringing him back to England. Dawon's team is headed by Boule (Lawrence Dobkin), a head strong and valiantly man who frequently locks horns with Dobson over strategy. The team also includes Yvonne (Daniele Gaubert), a beautiful agent who is Boule's wife. Complications ensue when Dawson shows his more human side and he and Yvonne secretly become lovers.
Underground is the kind of film that often receives the backhanded praise of benefiting from "workmanlike" efficiency from its stars and director Arthur H. Nadel. Yet, like the Oakmont productions, it probably plays better in today's era of overblown, CGI-stuffed action movies than it did at the time of its initial release. The film is tightly scripted and the plan to capture the German general is straight out of a top-of-the-line Mission: Impossible episode. The movie was shot on location in Ireland but the countryside passes convincingly for France. Goulet, grim and determined, makes for an impressive leading man and there are fine turns by Lawrence Dobkin and Carl Duering, who is impressive as the German general who adds a clever plot twist to the story line. Like most of these WWII mini "epics" of the period, the production team manages to make the film look far more expensive than it probably was. The action sequences are exciting and well-staged, particularly a climactic shootout as Dawson awaits the arrival of a British plane on a makeshift runway as German forces close in on him and his team.
Underground has been released by MGM on DVD. Transfer quality is very good but there are no bonus extras.
Long before David McCallum became one of the most popular cast members on the long-running hit series NCIS, he made teenage girls swoon as Illya Kuryakin, the mysterious blonde Russian-born agent on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. McCallum teen mania probably peaked in 1966 when the stores were flooded with action figures, posters and lunchboxes featuring his likeness and that of his co-star and fellow teen Robert Vaughn. We thought we had seen it all when it came to U.N.C.L.E. fandom but then we became aware of a 1966 45 RPM titled "Love Ya, Illya" by Angela and the Fans that was released as a 45 RPM record. If you're a McCallum fan, it doesn't get any groovier than this!
The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts will present "An Evening with Jerry Lewis" on March 15. The comedy legend will appear on stage for two performances on that date. Click here for more details and to view film clips of the show.
One forgets how busy Leonard Nimoy was during the early
and mid ‘70s. There’s a tendency to think he vanished once his three year hitch
as Mister Spock on NBC’s Star Trek was over, but he was everywhere for a while,
acting in Mission: Impossible,
lending his voice to the classic show In
Search Of…, writing books of poetry, and even recording albums.Granted, his demonic eyebrows and somber
voice limited him to some degree – he would always seem otherworldly - but he
had an undeniable star quality.
In late January of 1973, Nimoy starred in Baffled!, an NBC Tuesday Night Movie of the Week. It was projected as a
possible TV series, where Nimoy would play Tom Kovack, a race car driver who
survives a crash but returns from his near death experience with the ability to
see visions of the future. Unfortunately,
the idea didn’t take off. By the year’s end, Nimoy was supplying the voice of
Spock for a Star Trek animated
series. He never quite escaped the role
that made him famous, but in Baffled!,
he appeared to be trying very hard to create a new character. Now available on
DVD from Scorpion Releasing, viewers can judge Baffled! for themselves and decide whether Nimoy could’ve succeeded
in another series.
The movie starts with the crash. Kovack is roaring around a speedway when he
begins hallucinating that a Victorian manor has popped up in the middle of the
track. His car spins out; he goes flying through the air, and the next thing we
know he’s being interviewed on a talk show. He discusses his visions, but stops
short of saying he has ESP. Meanwhile, a paranormal expert named Michelle Brent
(Susan Hampshire) contacts him, believing Kovack is blessed with special powers.
Soon, Kovack and Brent are in England, investigating a complicated case
involving a weird family, a mansion that may or may not be haunted, and some
sort of curse involving a wolf’s head insignia.
At its best, Baffled!
feels a bit like other ‘70s shows such as Night
Galleryand The Sixth Sense. It
even owes a bit to The Avengers, minus
the cheeky, swingin’ London vibe. At its
worst, Baffled! is a bit dry and takes
too long to get from one point to the next. It was directed by Phiip Leacock, a television
veteran who specialized in one-hour shows like The Waltons. At times, Baffled!
feels like an hour show padded out to make a feature length piece. One wonders if NBC opted out of the series
because of the slowness of the movie, rather than looking at Nimoy’s
The flaws of the movie aside, Nimoy is fun to watch
here. He tries to be the kind of
wise-cracking leading man that series television required in those days, and
even pulls off a few action scenes. NBC may have missed a good bet when they
didn’t pick this one up 40 years ago. With some care, it could’ve worked.
The Scorpion Releasing DVD includes the UK version of Baffled!, which is 89 minutes long (The
US version is 99 minutes). It’s presented in full screen for, after all, it was
a TV show. There are also some trailers for other Scorpion DVD releases,
including a nice clip of Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack. If for no other
reason, the disc is worth a look to see Nimoy battling his way out of Spock’s
Criterion has released a dual format Blu-ray/DVD edition of director Michael Mann's 1981 crime thriller Thief starring James Caan. It's a highly impressive film on many levels, especially when one considers this was Mann's big screen feature debut. He had previously directed the acclaimed 1979 TV movie The Jericho Mile, which was set in Folsom Prison. Mann was inspired by his interaction with the world of convicts and wrote the screenplay for Thief, which is credited as being based on author Frank Hohimer's novel The Home Invaders, but he maintains virtually none of the source material ended up on screen. The story centers on Frank (James Caan), a bitter man with a troubled past. As a child he was raised in state-run homes before being sent to jail for a petty crime. Inside prison, he committed violent acts in order to defend himself but this only resulted in lengthier jail terms. By the time he has been released, he has spent half of his life behind bars. While in jail, Frank befriended Okla (Willie Nelson), a older man and master thief who is doing a life sentence. He becomes Frank's mentor and father figure and teaches him the tools of the trade. When Frank is finally released, he becomes a master at his craft, which is pulling off seemingly impossible heists of cash and diamonds. Before long, he has become a legend in his field. As a cover, Frank runs a major used car dealership and a small bar. However, he realizes that his luck will certainly run out at some point and he is determined to retire after making a few more, high end scores. He works with a small team consisting of two confederates (James Belushi, Willam LaValley) who are also pros in gaining access to seemingly impenetrable vaults. The headstrong Frank wants to also settle down and raise a family. He makes an awkward introduction to Jessie (Tuesday Weld), an equally head strong, down-on-her luck character who nevertheless becomes smitten by him and ends up marrying him. The couple face frustration, however, when their attempts to adopt a baby are thwarted by Frank's criminal record. Frank is ultimately approached by Leo (Robert Prosky), a local crime lord who entices him to stop working independently and pull off a high profile heist for a fortune in diamonds. Frank rejects the offer but eventually he relents, though he is reluctant to work with a new partner. Leo has managed to break through Frank's cynicism by showering him with praise the benefits of his influence, which include arranging for Frank and Jessie to illegally adopt the baby they want so desperately. The lure of being able to retire after this one huge score leads Frank to go against his better judgment and he agrees to work for Leo on this one big job. The diamonds are located in a vault so secure that it would seem to be better suited for Fort Knox. In order to break in, Frank and his team must use highly sophisticated drills and other equipment that would rival the top gear used by any branch of the military. On the verge of realizing his greatest score, however, things go terribly wrong on any number of levels. Frank, seeing his world crumble around him, goes on a violent rampage of destruction and self-destruction.
Thief is a highly stylized movie that moves at a rapid clip and features one of James Caan's strongest performances. The problem, however, is that the character of Frank is so obnoxious, he is difficult to warm to. Peckinpah, Scorsese and Coppola always had a knack for making disreputable characters seem appealing, but Frank is nasty, arrogant and self-centered. This is certainly realistic, given the bitter feelings he has toward society, but the viewer never warms to him in any meaningful way. He is only sympathetic because the people he deals with are so much worse. Nevertheless, Thief is a crackling good yarn that boasts some fine performances especially by Tuesday Weld and character actor Robert Prosky, who is brilliant in a scene-stealing role. Willie Nelson's screen time is very limited but he makes effective use of his two scenes. The film features superb cinematography by Donald E. Thorin, who made his debut here as Director of Cinematography. His night sequences on the rain-slicked streets of Chicago evoke visions of neon-lit nightmare. The film features an electronic score by Tangerine Dream, the band that provided the music for Willliam Friedkin's Sorcerer. Strangely, their score for that films holds up well but their work in Thief comes across as a bit monotonous and dated. The film's ultra-violent conclusion is exciting but rather cliched with Frank turning into yet another pissed off screen hero who decides to take down all of his enemies in an orgy of shootouts and destruction. (I know it sounds petty but I can never accept such sequences when they are set in urban neighborhoods in which no one ever seems to call the police even as houses explode and machine gun fire is sprayed all over the place. Even Chicago residents aren't that immune to the effects of violent crime). The film excels, however, in the break-in sequences which are superbly directed and feature camerawork that make the crime scenelook like an attraction from Disney World, with fireworks-like sparks filling the air.
The Criterion Blu-ray transfer is superb on every level. Extras include a commentary track by Michael Mann and James Caan that was recorded in 1995. There are also fresh video interviews with both men that are rather candid. (Caan, who has worked consistently through his career, modestly says "I was rather popular at one time" in reference to his work on the film. Mann says he is still debating in his mind whether he regrets using Tangerine Dream's score) There is also an interview with Johannes Schmoelling of the band, who discusses working with Mann to create the score. An original trailer is included as is a nicely illustrated booklet with an informative essay by film critic Nick James.
Eric Bercovici, who produced and adapted James Clavell's massive novel Shogun into the Emmy-winning 1980 mini-series, has died at age 80. Bercovici was working on the Paramount lot and observed that the studio was not satisfied with a stream of prospective screenwriters who could not master how to adapt a story that was heavy on Japanese language and culture into a mainstream form of entertainment for American audiences. Bercovici and Clavell initially argued over his insistence that Clavell approve major edits and omissions to the novel. Eventually, Clavell relented and the series became a ratings smash. Bercovici related how, during production, the logistics of filming in Japan so annoyed local residents that police almost shut down production despite pleas from one of the series stars, the legendary Toshiro Mifune. It was the arrival in Japan of President Jimmy Carter that distracted the police and allowed production to finish. Bercovici also wrote the screenplay for John Boorman's 1968 WWII survival film Hell in the Pacific starring Mifune and Lee Marvin. However, his main strength was in television. He also wrote the hit 1977 Watergate-based mini series Washington: Behind Closed Doors and episodes of classic TV shows like Mission: Impossible, Hawaii 5-0, I Spy and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Click here for more
Harold Ramis, who helped found the Second City comedy troupe and legendary TV series, has died after a long illness. He was 69 years old. Ramis wrote, directed and appeared in many hit comedy feature films. Among the hit films he directed were Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and Analyze This. He also wrote or appeared in films such as National Lampoon's Animal House, Stripes and Ghostbusters. He was part of a generation that reinvented TV and motion picture comedy. Ramis was a native of Chicago and had moved back there in recent years. For more on his life and achievements, click here.
Time to put up your Dukes! (DVDs, that is!) Cinema Retro has received this exciting press announcement from Warner Home Video:
JOHN WAYNE: THE EPIC COLLECTION DEBUTS MAY 20
DVD COLLECTION OF 40 WARNER AND PARMOUNT FILMS IS LARGEST JOHN WAYNE BOX SET EVER
INCLUDES HOURS OF SPECIAL FEATURES AND REMARKABLE MEMORABILIA
FOURTH ANNUAL JOHN WAYNE FILM FESTIVAL SET FOR APRIL 24-27 IN DALLAS
Burbank, Calif., February 24, 2014 -- To
commemorate one of America’s most iconic film heroes, Warner Bros. Home
Entertainment will introduce a comprehensive new DVD set -- John
Wayne: The Epic Collection-- on May 20. The spring release, just in
time for Father’s Day gift-giving ($149.98 SRP), will contain 38 discs with 40
Wayne films (full list below), including The
Searchers, once called one of the most influential movies in American
history and the film for which Wayne
won his Best Actor Academy Award®, True Grit (1969). The collection comes packaged in a handsome book with
unique collectibles and hours of special features.
The coffee table book includes a
chronological presentation of Wayne films, enhanced with wonderful photographs;
the hours of special features include commentaries, documentaries, featurettes,
vintage shorts and classic cartoons; and the special John Wayne collectibles include
personal correspondence, script pages/covers, pages with Wayne’s notations and
Wayne’s legacy will also be celebrated at the 4th
annual John Wayne Film Festival in Dallas from April 24th through
the 27th. The four-day festival will feature screenings of some of
Wayne’s classic feature films, Q + A sessions with Wayne family members and
co-stars, and parties celebrating the John Wayne heritage and legacy. All the
proceeds from the festival will benefit the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.
In making the announcement of the new
collection, Jeff Baker, WHV’s Executive VP and General Manager, Theatrical
Catalog said, “Thanks to our recent strategic alliance with Paramount and their
catalog titles, we’re delighted to be able to offer this number of titles representing
such a broad range of Wayne’s work. Wayne was one of the most popular film stars
ever. For more than a quarter century he was one of the tops at the worldwide box-office.
This collection will certainly be a ‘must have’ for loyal John Wayne fans and,
hopefully, will have an equal appeal to younger folks who want to learn more
Born Marion Robert Morrison in
Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne first worked in the film business as a laborer on
the Fox lot during summer vacations from U.S.C., which he attended on a
football scholarship. He met and was befriended by John Ford,
a young director who was beginning to make a name for himself in action films,
comedies and dramas. It was Ford who recommended Wayne for his first leading
For the next nine years, Wayne worked
in a multitude of B-Westerns and serials in between bit parts in larger
features. Wayne’s big break came in 1939, when Ford cast him as the Ringo Kid
in the adventure Stagecoach. Wayne
nearly stole the picture from his more seasoned co-stars, and his career as a
box-office superstar began. During his 50 year film career, Wayne played the
lead in more than 140 movies, an as yet unsurpassed
record, and was nominated for three Academy Awards®, winning the Best
Actor award for his performance in True
Discs In John Wayne: The Epic Collection
Big Stampede/Ride Him Cowboy/Haunted Gold, 1932
Telegraph Trail/Somewhere in Sonora/Man from Monterey, 1933
Ballroom Confidential is a modestly-budgeted 2013 documentary production by director Brian Lilla. The film centers on Caleb Young, a 44 year-old gay man who found himself drifting through life without any clear cut ambitions or plans. He was trying to cope with the tragedy of having lost the "love of his life" due to a terminal illness. Young was living in Manhattan when the 9/11 attacks occurred and shook him emotionally. He ended up settling in Florida where his mother inspired him to do something tangible with his talents as a dancer. Young had made a living as a professional entertainer and drag performer mostly in gay venues. Inspired by his mother's confidence but financially broke, he cobbled together enough funds to open up the Absolutely Ballroom salon in Ormond Beach where he quickly established himself as a popular dance instructor. The movie opens with Caleb and choreographer Joe Mounts rehearsing with their students for a much-anticipated one night production of a fun, spy-themed show that will play for a local audience comprised of family and friends of those who are performing in the show. (The dance studio is adorned with some really cool James Bond international movie posters.) Overwhelmingly, the students are elderly women, most of whom have been widowed. For them, ballroom dancing is the elixir of life, acting as a diversion for what might otherwise be a lonely existence. Caleb's mother appears throughout, as she is one of the performers in the show. Amusingly, she is joined by her husband (Caleb's step-father), a macho guy who initially rejected ballroom dancing on the basis that it was too feminine. By the end of the film, however, he's as dedicated as any of the ladies in ensuring that the show must go on.
Director Lilla is working with a bare bones budget and virtually all of the action is understandably confined to the dance studio or the homes of some of the students. They are an amusing assortment of people and the friendships they have formed which each other are readily apparent. There are shy ladies, divas and hams...but all of them seem very charming. The film is often quite moving, especially in sequences in which some of the women describe how the loss of a long-time spouse has a devastating impact on the remaining partner. It's also rather touching to see ladies in their 80s and 90s getting dolled up to star as glamour girls in the big production. The film is a valentine to the art of dance and never takes any cheap shots at any of the participants, no matter how eccentric some may be. It is also rather amusing to see Joe Mounts, a burly bear of a guy who would look more at home in a Scorsese movie, delicately dancing with and instructing his students. As the countdown towards the opening night continues to tick, the pressure on everyone continues to build until opening night finally arrives.
Ballroom Confidential is a sweet and touching film that looks at the best aspects of human behavior and presents its participants in a dignified light. Caleb Young is an ingratiating fellow who has obviously brought great joy to his community through giving elderly people a renewed sense of purpose in their lives and that, more so than any specific dance production, is probably the legacy he can be most proud of.
Click here to order the DVD from the official web site.
Eddy and Sid after a Master Class at NYU, 2003. (Photo: Michael Doft)
Sid Caesar’s funeral service was held on Sunday afternoon,
February 16 at a private ceremony in Los Angeles. Among the family and friends paying
tribute was Sid’s biographer and friend, Cinema Retro’s Eddy Friedfeld, who
co-authored Sid’s creative biography, Caesar’s Hours, published by Public
Affairs in 2003.
What follows is the eulogy Eddy delivered before Sid's family, friends and colleagues.
Sid said that, like Isaac Newton, he stood on the
shoulders of giants, his inspirations- Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel
and Hardy and W.C. Fields, who helped him develop his career and craft. Today, Sid, we stand on your shoulders- and
celebrate your life, your art, your warmth, character, and friendship. You did things no one else could do and you
inspired many others, including people in this room, to take the same artistic
And if our challenge was to sum up all your vast
achievements into one phrase, we would say- “You made America laugh.”
Born in Yonkers in 1922, the fourth and youngest son of
Max and Ida, he picked up dishes after school at his father’s luncheonette.
Going from table to table he learned to speak his signature doubletalk, French,
German, Italian and Russian from the multi-ethnic clientele. He went up to the
Catskills one summer as a saxophone player and part time comedian, and wound up
going back the following summer as a full time comedian and part time musician. An accomplished tenor saxophonist who could
site read, he played with Shep Fields, Charlie Spievak, Claude Thornhill and
Benny Goodman. He served in the Coast
Guard during World War II, part of the Greatest Generation. He loved being an American and was the poster
boy for the emerging medium of television and the Post World War II era of
prosperity, growth and vision. While
doing the reviews for the soldiers, he met Max Liebman, who cast him in Tars
and Spars and later in his first Broadway Show, Make Mine Manhattan. The impresario Liebman took his protégé to a
meeting with a young executive, Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, who wanted to bring the
variety show to people’s living rooms, so that they didn’t have to go out for
Broadway quality shows on Saturday Night. That meeting resulted in the Admiral Broadway Review and then Your Show
of Shows, Caesar’s Hour, and The Chevy Specials.
Genius is often
overused. Except where it is most
almost nine years, he made millions laugh. At this point Sid would put his hand up, admonish me and say, “no one
ever does anything great alone.” Sid wanted to make sure that his final bow was
taken along-side Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Nanette Fabray, and
Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, Tony Webster, Joe Stein, Danny and Doc
Simon, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Aaron Ruben, Mike Stewart, and a number of
other great talents who worked indefatigably to write, create, and produce this
new style of comedy on a weekly basis. They were quality- they could do what no one else could do,
before or since.
Sid loved the written word- if it doesn’t start out on
the page, it will never make it to the stage. He presided over a stable of creative
minds. Young kids of immigrant parents
who wanted to make their mark on the world through the vehicle of Sid’s unique
gifts. When Larry Gelbart was asked why
most of Sid’s writers were young and Jewish, he said, “Because all of our
parents were old and Jewish.”
When you hear the generic term Writers Room, the first
thought that it elicits in most minds is the legendary Caesar’s Writer’s
Room. He loved his writers, collectively
and individually. They were his
Praetorian Guard. Of all his accomplishments, his acknowledged greatest was
that he presided over the greatest group of comedy writers ever assembled,
unless you think The Constitution is funny.
I had reached a point in our work together where I
could watch a sketch and discern which writer contributed what line or thought.
He made me promise never to share that with anyone. What was most important was not that these
people were geniuses in their own right. What was significant was how they worked together. It was the genius of collaboration. The alchemy of creating comedy.
1949, television was a little over a year old. No one knew whether it was going
to last, and no one envisioned the impact it would have on society and the
world. Before Sid Caesar, television consisted of vaudeville, burlesque,
wrestling, and bowling. Sid and his multi-talented cast, writers and crew
helped define the medium, developing sketch comedy that was based in truth. For
39 weeks a year, they conceived, wrote, and executed an hour and a half of live
television a week, week after week. They did it, because they did not know they
couldn’t do it. There was no teleprompter, no cue cards, and no second chances.
movie satires, to foreign film parodies to pantomime, from a boy at his first
dance to an argument at a bus station, to lions in the circus, they crafted
stories that had beginnings, middles and ends, and helped ensure that
television grew into one of the most enduring forces in our society. Unlike comedy that came before that was
rooted in immigration and financial depression, this was about a new America-
post-WWII, prosperous, hopeful, the era of suburbs, skyscrapers, and space
travel- it needed smarter, fresher, optimistic, cutting edge comedy with an
infusion of culture and satire.
Sid was a master of character and dialect. He transformed into the put upon husband
Charlie Hickenlooper, feudal lord Shtaka Yamagura, stoner jazz musician
Progress Hornsby, Tony Towers, the inventor of the Towers Trot, The Gangster
Moose in Bullets Over Broadway, who had ears like a hawk, Al Duncy, who was
reluctantly and literally carried onto the stage to have his life story told
with Uncle Goopy and a parade of other crazy relatives in front of five
thousand people, and the German General who fastidiously avoided jangling his
medals, as he prepared to be a fancy hotel’s doorman.
He was a scientist who, after being bitten by a
radioactive termite, developed an insatiable appetite for wood. As The
Professor his endless expertise ranged from mountain climbing, sleep, and
And as the crying clown, Galipacci, he braved the
perils of live television. When it came
time to paint the tears on his cheeks, the point on his pencil broke. I don’t know what a lesser performer might
have done, but Sid not only didn’t break character and song, he instinctively
painted lines on his cheeks and proceeded to play tic tac toe, not missing a
He was Melville Krump, DDS, who got locked in the
hardware store overnight as part of a frenetic hunt for Jimmy Durante’s stolen
loot along with the greatest comedians of all time in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. He was Noble Eggleston, the pride of
Venezuela, Illinois with six other roles in Little Me. And, as Coach Calhoun of Rydell High, he got
John Travolta his letterman sweater in Grease.
He was also a Shtarker, possessed of Herculean
strength- as he said “I could walk through a wall without opening a door.” The strength that affectionately held Mel
Brooks out the 18th floor window of The Palmer House in Chicago,
punched a horse who was threatening his beloved wife Florence, and pulled the
sink out of the wall of his dressing room when he had trouble remembering a
Sid understood his audience and always treated them
with honesty and respect. He believed
that the greatest comedy came with pathos- making the audience not only laugh-
but think and sometimes cry.
We are a people that are defined by our culture and our
passions. Sidney Caesar was a giant,
becoming one of the most famous people in America. He walked among stars and statesmen, and the
most accomplished and creative of his and subsequent generations, but always
with a sense of awe and humility.
He raised a family. You can’t tell the Sid Caesar story without talking about Florence, his
partner of 67 years, and children, Michelle, Rick and Karen. He battled and overcame demons and developed
deep and lifelong friendships.
We own our cultural icons- they belong as much to us as
they do to their own families. Laughing
together keeps us close to our families; it is the lingua franca for our
friendships, the shared memories, the shorthand phrases and inside jokes that
keep us close years later.
Sid’s work not only made people laugh, it brought
families together. Over the years, I
consistently heard people say to and about Sid: “Thank you for making my
parents laugh.” It was that association
that people wanted to remember.
I didn’t grow up watching Sid Caesar. He belonged to my parents and
grandparents. He was the fine china,
their gold standard, talked about at the dinner table like a successful
relative. My generation grew up on Blazing
Saddles, Get Smart, MASH, The Dick Van Dyke Show and All in the Family, without
realizing the connection.
I met Sid 14 years ago for an interview. We had a very nice connection. He invited me to come back two days later to
watch his old shows with him. The
article was well received and it led to a friendship and an artistic
autobiography entitled Caesar’s Hours that came out in 2003. I spent two years working with him on that
book. It was Sid, me, and Sid’s dog,
Carlin. It was the hardest I ever worked
and the most fun I ever had. It was
basically one long, spirited argument. Sid loved passionate discourse. He believed in his version of the Samuel Goldwyn adage, “From a polite
conference comes a polite script”- and to which he embellished: “You only fight with your friends- no one
else is worth your time.”
He was tough on those close to him, and toughest on
himself- he wanted everyone to be the best version of themselves, the most
productive and the most artistic. He was
a naturally gifted writer who never touched a pencil or keyboard- he could hear
a paragraph and literally rearrange it in his head- and make it better. If he didn’t have the deadline of a weekly
show, we’d still be working on the Professor on Mountain Climbing sketch from
1951, and making it better with each draft.
He became my coach. I realized that if John Travolta had paid more attention to Sid when he
played his coach, he could have been even bigger.
After we finished working together, we became even
closer, and I visited him often. When I
was in New York, we had a regular Friday night phone call that began in 2003
and ended about two weeks ago. If I
didn’t call him by 3:30, there was a voicemail message from him asking me where
I was and that he was ready to talk. He
could discuss and debate art, film, music, world history, politics, and string
theory- he loved an intelligent discussion. He particularly loved the impressionist painters- Monet, Manet, Renoir,
and Seurat, who started out as struggling artists trying to develop a new form
of art- his favorite painting was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. He identified with artists who painted
outside the lines- to him that was what being a comedian was- painting outside
He became one the best friends I ever had- a surrogate
father after my own father passed away, and a mentor. He was there for encouragement, advice and
support as I worked on other projects and developed and taught my comedy and
film courses at Yale and NYU. He loved
that college students were getting to know his work and writing papers about
him, which I shared with him. He took
this not-so-young lawyer and helped me become a writer and film professor and
he took pride in my accomplishments. He
would tell me: “Eddy, Live the life that you want, and love the life that you
As the performers in this room today can attest, he was
the world’s greatest audience. He
laughed with his mouth and with his eyes, and his approval was palpable. It wasn’t a star’s laugh- it was a fan’s
laugh and a friend’s laugh- wonderful for a comedian or writer; he never
outgrew that sense of wonderment that most of us only had as a kid. Toward the end of his life I still loved to
make him laugh- I told him the irony was that I probably did the best creative
work of my career in Sid Caesar’s bedroom.
After Florence passed away four years ago, we spent a
lot of time together watching old movies, from Key Largo to The Manchurian
Candidate to his favorite- The Godfather. He had a personal story about the
actors in every film. I got to know his heart- it was big and complex. I even forgave him for making me turn off
North by Northwest after 40 minutes, proclaiming that “it takes too long for
Hitchcock to tell a story.”
I want to particularly thank all of the friends who
supported Sid after Florence passed away. You need to know it meant the world to him to have you around. Special thanks Sid’s caregivers, Kona, Peter,
Jerry, and Albert, who worked tirelessly to make Sid feel like a king, and a
heartfelt thanks to Fran and Lou Zigman for organizing the parties, the smaller
visits, the hospice care and many other things that literally kept him alive
these past few years.
In Laughter on the 23rd Floor- Neil Simon’s
play based on his days in the Writer’s Room, the characters gather when they
realize that the reign of their boss, television star Max Prince, is coming to
a close. When Lucas calls him noble, Ira
“You think he was noble? He was Moses for crise’
sake. The man is a giant. He’s Goliath. Maybe he’s Goliath after David hit him in the head with a rock, but
there’s fucking greatness in him, I swear… He’s got so much anger in him, so
much pain, so much roast beef and potato salad, that when he goes down like he
did tonight, with such a crash, people fell out of their beds in Belgium…
There’ll never be another Max Prince again, because he’s an original. I’m telling you guys, we just lived through
This is Sid
Caesar’s final public appearance. And I
want to explain the nuance of that remark. At his core, his essence, Sid Caesar was a performer, an entertainer,
and a storyteller. Whether he was in
front of 60 million people, 60 people or six people, every fiber of his being
wanted to make you laugh and smile, and leave you feeling better than when you
got there. The fact that you’ve been
there for him and are here today means the world to him. The fact that you got
to smile and be emotional, he gets that credit, and on his behalf, he would
want me to thank you.
Sid Caesar was an original. He loved, he was loved and he will be
missed. Rest in peace, my friend. Remember, you made America laugh.
is a good month for The Criterion Collection. Last week we reviewed the
company’s restored Blu-ray/DVD dual format release of Foreign Correspondent. Coming quickly on its heels are two more
excellent releases on this red carpet of home video labels.
up—Tess, directed by Roman Polanski.
This 1979 picture—released in the U.S. in 1980 and nominated for Academy Awards
(Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Score) and winner of three (Art
Direction, Cinematography, and Costumes) is a scrumptious, beautiful depiction
of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the
D’Urbervilles. It is a very faithful adaptation, although several scenes
from the book are left out or shortened. Still, the film is nearly three hours
long—but don’t let that scare you, it’s never dull. I have to confess that I
fell in love with Nastassja Kinski when I first saw Tess in a Manhattan cinema. She remained my onscreen heartthrob for
over a decade as a result! Kinski is strikingly beautiful, and it is this
beauty that carries her extremely subtle performance through the character’s
difficult emotional upheavals. Kinski’s Tess is shy, vulnerable, introverted,
and naive—until she is the victim of sexual violence. Then the character is
forced to mature, and rather quickly. When it’s all over, on reflection, one
realizes the actress never relied solely on her looks. Superbly supporting
Kinski are Peter Firth as Angel, the man who at first rejects her but then
rescues her from the likes of Leigh Lawson, as the sexual predator Alec.
was Polanski’s first feature after fleeing from the U.S. under, ahem,
disturbing criminal charges. He made the film in France, where he took up residence.
His late wife, Sharon Tate, had given him the novel back in the Sixties, and
he’d promised that he would one day make the film for her. As we all know, Tate
didn’t survive that decade. Ten years later, Polanski kept his promise (the
film is dedicated “To Sharon”). It is certainly a love letter to her and his
cinematic audience. Since the story involves what the poster tag line read as
“She was born into a world where they called it seduction, not rape...” one
wonders if the picture might have also been Polanski’s way of apologizing for
any rate, Tess can be listed among the
director’s best pictures. It is gorgeously rendered, exquisitely acted, and,
like Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, is one
of the most visually-stunning films of its era.
new 4K digital restoration—supervised by Polanski himself—looks fantastic on
Blu-ray. Several extras document the making of the film, including Once Upon a Time...Tess (a piece from 2006),
three programs featuring interviews with Polanski, Kinski, Lawson, producer
Claude Berri, costumer Anthony Powell, and composer Philippe Sarde, and others.
A 1979 interview with Polanski on The
South Bank Show is revealing, and there is also a documentary shot on
location for French television during the film’s production. The package comes
with both Blu-ray and DVD disks.
wonderful release from Criterion in February—Breathless, directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Released in 1960, this is
simply one of the most important entries in modern film history. While it
wasn’t technically the first French New Wave film, it was the one that truly
ushered in this unique movement with significant critical and commercial impact.
It really is the quintessential French New Wave film, for it serves as a
checklist of stylistic traits:
low-budget, handheld camera, improvised dialogue, existential theme, and
radical editing. The French New Wave took the Neorealism of the forties and
made it arty. It’s the cinema equivalent of jazz.
story is paper thin: Jean-Paul Belmondo plays the studly petty criminal who has
a short-lived romance with a beautiful American girl working in Paris (Jean
Seberg) until he can’t hide from the authorities any longer. As the film
follows the couple over a course of a few days, Godard plummets deep into the
characters’ psyches as we follow them through a series of seemingly trivial
events, but which in fact are extremely intimate. It’s all very striking, and you
can still feelthe revolutionary
punch the movie had in its day. In truth, Breathless
is perhaps Godard’s most accessible movie. Honest, it really is a love story—just a quirky, edgy
actors are marvelous. They are both frankly sexy individuals, and Godard makes
sure you get that. With Breathless, Belmondo
defined his image as the handsome cad, while it solidifed Seberg’s career as an
art-house darling; it’s tragic that her tenure in the motion picture business
was sadly cut short. She is simply radiant in the film.
new release is a dual Blu-ray/DVD package. All of the extras from the label’s
previous DVD edition of the film are ported over to this one. The only
difference is the magnificently restored, high-definition digital
transfer—approved by director of photography Raoul Coutard—that makes Breathless a must-have in any serious
film collector’s library.
Vinegar Syndrome has released another "Peekarama" double feature of hardcore retro porn from the 1970s. In the amusingly garish packaging, it promises both features are "Full Color, Widescreen" as though the productions were directed by John Ford. First up is Deep Roots, which has to be the only attempt to mingle Alex Haley's landmark bestseller and TV mini-series with the peculiar oral talents of Linda Lovelace. Such creative marketing has long been a mainstay of the porn business which always incorporated the latest social phenomenons into grind house productions. Remember On Golden Blonde and Romancing the Bone? Deep Roots presents top-liner Jesse Chacan as Billy, a beefy, good-looking Native American guy who is bored with life on the reservation. He inherits a house in L.A. and decides to move there. The opening sequences actually boast some real production values and some relatively impressive camerawork as we watch Billy drive his motorcycle through the city streets then do the tourist bit on foot. There's a retro kitsch appeal to seeing him walking through the big city and admiring a wax figure of Paul Newman and John Wayne's hand print at Grauman's. 'lest the audience gets too restless, however, things start moving fast for Billy in the romance department. He picks up a free-spirited, buxom hippie girl and within minutes she's stark naked and being body-painted by him. (This was the '70s, after all.) Billy has an eye for another nubile young girl but her reluctance to surrender her virginity to him results in him seducing her sexually insatiable girlfriend. So much for Billy getting in touch with his feminine side. The "plot" follows its leading man as he samples a seemingly endless array of willing women. Thrown in out of nowhere is a subplot featuring a forty-something cougar who looks like the love child of Mae West and Dolly Parton. The whole film ends up in an orgy sequence hosted by a guy dressed like Groucho Marx(!) For reasons unexplained, Billy finds the prospect of having free sex numerous times a day with good looking women to be difficult to cope with so, in the film's abbreviated finale, he returns to his previously-discarded girlfriend on the reservation. Presumably, he's matured quite a bit...and now also knows how to incorporate the image of Groucho Marx into erotic bedroom sessions. Deep Roots ("Deeper Than "Throat"...More Powerful Than "Roots" read the poster) is average retro porn fare from the era, if not a grade above a lot of the "one reelers" produced during the period. The women did not have to undergo Botox treatment in those days and, thus, they really do look like a girl who could live next door. (Though unfortunately, never next door to me.) As the male lead, Jesse Chacan's performance is up to par in the physical sense but he has all the charisma of Ted Cassidy's Lurch. The DVD transfer looks pretty good with rich colors and a minimum of splotches on screen.
Starlet Nights, also released in 1978, treads the (even then) cliched path of adopting famous fairy tales as porn movies. In this case, Snow White (Candy Nichols) is an innocent 19 year old girl who is fawned over by her father, a successful Beverly Hills physician. Snow's stepmother (porn legend Leslie Bovee) is jealous of the attention her husband gives to his daughter and schemes to discredit her virginal image by luring her into a sex orgy that dad will presumably witness when he comes home from work. The trappings of the Snow White legend are awkwardly interwoven in the tale. Every character has a name derived from the fairy tale and the wicked step mom consults a variety of wizards who reside in her bedroom mirror. She ultimately succeeds in getting Snow into the sex movie industry but her jealousy only increases when she becomes a major prospect for stardom. As with Deep Roots, everything comes to a head (so to speak) in the orgy sequence, but the step mom's plans go awry here when her hubby has to attend a business meeting overnight, thus being deprived of witnessing Snow's depraved behavior. Not one to waste a good orgy, the step mom gets in to the mode and the action heats up. Like Deep Roots, there are some effective production values in Starlet Nights, which was supposedly directed by a woman named Lisa Barr, but in reality was directed by a guy named Joseph Bardo who used the nom de plume for marketing purposes. ("A Woman Porn Director????") There are some good L.A. location shots including sequences filmed outside major studios. (Retro geeks will enjoy seeing huge billboards for "current" movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind.) The performances are all dreadful but the sex scenes are genuinely erotic and there are even some original pop music songs on the soundtrack that rise to the level of "not as bad as you might have expected." The DVD transfer is quite good but there are plenty of artifacts from where the reel changes took place. However, these just add to the flavor of watching a genuine grind house double feature.
In all, another enjoyable release from Vinegar Syndrome.
My heart raced a bit when LaShonda, Cinema Retro’s
inter-office mail carrier, dropped off a new title from Vinegar Syndrome this
morning. Those fellows specialize in long forgotten’70s sleaze, and while most
of their titles should probably remain forgotten, their latest "lost
treasure" was the enticingly titled Game
Show Models. The models, I imagined,
would frolic in bikinis and enjoy a few pillow fights before revealing their
true identities as secret agents, or something along those lines. I thanked
LaShonda, locked the door, and plunked the disc into the machine.
Show Models, to my dismay, isn't even about models.
It's about a young man named Stuart Goober (John Vickory) who left his girlfriend
to pursue his vague dreams of success. She’d
seemed like a decent, free-loving sort, the kind of young woman who paints her
face and dances in the street for money, but Goober has given himself a
five-year plan and time is running out, baby. As written, Goober is one of those Sweet Smell of Success schemers who
wants to scratch his way to the top, but director/writer David Gottlieb cast
Vickory, a soft spoken, Peter Fonda/Michael Sarrazin type. Vickory isn’t fiery
enough to make us believe he gives a damn about making it big. He seems more
like a coffee shop hippie.
Things pick up a bit when the aptly named Goober gets a
job with a Los Angeles public relations agency. The firm’s latest client is
Cici Sheridan (Diane Sommerfield), a young rock & roll singer surrounded by
family members and a stone-faced posse, each determined to protect her from the
dangers of show biz. After quizzing the agency goons on the names of the seven
dwarves from Snow White, Cici
inexplicably falls for Goober. Well, so
much for the models.
One of the original tag-lines for the film read:
'You've seen them give out the prizes on Daytime TV - Now see the Goodies they
give out at Night!' Yet, there's not
much model action here. There is some
nudity and some sex, including the opening scene where a guy makes his model
girlfriend wear a Japanese mask while they make love (similar, incidentally, to
the mask in Kaneto Shindô's Onibaba, a
great 1964 movie you should watch instead of this one). Full disclosure: I'm not a great judge of sex
scenes. Even the best of them look dumb to me. The only sex scene I've ever
really liked was a five-second lesbian scene in The Last Emperor. In that
one, the girls looked like they were having fun, and it didn't go on for so
long that they ran out of ideas. In Game
Show Models, we get a lot of grimacing, and groping, and of course, the Onibaba mask.
By the end, Goober is disillusioned by show business
and seeks out his old girlfriend, the one who danced in the street. Naturally,
she's already shacked up with someone new, but she invites Goober to join in on
one of her interpretive dances. Cue the bittersweet theme music, roll the final
credits, and get us the hell out of here.
Show Models is an uneven mess, but it isn't entirely
without merit. The film has a nice,
‘Vaseline on the lens’ mid-70s look, thanks to cinematographer Alan Capps, and
there’s a lot of great LA scenery. The game show set, loaded with brilliant
pinks and yellows, is a kitschy marvel, as is the PR firm, which is an explosion
of craggy men wearing ugly neckties and gemstone rings the size of dinosaur eggs.
The supporting cast is pretty interesting, too.
Well-known character actors Dick Miller and Sid Melton steal every scene they’re
in. Diane Thomas, who would go on to become a successful screenwriter before
her death in a 1985 car crash, is touching as Josie, Goober’s dancing
girlfriend. LA Times entertainment
editor Charles Champlin has a funny cameo as himself. Meanwhile, Cici's
entourage includes Thelma Houston, whose career had skyrocketed in 1976 with
her Grammy winning recording of ‘Don't Leave Me This Way,’ and Willie Bobo, one
of the top Latin jazz drummer/bandleaders of the era.
Did this colorful cast know what they were signing on
for? Maybe not, for as we learn in the DVD's commentary track, Gottlieb didn't
set out to make a skin flick. He originally intended to make an artsy film
called The Seventh Dwarf about his
own experiences working in a public relations firm. It was Sam Sherman of Independent
International Pictures who suggested Gottlieb add some dirty stuff so he’d
“have something to latch onto.” It was
also Sherman, who’d made a successful career out of producing such exploitation
fare as Blazing Stewardesses (1975),
who suggested the game show angle. Gottlieb, who hadn’t wanted to make an
exploitation film, agreed. It was either
that, or continue lugging around giant film cans and being turned down by
Vinegar Syndrome’s 2-disc set features anamorphic
widescreen (1.85:1) transfers of both cuts of the film. The Seventh Dwarf is a bit more dog-eared, and the Dolby Digital
2.0 mono tracks are hissy at times, particularly at the beginning of both discs.
The outtakes (7:56) feature some additional game show footage, some frames from
the opening sex scene, and some unexpectedly overt (not hardcore) moments in the
bedroom scene with Goober and Cici. Gottlieb, evidently, was going for broke in
order to get his film shown. A gallery of stills is also included, plus a
rather tedious conversation between Gottlieb and Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin. Ultimately,
this film that Vinegar Syndrome is marketing as “a mind bending blend of art
house drama and drive-in sleaze,” is neither artsy enough or sleazy enough. Gottlieb fumbled in trying to serve two
Perhaps the oddest thing about the film (both versions)
is that Harriet Schock's lovely 'Hollywood Town' serves as the film's
unofficial theme song. Indeed, the song,
which was the title track of Ms. Schock’s 1974 debut album, feels out of place
in the film, like a butterfly landing on a busted open garbage bag. But the song does lend gravitas to the film, and
fits in with the theme of LA being, “where the lost and found come to find
their way.” Schock, who wrote the Helen
Reddy hit, ‘Aint No Way To Treat a Lady,’ and recorded several top selling
albums of her own, told Cinema Retro that she had no idea her song was featured
in Game Show Models.
“Somehow I missed that,” Ms. Schock said. “The publisher probably kept the sync fee and
I simply never knew about it.”
Since she didn’t mention Game Show Models in her on-line bio, I’d wondered if she distanced
herself from the movie. It turns out she’d never even heard of it.
“Is it porn?” Ms. Schock asked, curious as to how her
song was used. “Should I be worried?”
Scream Factory continues their winning
streak of releasing horror film favorites with their double feature Blu-ray release
of 1988’s Bad Dreams and 1982’s Visiting Hours. They originally released these films together
on DVD in September 2011.
Dreams opened on
Friday, April 8, 1988 and is, in hindsight, eerily prescient of David Koresh,
the leader of the Branch Davidian religious sect who met a horrific end when
the FBI closed in on him and his compound ignited into a conflagration on April
19, 1993 in Waco, TX. Jim Jones and the Jonestown
deaths in 1978 also come to mind. In
this film, the late Richard Lynch plays a cult leader named Harris who
convinces a group of people that love and unity are the only ways to live, and
he shows that love by dousing them all in gasoline and lighting them on
fire. Jennifer Rubin plays Cynthia, a
confused and reluctant holdout who knows that what he is doing is wrong and
attempts to escape, barely getting out with her life. This presumably takes place in 1975 as she
spends thirteen years in a coma and when she comes out of it, those around her try
to get her up to speed on all things that are the Eighties. One of the women who attempts to befriend her
is played by E.G. Daily whom genre fans will recall as the short, plump
sorority sister from Tom McLoughlin’s One
Dark Night (1982). I almost feel as
though her role was cut short as she seems to be a much better drawn character
than others around her who have more screen time. Naturally, Harris keeps appearing to Cynthia,
both as the person she remembers and also in a horribly burned state. Genre fans will be able to figure out the
plot fairly early on, and one cannot help but see more than a passing resemblance
to Wes Craven’s masterful A Nightmare on
Elm Street (1984) and its protagonist, Fred Krueger, and his history of
being burned and invading people’s dreams. Mr. Lynch is a familiar villain to audiences. He was the bad guy opposite Bill Hickman in The Seven-Ups (1973); he tried to rape
Al Pacino in Jerry Schatzberg’s Scarecrow
(1973); and he was part of the team headed by Peter Fonda that hunted people in
Peter Collinson’s Open Season
(1974). Here he is creepy as he terrorizes
Ms. Rubin who, interestingly, made her film debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors (1987), playing a
similar role as a woman terrorized and forced to sit with others in a group
therapy session trying to come to grips with her situation. The references to the aforementioned Elm Street films cannot be overlooked given
the inclusion of actor Charles Fleischer, who also appeared in Mr. Craven’s
While the film elicits a creepy plot,
the mood and texture fail to arouse the type of suspense that is needed for
this type of story. This is an admirable
attempt, but the film cannot help feel derivative as though it has borrowed
from other similar movies in the hopes of riding the more successful outings’
coattails. Another film that dealt with
the subject of a religious cult, albeit in a strictly dramatic way, is Ted
Kotcheff’s 1982 film Split Image,
which featured Peter Fonda as the man who shows everyone the way to
The extras include a feature-length
commentary by the director; a featurette called Dream Cast; a look at the make-up effects; behind the scenes shots;
the original ending; a promo; a trailer; and a photo gallery.
The second feature, Visiting Hours, was released on Friday,
May 28, 1982. I recall the television
spot for the film which was very effective and clever: it depicted a hospital
building at night wherein all the lights in the rooms begin to go out until the
only remaining illuminated rooms form the image of a skull. Unfortunately, the film itself is nowhere
near as clever, as it resorts to textbook horror film clichés which may have
seemed original and frightening 32 years ago, but to today’s jaded horror
viewer eyes they are simply tired, despite a few truly jolting jumps.
Lee Grant, who won an Oscar for her
portrayal of Felicia in Hal Ashby’s 1975 comedy Shampoo, turns up here as Deborah Ballin, an activist who is also
an opinionated feminist who speaks her mind on a television talk show. She unwittingly arouses the rage of Colt
Hawker (Michael Ironside) who sees her on TV; he is just a few sandwiches short
of a picnic and has his own set of baggage that rears its head with flashbacks of
a violent past. Hawker stalks and
eventually attacks Ballin, who is rushed to the hospital and is tended to by a
nurse, Shelia (Linda Purl), who is on the same page as Ballin when it comes to
women’s rights. Hawker makes his way to
the hospital and murders an older patient and a nurse. While eavesdropping on Shelia, Hawker decides
to stalk her and her children, following her home and making his way
inside. On his off-hours, he finds time
to hit up a young blonde named Lisa (Lenore Zann) who is into him until he
becomes rough and angry, eventually taunting her with a knife and raping
her. He then spends the rest of the film
trying to get to Deborah through a series of creepy episodes.
Hours is a missed
opportunity and that is part of what makes it so frustrating to watch. Beset by an almost complete lack of cinematic
style and suspense, the film is obviously following in the footsteps of previous
trend-setting films like Halloween
(1978) and Friday the 13th
Hours is not the only slasher film to utilize sexual politics and women’s
rights as a backdrop for misogyny and mayhem. Dario Argento’s Tenebre
(1982), which was being filmed at the time that Visiting Hours was released, does a much better job of exploring
the troubled landscape of male-female relationships, sexual desire, and revenge.
It’s also highly cinematic, which should
come as no surprise as its style was inspired by Andrzej Zulawski’s emotional
rollercoaster ride Possession (1981),
one of Mr. Argento’s favorite films. The
film also sports character actor Michael Ironside in the role of a brutal
killer who is after Ms. Grant. Mr.
Ironside is excellent, as usual, and really deserves a better showcase. William
Shatner of all people plays Ms. Grant’s boss – the film was released a week before
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan!
Even though I am not a fan of the film,
I would have appreciated the inclusion of a commentary track with the director. However, the extras that are here are fairly
in-depth and enlightening. First up is
an interview with writer Brian Taggert who speaks quite eloquently about his
past and how he came to write the film. Next
is an interview with Pierre David who has worked with fellow producer Victor
Solnicki on David Cronenberg’s best work, including The Brood (1979), Scanners
(1981), and Videodrome (1983). The last interview consists of a visit with actress
Lenore Zann who is unrecognizable today. The blonde perm she wore in the film is now straight, dark brown and
short. The rest of the extras contain
the radio spots, the TV spots, a photo gallery and trailers for other Scream
If you are a fan of these films,
Blu-ray is the way to go.
Cinema Retro's London photographer Mark Mawston is always on the "A" list when it comes to covering top entertainment events. Mark provides these remarkable candid photos from the BAFTA red carpet arrivals.
(All photos copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved. For more about Mark's work, visit www.markmawston.com)
American Hustlers Christian Bale, David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper.
Twilight Time has released the 1966 epic Khartoum as a Blu-ray special edition. Officially the film was a Cinerama production but the process used was 70mm, not the original Cinerama three-strip format. The film, impressively directed by Basil Dearden, was met with respectable, if unenthusiastic, reviews upon its initial release. The boxoffice take was also anemic especially in the all-important American market where the film's historical basis was largely unknown to U.S. audiences. However, Khartoum has always had enthusiastic defenders and their ranks seem to be growing as the years pass, especially in an age when such "thinking man's epics" are few and far between. The film boasts two magnificent performances by two larger-than-life stars. Charlton Heston stars as General "Chinese" Gordon, so named because of his record of military victories in China. Laurence Olivier is The Mahdi, the self-described religious prophet who is on a fanatical course to convert everyone in the Arab world to either convert to Islam or die a violent death. The film opens with an excellent prologue that gives a snap shot of the political situation in the 1880s and how this affected the British empire. Britain was allied with Egypt at the time and considered itself to be that nation's military protector. The Mahdi took advantage of the politically fluid situation in the Sudan to gain a major foothold in taking over the government by commanding a growing army of fanatical followers. The Mahdi hated the Egyptians because he felt they were too secular and their ties to the West had sold out their religious obligations to Islam. The Egyptians feared that the Mahdi's growing power would leave them unable to defeat him in an all-out war should he ultimately seize control of the Sudan. The British sent an officer corps to lead Egyptian troops in a preemptive strike against the Mahdi. However, the religious leader outwitted them by drawing the invaders into the oppressive desert and then slaughtering the exhausted soldiers. The Mahdi was now making his move to take control of the crown jewel of the Sudan, the city of Khartoum which is situated on the banks of the Nile.
The film presents the British Prime Minister, William Gladstone (Ralph Richardson) as going against the tide of England's obsession with colonialism. He doesn't want anything to do with sending a major force into the Middle East to combat an army of religious zealots- yet he feels a sense of obligation to make at least a token effort to evacuate a significant number of Egyptian citizens from Khartoum before the Mahdi lays siege to the city. He reluctantly sends General Gordon on a mission that is very much doomed from its inception. Gordon was highly respected in the Sudan, having ended the slave trade there. He is stubborn, arrogant and generally ignores orders. However, he is regarded as a virtual saint by the Sudanese. Gladstone calculates that by sending Gordon of a fool's errand, he will take the blame if his mission fails. Gordon sees through the ploy but his ego gets the better of him and he accepts the challenge. He is accompanied by Col. Stewart (Richard Johnson), who acts as his right hand man even though he admits to being a personal spy for Gladstone. The abrasive relationship between Gordon and Stewart eventually turns to mutual respect and the two men work together on thwarting the Mahdi's plans. Upon arrival in Khartoum, Gordon abandons his primary mission which is to evacuate Egyptian nationals down the Nile via riverboat. Instead, he makes a daring visit to the Mahdi's camp and attempts to get the "prophet" to show mercy on the citizens of the city. When the Mahdi makes clear he intends to slaughter every man, woman and child who does not swear loyalty to him, Gordon informs his adversary that he will mount a defense of the city. Gordon sends Stewart on the long voyage back to England to blackmail Gladstone into sending a British military expeditionary force. Gladstone is outraged but agrees to do so because the British public is impressed with Gordon's courage and the gallantry of his mission. Meanwhile, in Khartoum, Gordon sets about fortifying the city- and praying that the British troops arrive before the Mahdi can advance upon the city, the garrison of which is greatly outnumbered.
Khartoum is a lavish epic that boasts fine performances across the board. The action sequences are thrilling and spectacularly filmed and the entire production impresses on every level. The Twilight Time Blu-ray does point out the film's flaws, however. In the commentary track by film historians Lem Dobbs, Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo (the latter two are among the founders of the video label), they rather pointedly call out various aspects of the movie for falling short. In the aggregate, they believe Khartoum is a Wal-mart version of a David Lean epic. They observe (correctly) that there are some really bad rear screen projection shots and that most of the production was filmed at England's Pinewood Studios, with on-location Middle East filming spread out to look more extensive than it actually was. There is also criticism of the historical aspects of the film. Apparently Gordon was as much a fanatic for Christianity as the Mahdi was for Islam- indeed, he sounds as though he was a complete crackpot. None of that is alluded to in the script, which obviously intended to present Gordon as a more traditional hero. Amusingly, every now and then the trio of film historians remind the viewer (and each other) that they really do like Khartoum, but then they quickly get back to tearing it down. Other justifiable criticisms they have is that the film presents some impressive British character actors in the London sequences but fails to utilize them in any meaningful way. They just stand around like props. It is also observed that the two meetings between Gordon and the Mahdi that are depicted in the movie never took place in real life. Call it commerce over historical accuracy, as the studio wasn't about to disappoint viewers from enjoying the smartly-written byplay between the two leads. Redman, Dobbs and Kirgo also appropriately give credit to famed stunt director Yakima Canutt for bringing the film's stirring battle sequences to fruition- and they heap lukewarm praise on composer Frank Cordell for what this reviewer thinks is actually a magnificent score. In totality, much of the joy of this Twilight Time release comes through the informative audio commentary, even if you may disagree with our "hosts". The transfer is magnificent and the release boasts the usual excellent collector's booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo. An original trailer is included as is a cool compilation trailer promoting the 90th anniversary of MGM.
The region free release is limited to 3,000 units.
Several readers have corrected us on our statement that The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm was never released on home video. Readers Paul Scrabo and Allen Blank point out that the film was released on laser disc and Paul also says a VHS version was also released. Thanks for the corrections, guys. Our understanding is that there apparently isn't a print deemed high grade enough to merit a modern video release for the age of digital media. Hopefully, the film will somehow find its way onto home video in the future.
A textbook example of how to make an action/adventure movie, Captain Phillips represents a triumph for director Paul Greengrass and star Tom Hanks. The acclaimed film closely follows the real life story of Richard Phillips, the American merchant marine captain who was assigned in 2009 to navigate a massive cargo vessel laden with millions of dollars of goods as well as humanitarian supplies through the Horn of Africa. This necessitated that the vessel had to tempt fate by entering waters in which Somali pirates had been terrifying ship's crews and often holding them hostage for ransom. As fate would have it, Phillips and his crew found themselves menaced by a skiff of heavily armed pirates who managed to board their vessel despite gallant attempts to thwart them. (The film only minimally discusses the self-defeating policy of sending crews into harm's way without so much as small arms to defend themselves.) Phillips acts decisively and instructs his crew to hide in within the bowels of their ship while he and his first mate attempt to bribe the pirates into making a quick exit. The ploy doesn't work and the leader of the group, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) insists on holding the crew ransom in return for millions of dollars. We won't provide any spoilers here but suffice it to say that clever and daring actions by Phillips and his men results in the pirates disembarking the ship in an enclosed, hi-tech lifeboat with only Phillips as hostage. Although the captain has saved his vessel and his men, his own situation is precarious as his captors hurry toward Somalia where his rescue would be even more complicated.
Director Greengrass wastes nary a frame in expository elements of the film. The movie opens with Phillips bidding his wife farewell as he is about to embark on yet another seemingly endless voyage. He meets his crew and he is presented as a strict, no-nonsense commander but one who gains the respect of his men. Not long after setting sail on their mission, the vessel is attacked by the pirates. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game that is both physical and psychological as Muse and Phillips attempt to outmaneuver each other. The excellent screenplay by Billy Ray avoids any heavy handed social commentary, but it does humanize the villains. In the film's opening sequence we see them being forced into piracy under threat to their lives by greedy local warlords. Muse, who speaks relatively fluent English, is but a humble local fisherman who has been dragooned into violent acts. If he doesn't bring home a trophy for ransom, he is likely doomed. His three companions range from immature in personality to bristling with potential sadism. Muse strikes a temperate balance, reassuring Phillips he will be safe once the ransom is paid. The final section of the movie deals with Phillips' attempted rescue by the U.S. Navy, including a Seals team that courageously made a night parachute drop into shark-filled waters to enact a daring plan that is right out of Mission: Impossible. Hanks gives a brilliant performance, one of the best of his career. He never overplays Phillips' courageous acts. He makes some daring decisions and moves, but throughout he is scared to death, as any sane man would be. The supporting cast, compromised largely of relatively unknown actors, is terrific. Paul Greengrass brings the suspense to an almost unbearable level in the film's nail-biting finale.
The Sony DVD special edition includes a commentary track by Hanks and Greengrass as well as an extensive documentary about the making of the film that includes interviews with the real Captain Phillips, who seems every bit as charismatic as his on-screen counterpart. The documentary reveals that the extraordinary Somali actors are all residents of the United States, having emigrated there as young people. It's a joyful experience to watch these actors relish their opportunity to star in a major Hollywood film. (Although Bardi has been nominated a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Hanks and Greengrass were inexcusably overlooked.) The documentary also discusses Greengrass's determination to minimize studio shooting in favor of actually filming aboard the merchant marine vessel. It makes it all the more impressive when one sees the obstacles that cinematographer Barry Ackroyd had to overcome to obtain the incredible shots he achieved in such confined spaces. Kudos, also, to editor Christopher Rouse for an equally impressive achievement. The other extras are a trailer gallery of recent films including The Monuments Men and American Hustle, but curiously does not include a trailer for Captain Phillips.
This is an intelligent, rousing adventure story that ranks among the best action movies of recent years.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
In our never-ending quest to provide gratuitous thrills, Cinema Retro presents rare photos of Hollywood hunks and godesses.
"Take that, Sue Lyon!" Ann-Margaret circa 1964 giving her version of the Lolita look.
David Janssen was riding high in '64 as star of TV's The Fugitive. The dour Richard Kimble never got to strut his stuff like this. Lookin' good, but hey Dave, did you borrow those sandals from Liberace?
Hitchcock’s 1940 film Foreign
Correspondent is often underrated or forgotten when it comes to lists of
the director’s “best” films. In fact, it was nominated for an Oscar Best
Picture the same year as Rebecca (which
won), and, personally, I think it’s the better movie. It’s certainly more of a
“Hitchcock film” than Rebecca, as it
is one of those cross-country espionage adventure-thrillers along the lines of The 39 Steps, Saboteur, and North by
was the director’s second Hollywood movie. Although Hitchcock was contracted to
David O. Selznick (who produced Rebecca),
Hitch’s deal allowed Selznick to “farm out” the director to other studios and
producers, for a piece of Hitchcock’s salary, of course. In this case, Foreign Correspondent was produced by
Walter Wanger (who had also produced John Ford’s Stagecoach). It’s interesting that during the seven-year period in
which Hitch worked for Selznick, the non-Selznick-produced pictures, in my
opinion, were arguably better (Shadow of
a Doubt, Lifeboat, and Notorious, are other examples).
story concerns an American journalist (Joel McCrea) who is sent to Europe,
prior to September 1939, to interview various personages in order to determine
if war is likely to break out. Predictably, McCrea immediately falls into a
plot involving assassination, the kidnapping of a diplomat, and devious Nazi
spies. Co-starring Laraine Day as the blonde love interest, Herbert Marshall as
her father, George Sanders as McCrea’s ally, and Albert Bassermann (nominated
for Best Supporting Actor) as a Dutch diplomat who is really the MacGuffin of
the story, the picture served as propaganda to persuade America to be more
sympathetic to what was occurring across the Atlantic. When Hitler invaded
Poland in 1939, America stayed neutral while Britain and France declared war on
Germany. The allies pleaded with the U.S. government to enter the war and come
to their aid, but there was significant anti-war sentiment in America at the
British to begin with, Hitchcock, instead of returning to his native England to
face the crisis with his kinsmen, chose to support the war effort in a more
subtle way—by making propaganda films thinly disguised as entertainment.
Actually, the picture itself is in no way subtle—its message hits you on the
head with a hammer. McCrea’s final monologue, in which he broadcasts to the
American people that they must join the fight in Europe, was at the time deemed
quite controversial. Like Chaplin’s final speech in The Great Dictator (the same year), the language is strongly
proselytizing. The film includes several signature Hitchcock set pieces—the
black umbrellas in the rain, the windmills reversing direction, the plane crash
into the sea—all the while keeping the audience in a state of nail-biting
suspense. McCrea is splendid and serves as a fine Hitchcockian “everyman,” and
the visual effects, for 1940, are extraordinary. Foreign Correspondent, it’s been said, was also admired by Ian
Fleming, who at the time of the film’s release had once worked as a journalist
but was then serving as the personal assistant to Britain’s Director of Naval
Intelligence. It’s understandable why a spy story like Correspondent would appeal to the future creator of James Bond.
Criterion Collection once again graces us with a dual Blu-ray/DVD format
package (three disks), which makes sense marketing-wise, and the new 2K digital
film restoration looks marvelous. Extras include a new piece on the film’s
special effects; Hollywood Propaganda and
World War II, a fascinating look at cinema in that era; an excerpt from The Dick Cavett Show featuring guest
Hitchcock, who comes off as more of a comedian than a filmmaker; and a very
interesting photo essay about wartime rumors shot by Hitchcock himself that originally
appeared in a Life Magazine issue
from 1942—it tells a story in the form of photographic storyboards. Add the
booklet with an essay by film scholar James Naremore, and you have another
must-have gem from not only Criterion, but from the Master of Suspense.
Actor Ralph Waite has died at age 85. He became an icon of American television as the kindly father on the hit TV series The Waltons, which ran for nine seasons beginning in 1972. Waite received an Emmy nomination for his performance and he appeared in several Waltons reunion shows and TV specials over the years. Waite had a diversified career prior to acting. He was a Marine, social worker and ordained minister. He became disillusioned with the church and entered the acting profession. Despite a battle with alcoholism for many years, Waite was always in demand both on TV and in feature films. He received another Emmy nomination for his performance in the 1977 TV miniseries Roots. His feature films include Cool Hand Luke, The Stone Killer, Lawman and The Magnificent Seven Ride! He peppered his acting career with political activism and ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for Congress on three occasions. He starred on stage in an acclaimed version of Death of a Salesman and in recent years, he had a recurring role as Mark Harmon's dad on the hit CBS series NCIS. Click here for more.
The death of funnyman Sid Caesar leaves precious few legends remaining from the Golden Age of American television comedy. Caesar was one of the giants of 1950s TV and his series Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour were considered training grounds for future legendary comedy writers such as Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart Neil Simon and Woody Allen. Caesar also appeared in many feature films including a leading role in the blockbuster 1963 comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. In the 1960s, however, his career was derailed due to his personal demons such as battles with alcoholism and substance abuse. By the 1980s, he had conquered these weaknesses and found a welcome audience still respectful of his talents. His other feature film appearances include The Busy Body, The Spirit is Williing, Grease and Silent Movie. Click here to read more about his remarkable career.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
LONDON FILM MUSEUM TO STAGE ‘BOND IN MOTION’ FROM
21 MARCH 2014
FIRST TIME THE LARGEST OFFICIAL COLLECTION OF
JAMES BOND VEHICLES HAS BEEN EXHIBITED IN LONDON
London, 11 February 2014:
The London Film Museum and EON Productions are delighted to announce that
the BOND IN MOTION exhibition,the
largest official collection of original James Bond vehicles, will be on display
for the first time in London from 21 March.
exciting family exhibitionwill transform the entire London Film Museum
space in Covent Garden and will allow Bond fans and members of the public to
see the most up to date collection, including for the first time in the UK, the
1/3 scale model of Agusta Westland’s AW101 helicopter used whilst filming
2012’s Skyfall. BOND IN MOTION will
also feature a wide range of vehicles, miniature models, action sequence
boards, vehicle concept art and props from all of the James Bond films.
Iconic cars that have
featured in the all action Bond vehicle chases will also be on display,
including ‘Wet Nellie’ Lotus Esprit S1, from The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977, the Rolls-Royce Phantom III from Goldfinger, 1964 and the Aston Martin
DB5 from GoldenEye, 1995.
We're always happy when readers can add some interesting angles to our coverage of retro films. Here is a letter we received from Canadian subscriber Andrew Merey:
"Further to your review of Room 43, it should be noted the movie has a terrific main title jazz theme by British composer Ken Jones (he also did the music for Fire Down Below (1957) and Tarzan Goes to India (1962)). The Room 43 title them was released as a single on Warner Bros. (5078)in 1959. Ray Anthony also recorded his own interpretation of the Room 43 theme (Capitol 4275) also in 1959."
Retro responds: Thanks for sharing this info, Andy...it adds another dimension to a worthwhile British low-budget effort that has much to recommend about it.
When I screened this DVD presentation of the much-hyped HBO movie Behind the Candelabra, about the love affair between Liberace and his young boy toy Scott Thorson, the three people I viewed the movie with unanimously voiced an almost vitriolic response to the film. It had nothing to do with the gay love affair content (they are all dyed-in-the-wool liberals who support gay rights.) Their complaints centered on the fact that the film was boring and pointless and a colossal waste of talent. I was taken aback by the degree of their hatred for this movie but I will concede it was distinctly disappointing. First the background. In 1977 Scott Thorson was a hunky young guy who was introduced to Liberace. They entered an intense relationship that Thorson, in his memoirs, maintained was a legitimate May/December love affair. Before long Thorson had displaced Liberace's previous live-in lover and had moved into the master pianist's opulent but garish mansion. Thorson had been warned that Liberace went through lovers like Kleenex but nevertheless for a four year period he seemed to be an invaluable aspect of Liberace's life. Thorson was not only a companion but a trusted confidant. He was put on Liberace's payroll and became his major domo, even appearing in his act by driving the flamboyant entertainer on stage in a Rolls Royce. Somewhere along the way, however, the wheels fell off the relationship and Thorson found himself out of favor. In an All About Eve-like scenario, he was being upstaged by other young men who had caught Liberace's eye. By this point, Thorson-who had a troubled past and little hope for a professional career- had become financially dependent upon Liberace, who he claimed had promised him financial security for the rest of his life. The result was a messy and highly publicized palimony-type legal battle that saw Thorson getting a modest payment in return for removing himself from Liberace's home and his life.
Behind the Candelabra must have seemed like a sure-fire project from the very beginning. Steven Soderbergh would be directing and two of Hollywood's most legendary heterosexual screen gods, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, would play Liberace and Scott Thorson in a big screen adaptation of Thorson's book that would be adapted by acclaimed screenwriter Richard LaGravanese. Yet the film was unable to secure a theatrical release. The official theory was that the prospect of two straight screen legends making out together would turn off audiences. This is a valid concern. Way back in 1969, two of England's leading "swordsmen", Richard Burton and Rex Harrison, co-starred as an aging gay couple in Stanley Donen's Staircase. This very fine, little-seen film was avoided like the plague by audiences. Given the fact that films cost a fortune to market and publicize, the decision was made to premiere Behind the Candelabra on HBO. It was received with praise in many quarters and was nominated for any number of international awards, with Douglas winning a Golden Globe. However, one suspects that if the high profile talent had not been involved, the movie might have been treated more harshly. Douglas and Damon give excellent performances and boldly go where no straight actors have gone before, enacting sequences depicting gay sex in a way that probably would have destroyed their careers in less enlightened times. However, the film never grasps the viewer emotionally. The whole thing plays out like a gimmick as though two straight guys thought it might be a hoot to see if they could pull off the challenge of portraying two flamboyantly gay men, one of whom was the most over the top entertainer of his era. When you get over the initial novelty of seeing Douglas prancing around on screen and ogling Damon, who is in almost superhuman physical condition, entering a hot tub naked, you are left with a patchy story line that plods through a two hour running time that seems to take longer to unwind than Ben-Hur. The script is also restricted by the fact that it has to adhere to Thorson's version of history, which naturally portrays him sympathetically and doesn't address criticisms that he may have been an opportunist who entered a relationship of convenience in order to obtain financial security. (Thorson was serving time in jail when this film premiered last year.)
We see details of Liberace's remarkable lifestyle but learn little about his background or ascension through show business. An unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds is cast as his adored mother but she is criminally underutilized in the role. Liberace occasionally discusses some aspects of his past but the emphasis is on his showmanship and the shallowness of his existence. His home is a monument to himself and his relationships are portrayed as based primarily on short-term sexual satisfaction. Thorson's background is also glossed over. When we first see him he is living with an older couple who were his de facto parents and working as an animal handler in the film industry. Suddenly, he's in a hot tub with Liberace and moving into his mansion, with scant attention paid to his emotional or financial state at the time. Because this is Thorson's vision of his relationship with Liberace, it is presented as a genuine love affair that had run out of steam, with him paying the price as Liberace's victim. The film does have a final sequence in which Liberace, laying his bed dying of AIDS, calls Thorson to stop by for one last goodbye. In the film version, the two men manage to put aside their differences and have an emotional last meeting. However, this scene illustrates the basic problem with the entire film: despite valiant performances by Douglas and Damon, there is no truly emotional core to this scene or the entire project. Sequences that are meant to enrage or touch the viewer do neither. The movie lumbers along from one fairly monotonous sequence to the other. As director,Soderbergh is efficient, but somewhat cold and distanced from his own project. There are some moments of genuine humor, such as when Thorson first sees Liberace sans toupee. However, there are other aspects of the film that don't work at all. For example, Thorson maintained that Liberace coerced him to undergo radical plastic surgery in order to obtain his mentor's physical characteristics. In a dramatic sequence, Thorson reluctantly goes under the scalpel which is wielded by a crackpot plastic surgeon (well-played by Rob Lowe). The only problem is that the "new" Thorson doesn't look much different than the "old" Thorson and in no way resembles Liberace. We all know that no one wants to risk messing up Damon's billion dollar face but this key aspect of the films falls short because the payoff shot of the radically transformed Thorson just isn't there.
The film captures the mood and look of the 1970s well enough as evidenced by the fact that not all of the garish fashions are confined to Liberace. (Yes, guys we really did dress this way in the '70s.) However, the sheer opulence of Liberace's stage appearances have a less-than-grand look to them that would seem to fall short of his actual shows. The one exception is a cliched ending sequence in which Thorson envisions the late entertainer ascending to Heaven. The scene seems directly inspired by the finale of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, but done less effectively. The movie boasts an interesting supporting cast including Dan Aykroyd as Liberace's manager and Scott Bakula as one of Thorson's cronies, but- like Reynolds- these talents are not used to their full potential.
There was much I admired in Behind the Candelabra but in the aggregate, the film falls short of its potential and our expectations. The HBO DVD release of the film includes a short "making of" featurette that emphasizes how much care and effort went into recreating Liberace's home and the fact that many of his actual costumes were used in the production. It also addresses the Liberace's ludicrous insistence on maintaining that he was straight because of fears that admitting his obvious homosexuality would have ruined his career. The featurette is, in many ways, more interesting than the feature film it supports and one is left with the impression that, because Liberace did lead a remarkable and dramatic life, the best way to learn about it is probably through books or documentaries.
Shirley Temple, one of the most iconic figures in the history of the movie business, has passed away at age 85. No details of her death have been released as of this writing. Temple was the the ultimate child star. The pint-sized dynamo's sugar-coated family films provided some respite to audiences from the pain of the Great Depression and literally saved Fox from bankruptcy. She was the biggest boxoffice sensation of the era and was so popular that her image adorned a highly successful merchandise line. Seemingly every little girl at the time had a Shirley Temple doll. Temple was so popular that she received an honorary Oscar in 1934 for her contributions to the film industry. She continued to act as a teenager and a young woman but quit feature films in 1949, though she did return to the screen with a TV series between 1959-1961. In 1950, Temple married businessman Charles Black and henceforth would be known as Shirley Temple Black. In her memoirs, published in 1988, she related how, at age 22, she discovered that her considerable fortune had been squandered by her parents through their opulent lifestyle and bad business investments. Temple always maintained that she bore them no ill will. Temple was always politically active and was appointed as U.S. delegate to the United Nations by President Richard Nixon in 1969. She would later also serve as a U.S. ambassador and chief of protocol for President Gerald Ford. Although a lifelong Republican, Temple was honored by President Bill Clinton in 1998. The President said of her that she "had the greatest short-lived career in movie history, then gracefully retired to the far less strenuous life of public service". For more click here
When Franco Nero rails at God, you can almost imagine
that God hears him. ("Is that Nero yelling again? What did I do
now?") While watching The Sack of
Rome (1993), an Italian production which features a good amount of Nero’s
skyward beefing, I tried to imagine an American actor playing such a part.I couldn't think of many. Even a pair of
scenery chewers like Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster would seem too urbane. I’d
give Japan’s Toshiro Mifune a shot at reaching God’s ear, but only if Akira Kurosawa
was directing him. Daniel Day Lewis could get God’s attention, but he’s not
American. The problem, of course, is that American actors haven't had many
chances to shout at the heavens. In American movies you can yell at your boss,
or your spouse, and you can shoot people in the head, but you don’t get many
opportunities to yell at God. This is true now more than ever, for contemporary
actors aren't asked to do much beyond work on their pecs and whiten their
teeth. Can you imagine Channing Tatum or Shia LaBeouf railing at God? That's
why Nero's performance in The Sack of
Rome is so impressive. Compared to Nero, American actors seem twitchy and
neurotic, as pampered as a bunch of models at a Victoria’s Secret shoot. Nero? I’m tempted to say it’s just the Italian
language that makes him seem so explosive, but even when Nero's not talking,
he's simmering. He’s an actor not given his due.
The film takes place in 1527 when mercenaries invaded
Rome and began a horrific course of looting and destruction. Nero plays Gabriele da Poppi, an artist who
feels above it all. Gabriele believes artists are immune during times of war.
He lives like a 16th century rock star, buffered from the outside world by a
kind of grand opulence. He saunters about his enormous estate looking as
glittery and well-fed as one of Rembrandt's noblemen. He lives with Gesuina, his lover and model (the
angelic Vittoria Belvedere, a young woman whose perspiration looks like it
would go well over flapjacks) and her little punk of a brother. Gabriele calls this
teen duo his "beasts." They bathe together and play games in what
seems like an indoor Eden. Suddenly, Gabriele’s
idyllic life is upended when the soldiers raid his mansion, destroy his
artwork, and kill Gesuina’s brother.
The head of the mercenaries holds Gabriele and Gesuina captive
in their own home, demanding Gabriele paint a portrait of him. Gabriele,
however, suffers a kind of psychotic meltdown after seeing his beloved city
turned to rubble. All he can paint are bizarre images of salamanders and
flowers. His sleep is troubled by nightmares. He wonders if debauched lives
like his own contributed to Rome's fall. He also feels guilty over not getting Gesuina to safety when he had the
chance. The worst of his fears, though, is that the sacking of Rome may mean
the end of previous concepts of art and beauty.
Sack of Rome is hard to follow at times. Still, there's
an undeniable passion in the film, boiling under every scene. Director Fabio
Bonzi is telling a story about the passing of an age, and he tells it with just
a handful of characters. When Gabriele sees Gesuina in bed with their captor, he
mourns the ending of an epoch, yet, he marvels that the hell they're in has
actually made his muse more beautiful. These scenes are wrenching because Nero
uses only his face and eyes to convey Gabriele's profound regret. Later, as
their abductor lay eviscerated, Gabriele doesn’t celebrate. His life has changed too quickly and
violently. The young girl he once playfully sniffed before her bath has become
hardened. Even the soldiers outside are
bracing for the future like the aging outlaws in The Wild Bunch, exchanging their swords in favor of primitive
firearms. Murder will become abstract, less personal. "The golden
age," Gabriele says, "is over."
Although TheSack of Rome boasts a couple of mildly
erotic scenes, the new DVD from One7Movies is a change from a company that
usually focuses on European erotica. For
those wondering about such things, the only bonus feature is a gallery of
stills, and the movie is presented in full screen rather than widescreen; it
looks scratchy in places, and seems older than a film from ‘93. Still, it's a
beautiful movie with impressive costumes and set decoration. (If you search for the film on the IMDB, use the Italian title, Zoloto.) I can’t vouch for the film’s historical accuracy, but it’s
worth a look, particularly for Nero's performance. When he lets it rip, few can
Actor Christopher Jones has died at age 72. Once touted as the heir to James Dean, Jones boasted a handsome face and the same type of brooding intensity that had made legends of Dean and Brando. Jones got his first big break in the 1960s Western TV series The Legend of Jesse James but the show lasted only one season. After appearances on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Judd for the Defense, Jones graduated to feature films. He starred in the little-seen 1967 drama Chubasco (click here for review), the hit 1968 Roger Corman production of Wild in the Streets (in which he played a rock star who becomes President of the United States), Three in the Attic and the spy thriller The Looking Glass War. His most high profile role was as a British army officer who falls in a forbidden love affair with an Irish girl in David Lean's 1970 film Ryan's Daughter. Jones dropped out of acting after that, circumventing a promising career. He later attributed his disillusionment to the murder of Sharon Tate, who he claimed he was having an affair with at the time of her murder by the Manson gang in 1969. Jones was by all counts a moody man who disdained the public spotlight. Jones spurned other offers to return to the screen including one by Quentin Tarantino to appear in Pulp Fiction. His last known screen credit was the rarely-screened Mad Dog Time in 1996 for director Larry Bishop. Click here for more.
(Click here to read Herbert Shadrak's 2009 article about Christopher Jones)
When we first started Cinema Retro ten years ago, one of our first subscribers was Leith Adams, the highly-regarded archivist for Warner Brothers. Well, it's time for a little nepotism so that we can return the favor for his support over the years. For a classic movie lover, Leith has a dream job: preserving and cultivating "the stuff dreams are made of" which includes every type of costume and prop that might have some historical significance (or practical use in future films.) The Hollywood Reporter presents a video segment in which Leith takes viewers through a typical day on the job. Click here to view
Dateline Hollywood, March 21, 1967: Steve McQueen gets the honor of having his handprints immortalized in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, as commemorated in this snippet from a British film magazine of the era.
The AMC Filmsite presents an interesting decade-by-decade analysis of the greatest boxoffice disasters of all time. Author Tim Dirks points out what many critics fail to: that some of these films, such as Cleopatra, were extremely popular with audiences but their extravagant production costs caused the studios to bleed red ink. He also includes a caveat that some films that lost great sums in initial release were able to slide into profitability over many years through TV rights and video sales. Dirks is also not part of the crowd of critics who pile on every movie that lost money. He makes the case for some films of artistic merit such as Friedkin's Sorcerer, despite the fact that it was a boxoffice flop. The charts adjust the boxoffice grosses for inflation, which gives new relevance to what the greatest flops really were. Click here to read.
Eagle-eyed subscriber Frank Coronado sent us a YouTube link to some fascinating B&W footage shot on the Pinewood Studios set of Thunderball in 1965. You'll see Terence Young directing actors Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi and Philip Locke in the casino sequence. The footage originated with a Dutch television program.
When The Waterdance was released in 1991 I couldn’t
wait to see it. It had all the earmarks of a film I would enjoy; Eric Stoltz in
a leading dramatic role, a solid reception at the Sundance Film Festival and a
script by Neal Jimenez, who wrote perhaps the best alternative teen film of the
1980’s, River’s Edge. I had to wait until the video release, but The Waterdance
didn’t disappoint. I instantly fell in love with this poignant character study
of three patients coping with sudden wheelchair confinement. It’s always felt
like a secret film only I’ve seen, so I’m thrilled that this compelling gem is now
available from Sony Pictures Choice Collection.
Jimenez, who co-directed along with Michael Steinberg,
drew on his own experience as a paraplegic to craft this story of a writer who finds
himself in a physical rehab ward following a debilitating accident. It’s not
difficult to believe that the script evolved from real-life events because it
unfolds like a great play, each character so fully conceived and with scenes full
of humor, pain, hostility and resiliency. Stoltz perfectly internalizes the
frustration of writer Joel Garcia who wakes to find himself in a halo brace on
a gurney headed toward is temporary new home in a rehab center. While his ward mates
Bloss (William Forsythe) and Victor (Tony Genaro) bicker about what to watch on
the lone television, Joel turns to observing his new cast of roommates to pass
the hours between visits from his married girlfriend Anna (Helen Hunt). He
can’t help but be drawn to the two loudest, former biker and born agitator
Bloss and his primary target Raymond (Wesley Snipes), a charmingly forward
patient who may be prone to exaggerating his exploits outside the facility. The
three men rely on each other to navigate their new circumstances as they
reassert their masculinity in their compromised bodies.
One of the finest achievements of the film is that is
never sentimentalizes any aspect of the characters’ recoveries. Instead
Jimenez, Steinberg and the excellent cast treat their characters with a great
deal of empathy and celebrate even the ugly and uncomfortable part of human
nature. The Waterdance should stand amongst Stoltz’ signature roles in The Mask
and Some Kind of Wonderful as one of his finest performances. He displays a
similar quiet melancholy here, his clear blue eyes conveying all Joel’s dismay
and resignation. Stoltz is also gifted with a light comic touch and he finds
every note of humor in the script as Joel looks for any kind of distraction. Raymond
provides a rare vulnerable character for Snipes, a man who takes this setback
as an opportunity to become the man he intended to be. Usually the most easy
going and affable guy on the ward, the scene where his family visits is a
heartbreaker. Mostly known for playing ruthless heavies, William Forsythe’s
work here is phenomenal. He takes another tough guy and adds so many unexpected
layers that Bloss feels like someone you just met; a real person. The film also
provides Helen Hunt with the first in a number of great turns as a woman who
struggles to give solace to her leading man. Here she’s smart and sensual, and
showcases that innate maturity that has marked all of her work as an adult. William
Allen Young and the always wonderful Elizabeth Pena are also terrific as
caregivers, treating the patients with directness and dignity.
I’m fairly certain I’ve only seen The Waterdance in pan
and scan so it nice to have it here in its original widescreen format. While
there’s nothing markedly original about the cinematography, the directors,
along with D.P. Mark Plummer create an intimacy between the characters that
allows the audience to fully engage in the patients’ struggles. In the
tradition of classic Hollywood movies, every aspect of the film from the score
to the editing works to service the story creating an illuminative experience
for the viewer. This DVD’s only extra is a theatrical trailer, but the film
itself is the real treasure here and I hope more people are able to discover
Ordinarily, spending time in a Turkish prison on drug smuggling charges would not be considered a good career move. Ironically, for Billy Hayes, the famed protagonist of Midnight Express, the experience somehow evolved into a life-changing adventure that has seen him become an international best-selling author, the subject of an Oscar-winning movie and now the star of a one-man show, Riding the Midnight Express, that is opening off-Broadway tonight for a limited run at the St. Luke's Theatre. I was invited to view a preview performance and it is possible the final version show might be tweaked a bit but the basics will remain the same. Hayes was a cocky young product of the Flower Power generation who was enjoying a free-wheeling lifestyle of travel, pot smoking and casual sex. In 1969 he ended up in Turkey where he recognized that it was pretty easy to smuggle hashish out of the country into the USA. Hayes profited from the fruits of his crime, which he felt was a victimless endeavor. However, in 1970 he was eventually caught and sentenced to the hellish experience of an extended stay in Turkish jail. There he was terrorized by sadistic guards and had to battle to stay alive every day. Yet he behaved himself and served his sentence when, 54 days prior to his scheduled release, the court ruled that he should now serve a life sentence. Feeling betrayed, Hayes began planning a hair-raising escape that eventually succeeded, against all odds. He not only escaped the prison but had to elude his pursuers and eventually made his way out of Turkey on a rowboat. To say any more would ruin many of the more startling aspects of his story. Suffice it to say that his situation was equally perilous even after he arrived in Greece.
Hayes turned his incredible tale into the bestseller Midnight Express. The book was made into a smash hit film in 1978 by director Alan Parker and screenwriter Oliver Stone, who would get an Oscar for his screenplay. Hayes has written a couple of follow-ups to his original book and has carved a niche for himself as a successful actor and director. Thus, it is not surprising that he would end up in a one-many show. The production is as bare bones as you can get, as the "set design" consists of a stool that Hayes sits on while he relates his thrilling tales. He is charismatic, witty and can weave a good yarn without ever arousing suspicion that he may be exaggerating his experiences. In fact, elements of his hippie personality are still very much in evidence by the fact that, if anything, he underplays some of the more dramatic aspects of his legendary experiences. For example, he takes issue with the way his story was presented in the film, pointing out that he never killed a prison guard and debunking other aspects of the script. He is also dissatisfied that the film completely excluded his post-prison escape via rowboat. He is more passionate about the effect the film had on worldwide audiences. Hayes maintains that his guards were sadistic and the legal system in Turkey is corrupt, but says he has great affection for the Turkish people. Thus, it still irks him that every Turk depicted in the movie was cast in a villainous light. In fact, the film was responsible for a 95% decline in tourism to the country in the year after it was released .
Hayes is refreshingly modest and self-effacing, blaming himself for being dumb enough to deal with drugs in Turkey. He claims he intended to do his time until his sentence was changed, an action he believes was influenced by President Nixon's crackdown on world wide drug trafficking. He engages the audience with a winning manner and brings both laughter and pathos to his tales, pointing out that there was some good to come of the experience. For example, he met his wife when attending the Cannes Film Festival premiere of the film and they are still together today. Hayes finishes every performance with a Q&A session that the audience responds to with great enthusiasm. If I have any criticism of the show, it's that he told some wonderful anecdotes (especially about the film) during the Q&A that should be included in the show itself.
Riding the Midnight Express is a memorable evening of theater that will appeal to any real life or armchair adventurer. Billy Hayes is a master storyteller who doesn't have to fictionalize any elements of his true life adventures: they are incredible enough.
(The show runs through March 23. Billy Hayes greets the audience after every performance and personally signs copies of his books in the lobby.)
Click here for the show's official web site and ticket information.
of my films have a sexual theme. I'm a sex maniac, so why not?" So says
director Piero Vivarelli, interviewed in the new Mondo Macabro DVD of his 1970
feature,The Snake God (Il Dio Serpente). You don't have to take his word for it.
Just a glance at the movie tells you he was a kinky son of a gun.
Paola (the beautiful Nadia Cassini) is a young
bride brought to the Caribbean by her wealthy, older husband. She enjoys the
luxury, but she's a little bored. Hubby, you see, keeps taking off for
business meetings, leaving Paola with nothing to do but laze around on the
beach and perspire. She befriends a young black woman named Stella (Beryl
Cunningham, Vivarelli's real life wife), a sexy school teacher who seems to
have a carefree lifestyle. Paola is envious after seeing Stella cavorting on
the beach with her hunky boyfriend, but Stella acts indifferent. "My
boyfriend is fun," Stella says, "But he's stupid." Stella
has more pressing interests involving local tribal customs, namely, those
involving a mysterious snake god. Quicker than you can sayI Walked With A Zombie, Stella introduces Paola to voodoo. At one point
in the film Paola attends an island ritual and ends up thrashing on the
ground with Stella as if they’re both possessed by evil spirits. Paola is
a clean-cut European girl, so this scary island atmosphere is all new and
exotic to her. By the film's end, Paola has given herself to Djamballa, the
snake god. Isn't that always the way?
Vivarelli was a genre bouncer, moving easily from
rock & roll musicals, to comic book adventures. He earned his bones writing
screenplays for directors like Lucio Fulci and Sergio Corbucci, and even after
directing several of his own features, Vivarelli was often called upon to punch
up someone else's screenplay. That's why you'll see his name on everything from
spaghetti westerns to soft-core porn. He had an interest in songwriting,
too, often contributing musical ideas to his films. Hence, Vivarelli's features
were usually highlighted by vibrant scores, chockfull of brass and fuzz
guitars. EvenThe Snake God, which is heavy on mind-numbing tribal beats,
features a nice electric bass line that could've been lifted from an old
Vivarelli, who died in 2010, was a rebellious soul
who often chided the movie business for its hypocrisy. In the DVD's
"about the film" section there's a lot of verbiage about how he was a
communist, and a pot smoker, and howThe Snake God was his statement about colonization.
Gee, I thought the film's message was something about not leaving your younger
wife alone, because there's usually a snake god out there waiting to show her a
good time. To paraphrase something Vivarelli said during the interview,
once you've been in the sheets with a snake god, you don't go back to mortal
The Snake God isn't Vivarelli's best work. Many of
the ritualistic scenes go on far too long in an effort to pad out a
thin story, and despite all of Vivarelli's close-ups of bare asses and
breasts, there's not much of an erotic charge here. The racial theme is also a
bit heavy handed, with the black characters depicted as earthy and
raw, while the white folks are shown as naïve and uptight (a theme
familiar to anyone who has enjoyed the films of Whoopie Goldberg). Also, there
was a period of time in cinema history when screen couples gazed into each
other's eyes while eating citrus fruit, as if fruit juice dripping down
someone's chin really jacked up the pheromones. If interracial fruit sucking is
your bag, there's a fair amount of it here.
The DVD is quite beautiful, though, courtesy of a
new anamorphic transfer. The Caribbean looks breathtaking, and the sunlight
bouncing off the ocean is nearly blinding. Kudos to Mondo Macabro for displaying
Benito Frattari's cinematography in such sharp detail, for Frattari's
camera work is the best part of a slow, dullish film. Do you like snake movies?
Go findCobra Woman with Maria Montez and Sabu. You'll be
(The Snake God is 95 minutes long, and presented in widescreen (2.35:1/16:9). The DVD includes a handful of special features, such as the interview with Vivarelli, extensive production notes, newly created English subtitles, a trailer, and previews of other Mondo Macabro titles.)
The death of acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman sent shock waves around the world. Hoffman was found dead in New York City, apparently a victim of the substance abuse he was attempting to combat. Stephen Whitty, the film critic of the Newar Star Ledger, offers and insightful tribute to Hoffman. Click here to read