As one might expect from any 1960’s James
Bond pastiche, an assortment of cool spy gadgetry is on display in Franklin
Adreon’s Dimension 5 (1966): microchips
secreted in the rear compartment of a Bulova wristwatch, a poison dart firing
pen, an exploding briefcase, and a cool bullet-firing point-and-shoot 35mm
camera. If that’s not enough – and with
possible exception of the invisible car from Die Another Day (2002) - Dimension
5 offers us one of the more ridiculous and dubious items found in any secret
agent arsenal… a “time-convertor” belt.
We’re first introduced to this device during
the film’s mildly exciting pre-credits sequence. In the first few minutes we’re treated to
what one expects from a nifty ‘60s spy thriller: a bit of a car chase, a
surprising punch-to-the mouth of a double-crossing Asian villainess and a
swooping helicopter rescue. What we do
not anticipate is agent Justin Power’s (Jeffrey Hunter) unusual means of escape
from the clutches of his pursuers. If
trapped by enemy spies, agent Powers’ need only activate the power ring on his
index finger. The ring sends a signal to
the time-convertor waist belt and instantaneously whisks him from harm’s way. This is, alas, a bit of a cop-out; a too
convenient plot device that – literally - sweeps the good guys from the forces
of evil with little suspense or effort. If
it’s any consolation, we later learn that over-use of the time-convertor belt carries
an element of danger. There is one
chance in one hundred that the user might be transported into the past or future
with no possibility of a return to the present.
Having recently watched director Adreon’s
sleepy and unsatisfying Cyborg 2087,
I must admit approaching Dimension 5
with low expectation. Happily, my fear
was unfounded as the team at United Pictures Corp. managed to cobble together a
reasonably viable 60s’ spy thriller chock full of the genre’s stock
accoutrements. Screenplay duties were
handled by Arthur C. Pierce, more noted for his contributions to
science-fiction films than espionage tales. Pierce’s “original” screenplay borrows freely from the James Bond EON
playbook, especially that of Goldfinger
(1964) which was then a recent blockbuster Though the set designs of art
director Paul Sylos for Cyborg 2087
were not only unimaginative but practically non-existent, he manages to redeem
himself on Dimension 5. His martini-cool design of the multi-level
combination office-control room-wet bar at Espionage,
Inc. is a perfect example of 60’s lounge elegance. Cinematographer Alan Stensvold’s work here is
also measurably glossier than demonstrated in Cyborg 2087. Though Paul
Dunlap’s score is serviceable, it’s not particularly memorable. His soundtrack features no musical cues or bravado
fanfares worthy of James Bond’s John Barry or of Matt Helm Messrs. Bernstein,
Montenegro or Schifrin.
In still another tip-of-the-hat to the cash
cow Bond film formula, Dimension 5
offers us both an ersatz “M” (Donald Woods as “Kane”) and an ersatz “Q” (Jon
Lormer as “the Professor”). This is
alternate-universe, “bizarro world” Bond. If James Bond’s cover was that as an agent of Universal Exports, Justin
Power’s converse cover is that of an associate of California Imports, Inc. There are some Playboy-era woeful, groan-producing double entendres sprinkled
throughout. Boss Kane and agent Powers
engage in a bit of locker room talk when the spy lustily describes female
fellow agent Ki Ti Tsu (aka “Kitty”) (actress France Nuyen) as a “penetrating
study.” Kane lasciviously concurs with
his agent’s assessment and – obviously ignoring the parameters of Espionage, Inc. policies on sexual
harassment – tells Powers to “school” his standoffish new partner on “a
horizontal curve.” Wink, wink.
Powers and Kitty’s mission is to search out the
feared and secretive underworld figure known alternately as both “Mr. B” and
“Big Buddha.” “Mr. B” is, perhaps
unsurprisingly, portrayed by none other than Harold Sakata, (yes, Oddjob himself), the iconic henchman to
Gert Fröbe’s Goldfinger. “Mr. B” is, as explained,
an unpleasant and unreasonable sort of fellow. His dossier claims him as the former head of Peking’s secret police as
well as the leader of a sinister crime syndicate known throughout the
underworld as the Dragon Organization. The Hong Kong office of the good guys
suspects the Dragons are planning a major terrorist operation. It’s in this belief that they’re holding one person-of-interest
in custody, the belligerent and uncooperative Mr. Chang (Gerald Jann). “Mr. B” is, perhaps, the ultimate Scrooge: we
learn he’s threatening to ruin everyone’s favorite winter holiday by destroying
all of Los Angeles via a Christmas Day Hydrogen Bomb attack. Just as Goldfinger smuggled in the components
of two “atomic devices” into the U.S. via a series of couriers, so has Big
Buddha brought in the various machineries to assemble his H-Bomb.
If Goldfinger’s scheme was to wreck the U.S.
and world economies by radiating the gold supply of Fort Knox, Big Buddha’s
scheme – described here as a “fantastic red plot” and also, not coincidentally,
orchestrated by Chinese Communists – is a call for the removal of all Allied
forces from Southeast Asia. Mr. B’s more
political and personally less pocket-lining threat is not an empty one. His warehouse on a waterfront pier is already
stockpiled with the necessary canisters of deadly Unranium-238, brought in undetected
via a Japanese freighter and secreted in satchels of imported rice.
Michael Coate, columnist for The Digital Bits website, has once again obtained insights from James Bond scholars (including Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer) to commemorate the impact and legacy of the first James Bond film, "Dr. No", which was released 55 years ago. Click here to read their personal memories and reflections on the film that started it all. Click here to order Cinema Retro's giant special issue about the making of the film.
A UK gun amnesty program yielded some unexpected results when, among the weapons turned in to law enforcement authorities, was the actual sub-machine gun film prop used by Clint Eastwood in the 1969 WWII classic "Where Eagles Dare". The gun was turned in by an anonymous man who claimed to have worked in the film industry. In the movie, Eastwood- disguised as a German soldier- wields the weapon with devastating effect as he, Richard Burton and Mary Ure wreak widespread destruction on a castle occupied by enemy forces. The prop gun will be donated to the Royal Armories Museum in Leeds. Click here for more (Thanks to reader Peter Davis for the heads up.)
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
In 2017, after ten years of service, MI6 Confidential has
introduced a new special format: a limited-run 100-page perfect bound issue of
the magazine taking a deep dive into one particular facet of the franchise.
This first special issue was contributed by Oscar-winning art department veteran
Peter Lamont spent more than 40 years working in art departments of the James
Bond films. From draughtsman to production designer; from Goldfinger to Casino
Royale, Peter worked on every picture but one. One of the films for which he
has collected a great deal of documents and has many fond memories is Roger
Moore's debut as 007, Live And Let Die.
A lot of that material could not be squeezed into his recent autobiography, so
Peter came to MI6 Confidential with an offer too good to refuse. In this
special 100-page perfect bound edition of MI6 Confidential magazine, Peter
tells the story of making the film, location by location, as they appear in the
film. It is lavishly illustrated with rare stills from the film, behind the
scenes photographs never committed to print, and notes and storyboards from
Lamont's personal collection. Let our friend and Bond veteran be your guide to
the eighth official Bond adventure and Sir Roger Moore's first.
This Special Issue:
100 page special magazine; professionaly printed; perfect
A personal dedication to Sir Roger Moore from Peter
More than 50 of Lamont's never-before-printed behind the
Over 25 documents, storyboards and ephemera from the
A richly illustrated narrative with stories behind the
Peter's memories of characters like Derek Meddings, Harry
Saltzman, Syd Cain and Roger Moore
CLICK HERE TO ORDER (Very limited quantities remain!)
American filmmakers have been fascinated by horror and the fantastical since the birth of cinema itself, with one early example cited here being an 1898 New York screening by the Thomas Edison Company of a short film featuring a witch and an appearance from Mephistopheles. Partially inspired by the work of French magician Georges Méliès, it was not long before ghosts, demons, witches and devils would become commonplace in the silent films being produced in New York, and eventually Hollywood itself.
Jonathan Rigby’s American Gothic (Signum publishing) is a fascinating and idiosyncratic exploration of the American horror film, a genre which has inspired filmmakers to create some of the most memorable moments in cinema history. More than a simple encyclopaedia, the book charts the historical development of the genre through not only the classics such as Phantom of the Opera, Dracula and The Cat and the Canary, but also through the hundreds of cheaper independent films and supporting features which are often forgotten but are no less enjoyable. Each chapter, written in his inimitable prose style, covers a specific period and discusses in detail not only the films but the filmmakers, actors and studios involved. Rigby is not afraid to criticise films which many hold sacred, as well as finding positive aspects amongst the failures. Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi loom large of course, their enduring appeal spanning at least half of the period covered here. Having slipped almost inevitably from their 1930s heights into B-movie lows, Karloff still managed to maintain some level of dignity despite the cheapness of the material, whereas the same could not be said for Lugosi, who suffered the ultimate indignity of finishing his career in the Z-grade films of Edward D. Wood Jr.
Out of print for more than ten years, American Gothic has now been revised and expanded by Jonathan Rigby, completing his horror trilogy alongside English Gothic and Euro Gothic. What this book confirms is that American cinema has been the world’s leading producer of the horrific and terrifying, in sheer number if not always in quality. Whereas those other two books cover the entire history of film in their respective countries and continents, Rigby has had to curtail American Gothic’s coverage at 1959, arguably when things were about to get really interesting. This was perhaps as much for his own sanity as well as for the length of the book. With dozens of rare and exceptional film stills and publicity materials, American Gothic is an essential read for any serious enthusiast of horror or cinema history. Here’s hoping that Rigby will eventually pluck up the courage to tackle the next sixty years.
Allen’s second feature film as director/writer/actor is ranked #69 on AFI’s 100
greatest comedies list… and it is indeed a very funny, zany picture (arguably
one of Allen’s funniest) that today says more about the early 1970s than
perhaps was intended at the time. But would millennials find Bananas funny in this day and age? Would
they get the jokes? Can an audience that hasn’t “grown up” with Woody Allen
movies get past what has been said about his personal life since the 1990s? I
can’t answer those questions. But I can place
Bananas within the context of when it
was released and attest that it still makes me laugh.
this point in his career, Allen was mostly interested in making low budget movies
with little substance, but with lots of gags. He was still developing his
nebbish bumbling on-screen persona (his character’s name in Bananas is “Fielding Mellish,” and that
in and of itself is funny). And, as he would do so throughout the decades, he
co-stars with either the current or former lady in his life—in this case,
Louise Lasser, to whom Allen was married from 1966-1970 (they remained friends
after the divorce; Bananas was made
immediately afterwards, so go figure). The jokes are plentiful, bang-bang-bang,
all the way through—today some of them fall flat and some are shockingly
inappropriate given the “standards” of 2017, but others are still as classic and
hilarious as they were in 1971.
story concerns a revolution in the fictional Latin American country of San
Marcos. New Yorker Mellish, in trying to impress liberal activist Nancy
(Lasser), goes to San Marcos to get involved. Eventually he becomes a
revolutionary himself, ending up replacing the dictator as the country’s
president (albeit in disguise). On a diplomatic visit back to the U.S., he is
exposed and put on trial for fraud. Nevertheless, Mellish ends up getting
together with Nancy anyway for a happy ending.
asked why the film was entitled Bananas,
Woody Allen replied, “Because there are no bananas in it.”
1971, the film was rated M—for mature audiences. This rating was eventually
replaced by PG. In those early days of the 70s, society was still experiencing
a sexual revolution that had begun in the 60s. Hollywood movies pushed the
envelope in this regard, and sexual humor was commonplace in comedies. Bananas is full of it. While it’s not
quite R-rated material, it is assuredly not for younger kids. If there had been
an equivalent rating back then, it would have been PG-13. (One memorable bit is
the scene in which Mellish peruses the adult magazines in the crowded
convenience store in New York and attempts to buy one mixed in with Time, Newsweek, and others; the
proprietor ringing him up calls loudly out to his colleague, which everyone in
the place hears, “Hey, how much is a copy of Orgasm?” Mellish, is, of course, suitably mortified.)
courtroom scene is perhaps the highlight of the picture. A black woman who is
allegedly “J. Edgar Hoover in disguise” testifies against Mellish; the court
reporter reads back testimony that is the antithesis of what was actually said;
and even Miss America shows up to testify. There are other notable moments—for
example, famed TV sportscaster Howard Cosell has two memorable sequences in the
movie, and a young and unknown Sylvester Stallone pops up (uncredited) as a New
York subway mugger.
with Allen’s first feature, Take the
Money and Run (reviewed <here>), the filmmaking is clumsy and
unsophisticated. The director was still learning the ropes, but that’s not
what’s important here—Bananas is all
about the laughs.
Time’s limited edition (only 3,000 units) Blu-ray looks fine in 1080p High
Definition, taking into account the low budget video quality of the original
film. The 1.0 DTS-HD sound is terrific. The only supplements are an isolated
music track and the theatrical trailer. Julie Kirgo provides the essay in the
Bananas is a little time
capsule that captures where we were at in 1971 (there is even a sight gag
involving then U.S. president and VP, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew). Ribald
jokes, political satire, and freedom of expression—if this is your bag, then
check out Bananas… but leave your
political correctness at the door.
stylish Western “Da Uomo a Uomo” (“Man to Man”), written by Luciano Vincenzoni
and directed by Giulio Petroni, opened in Italy in 1967. Two years later, it reached American theaters
as “Death Rides a Horse.” In the film,
bandits attack a relay station at the Mesita Ranch where an express wagon carrying
$200,000 has stopped for the night to wait out a pounding rainstorm. After killing the guards, the four leaders of
the gang glimpse two women -- the ranch owner’s wife and daughter -- inside the
house. They invade the home, gun down
the rancher, rape and shoot the two women, and set fire to the place before
riding off with their loot. The only
survivor of the massacre is the family’s eight-year-old son, pulled from the
burning wreckage of the house by an unknown benefactor.
years later, now grown, the orphaned Bill (John Philip Law) lives alone at the
rebuilt cabin and practices obsessively with six-guns and rifles, hoping for a
chance to find the murderers and settle the score. Meanwhile, released from prison after
completing a fifteen-year sentence, an ex-convict named Ryan (Lee Van Cleef) rides into the
territory. He encounters Bill, briefly, when he stops by
the ranch to pause over the graves of the three people buried there. “I heard about it some time ago -- I’m
sorry,” he tells the young man mysteriously. Afterward, in town, two gunmen try to ambush Ryan in his hotel room, but
the ex-convict outwits and outshoots them. The sheriff, investigating, recognizes the spurs worn by one of the dead
men: they match one that hangs in Bill’s cabin, lost by one of the outlaws
outside the burning ranch years before. “Fifteen years, there’s been no new track, only a spur,” Bill tells
Ryan. “Then you come along, and there’s
three spurs.” It transpires that Ryan is
chasing his former partners in crime, who double-crossed him and left him to
serve time at hard labor. When he leaves
town, Bill follows, suspecting that his prey and Ryan’s are the same.
Rides a Horse” follows the template of Sergio Leone’s “For a Few Dollars More”
or “Per Qualche Dollaro in Più” (1965), which was also written by Luciano
Vincenzoni, in its structure of an older gunman and a younger one who form a
mutually respectful but shaky partnership to chase a common quarry. The teamwork has its advantages, but each
character has his own motivation for the chase, and ultimately each one strives
to reach his objective first, before the other. Vincenzoni’s script even recycles several other characters and
situations from his earlier storyline for the Leone movie, including Bill’s
fragmented, red-tinged flashbacks to the massacre. But the key differences between the two
pictures are as striking as the similarities, and “Death Rides a Horse” stands
nicely on its own merits. Like Clint
Eastwood’s bounty hunter Manco in the Leone film, John Philip Law’s Bill is
blond-haired and fast on the draw, but he’s also younger and less experienced
-- an amateur at manhunting, not a professional. This places him in stronger contrast to Van
Cleef’s steely and vaguely tragic rival and mentor, underscored by Ennio
Morricone’s signature themes for the characters: a mournful dirge that
represents the lingering trauma of the Mesita murders, a measured guitar and
drum tune symbolizing Ryan’s determination to find his former partners, and a
dissonant “vengeance” theme with a tortured flute solo. Where the enemy in Leone’s film was an
outsider on the American frontier, a depraved, dark-skinned bandit of mixed
Mexican and Indian parentage, the masterminds sought by Ryan and Bill have
burrowed into polite society and have become outwardly respectable business and
political leaders. Cavanaugh (the
wonderfully sleazy Anthony Dawson) runs a popular saloon and gambling
house. Walcott (Luigi Pistilli) is a
trusted town father. Ryan’s reappearance
inspires Walcott to use this advantage to pull off an even bigger score than
the Mesita Ranch heist. The conceit of
criminals masquerading as civic leaders would reappear in many later Italian
Westerns. In real life, as we all know,
crooks and opportunists rarely wind up as figures of power in commerce or
Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition of “Death Rides a Horse” presents Petroni’s film in
a sharp 1.85:1, 1920x1080p edition. The
image isn’t perfect (some graininess is apparent, especially in the dark
nighttime scenes); nevertheless, it relegates decades of substandard TV and
budget-video prints to the trash heap. The bonus features include English and Italian language options,
subtitles, perceptive running commentary by filmmaker and critic Alex Cox, and
trailers for other Italian Westerns from Kino Lorber, including a forthcoming,
remastered BRD of “For a Few Dollars More.” While we’re on the subject, here’s hoping that someone will produce
comparably good widescreen, hi-def U.S. editions of Petroni’s somber Zapata
Western “Tepepa” (1969) and Vincenzoni’s playful gangster film “Mean Frank and
Crazy Tony” (1973), with Lee Van Cleef as a seasoned mafioso and Tony LoBianco
as his admiring, younger disciple.
Cinema Retro's Todd Garbarini and Lee Pfeiffer with Anthony Harvey at a screening of The Lion in Winter at the Loew's Jersey City, 2009.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Anthony Harvey, the actor who became an editor only to finally become an esteemed director, has died at age 87 at his home in Long Island. Harvey was born in London and attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art with the hope of becoming an actor. However, he turned to film editing instead. On a whim he contacted Stanley Kubrick and convinced the director to hire him as editor on the 1962 production of "Lolita". Kubrick was so impressed that he hired Harvey again to edit his next film "Dr. Strangelove". Harvey's innovative method of fast cutting won plaudits from the industry. At one point, however, disaster nearly struck when footage of a complicated sequence he had edited went missing, leading him to have to recreate the complex decisions he and Kubrick had made from memory. Kubrick had originally intended Harvey to edit his long-in-the-works production of "2001: A Space Odyssey" but felt that Harvey had the potential to become a director. Harvey followed his advice and made his directorial debut with the little seen, but highly praised 1967 arthouse film "Dutchman". Shortly thereafter Harvey landed the plum directing assignment of his career: the 1968 production of "The Lion in Winter" starring two of the most mercurial actors in the business: Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn. Harvey told this writer that it was a case of baptism under fire but he succeeded in winning the respect of both of his stars. The production also boasted the big screen debuts of Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton. Harvey was nominated for an Oscar for the film, as were O'Toole and Hepburn. On the night of the awards, Katharine Hepburn beseeched him to accept on her behalf if she won, since she disdained attending film events. When Hepburn and Barbra Streisand both tied for Best Actress wins, Harvey gave an acceptance speech on Hepburn's behalf. He would remain friends with her until her death in 2003. Harvey's other achievements as film editor include The L Shaped Room" and "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold". His directing credits include the quirky cult film "They Might be Giants" (1971) which starred George C. Scott as a man who believes he is Sherlock Holmes.
This writer befriended Tony Harvey in 2001 when he consented to being interviewed for a documentary I was writing for Sony about the making of "Dr. Strangelove". Harvey related an amusing anecdote about his friendship with Kate Hepburn, who he would visit regularly at her home in Connecticut. She once told him that she so disliked show business that he was the only person from the industry she still kept in regular touch with. Tony recalled that, back in 1969, he arrived at Hepburn's house to deliver her Oscar, which he had wrapped in newspapers. He found Hepburn dressed in jeans and on a ladder painting her kitchen ceiling. She instructed him to tuck the Oscar package in the back of a cupboard so paint wouldn't drip on it. Tony recalled that years later he was at Hepburn's house and went into the cupboard for a glass, only to find the Oscar parcel still wrapped in newspaper and unopened.
Tony Harvey was a man of great manners, graciousness and wit. We at Cinema Retro mourn his passing.
Jim Nabors and Frank Sutton in "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Jim Nabors, who epitomized the image of a friendly country boy, has died at age 87 at his home in Hawaii. Nabors was plucked from obscurity when Andy Griffith caught his nightclub act in L.A. in the early 1960s and cast him in the role of Gomer Pyle, the affable but simple-minded filling station attendant in "The Andy Griffith Show". The program was always among the top shows in the ratings and Nabors' exposure on the show gained him instant fame. The character of Gomer became as iconic as Griffith's Sheriff Andy Taylor and Don Knotts' deputy Barney Fife. Nabors' popularity extended into a second career as a pop singer. When he first sang on an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show", many viewers thought his operatic baritone voice was dubbed. However, they soon learned that Nabors had a magnificent singing voice. His career as a singer saw him perform for decades to sold-out audiences in top venues around the world. His albums went gold and platinum. Nabors starred in one of first television spin-offs with "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C". The show was another major hit produced by Andy Griffith. In the series, which ran from 1964-1969, Nabors continued to play an inept but honest and lovable character who took pride in being a Marine. The United States Marine Corps agreed to extend cooperation to the series because of the positive light Nabors cast on the corps. Nabors found the perfect foil in Frank Sutton's Sgt. Vince Carter, his long-suffering superior who bore the brunt of Pyle's penchant for causing problems. The two men would be reunited years later as co-stars on Nabors' TV variety hour. Nabors also dabbled occasionally in feature films, co-starring with his friend Burt Reynolds in "Stroker Ace", "Cannonball Run II" and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".
Don Knotts, Andy Griffith and Jim Nabors.
In real life Nabors was gay and had been with his partner of 38 years, Stan Cadwallader, at the time of his death. The two had married in 2013. Nabors always looked back fondly on "The Andy Griffith Show" and the people associated with it. He remained loyal and grateful to Griffith for elevating his career. In 1986 Nabors returned once more to the role of Gomer Pyle for the TV movie "Return to Mayberry", which reunited him with most of the living cast members. The telecast proved to be a ratings blockbuster.
British sex film was a truly unique beast. Finding its feet at the back end of
the 1950s, proliferating throughout the 60s and 70s, and all but gone the way
of the dodo by the early 80s, sex may have been the selling point but scarcely
was it delivered upon. Usually depicting the act itself as a bit of a lark and
something to be sniggered at, due to restrictive British laws at the time the
menu in this country was mostly comprised of light titillation as opposed to
the more, er... shall we say ‘gratifying’ material being served up to European
and Stateside audiences. With little to see beyond pert pink posteriors and
bountiful bare bosoms, visuals whose stimulation value was already negligible were
often further quashed by the wince-inducing sound of a slide-whistle.
films that general audiences probably think of in regard to this period of time
– if indeed they think of them at all – are the likes of the Confessions
comedies, which is hardly surprising, for their appeal was unprecedented and
the first in the series, Val Guest’s Confessions of a Window Cleaner, was the
highest grossing British film of 1974. Yet looking at the 70s alone it’s
remarkable just how many light-hearted boobs’n’bums films were birthed. I
should know, I saw a fair few of them at a crummy, long-gone little cinema in
Winchester. Most of them were excruciatingly awful too, albeit in an inexplicably
1992 ‘Doing Rude Things’ by David McGillivray was published and at that point
was the only book of its kind. An assembly – and expansion upon – a series of
articles that had originally appeared in the short-lived ‘Cinema’ magazine 10
years earlier, it chronicled the highs and lows of almost a quarter of a
century’s worth of British sex films, from 1957’s Nudist Paradise to 1981’s
last gasp, Emmanuelle in Soho.
to those with a passion for British exploitation cinema the name David
McGillivray will be a familiar one. A former writer for, among others, the
BFI’s lamentably deceased ‘Monthly Film Bulletin’, he would go on to pen
scripts for such cinematic schlockers as House of Whipcord, Satan’s Slave and Schizo,
several of which also found him lurking on-screen in some minor capacity.
Associated in the main with the ilk of those aforementioned terrors, David’s single
foray into the arena of the 1970s sex film was the amusingly monikered comedy I’m
Not Feeling Myself Tonight, a frothy brew awash with familiar thespian talent
of the era. [Oh, yes, it should be mentioned that a plethora of household names
populated these critically dismissed but publicly embraced oddities. From
Bernard Lee and Arthur Askey to Irene Handl and Jon Pertwee, from Brian Murphy
and Barry Evans to Windsor Davies and Richard O’Sullivan, dozens of ‘respectable’
actors shelved their pride to participate in these movies. But then in the
clime of widespread unemployment that plagued the industry back then – and is regrettably
still rife – work was work and beggars couldn’t afford to be choosers.]
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Acorn Media.
season of the smash hit U.K. dramedy, plus over 1.5 hours of bonus content;
Martin Clunes (Arthur & George) and Caroline Quentin (Men Behaving Badly)
stars Sigourney Weaver (Aliens, Avatar), Art Malik (True Lies, Homeland),
Blu-ray Debut from Acorn on December 12, 2017
gentle comedy with loads of wit and zest” —The Globe and Mail
stirring, and completely addictive” —Slate
quirky” —Los Angeles Times
bloody hilarious” —London Evening Standard
considered one of the most successful British series in the U.S., U.K. and
worldwide, DOC MARTIN, Series 8 makes its DVD/Blu-ray debut on December 12,
2017 from Acorn TV, an RLJ Entertainment, Inc. (NASDAQ: RLJE) brand. Martin
Clunes (Men Behaving Badly) returns as Dr. Martin Ellingham in the eighth
series of this smash-hit British comedy. In these all-new episodes, the doctor
continues his practice in the picturesque seaside town of Portwenn, while
raising his son with wife Louisa. The DVD and Blu-ray 3-Disc Sets feature 8
episodes, plus a bonus disc with behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews
their ups and downs as a couple, Dr. Martin Ellingham and his wife, Louisa (Caroline
Catz, Murder in Suburbia), are finally living together with their son, James
Henry, but their problems are far from over. With Louisa’s encouragement, James
Henry has grown attached to Buddy the dog, but Martin is disgusted by the
four-legged friend. In need of a new nanny, Louisa finds herself juggling too
many responsibilities and considers switching careers, causing a rift with Martin.
Portwenn is abuzz as the residents prepare for a wedding. The Larges hope to
profit from the festivities, but when Martin’s aunt Ruth (Emmy® winner Eileen
Atkins, Cranford) considers selling the family farm, her decision causes
trouble for their business endeavors. As some relationships bloom and others
falter, can Martin cope with all the changes—or will he risk the fragile accord
he’s forged with his family? Guest stars in Series 8 include the return of Caroline
Quentin (Dickensian) and Sigourney Weaver (Avatar) as a forthright American
tourist anxious for the Doc’s time.
BONUS DISC: Behind-the-scenes
featurettes on the production process (70 min.) and interviews with the cast
and guest stars (41 min.), including Martin Clunes, Caroline Catz, Ian McNeice,
Joe Absolom, Eileen Atkins, Selina Cadell, and Caroline Quentin.
December 12, 2017 SRP: $39.99 each
Set: 8 episodes – Approx. 413 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles – UPC
3-Disc Set: 8 episodes – Approx. 413 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles – UPC
Kudos to the Warner Archive for its release of the 1955 crime thriller "Hell on Frisco Bay" in the Blu-ray format. The movie had been only seen in scratchy, pan-and-scan versions over the decades and it was presumed that the original camera negative had been lost. However, that was remedied when the camera negative was eventually located and subjected to a painstaking restoration. Since the movie doesn't have the resonance of more famous crime titles, the Warner Archive deserves praise from retro movie fans for putting the effort and expense into restoring this title. Complicating matters were some messy rights issues that also had to be dealt with.
The movie opens with Steve Rollins (Alan Ladd) being released from a San Francisco prison after serving time for a murder of a gangster that he was framed for. He's greeted by his wife Marcia (Joanne Dru), but he cruelly rebuffs her. Seems that while in stir, Rollins completely ignored her and refused to allow her to visit him or communicate with him in any way. His only advice to her was to get on with creating a life without him. Several years into his incarceration, she did just that. However, when Rollins learns that Marcia had a brief fling with another man, his male ego is damaged and the grudge extends to him simply wanting to collect his clothes from their home and move into a boarding house, which he does. He later explains to his former police colleague Dan Bianco (William Demarest) that there is an alternate reason for his harsh rejection of his wife: he wants to immediately set out to track down the killer who framed him and he doesn't want her to become a target of the mob. (Although it's never explained why he simply doesn't advise Marcia of this concern.) Rollins knows the murder he was framed for took place under orders from local crime kingpin Victor Amato (Edward G. Robinson, strangely billed on the movie posters as "Edw. G. Robinson"), who has a lock on business done on the local docks. He's a true sociopath without the slightest sentiment for even his most loyal colleagues. When Rollins confronts him, the situation becomes a cat-and-mouse game of who can eliminate who before the truth behind the murder is known. A compelling subplot has Rollins and Marica slowly becoming more civil to each other, as Marcia carries on with her career as a popular torch singer in a local nightclub. The script also centers on another interesting relationship concerning Joe Lye (Paul Stewart) and his girlfriend Kay Stanley (Fay Wray), a once-popular movie star who has fallen into obscurity. Joe was on death row when Amato used bribes and influence to get him released from prison. Amato reminds him of this every day and make is clear that he can put Joe back on death row if he doesn't slavishly carry out all of his orders. Things get sticky when Amato's penchant for humiliating Joe extends to trying to seduce Kay. As the action unfolds, Rollins interacts with this strange group of characters along with other mob underlings as he obsessively tries to clear his name. The film ends with him going mano a mano with Amato in an action-packed sequence set in a speedboat in San Francisco bay.
The movie, based on a novel, was produced for Alan Ladds production company and he hired director Frank Tuttle to helm the film. The two had previously collaborated on Ladd's breakthrough hit "This Gun for Hire". Despite the impressive Cinemascope and short-lived Warnercolor values, "Hell on Frisco Bay" still resembles an old-fashioned black-and-white film noir. It boasts an intelligent script, interesting characters and very impressive performances. Ladd is in his typical "quiet tough guy" mode and he allows the supporting characters to get the lion's share of the memorable screen moments. Top of the list is Edward G. Robinson, who is in great form, dispensing insults and cruel witticisms against everyone in his orbit. Paul Stewart gives one of his finest performances as the reluctant mobster who has sacrificed his self-respect for his freedom. The two female leads are also excellent in strongly-written roles, with Fay Wray particularly impressive in what was deemed to be a comeback role. The film zips along at a brisk pace under Tuttle's inspired direction until the exciting conclusion. It's all set to a typically impressive Max Steiner score.
The most impressive aspect of this release is the transfer the Warner Archive put so much effort into. It's truly superb on every level. The colors practically leap from the screen and the sheer brilliance of the picture is reason enough to add this one to your collection. The Blu-ray contains the original trailer.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Kino Lorber continues to produce special edition Blu-rays of obscure titles that are under most movie fans' radar screens. Case in point: "Nightkill", a little-remembered thriller made in 1980 for theatrical release but which ultimately "premiered" on television, much to the consternation of all involved. Ironically, the movie has the look and feel of a TV production with the notable difference of some disturbing images that were probably edited down for broadcast standards. Thus, the Kino Lorber edition is probably the first opportunity to see the original cut of the film, as it apparently was not released to theaters. The plot is "Diabolique" by way of Alfred Hitchcock. Jaclyn Smith, then riding high from her long-running role as one of Charlie's Angels, is cast as Katherine Atwell, a socialite living in Phoenix and living what appears to be a charmed life. She resides in a hilltop mansion and is the toast of the town because of a charitable foundation she has founded. There is one major caveat: her husband Wendell (Mike Connors) is a boorish rich snob with a violent temper who enjoys demeaning everyone in his circle of influence. He is particularly tough on his long-suffering corporate major domo Steve Fulton (James Franciscus), who must endure Wendell's cynical comments and outbursts. Katherine has come to hate her husband. Their marriage is a loveless one based on mutual convenience: he gets a trophy wife he can parade around as arm candy and she gets a lavish lifestyle and funding for her charity. However, she is frustrated by her loveless, sexless marriage and has taken up a secret torrid affair with Steve Fulton. One sunny afternoon, Katherine, Steve and Wendell are gathered in the Atwell's living room. Steve makes a drink for his boss, who promptly keels over and dies a painful death. Without having given Katherine any advance warning, Steve had poisoned Wendell. He tells the understandably panicky Katherine of his game plan: they will secrete Wendell's body in a large freezer inside the house, then collect a briefcase containing a million dollars that is being stored at an airport locker and fly off to another country so they can live the high life together. Katherine is tempted to alert the authorities, but ultimately decides to go along with Steve's plan. She soon regrets it. When Steve doesn't show up for their planned getaway, Katherine begins to worry. She goes through the arduous task of disposing of her husband's body in an abandoned mine shaft but later believes she sees him alive in various places. In the film's only absurd scene, a car that appears to be driven by her dead husband pursues her in a dangerous chase that she narrowly escapes from. It gets worse. When she opens the freezer that once held her husband's body, she gets another shocking surprise that I won't reveal here. Adding to the pressure is a bothersome detective (Robert Mitchum) who shows up at awkward times and asks increasingly awkward questions about her husband's whereabouts.
"Nightkill" was directed by Ted Post, a seasoned pro when it came to helming undistinguished-but-entertaining fare both on television and in feature films. (His best theatrical films were "Hang 'Em High", "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" and "Magnum Force".) Post was primarily at home in the television medium and perhaps that's why the movie has the look and feel of a TV production. Post didn't believe in artsy camera shots or other gimmicks. He shot in a basic style that didn't allow for distractions from the action on screen. He milks some suspense out of a sometimes cliched script that borrows too much from other sources. "Nightkill" may be middling in some aspects but it does take some unexpected turns concerning the motivations of the main characters. Jaclyn Smith gives an outstanding performance as the harried and distressed protagonist. The film is sprinkled with other interesting actors and performances. Mike Connors excels at playing against his good guy image as a rotten lout, Fritz Weaver has an unusually flamboyant character to play as a snobby lawyer who has the hots for Katherine, even though he is married to her best friend (Sybil Danning in a role that refreshingly doesn't require her to doff her clothes). Mitchum is his usual cool-as-a-cucumber self as the detective who may or may not be who he claims to be. The Arizona locations are a refreshing change of pace and the film keeps a zesty pace under Post's direction, right up until the rather surprising ending which some viewers may find unsatisfying. The most memorable scene involves yet another "woman in the shower in jeopardy" scene but with a disturbing twist that doesn't involve anyone attacking her.
Here's a gem from the Cinema Retro archives. Robert Shaw on the set of the 1977 thriller "The Deep" with his 14 year-old son Colin. Did you know that Colin played his father's character as a young boy in the film? Look for extensive coverage of the film in an upcoming issue of Cinema Retro.
Criterion, which has released the ultimate special edition of Stanley Kramer's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", provides this interesting look at the locations of the film, then and now. It's all part of the deluxe Blu-ray edition.
Universal has released a highly impressive Blu-ray set, "The Alfred Hitchcock Collection", on Blu-ray. The set contains fifteen special editions of the Master's top films as well as ten original episodes of "The Alfred Hitchcock Presents" television series. The set is packed with 15 hours of bonus extras and includes an illustrated, 58-page collector's booklet with extremely rare international poster art and film stills. Films included in the set are:
North by Northwest
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 version)
Shadow of a Doubt
The Trouble with Harry
Holiday gifts like this don't get any more impressive (or sinister) for the movie lover in your life.
I have a confession to make. In the unlikely event I’m put in a time
machine, sent back to the late spring/early summer of 1969 and given a free
pass to only one of two films presently showing at the local twinplex – the
choices being Stanley Kubricks’s 2001: a
Space Odyssey or Kinji Fukasaku’s The
Green Slime… Well, I admit with some degree of shame and embarrassment that
I would choose The Green Slime. I do not doubt for a moment the superiority,
intellectualism or visual majesty of the former over the latter. But I was eight and a half years old in the
summer of 1969 when my parents took me to 2001:
A Space Odyssey and I confess I was pretty much bored to tears. Arthur Clarke’s scenario was too obtuse for
my grade-school comprehension; the pacing of the film was funeral, the opening
bit with the apes and the obelisk bewildering. The outer space stuff, I admit, was pretty cool.
In any case, it was The
Green Slime and not 2001 that was
the talk of the school back in 1969. It
must be said that MGM marketed the film pretty aggressively. The campaign book for The Green Slime suggested theater-owners invest in the ballyhoo package
they had masterfully assembled, an over-the-top promotional “Go-Get ‘em Fright
Kit.” These kits included “1000 Galling Green Bumper Stickers, 2 Eye Catching,
Teeth-Gnashing Stencils, 2000 Greasy, Goggling, High-Camp Pop-Art Buttons in
Basic Gripping Green, and 250 Ghastly, Ghoulish, Gelatinous Green Slimes in Guaranteed to Nauseate
the Nefarious.” MGM also issued a 45rpm
record of the gnarly rock and roll song celebrating The Green Slime, causing all - of a certain age, at least - to
twist the volume knob to high on our AM radios.
If that wasn’t enough to piqué interest (and it was), the
film campaign also featured one of the greatest one-sheet movie posters I had
ever seen – perhaps, still one of the greatest. The closest I got to own a copy was when I skipped down to the local
tobacco and stationary store and picked up the September 1969 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. There in the racks was that month’s cover
girl in all of her 1960’s pop-art movie poster glory: a frightened Luciana
Paluzzi in a clear fishbowl space helmet struggling against the tentacle of a
giant, feral one-eyed space monster. True,
the poster would bear no relation to anything that actually would happen in the film, but that’s beside
the point. The fact is if you were a
dedicated, erudite reader of Film Comment
or American Cinematographer then 2001: A Space Odyssey was indisputably
the science-fiction film of the year. If
you were between the ages of 8-21 and a faithful reader of comic books and
monster magazines, The Green Slime
was the bomb… a “bomb” in the good way, of course.
In June of 1969, every American kid was already talking
about outer space. Though shot in 1968
at Toei Studios, Tokyo, Japan, The Green
Slime opened mid-week near my home just across the Hudson River from
Manhattan, on May 21, 1969. In less than
two month’s time, two of the three astronauts on NASA’s Apollo 11 mission would
walk on the surface of the moon for the first time in recorded history. The promotional department at MGM took every
advantage of public interest in the space-craze. Weeks following the film’s initial release - and
a mere month prior to the much anticipated NASA moon walk - the black and white
newspaper slicks for The Green Slime would
feature a new banner draped across the top of the ad copy: “Lunar Contamination Worries Washington: Will future moon landings expose our
astronauts to strange germs that could grow… AND GROW… into THE GREEN SLIME?”
In The Green Slime
actor Robert Horton plays Commander Jack Rankin, a neither particularly warm
nor likable character, but a guy with a reputation for getting things
done. He’s brought out of retirement by
an officer at the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) who pleads for his
cooperation in a time-sensitive demolition job. It seems as though there’s a six million ton asteroid, nickname Flora, hurtling directly in a trajectory
toward planet Earth. At its present rate
of speed, the asteroid will collide with the planet in approximately ten hours
time, so it’s pretty imperative that Commander Rankin get to work
The crusty astronaut is rocketed to the circular and
tubular Gamma 3 space station where
he and a small team will board yet another spacecraft and shuttle over to the
surface of the asteroid. They intend
blow the asteroid from its current trajectory through the use of a few
relatively small explosives. This
mission is accomplished, pretty handily I might add, but the real trouble starts
to brew when a small specimen of the asteroid’s green slime attaches itself to
the pants leg of one astronaut and is inadvertently transported back to C Block
of Gamma 3. The green slime soon begins to reproduce and
morph from the primordial ooze of its original state to a shuffling, green
fire-hydrant shaped creature with deep-recessed red eyes. Their long and groping tentacles electrocute any
hapless victim who happens to stumble across their whereabouts.
There are also some inter-personal fireworks aboard Gamma 3 when we learn that Rankin and the
ship’s Commander Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel) don’t particularly care for
one another. For starters, Elliott is
poised to marry the voluptuous Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi), a beauty who
walks about the starship in a stylish silver lamè suit and was, apparently, a
jilted paramour of Commander Rankin. It’s difficult to determine why Paluzzi would have – now or at any other
time - any romantic interest in Rankin. While husband-to-be Vince Elliott might have his own testosterone-fueled
problems to work through, he comes off as someone you might enjoy having a beer
with. Conversely, and despite his
sun-tanned skin, chiseled profile, and sculptured brush of spray matted hair, Horton’s
Rankin is positively humorless and uncharismatic. He appears in the personage of a terminally
dour game show host.
The Hollywood Reporter states that George Clooney will direct a six-episode television adaptation of Joseph Heller's landmark anti-war book "Catch-22". Although set in WWII, the story resonated with readers during the height of the anti-Vietnam War protests. The movie was originally made into a star-studded feature film in 1970, directed by Mike Nichols. Clooney will also appear in the series playing the role of Col. Cathcart, who was portrayed in the film by Martin Balsam. No network has been attached to the production, which is currently being shopped around to various potential broadcasters. Click here for more.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from the Classicflix.com:
For one night only, fans of classic film noir will be
able to watch a free streaming World Premiere of the recently restored
thriller T-Men (1947) on Friday, November 24, hosted by ClassicFlix.
Anthony Mann's breakout film will be part of the home video label’s “Black and
White Friday,” which will be streaming the film in high definition on
their YouTube channel from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM PT*.
The ground-breaking film recently made its Blu-ray™ debut
after undergoing major restoration. The T-Men Special Edition
Blu-ray is loaded with bonus features and a 24-page booklet. During the
screening ClassicFlix will be hosting a giveaway of T-Men Special Edition via
their Twitter page, in addition to a special low-price
offering for fans who wish to buy the Blu-ray. Instructions on how to
participate in the giveaway will be posted in the YouTube comment section of
the stream that night.
Other recent releases from ClassicFlix include He
Walked by Night Special Edition, Crime of Passion and Fritz
Lang's You Only Live Once, all of which have received critical
acclaim for the quality of the restorations and unearthed bonus material.
*Content will only be available in the U.S.
Praise for T-Men Special Edition
"ClassicFlix’s Special Edition Blu-ray of T-Men is a
Glenn Erickson, CineSavant
“Absolutely recommended! A must-own for Noir
Gary Tooze, DVDBeaver
"Would that all black and white noirs from the 1940s
were blessed with such pristine and spectacular transfers! The grayscale is so
extraordinary that words can’t really do it justice..."
Matt Hough, HomeTheaterForum
"This is another great looking restoration and
transfer from ClassicFlix."
Jeffrey Kauffman, Blu-ray.com
About the Film:
When the trail goes cold on a counterfeit ring in Los
Angeles, Treasury agents Dennis O’Brien (Dennis O’Keefe) and Tony Genaro
(Alfred Ryder) are called upon to infiltrate the shadowy and dangerous
underworld of organized crime. Their only lead takes them to Detroit where they
convince mob kingpin Carlo Vantucci of their criminal pedigree and start piling
up clues to tie the Vantucci mob to the “tough, tight outfit” in L.A.
O’Brien and Genaro finally get a break when they learn a
former Detroit hood – The Schemer (Wallace Ford) – is on the outs with the
syndicate and has been demoted to pushing the fake paper in Los Angeles. Not
wasting a second, O’Brien heads to L.A. and tracks down his cigar-smoking
target, quickly duping the counterfeiter into being introduced to the
“higher-ups”. But the deeper O’Brien penetrates the organization, the more
harrowing the mission becomes for him and fellow T-Man Genaro, with their every
move being scrutinized and carrying the risk of deadly exposure.
A major box office success upon its release, T-Men holds
a special place in film noir canon not only as director Anthony Mann’s breakout
film, but as the initial pairing of the filmmaker and cinematographer John
Alton. Like none before them, their combination of highly stylized camera
set-ups, along with the brilliant uses of light and shadows, created the gritty
realism and visual tension that made their crime thrillers popular with critics
and movie patrons alike.
With a story by Virginia Kellogg (White Heat) and a screenplay
by John C. Higgins (Raw Deal), T-Men also features Charles McGraw,
Jane Randolph and, in a brief but key scene, June Lockhart.
· Audio Commentary by
biographer & producer Alan K. Rode
· Into the Darkness:
Mann, Alton and T-Men - Featurette with cinematographer Richard Crudo,
film critic & author Todd McCarthy, writer and film historian Julie Kirgo,
film historian & director Courtney Joyner and biographer & producer
Alan K. Rode
· A Director’s
Daughter: Nina Mann Remembers - An Interview with Nina Mann
· PLUS: A 24-page
booklet with an essay by author Max Alvarez (Author of The Crime Films of
Anthony Mann) featuring stills, posters and other production material
· The mono soundtrack
has been restored and is uncompressed (Blu-ray only)
Founded as an online retailer in 2007, ClassicFlix
launched its own home video label in early 2017 with a focus on restoring and
releasing long neglected classic films from the 1930s - 1950s on Blu-ray and
For more information about T-Men Special Edition and
other ClassicFlix releases please visit ClassicFlix.com.
Although it picked up significant honors at European film festivals, director Giuseppe Tornatore's 2013 indie drama/mystery "The Best Offer" only received limited release in art houses in North American and UK theaters and thus remains virtually unknown by most movie fans. It's a pity because Tornatore, the director of the much-revered "Cinema Paradiso", has fashioned a brilliant and mesmerizing film that achieves something rare in the modern movie industry: a highly original and offbeat concept. It's a movie packed with plots and subplots, eccentric characters and an increasingly fascinating mystery. In fact, the movie's many surprises also precludes me from providing all but bare bones details because to do otherwise would inevitably spoil some key plot points. Geoffrey Rush plays Virgil Oldman, a revered and highly celebrated figure in the upscale international art auction market. When Virgil presides over a sale of rare paintings, the art community pays special attention. His success has afforded him an opulent lifestyle. He lives in a plush apartment, dines at the best restaurants and seems to have a sizable bank account. However, Virgil is also a miserable, solitary figure who finds that his sense of narcissism has left him alienated and without any significant others in his life. He has only one person who can be regarded as somewhat of a friend: Billy Whistler, (Donald Sutherland), a failed artist but fellow lover of fine art, who conspires with Virgil in an audacious series of schemes. When obscure but potentially very valuable works come up in the auctions that Virgil orchestrates, he downplays their worth and has Billy act as a shill bidder. When the work is acquired for a relatively cheap price, Virgil takes possession and gives Billy a sizable fee for his part in the scheme. The only true joy Virgil derives from life takes place in an opulent hidden room in his spacious apartment (exactly where the film is set remains vague...at some points it appears to be London, at others times it might be Italy). Here, Virgil sits for hours sipping fine wine and silently admires the massive number of paintings he has acquired over the years. These inanimate objects act as his friends, family and lovers.
One day a seemingly routine phone call alters Virgil's in a dramatic way. A young woman, Claire (Sylvia Hoekes), calls him to say that she has recently inherited a house from her deceased parents and that it is filled with various works of art, some of which she suspects might be worth substantial sums. She asks if he will visit the house and evaluate them for potential auction pieces. When Virgil gets to the house, he finds it a shambles. Not only that, but the young woman isn't there to greet him. He recognizes some intriguing pieces among the rubbish but repeated attempts to meet with the woman fail, much to his frustration. The handyman employed at the house informs Virgil that he has worked there for years and has never seen her. She stays in touch with him by phone but eventually explains that he will never see her in the flesh because she suffers from a phobia that precludes her from leaving the solitude of her room if anyone else is in the house. Virgil becomes fascinated by the scenario and continues to make visits to the house, ostensibly to evaluate artwork but in reality, he is also accumulating pieces of a mysterious object that he hopes to have constructed in the expectation it might be quite valuable. He sneaks pieces out as he finds them and brings them to a young man, Robert (Jim Sturgess) who is undertaking the arduous task of trying to match up the odd pieces to make a coherent whole. Meanwhile, Virgil becomes increasingly obsessed by the elusive young woman who continues to avoid meeting with him even when they are both in the house at the same time. When they do ultimately meet, Virgil finds the obscure object of his desire is a beautiful young woman who is suffering from a severe form of agoraphobia. This is when the story kicks into high gear as Virgil becomes a combination father figure and would-be lover- all the while unable to control his obsession with her.
I will not reveal more about this strange, highly complex story line except to say that it consistently veers in directions you never expect, introducing plot elements that are thoroughly engrossing and which are matched only by the central characters, who are richly drawn by by director Tornatore, who also wrote the compelling screenplay. As the film progresses, it builds in suspense and will make you play a guessing game in your mind regarding what everyone's motives may be. The performances are uniformly superb with Geoffrey Rush nothing less than brilliant as the unlikable, yet somewhat sympathetic protagonist. Had the film received wider distribution, he undoubtedly would have received an Oscar nomination. Donald Sutherland in a key supporting role is also marvelous as is the cast of talented young actors. Kudos also to cinematographer Fabio Zamarion and production designer Maurizio Sabatini for their outstanding achievements on this production.
"The Best Offer" leads to a shattering conclusion that you may not see coming. It's a terrific movie and one of the best indie films I've seen in years. The DVD boasts a fine transfer but unfortunately is not a special edition. The only bonus feature is the trailer.
The Warner Archive has released the 1965 comedy "The Rounders" on Blu-ray. The film is primarily notable for the teaming of Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda, two estimable Hollywood stars who could be relied upon to play convincingly in both dark, somber dramas and frolicking comedies. "The Rounders" was directed and written by Burt Kennedy, who adapted a novel from by Max Evans. Kennedy was a veteran of big studio productions who worked his way from screenwriter to director. If he never made any indisputable classics, it can be said that he made a good many films that were top-notch entertainment. Among them: "Support Your Local Sheriff", "The War Wagon", "Hannie Caulder" and "The Train Robbers". While Westerns were Kennedy's specialty, he did have a prestigious achievement with his screenplay for Clint Eastwood's woefully underseen and under-praised 1990 film "White Hunter, Black Heart". It's not an insult to state that most of Kennedy's directorial efforts could be considered lightweight. They were not concerned with social issues and generally had a Hawksian emphasis on heroes who engaged in good-natured bantering ("The War Wagon" is the best example of this.) Those elements are in full display in "The Rounders" but the film never rises above the status of resembling an extended episode of a TV sitcom from the era. That isn't meant as a knock, considering how many good TV sitcoms were on the airwaves in 1965, but there is a rather lazy element to the production and one would be suspects that an old pro like Kennedy probably knocked off the script over a long lunch.
The film, set in contemporary Arizona, finds Ford and Fonda playing Ben Jones and "Howdy" Lewis (his real name is Marion, but he's too ashamed to admit it, which is a nice inside joke aimed at Fonda's old pal John Wayne, whose real name was Marion Morrison.) The two are middle-aged wranglers who make ends meet by "breaking" and taming wild horses. It's a rough-and-tumble profession that inevitably results in them being tossed around like rag dolls as they ride atop bucking broncos. However, Ben and "Howdy" are still the best in their profession, although their meager wages have left them with no tangible assets beyond a beaten-up pickup truck. Local land baron Jim Ed Love (Chill Wills) hires them to spend the winter in a dilapidated cabin in the mountains in order to round up stray horses and keep them safe until spring. The assignment means enduring harsh weather and complete isolation, but the pair need the money so they accept. Since Fonda and Ford are the stars, there's no chance of this evolving into a "Brokeback Mountain" scenario and the two spend time gazing at a poster that depicts a ridiculously sanitized hula girl, a symbol of Ben's long-time dream of moving to a tropical island. Much of the script centers on their trials and tribulations in attempting to break a particularly rebellious roan horse that defies conforming to their commands. It gets personal with Ben, who decides that at the end of winter, he will buy the horse from Love for the simple pleasure of taking him to a soap factory. The two men survive the winter and head off (with roan horse in tow) to the big rodeo, a stop they make every year in order to supplement their income by winning bucking bronco riding contests. Along they way they have a chance encounter with two sisters who happen to be exotic dancers (Sue Ane Langdon and Hope Holiday). They are amiable bubbleheads but after the men have been in the mountains sans female companionship for many months, they can't resist attempting to woo them. The family-friendly screenplay is quite timid when it comes to depicting adult sexual behavior. Ben and "Howdy" are understandably enticed by the vivacious sisters but they seem satiated by inducing them to join them in a moonlight skinny-dipping session, which is interrupted by a police raid. The climax finds the two partners attempting to use the unbreakable roan horse as a gimmick to lure local wranglers and riders to bet money they can best him. There's a bit of a con in their scheme, but as one might suspect, their plans go awry and they don't benefit from any ill-gotten gains. As you might also suspect, the roan horse earns Ben's respect and never makes it to that dreaded soap factory.
That's pretty much the entire plot of "The Rounders", which is lightweight enough to resemble a celluloid wisp of smoke. If it's never boring, it's also never very engaging, as we keep expecting the script to provide some kind of creative or engaging plot device that never arrives. Still, it has its pleasures and Fonda and Ford exude real chemistry that elevates the proceedings substantially. There is also the wonder of the magnificent Arizona locations, a jaunty musical score by Jeff Alexander and a marvelous cast of reliable and familiar character actors that, in addition to the incomparible Chill Wills, includes Edgar Buchanan, Kathleen Freeman, Barton MacLane, Doodles Weaver and Denver Pyle.
When the film was released, even MGM felt the production was rather lacking in commercial appeal. Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris, who gave the film some faint praise, justifiably took issue with the fact that the studio had buried "The Rounders" by placing it at the bottom of a double-feature with a forgettable teeny bopper musical, "Get Yourself a College Girl". He said it must have been depressing for all involved to have a film headlining Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda play second fiddle to a movie that starred Mary Ann Mobley and Nancy Sinatra. He also praised Burt Kennedy, acknowledging that his often estimable contributions to the film business were generally overlooked. Unexpectedly, however, "The Rounders" proved to be a hit in its own right. It drew devoted fans in rural areas and on the drive-in circuit and ended up overshadowing the top-of-the-bill feature. It would even later be made into a television series starring Patrick Wayne, Ron Hayes and Chill Wills, reprising his role from the film.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray does justice to Paul Vogel's impressive cinematography by providing a truly impressive and all-around gorgeous Blu-ray transfer. The release also includes the original trailer.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
for Cordoba,” a 1970 film produced by Vincent M. Fennelly for the Mirisch
Corporation, written by Stephen Kandel, directed by Paul Wendkos, and
distributed by United Artists, has been released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics
in an attractive new Blu-ray edition.In
the movie, U.S. Army Captain Rod Douglas (George Peppard) leads a three-man
team across the Mexican Border in 1916.Douglas has been assigned to gather intelligence on a predatory rebel
general, Cordoba (Raf Vallone), who has confiscated American-owned property in
Mexico.Wealthy U.S. ranchers and
politicians are demanding that the Army secure the border with troops (an
outcry for a $70 billion wall would have to wait another hundred years).After Douglas’ team enters Mexico, one of the
trio, Adam, is captured and tortured to death by Cordoba’s troops.Douglas and the third ranger, Jackson (Don
Gordon), escape to warn Gen. Pershing (John Russell) that Cordoba plans a raid
into Texas to steal six cannon that the Army has transported to the
border.Pershing and his advisors
believe they have the guns safely guarded, but Cordoba and his followers
infiltrate the town and steal the artillery.Pershing directs Douglas to capture Cordoba and disable the cannon.
captain recruits Jackson from the earlier mission and brings in two
trouble-prone but dependable subordinates from the brig. Andy (Pete Duel) has long hair, Woodstock-era
sideburns, a friendly smile, and a guitar slung across his back. Peter (Nico Minardos) wears wire-rimmed
glasses and a studious mien. In Mexico,
the Americans join up with two locals who promise to help them carry out their
mission: Antonio, a Mexican cavalry officer (Gabriele Tinti), and his friend
Leonora (Giovanna Ralli). Leonora had
been raped by Cordoba when the rebel murdered her father and confiscated the
family estate. Now she wants retribution
by helping the Americans nab the ruthless general. Douglas has to contend not only with the
challenge of getting into Cordoba’s mountain-top stronghold in the sierras, but
also with internal strife on his team. Jackson holds a grudge against Douglas for having let Adam -- Jackson’s
brother -- suffer an agonizing death during the previous reconnaissance without
trying to save him. Jackson swears that
he’ll kill Douglas when the current mission is completed. The viewer is periodically reminded of his
oath as, throughout the picture, in Sergio Leone fashion, the embittered
soldier flashes back to Adam being burned alive by Cordoba’s men over an open
for Cordoba” passed briefly through theaters in 1970 with a “GP” rating, the
reverse-lettered precursor to PG. I
vaguely remember seeing the poster at the time. Later, I tended to confuse it with another Peppard Western from the
early ‘70s, “One More Train to Rob,” when the two ran occasionally on local
weekend TV in the 1980s. Cinema Retro’s Lee
Pfeiffer reviewed a 2011 manufactured-on-demand DVD edition HERE. Clearly, “Cannon for Cordoba” was designed to
lure audiences who had turned out in numbers for earlier films about Gringo
adventurers on perilous missions south of the Border, such as “The Magnificent
Seven,” “The Professionals,” and “The Wild Bunch.” Film enthusiasts Howard S. Berger and
Nathaniel Thompson make that point early on, in their lively audio commentary
track on the new Kino Lorber BRD. And
Elmer Bernstein’s score strikes familiar chords from his classic “Magnificent
Seven” theme, for any viewers then or now who might be slow on the uptake. UA gave the release minimal publicity, and at
least four other pictures with similar storylines had already opened in 1970. Even the most dedicated fans of six-guns and
sombreros may already have cried “enough” by the time “Cannon for Cordoba”
appeared on marquees. Had it been
green-lighted a year or two later, it would probably have ended up on a slimmer
budget as a made-for-TV “ABC Movie of the Week,” or with nudity and an R rating
for the drive-in market. The DVD and the
new BRD editions are labeled PG-13.
As well as being an
accomplished novelist and historian, Kim Newman has written a regular column in
Empire magazine for almost twenty
years covering the video (then DVD and eventually Blu-ray) releases no one else
wanted to watch. Rather than serve as an encyclopaedia, Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon: The Collected Reviews is organised, in
a somewhat idiosyncratic style, into thematic rather chapters than simply an
alphabetic or chronological presentation. His identification of recurring
genres or styles has allowed for chapters on “Confinements and Dangerous
games,” “Cryptids and Critters,” “Serial Killers and Cops” and “Weird Hippie
Sh*t,” amongst more recognisable genre descriptions such as “Found Footage,”
“Famous Monsters” and “Secret Agent Men (and Women)” and others.
Spanning almost the
entire breadth of film history and encompassing productions from around the
globe, the reader is presented with hundreds of obscure titles alongside the
occasional classic. From silent film to spoofs and pornography, Kim Newman has
sat through over thirty films featuring Frankenstein and a similar amount
featuring Dracula. The trend for sharksploitation films, which still shows no
sign of abating, is particularly noticeable here as Kim Newman patiently
reviews dozens of films such as Sharkenstein
(2016), SharkExorcist (2015) and the infamous Sharknado series (2013-2016 so far). Refusing to fall into the film
historian’s trap of sneering at anything cheap or new, Kim Newman is fair to
each film he reviews, finding positive elements even in some found footage
films, despite having had to sit through so many.
Being a collection of
reviews of home video releases, there is also the occasional vintage gem in
here, such as Curse of Bigfoot (1975),
LasVampiras (1969) and Confessions
of anOpium Eater (1962). Indeed,
most of the films in the “Weird Hippie Sh*t” section, including Drive, He Said (1971), Toomorrow (1970), Wonderwall (1968) and Permissive
(1970) date from the hippie heyday itself.
Kim Newman’s writing
is distinctive and authoritative, with a gleeful sense of humour for the
absurd, which means that even when the films sound terrible, which they
occasionally do, the reviews are still entertaining to read. It is this skill
which has made his Video Dungeon
column in Empire so enjoyable over
the years, with trusted recommendations as to what to seek out, and what to
avoid. Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon: The
Collected Reviews is highly recommended, particularly for those who think
they have seen a lot of weird films over the years. The chances are high that
Kim Newman has seen more.
Paramount Home Media is making retro movie lovers an offer they can't refuse: a special, limited edition deluxe Blu-ray set of the three "Godfather" films complete with some creative extras. "The Godfather Trilogy: Omerta Edition" is limited to only 45,000 sets so make sure you order yours now- or be prepared to sleep with the fishes.
Here is the official description from Paramount:
Celebrating its 45th anniversary, director Francis Ford
Coppola’s THE GODFATHER is widely considered one of the most influential films
in cinematic history. Now the entire epic trilogy will be available on
Blu-ray™ in a spectacular 4-disc Omertà Edition, which includes the
Coppola Restoration of THE GODFATHER and THE GODFATHER, PART II, as well as the
remastered version of THE GODFATHER, PART III.
A stunning gift for any fan, only 45,000 of these limited
edition, numbered sets will be made available beginning November 7, 2017.
THE GODFATHER TRILOGY: OMERTÀ EDITION includes commentary by Coppola on all
three films, a full disc of previously released in-depth special features, as
well as exclusive new collectible Trivia Cards, Magnetic Poetry, an Anatomy of
a Scene fold out and Quote Cards.
On December 1, James Cameron's "Titanic" will be reissued to 87 AMC theaters across America to commemorate the film's twentieth anniversary. The movie has been enhanced by being remastered in the Dolby Vision process. Cameron issued a statement saying “This is beyond 3D, beyond 70mm, it’s beyond anything
you’ve seen before. The image leaps off the screen as bright and
vibrant as life itself. This is the way all movies should be seen and without a
doubt, ‘Titanic’ has NEVER looked better.” For more click here.
After Sean Connery left the role of James Bond in 1967 after "You Only Live Twice", producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hired an unknown- George Lazenby- to take over the part of 007. Lazenby starred in the 1969 film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and although he acquitted himself well, he shocked the industry by quitting the series after this one film. With the future of the franchise in jeopardy, the producers considered every viable leading man to star in the next Bond film, "Diamonds are Forever". Ultimately, they decided on American actor John Gavin, best known for his role in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". Although Gavin agreed to take the part, United Artists head of production, David V. Picker was squeamish about the prospects of an American 007. Overtures had been made to Sean Connery to reprise the role but they all failed, largely because of Connery's well-documented and long-standing disputes with the producers. Picker took a gamble and flew to visit Connery near his home in Spain. The two men discussed the Bond franchise over a game of golf. Picker managed to get Connery to concede to return for "Diamonds are Forever" on the proviso that the one-picture deal would net him the highest salary ever paid to an actor: $1.25 million, which Connery wanted to use to finance the establishment of a charity in Scotland. The deal also called for U.A. to finance two future non-Bond films, but only one- "The Offence"- was actually made. Picker's strategy worked, as Connery's return to the role ensured that "Diamonds are Forever" was a major hit when it opened in 1971. Connery rejected the predictable entreaties to get him to return for "Live and Let Die" and the role went to Roger Moore, who starred in seven highly successful Bond movies.
Fans have often pondered how John Gavin would have fared in the role of 007. An enterprising person has posted this imaginary scenario using clips from a "B" 1968 French spy movie in which Gavin starred, "O.S.S 117: Double Agent", which conveniently also starred future Bond baddie Curt Jurgens. With some clever dubbing of dialogue, this amusing clip compilation is the closest we'll ever to see to an ad campaign that boasted "John Gavin IS James Bond!"
“Make your life be your art and you will
never be forgotten.” (Charlotte Eriksson). I first fell in love with
Marilyn Monroe when I was sixteen, after seeing her on television in the movie “Bus
Stop.” By then she was long gone, but that didn’t matter. To me, she was like
something from outer space, a goddess dressed in black fishnet and gold tassel.
I’ll admit it’s a feeling I never quite got over. Marilyn had that effect on
some men, both those who knew her (Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, for example)
and millions of others like me who were her fans. Among the innumerable
critical brickbats tossed at her both in her lifetime and later was the charge
she was a terrible actress. I have always thought these criticisms somewhat
unfair. While not a great actress, she was nonetheless quite competent in a
number of roles. That is, when she was actually given the chance to act and not
just served up as window dressing. Rewatching “Bus Stop” recently, I was struck
anew at how really funny she could be. Forget all that stuff about her sad
life, the broken marriages, the desperate desire to be taken seriously as a
thespian. All that may be true, but her real talents lay in comedy. Like her
gifted miscast cinematic sisters, Clara Bow, Marion Davies and Jean Harlow,
Marilyn was born to play funny. Often she upstaged the best of them too,
including in “The Prince and the Showgirl,” a film she made with Laurence
Olivier. In it, she makes “the world’s greatest actor” look downright dull. On
the other hand, there was that face, that body. For a generation of men, it
defined rightly or wrongly what feminine sex appeal was all about. All of these
qualities shine forth in The
Essential Marilyn Monroeby
Milton H. Greene: 50 Sessions (ACC Editions), just released last
month. Of the book’s 284 images, 160 have never before been published.
Marilyn seems completely at ease in most of these photos.
You can tell she and the photographer trust and like each other. She is at
turns playful and happy, sad and reflective. None of it to me seems too
contrived. Instead, she is allowing us to see her in a way she would never permit
with any other camera man. She is fully naked (which had nothing to do with
taking her clothes off). Not all the shots
show her at her best. In some she appears, though still alluring, tired and
somewhat shopworn. These are among my favorites in the collection. I like to
think I’m getting a candid peek behind the carefully crafted, bloodless façade
of the manufactured Marilyn. For my money, she was most appealing when she
wasn’t doing anything much at all in front of the lens, just looking -- which
she often is in the Greene sessions. One photo, chosen by Greene’s son, Joshua,
for the cover of this expansive volume, is a prime example of the species. She
Marilyn and Milton
Greene shared a special bond. Not only were they personal friends, she even
lived with his family for a time in the 1950s. I imagine this as a happy period
for her. She felt completely safe with him in a way she rarely did with anyone.
It shows. The great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said that capturing
the right image on film was an act of extraordinary physical and intellectual
joy. As it turns out, that concept works both ways, for the photographer and
the viewer. Greene clearly wanted us to see the woman others seldom glimpsed or
even imagined. He succeeds brilliantly in that ambition. The glorious thing is
it’s all here in this fabulous photo collection, one for the ages. For the
Marilyn fan, it doesn’t get much better.
When it was released in 1971, director Michael Winner's "Lawman" was regarded as just another western. It did well enough, if unremarkably, at the boxoffice thanks to the drawing power of star Burt Lancaster, but in the end, "Lawman" came and went rather quickly in an era in which the genre was starting to wane a bit. The film represented a new direction for Winner, who had gained attention in the mid-1960s with several quirky comedies that captured the mood of London's emerging "mod" scene. In 1969 Winner landed his first production for a major Hollywood studio with the offbeat WWII comedy/adventure "Hannibal Brooks". He was now mainstream and wanted to try his hands at a diverse subject matters. He proved surprisingly adept at directing at a western, as evidenced by his achievement with "Lawman", which has been released as a Twilight Time Blu-ray limited edition (3,000 units). Winner would seem an unlikely choice for the task. He was of the "To the manor born" crowd, an elitist who inherited enormous wealth and who hobnobbed with London's "A" list crowd. Yet, Winner had a reverence for the American west and captured as well as any other director the look, feel and sensibility of the types of characters who inhabited it.
"Lawman" begins with a group of rowdy cowboys in the employ of uber-rich cattle baron Vincent Bronson (Lee J. Cobb), returning from a grueling cattle drive and letting off some steam by raising hell in a small town they are passing through. Drunk and out-of-control, they supplement their horseplay by randomly firing their pistols, causing some damage to local buildings before returning to Bronson's massive cattle ranch empire. Bronson assumes his men did little more than disturb the peace and shoot out some windows. Neither he or his men are aware that in the confusion, a stray bullet mortally wounded an elderly bystander. They learn this with the arrival in town of Marshal Jarod Maddox (Burt Lancaster), a soft-spoken but fearless lawman empowered by the state to find and arrest the culprits and bring them back to stand trial. Bronson is genuinely disturbed to learn his men had inadvertently caused a death and his first inclination is to take responsibility for it. He is a local kingmaker and is used to writing his own code of justice since he virtually owns all the local townspeople and public officials, who he has appointed to office. He instructs his short-tempered business partner Harvey Stenbaugh (Albert Salmi) to meet with Maddox and offer to pay for all physical damages done as well as offer generous compensation to the victim's family. Harvey is also instructed to blatantly bribe Maddox, who refuses the offer and makes clear he intends to arrest four men he has warrants for. Harvey is one of them and he draws on Maddox but dies in the ensuing gunplay. This sets in motion a war of wills between Maddox and Bronson who makes it clear no one will be standing trial for what he considers to be an innocent mistake. Maddox is determined, however, and begins to track down each of the four men, one of whom is Bronson's brother. Along the way, he reunites with Laura Shelby (Sheree North), a former lover who is now living with one of the wanted men, a coward named Hurd Price (J.D. Cannon), who takes flight upon Maddox's arrival. Laura tries unsuccessfully to persuade Maddox to spare Price and even beds him in an attempt to dissuade him, but Maddox fearlessly and relentlessly pursues his prey.
The most striking aspect of "Lawman", which bore a bland title and uninspired advertising campaign, is the intelligent script by Gerald Wilson. He presents fully-fleshed characters who could easily have been made into caricatures of western movie villains. The unique aspect of the script is that there aren't any traditional villains. The men who committed the crimes are honest, hard-working cow hands who are ashamed and appalled that they have killed a man. Even though Maddox assures them they will probably get a light sentence, they can't spare the time to be away from their ranches because it would cause them financial ruin. As for Cobb's Vincent Bronson, he is not the typical mustache-twirling western bad guy. He's a dictator who buys people's allegiance, but he is a benevolent dictator who has provided good wages and ample respect to the locals and people in his employ. Maddox meets the local sheriff, Cotton Ryan (Robert Ryan), a once-esteemed lawman who has fallen into disgrace and now shamefully acts as a flunky for Bronson. He attempts to persuade Maddox that pursuing his goal of arresting men at the risk of his life will be a fool's errand. Even if he succeeds in bringing them to court, Bronson will bribe the judge and jury. Maddox is about to be won over by this cynical view of life when an unexpected development leads to a violent showdown.
"Lawman" boasts an outstanding cast that includes Robert Duvall, John McGiver, Richard Jordan and Ralph Waite, to name but a few. The performances are all outstanding, as is Winner's direction. The three leads- Lancaster, Cobb and Ryan (reunited with Lancaster after "The Professionals") - are superb. Cinematographer Robert Paynter, a longtime collaborator of Winner's, captures the dust and dry prairies with such skill that you'll feel like having a tall, cold drink mid-way through the movie. (One gripe, though: Paynter has an amateurish fixation on playing with the zoom lens.) The movie also has a typically fine score by Jerry Fielding. The Twilight Time Blu-ray is sans any special features except the trailer, an isolated music score track and the usual excellent collector's booklet with informative notes by Julie Kirgo. The transfer is on par with the usual high quality standards associated with Twilight Time.
"Lawman" may not rank with the great westerns of Ford, Hawks and Sturges but it resonates today as an excellent film in all respects. Highly recommended.
Back in the mid-1970s when the U.S. government established the national speed limit at 55 MPH there was predictable outrage among "The Sky is Falling!" crowd who warned that traffic would slow to a crawl and that the rule was an infringement on individual rights. The fact is that since the day the 55 MPH speed limit was established, virtually everyone has ignored it and law enforcement officials seemed to unofficially tack on another 10 MPH before they got serious about ticketing anyone, the exception being small towns that did nitpick about speed limits and saw their coffers filled regularly. The fear among some Americans that they might have to actually slow the pace of their lives in some manner resulted in the birth of the road race movie. Call it "Revenge of the Lead-Foot Crowd". If would-be speeders couldn't fulfill their fantasies on the highways and byways of America, then, by golly, they would do it on the silver screen. Lost in the debate, however, was the original reason for the 55 MPH, which had less to do with safety and everything to do with conserving gasoline following the gas crisis of 1973 when drivers had to wait for hours to get their cars partially filled. President Richard M. Nixon proposed setting the new speed limit at 50 MPH for passenger cars but compromised at 55 MPH. The plan was a flop, saving far less gasoline than Nixon had envisioned- but the law was kept intact for reasons of safety. Hollywood, however, was not interested in nuances and delved straight into exploiting the situation. Suddenly, seemingly every other movie produced had elaborate car chases. A peculiar sub-genre formed that was dedicated to movies that would not even have existed without car chases. The 1976 release "Cannonball" was a sobering take on the premise with participants suffering gruesome deaths in a coast-to-coast high speed auto race. The very same year saw the release of "The Gumball Rally", a lighthearted spin on the exact same premise that caused critic Roger Ebert to note the similarities between the two films thusly: "Both movies have all the standard ingredients, however:
Two laconic leading men, two all-girl teams, one ethnic driver, one dumb law
enforcement officer, several exploding gas tanks, no end of incompetent highway
patrolmen, a helicopter and a car that breaks in half. The movies are so
similar in content, in fact, that the differences between them are instructive:
"The Gumball Rally" is an easily forgettable entertainment, but at
least it has a certain amount of class. "Cannonball" was straight
exploitation." Ebert also noted that two other similarly-themed films were also released that year: Ron Howard's "Eat My Dust" and Roger Corman's "Death Race 2000".
The Warner Archive has released "The Gumball Rally" on Blu-ray. The film is an amiable but completely predictable action comedy that acknowledges in its trailer that it was inspired by the granddaddy (and still the best) of all road race movies, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World". (Even the poster art seems an homage to Jack Davis's iconic ad campaign for "Mad World".) The movie opens in New York City where we see bored rich executive Michael Bannon (Michael Sarrazin) issue the code word "Gum Ball" to an eclectic group of eccentrics who immediately converge on a meeting he is holding to announce it's time to launch "The Gum Ball Rally" (spelled differently than the actual title of the film, "The Gumball Rally"). Turns out that this is annual race from New York to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. There are no rules for the race except that the winner will be awarded a fully-loaded gumball machine and have the bragging rights. Before long, teams driving an exotic fleet of autos ranging from Corvettes to Jaguars and a Rolls Royce are screeching through Manhattan and New Jersey in a madcap race to the finish line. The film was directed by Chuck Ball, a long-time stuntman and stunt coordinator as well as actor and sometimes director. Thus, it isn't surprising that the bulk of the movie is spent concentrating on spectacular chase scenes and comical crashes, with the characters left largely undeveloped. The most impressive scenes are early in the film in which Ball somehow managed to shoot cars speeding through Times Square during the daytime, amid theaters boasting marquees ranging from "Jaws" to the latest porno flicks. He also got the Lincoln Tunnel closed down for a key scene, as well as the New Jersey Turnpike (try doing that today!). It's all set to a jaunty, sitcom-like 1970s score by Dominic Frontiere.
"The Gumball Rally" was aimed squarely at the drive-in market where it undoubtedly did well. The film's production budget went almost entirely on the expensive chase and crash scenes, some of which feature some creative and amusing aspects amid the cliches. Consequently, there wasn't any money left for star power. Michael Sarrazin, a good and underrated actor who never made it as big as he deserved to, is the most familiar face and young Raul Julia has a flashy role as a perpetually horny racer whose sex drive interferes with his commitment to get to the finish line first. Gary Busey, a couple of years away from his star-making turn in "The Buddy Holly Story", is on board as a goofball and Normann Burton has a good role as the Javert-like policeman who relentlessly pursues the racers every year only to wind up humiliated. Old timers J. Pat O'Malley and Vaughn Taylor are aging sophisticates who are among the contestants. The film is innocent, undemanding fun, even if it's completely predictable. The road race genre continued for a number of years, thanks in large part to Burt Reynolds' massive "Smokey and the Bandit" and "The Cannonball Run", the latter being an exact remake of "The Gumball Rally" which was a remake of "Cannonball". The Warner Archive release has a top-notch transfer and includes the original trailer, which doesn't mention a single cast member by name.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Sidney Sheldon (1917-2007), the playwright, television
mogul, and novelist, reportedly sold well over 300 million books in his
lifetime. This is a pretty impressive number
for a man who only turned to churning out books in his early fifties. If I hedged on the word “writing” when
describing the mogul’s working methods, I’m not being coy and
disrespectful. Perhaps taking a page
from fellow television writer-creator-workaholic Rod Serling’s own playbook, Sheldon
would dictate his stories into a tape recorder and later have secretaries type
out his ramblings. With words committed
to paper, Sheldon would then skillfully revise and edit and buffer the
manuscript until satisfied he had a full-fledged novel on hand. Though a number of literary critics - and resentful
thriller-writing contemporaries - would excoriate the creator/writer of The Patty Duke Show and I Dream of Jeannie for his work method
and hackneyed storylines, readers worldwide made Sheldon one of the most
successful popular-market paperback novelists of all time.
One fan of Sheldon’s books was Roger Moore, also in the
midst of enjoying a great run of wealth and fame as James Bond. The actor would recall in his memoir My Word is My Bond, “Since first reading
Sidney Sheldon’s book The Naked Face
I had felt it would lend itself to a very good film.” Moore was interested in exploring new
projects; he was certain his sixth and most recent outing as Bond, Octopussy (1983), was likely his last. He was, after all, now fifty-seven years old. He could be forgiven for believing his
successful turn as British secret agent 007 had come to its natural end.
Several years prior to the cinema version of “The Naked
Face,” Moore was cast in “Sunday Lovers” (1980), a dismal romantic-comedy of four
vignettes tethered together as a feature-length film. The Franco-Italian production would be
released in the U.S. in the early winter of 1981. Though the film performed poorly at the
box-office on both sides of the Atlantic, critics agreed the movie’s first
tale, a distinctly British farce titled “An Englishman’s Home,” was clearly the
best of an otherwise bad bunch. The screenplay for this segment had been written
by the British playwright and lyricist Leslie Bricusse, and featured a talented
ensemble: Moore, Denholm Elliot, Lynn
Redgrave, and Priscilla Barnes. The
vignette was helmed with modest flourish by Bryan Forbes, a formidable figure
in the British film industry who had only recently stepped down as managing
director of EMI films. Moore enjoyed
working with the director on “Sunday Lovers” as Forbes, a true Renaissance man,
had been an old colleague. The two had been
friends since their earliest training together at the Royal Academy of Dramatic
Around this same time a pair of Israeli nationals,
Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, became primary shareholders of Cannon Films, a floundering
company teetering on bankruptcy and desperate for well-heeled investors. The savvy cousins would quickly reinvigorate
the company’s fortunes in the 1980s with a profitable string of teen-horrors
and testosterone-fueled low-budget action B-films starring Charles Bronson and
Chuck Norris. In the interim of such
box-office successes as “Death Wish II” and the first of the “Missing in Action”
films, the producers actively courted Moore for a possible collaboration. The interests of both parties converged when a
window of opportunity opened following the actor’s wrap of Octopussy. Moore’s suggestion
of Sidney Sheldon’s 1970 best-selling novel “The Naked Face” as a possible
project for Cannon was met with enthusiasm. The deal was sealed when the filmmakers agreed to green-light Moore’s
friend Bryan Forbes as director for the project. Golan and Globus announced production of “The
Naked Face” with customary Cannon ballyhoo at the Cannes International Film
The premise of both the novel and film was classic
Hitchcock. A contemplative Chicago
psychiatrist, Dr. Judd Stevens (Roger Moore), becomes entangled as primary
suspect for a series of murders of which he is innocent and seems to have no
connection. As “The Naked Face” was clearly
targeted as entertainment for a sophisticated adult demographic, the producers
cast an impressive roster of middle-to-late-age talent. These were faces familiar to seasoned moviegoers: Rod Steiger, Anne Archer, Elliott Gould, and
Art Carney among them. The casting,
sadly, was not terribly profound. The
producers would cast veteran actor Rod Steiger as Moore’s foil, the
frothing-at-the-mouth, bulldog detective Lt. McGreavy. Steiger’s performance was certainly memorable. Unfortunately, it is memorable for all of the
wrong reasons. The most obvious problem with the actor’s
performance was, as Moore would later lament, Steiger did little to mitigate
his well-deserved reputation amongst his peers as a “scene chewer.” There’s plenty of that charge in evidence
here. The actor’s one-note portrayal is,
in turn, amusing and wearying. McGreavy comes off as a highly-caffeinated
Sgt. Joe Friday, ready to assign even the sketchiest shred of circumstantial
evidence as proof of Moore’s culpability in the murders. The detective’s dogged single-mindedness to
implicate the doctor is explained away as a result of the psychiatrist’s
testimony on behalf of a mentally unstable man who murdered his former police-partner
some years earlier. Elliott Gould is
cast as Angeli, McGreavy’s calmer and more reasonable contemporary partner. He is, seemingly, the better angel of this
traditional “good cop/bad cop” pairing. But
Gould is surprisingly unremarkable here, turning in a curiously flat and remote
performance. Art Carney plays Morgens, an
elderly, eccentric private investigator and collector of vintage clocks, who
briefly allies with Moore. Incredibly,
we’re expected to believe that the contemplative Dr. Stevens would engage this
low-rent private investigator through a listing in the Chicago Yellow Pages.
Promoted for its psychedelic aspects (as seemingly all youth-driven films of the late 1960s were), the crime thriller "Cop-Out" also bears a completely meaningless title that was designed to bring the mod crowd into theaters. (Please do not confuse this "Cop-Out" with director Kevin Smith horrendous 2010 sleaze fest "Cop Out".) Yet, despite the emphasis on exploitation, the film is actually a tightly-scripted, highly intelligent drama that boasts an especially impressive performance by the generally impressive James Mason. He plays John Sawyer, a once-esteemed lawyer who has fallen on hard times. His vivacious wife has left him because of his sexual inattention to her, as well as his love affair with booze. With her departure, Sawyer putters around a decaying mansion that, like himself, was once quite impressive. Sawyer's house is also a home to his daughter Angela (Geraldine Chaplin), but the two are barely on speaking terms. She resents his disinterest in her well-being and he resents what he believes is her misspent youth. Angela hangs out with a group of upper crust, spoiled rotten modders who spend their time drinking, smoking and screwing with shameless abandon. The odd man out in the group is Jo (Paul Bertoya), a struggling Greek immigrant who is tolerated in the group of snobs primarily because Angela is his girlfriend. The restless modders end up surreptitiously boarding a docked freighter and wreaking havoc before they are caught out by a crew member, Barney Teale (Bobby Darrin), a fast-talking American hipster who befriends the group and sets about manipulating them. He moves into their motley secret hideaway in an abandoned local theater and begins to make use of the premises to indulge in doing drugs and entertaining strippers and prostitutes. He's got a Jekyll and Hyde-like personality: one minute he's charming and funny, the next he's cruel and violent. When Barney suffers injuries due to an accident, Angela allows him to recuperate in her room, safe in the assumption that her disengaged father would never find out about his presence. However, during the night, a gunshot rings out and Barney turns up dead in Angela's bed. The prime suspect is Jo, who is accused of being jealous of Angela's proximity to the sex-crazed Barney. However, Angela insists he's being framed. The question is: by who? She imposes upon her father to return to his profession and take up Jo's defense. He agrees to do so but his appearance before the court is a disaster, leading to Angela to believe that Jo will inevitably be convicted. However, her father rallies, lays off the bottle and begins to play detective. In Agatha Christie fashion, he confronts the man he suspects of being the real murderer at a posh dinner party where the suspect is being honored on his birthday.
"Cop-Out" is rather striking for its blunt depiction of the open sexuality that was inherent in the youth revolution of the Sixties. There are few noble characters among the sleazebags but Sawyer's rise from the ash heap of humanity serves as a precursor for Paul Newman's character in "The Verdict" in that both men regain meaning in the lives by combating what they feel is a social injustice. The film was directed by Pierre Rouve, and it marks his only turn helming a film. (He major credits were as producer, including Antonioni's "Blow-Up".) Rouve is quite impressive, too, and doesn't allow the sexual and violent aspects of the film to overshadow the intelligent screenplay, which is based on the novel "Strangers in the House" by Georges Simenon. There's a very able supporting cast, with young Ian Ogilvy in what turns out to be a key role. The script deftly makes some biting observations about British class structure and delves into other areas such as sexual harassment, impotence and homosexuality (which was still an imprisonable offence at the time in England!). Chaplin performs well, as does the supporting cast, with Bobby Darin somewhat mesmerizing in an off-the-wall performance. The main recommendation for seeing the movie, however, is Mason's outstanding performance as the world-weary, worn-out shadow of a man who still has the ability to slay his social adversaries with his rapier wit. There's also some good location scenery (it was filmed in Southampton) and retro movie lovers will enjoy Mason glimpsing at some skin magazines including one promoting Molly Peters in "Thunderball". As an added treat, there are occasional vocals by Eric Burden and the Animals.
Kino Lorber has rescued yet another obscure gem of a film and given it a fine presentation on Blu-ray. The original trailer is included as are trailers from other KL releases including "Coming Home", "The Crucible" and others.
(This is the second and final part of Ernie Magnotta's exclusive interview with Kenneth Johnson, creator of the classic 1970s TV series "The Incredible Hulk", which debuted 40 years ago today.)
BY ERNIE MAGNOTTA
EM: Nice…I’d like to talk
about Jack Colvin for a sec.
EM: I really loved him as
McGee. I thought he was terrific. Did he enjoy playing the role?
KJ: Yeah, he did. But he was frustrated sometimes
and he would say to me, “How many times can I say that I’m looking for a
hulking, green creature?” So, we tried to really write episodes where he had
meaningful stuff to do.
EM: Yeah, that was
actually my next question because the character changed a bit. He was a little
unlikeable in the first season; like a weasel.
KJ: Yeah, that’s it. I love those yellow rag
journalists. The tabloid type people are just very colorful folks, so I thought
it would be fun. But Jack was so substantive and such a fine actor and a
brilliant acting teacher that we just realized that we had an asset we needed
to develop more and we needed to write more for him. And there are some
episodes, as you know, where he really takes center stage for a good portion of
EM: Yeah, there’s one
that’s just completely about him. I think Bill Bixby only shows up in
KJ: I think you’re right. I think that was near
the time of the death of Bill’s son, although Bill really just wanted to keep on
working through that.
EM: That’s totally
KJ: It was a terrible time and that was Bill’s
way of dealing with it; just getting on the set and doing it. He was terrific
and I still miss him to this day. He was a force of nature. (Laughs) We had
many, many, many knock-down, drag out arguments, but, Ernie, there was never
one that was about bullshit. There was never one that was about nonsense or
“star” stuff. It was always about character and he would come to me and say,
“Dr. David Banner would never say this line!”
EM: That’s so great and
it answers part of my next question which is about how much input he had and
how much he got into the character.
KJ: I would be in bed at night and he would have
finished a day of shooting and gone to the looping stage late at night because
we had added a wild line or two to help clarify something and he would call me
at home, “Dr. David Banner wouldn’t say this line!” And I’d tell him, “Yes, he
would. I wrote it.”
KJ: And we’d go back and forth and our agreement
was whoever was right got to win. And sometimes it would end up with Bill
saying, “All right. I’ll say it, but I don’t think Dr. David Banner would say
it.” (Laughs) But we had a good working relationship and he was a total pro all
EM: I know that, at the
time of the pilot, Lou Ferrigno didn’t have any acting experience, but I
thought he did a fantastic job; especially his final scene with Susan Sullivan.
KJ: Louie grew into the role very quickly and I
gave him time on the set to get there and to find it. I also helped him by
giving him like acting 101, but he picked up on everything very quickly and it
got so we really enjoyed writing those scenes when the Hulk was coming down
from the anger and was a simplistic child in many ways.
EM: Like when he was
confused by something.
VP: Yeah, exactly. I remember Mickey Jones
teaching him how to open a pop top soda can; that kind of thing. Or he’d be
resting under a tree, petting a deer. And Louie really got into those and began
to enjoy it and he did a really fine job. He just progressed so well and so
far. These days, Lou is an inspirational speaker and he’s working for the
Sheriff’s Department as well, so he’s an asset to the community.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the classic TV series "The Incredible Hulk", Cinema Retro's Ernie Magnotta sat down for an extensive discussion with the show's creator Kenneth Johnson.
BY ERNIE MAGNOTTA
Banner—physician, scientist…searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans
have. Then, an accidental overdose of gamma radiation alters his body chemistry.
And now, when David Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis
The creature is
driven by rage and is pursued by an investigative reporter. The creature is
wanted for a murder he didn’t commit. David Banner is believed to be dead. And
he must let the world think that he is dead until he can find a way to control
the raging spirit that dwells within him.
Kids who grew up in the 1970s remember that
narration well. Every Friday night at 9pm (until it was later moved to 8pm) we’d
sit in front of our television sets, switch on CBS channel 2 and listen to the
late, great Ted Cassidy (Lurch from The
Addams Family) recite those very words before another exciting, hour-long
episode of The Incredible Hulk TV
series would begin. However, before there was a series, there were two very
successful made-for-TV movies, and before that, a very popular comic book.
The character of the Hulk was created in 1962
by legendary Marvel Comics masterminds Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby
(artist). In the comic book, Dr. Bruce Banner was a nuclear scientist for the
United States Army who, while trying to save a teenager who wandered onto a
test site, was accidently bathed in gamma rays when a bomb he created was
detonated. This forever caused the mild-mannered scientist to change into a
hulking green-skinned creature whenever he became enraged. (The first few
stories had him change whenever the moon was full just like a werewolf. Also,
his skin was originally grey.) Most of the exciting comic book tales revolved
around Army General Thunderbolt Ross’s obsessive need to find and capture the
destructive, but good-hearted Hulk who he felt was a danger to the country he
had sworn to protect.
Flash forward 15 years. After achieving great
success writing and directing episodes of the super-popular cyborg television
series The Six Million Dollar Man as
well as creating and producing its sister show The Bionic Woman, Kenneth Johnson received a call from Universal
Television head Frank Price. Price, who had just acquired the rights to five
Marvel Comics superhero titles, asked Johnson to pick one that he’d like to
develop for TV, but Johnson, who was not a comic book follower, declined.
However, while reading Victor Hugo’s Les
Miserables, Johnson thought about how he could combine the structure of
that book with the characters of Bruce Banner and the Hulk while, at the same
time, going for a more realistic approach than the comic book.
First of all, Johnson knew that he didn’t
want any connection to comic book styles and, so, he immediately eliminated
everything from the comics except for the main character of Banner (which he
renamed David in order to avoid comic book alliteration) and the fact that, due
to radiation poisoning, he metamorphoses into a hulking green creature whenever
he becomes angry or endures great pain. (Johnson originally wanted to change
the Hulk’s skin color to red, but Marvel vetoed the idea due to the already
well-known look of their popular comic book character.) He then eliminated
scientist Banner’s ties to the military and, instead, made him a California
physician who was desperately trying to uncover the secret as to why, while
trying to save another human life, certain people acquired almost superhuman
strength while others did not (like himself when, after a car accident, he
failed to turn over the flaming automobile and save his beloved wife). Also,
Johnson not only eliminated the Hulk’s Tarzan-like
speech and, except for growls, kept the creature mute, but, in order to
maintain as much realism as possible, he made the Hulk less powerful than the
indestructible creature in the comics.
Kenneth Johnson (center) with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.
Banner (played brilliantly by two-time Emmy
Award nominee Bill Bixby who was Johnson’s first and only choice for the role)
soon discovers that the answer is due to having a low Gamma count, so he
immediately takes a higher dose. Unbeknownst to him, the equipment he used was
calibrated incorrectly and he wound up taking a much higher dose than
originally planned. This causes the change into an incredibly powerful, almost
Cro-Magnon-like, green-skinned creature that, although destructive, retains
Banner’s benevolence and does not kill (although, one day, it could
inadvertently kill someone which is Banner’s biggest fear). Johnson added an
Inspector Javert-like character in the form of tabloid reporter Jack McGee
(played by talented character actor and acting teacher Jack Colvin) who becomes
obsessed with learning about and capturing the Hulk (portrayed by legendary
bodybuilding champion Lou Ferrigno). Due to McGee’s zeal as well as Banner’s
burning desire for a cure, the good doctor’s colleague and unrequited love, Dr.
Elaina Marks (played beautifully by Susan Sullivan), is accidentally killed in
a lab explosion. However, McGee believes that Elaina (and Banner) was murdered
by the creature and, after informing the authorities, a warrant for murder is
put out for the Hulk. David Banner (a character with similarities to Jean
Valjean), now believed to be dead, begins to travel the country in search of a
cure while, at the same time, doing his best to avoid transforming into the
green-skinned goliath; for the transformations bring the intrepid Mr. McGee who
is always just one step behind him.
An intriguing, solid and perfect set-up for a
television series (and one that was used several times before in shows like
Quinn Martin’s classic series The
Fugitive starring David Janssen and The
Immortal starring Christopher George; both of which contain the Les Miserables structure of a benevolent
man on the run being pursued by a relentless authority figure). However, before
going to series, there would be a second TV-Movie of the week titled The Return of the Incredible Hulk (aka Death in the Family) which aired on
November 27th, 1977 (just weeks after the amazing (and just discussed)
original pilot, The Incredible Hulk,
which aired on Friday, November 4th, 1977). This entertaining movie
showed exactly how the future series episodes would play out. Banner, under an
assumed surname always beginning with the letter ‘B’, arrives in town looking
for work while simultaneously searching for a cure. He gets involved with other
people’s dilemmas, honestly tries to help them and, before long, is made to
change into his hulking alter ego who ultimately winds up saving the day (and,
many times, Banner’s life). More often than not, Mr. Magee shows up after the
first transformation (in the hour-long episodes, Banner always transforms
twice, but here (in a two-hour movie) he metamorphoses four times) and Banner
has the added headache of staying out of sight while the reporter is around.
After saying his goodbyes to those he’s helped, a usually penniless Banner
takes off alone, hitchhiking his way to a new town where he will continue to
search of a cure, help those in need and avoid contact with McGee and the
German actress Karin Dor has died at age 79. She had been in a nursing home since suffering the severe aftereffects of a fall last year. Dor was a popular presence in European cinema. She began acting in the 1950s and became a well-known star in the 1960s. She frequently collaborated with her husband, Austrian director Harald Reinl. She appeared in several of the popular German "Winnetou" westerns and well as German crime programs on television. In 1967 she achieved a new level of fame when she was cast as Helga Brandt, the sultry SPECTRE agent who seduces Sean Connery's James Bond before attempting to kill him in the 1967 blockbuster "You Only Live Twice". Dor's character suffered a memorable fate when her employer, SPECTRE chieftain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) ensures she drops into his piranha-filled moat. She later had a leading role in Alfred Hitchcock's 1969 spy thriller "Topaz". Dor continued to act until recently, with her last screen credit in 2015. She was also a frequent presence on European television programs.
In what may have been her last interview, Dor discussed the making of "You Only Live Twice" in-depth with Cinema Retro contributing writers Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury. The interview appears in the latest issue, #39.
In MGM’s 1958 Western “The Law and Jake Wade,” Robert
Taylor rides down from the Sierra Nevada mountains early one morning into a small
town and busts his old partner-in-crime, Clint Hollister (Richard Widmark), out
of the hoosegow. Hollister is a nasty guy. Not satisfied with escaping a
hanging, to Jake’s dismay, he clubs the sheriff and shoots a couple of people
out in the street while he and Jake make their getaway. Jake has to take his
rifle away from him to keep from killing more people.
Back up in the mountains Clint wants to ride on with Jake
but Jake says no. He busted Clint out of jail because he figured he owed him
for doing the same thing for him once. Now they’re even. Clint doesn’t agree.
There’s that matter of the $20,000 they stole on their last job together. He
wants his share. Jake tells him he buried the money and never touched it and
advises Clint to forget about it. “Don’t try to follow me,” he tells him. “I’m
still pretty good with this,” he says, patting his holstered gun. They go their
separate ways and Jake rides down on the other side of the mountain into
another town where he pulls up in front of a marshal’s office. Two men inside
welcome him back. He takes his coat off and surprise! There’s a tin star pinned
to his shirt.
It’s a shocker. He’s a law man, and he just broke a convicted
killer out of jail. It seems while Clint continued his career as an outlaw,
Jake reformed and became a town marshal. He’s an upstanding citizen now and
even has a lovely fiancé named Peggy (Patricia Owens) he’s going to settle down
with. Now you might ask yourself why a guy in Jake’s position would risk
everything to save his old partner from a noose. It would be somewhat
unbelievable if veteran screenwriter William Bowers (The Gunfighter), adapting
a novel by Marvin H. Alpert, didn’t provide some background indicating that Jake
is not only a guy with a conscience, Clint has some psychological hold over him
that he uses to his own advantage.
It helps that “The Law and Jake Wade” is directed by John
Sturges (Gunfight at the OK Corral, The Magnificent Seven). Sturges sets a
steady, understated, no-nonsense tone to the proceedings that makes everything
credible and authentic. His directorial skill is nowhere more evident than in
the way he handles a cast made up in part by some familiar Hollywood bad asses.
After Jake gets home Clint shows up with some mutual friends—members of the old
gang. The first is Rennie, a young psychopath played by Henry Silva (Manchurian
Candidate). Silva affects a weird way of talking and looking like he’s about to
draw on anyone who looks at him crossways. Next up, Robert Middleton as Ortero,
a hulking, cold-blooded gunman with a big belly and a nasty disposition. And
last but not least, a pre-Star Trek DeForest Kelly as Wexler, who would almost
rather kill Jake than try to find the money. (I know it’s hard to think of Dr.
McCoy as a bad ass but actually he played that role in several westerns back in
the fifties). Sturges provides each of the heavies enough screen time and
action to establish their bonafides.
The story heats up when Clint and his Merry Men kidnap
Jake’s fiancé and force him to take them to the hidden loot. Sturges was not
only good at getting great performances from his cast, he was also one of the
best at filming in rugged locations. A lot of “The Law And Jake Wade” was shot
in the Sierra Nevada mountains around Lone Pine and down in Death Valley, an
area of the American landscape so often used in westerns that it has long since
become part of our national dreamscape. Even movie goers who are not
particularly fans of westerns can immediately recognize the mountains and
deserts of this stretch of ruggedly beautiful country. Budd Boetticher was
perhaps the director to make the best use of this scenery in the films he made
with Randolph Scott, but Sturges and his cinematographer Robert Surtees almost
surpass him in this film. The movie not only provides compelling drama, it’s
also gorgeous to look at.
On top of all this, Taylor and Widmark are at the top of
their game. Taylor was 58 at the time he played Marshal Wade, a little long in
the tooth, perhaps, to be paired with the 33-year old Owens, but he was still
in shape, and age had only added a bit of gravitas to his classic good looks.
He spends a lot of time in the film riding along the high passes of the Sierras
with his hands tied behind his back, which must have been difficult. One of the
biggest marvels in the movie is the way his hat stayed on while they rode over
one of those passes where the wind was blowing so hard Widmark and the others
all had to hold on to their lids to keep from losing them. But not Bob Taylor.
When you’re a star, baby, the hat stays on, even if you have to glue it on.
Widmark has one of his best sadistic psycho-killer roles
as Clint Hollister. It’s as though his notorious Tommy Udo from “Kiss of Death”
had donned gun belt and spurs and headed
west. Henry Silva was plenty creepy as Rennie, but one twitch of Widmark’s
snarling upper lip quickly resolved any doubt about who was deadlier or meaner.
The Warner Archive Collection has released “The Law and
Jake Wade” on a decent, if somewhat unspectacular, Blu-ray with no bonus
features other than the original theatrical trailer. The film lacks an original soundtrack score because it was made during a musicians’
union strike. Thus, the music heard in the movie was lifted from previous features.
Despite the lack of special features, this
is a solidly entertaining film and this Blu-Ray disc is highly recommended.
John M. Whalen is the author of "This Ray Gun for Hire...and Other Tales." Click here to order from Amazon.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
The late Jerry Lewis made millions of people laugh over the decades- and accumulated millions of dollars in his substantial estate. However, his five children from his first marriage to Patti Palmer, to whom he was wed between the years 1944-1980. were specifically excluded from his will, which was drawn in 2012. Lewis later divorced Patti and married SanDee Pitnick and stayed married to her until his death in August. SanDee, along with their adopted daughter Danielle, inherited his entire estate. There had been strains in Lewis's relationship with his five children with Patti (a sixth son, Joseph, died in 2009 from a drug overdose. Lewis had virtually disowned him and refused to even pay for his funeral.) Whatever the reasons for the severed family ties, they extended to his grandchildren, who were also left out of the will. Early in his career, Lewis extolled the joys of family values, even as he had gained a reputation as a ladies man (which was ironically the title of one of his biggest hits). For more, click here.
NOTE: THE PROMOTERS HAVE ANNOUNCED THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL JANUARY 13TH
The historic BAL Theatre in San Leandro, California will celebrate Bond....James Bond this weekend with a double feature of "You Only Live Twice" and "Live and Let Die". Come dressed as your favorite Bond character for martinis, live music and prizes. For details, click here.
“A DASH OF UNUSUAL
BRILLIANCE BEHIND A FACE WITH WHITE GLASSES”
By Raymond Benson
somewhat snobbish critic John Simon has said that the only “great” female film directors are Leni Riefenstahl and Lina
Wertmüller. I’m sure we can all take issue with
such a sexist comment, but he is correct that both women were indeed “great,”
even though the former is known for Nazi propaganda films of the 1930s. Wertmüller,
on the other hand, made different kinds of scandalous pictures—but at least ones
that were, and still are, entertaining. (They also sometimes had whimsically
long titles, such as The End of the World
in Our Usual Bed on a Night Full of Rain.)
the early to mid-1970s, Wertmüller was the face of
a daring new Italian cinema. When her movies were imported to America and the
U.K, she was dubbed the “Female Fellini.” In fact, she was once an assistant
director for the auteur. But Wertmüller’s
work took Fellini’s extravagance and pushed it to an extreme, creating her own
signatory brand of comedy, theatricality, biting satire, political commentary, and
often shocking truths. Four of her films released between 1972-1975, in which
she collaborated with the brilliant actor Giancarlo Giannini, established Wertmüller
as a powerful force of artistic vision. It is no small feat that she was the
first woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.
Lorber has recently restored and released several Wertmüller
titles on Blu-ray and DVD, along with an excellent documentary on the woman
herself. Cinema Retro received an
assortment of them, all of which will be discussed here.
jewel in the crown of all of Kino Lorber’s Wertmüller disks is Seven Beauties (1975; released in the
U.S. and U.K. in 1976). It was the picture for which she received the Oscar
nomination (she lost to John G. Avildsen, for Rocky). It also received nods for Best Foreign Film, Best Actor
(Giannini), and Original Screenplay. Beauties
is a tour-de-force that features Giannini at his best as the swaggering
Pasqualino, a minor hood in Naples during World War II. He takes great pains to
protect the honor of his seven sisters, even though he isn’t so honorable
himself. When he is captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp,
Pasqualino audaciously figures he can save himself by “seducing” the female
commandant, a monster of a woman played by Shirley Stoler.
has an uncanny ability to combine the horrors of the Holocaust with the
absurdity of Pasqualino’s Chaplin-esque pathetic bravado. You wince and shudder
at the brutality on display—and then you find yourself laughing. Giannini, who
acts more with his eyes than anyone else I can think of, totally engages the
viewer with pathos and ridiculousness. In the end, Seven Beauties is a powerful statement about what man will do to
survive, and how expendable “honor” really is.
Lorber’s Seven Beauties Blu-ray is a
gorgeous 2K restoration with 2.0 stereo audio, in Italian with optional English
subtitles. Supplements include an interview with filmmaker Amy Heckerling about
the film and Wertmüller, an excerpt from the separately-released
documentary, Behind the White Glasses,
and trailers for other releases by the director. The booklet features essays by
director Allison Anders and film historian Claudia Consolati, PhD. Click here to order from Amazon.
Summer Night (or: Summer Night with Greek Profile, Almond Eyes
and Scent of Basil) (1986) stars Mariangela Melato (who co-starred with Giannini
in three of the 70s pictures) and Michele Placido in an obvious attempt to
recreate the magic that was Wertmüller’s crowd-pleaser,
Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the
Blue Sea of August (1974). Summer
Night, like the earlier film, is a bawdy romance between two characters with
fiery dispositions and opposite political stances. While this sexy romp is
somewhat entertaining, and the cinematography of the locales—set around
Sardinia—is breathtaking, the film doesn’t work. Both leads are too unlikable
to fully grasp onto. The Blu-ray, however, is an excellent presentation, also
with a 2K restoration and 2.0 stereo audio. The only supplements are trailers,
and the booklet features an essay by critic John Simon. Click here to order from Amazon
Julie Wardh (Edwige
Fenech) is a woman who needs some time off men: she attempts to escape her
sado-masochistic relationship with Jean (Ivan Rassimov) by marrying Neil Wardh
(Alberto de Mendoza), an ambassador at the Italian embassy in Austria. But
things are not that simple. Julie suffers from erotic nightmares, wherein she
makes love to Jean whilst being showered in broken glass, but continues to
proclaim her hatred for him to anyone that will listen, including jean himself.
At a friend’s party, where women tear paper dresses from each other and wrestle
naked, Julie meets the cool George (George Hilton) a man determined to seduce
Mrs Wardh, regardless of her husband or complicated romantic history. He seems
kind and he rides a motorbike, so it does not take Mrs Wardh long to fall for
Of course, this being
a giallo, in the middle of this menage au quattro there is a psychosexual
killer stalking Vienna, murdering prostitutes and other beautiful women at
random. Could the murderer be the vicious Jean, who seems determined to destroy
Julie’s marriage, if not her life? Or is her sanity in question?
Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh is an interesting blend of Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972) and Clouzot’s LesDiaboliques
(1955), with more red herrings and plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan film.
Things become even more confusing if you watch this back to back with All the Colours of the Dark (1972, Sergio
Martino), a film made the following year with Fenech, Hilton and Rassimov whose
plot is similarly constructed, right down to the intense dream sequences with
Ivan Rassimov making violent love to Edwige Fenech. Following the rough
template laid out in Mario Bava’s Blood
and Black Lace (1964), where a faceless black-gloved killer murders his way
through a swath of beautiful young women, this film works hard to keep the
audience guessing as to the identity of the sex maniac. Any sense of logic in
the plot is however secondary to the amount of time spent looking at a naked
Edwige Fenech. When she is not baring all for the various men in her life she
is running around looking scared or confused, seemingly to pad out the running
time, the thin script probably only filling fifteen pages.
This is an
entertaining thriller which continues to enthral and fascinate fans. It’s
importance to Italian cinema was confirmed in 2015 when a three-day academic
conference was held at the Austrian Institute in Rome to celebrate the film,
with director Sergio Martino, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, composer Nora
Orlandi star George Hilton and this CinemaRetro contributor in attendance.
Although dismissed by serious film critics in the 1970s, the giallo is now seen
as a vital element of Italian film, its influence seen in the slasher films
that Hollywood produced in earnest in the 1980s.
This new Shameless Blu-ray
is an excellent upgrade from their earlier DVD release, and is a great addition
to their burgeoning range of cult Italian film releases. Bonus features
include interviews with both Sergio Martino and Edwige Fenech as well as a fact
track from genre expert Justin Harris.
UK READERS: Click here to order a
copy of The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh
on Blu-ray, and check out their other giallo releases whilst you are there.
From 1963 through 1966 Murray Lerner would make the
yearly trek from New York City to the tony seaside town of Newport, Rhode
Island. Once there, the documentarian seemingly
photographed every major and minor player of the 1960’s folk music craze for his
resulting award-winning film Festival
(1967). Depending on one’s personal taste
in music, the celluloid snippets offered in the film’s final edit – several
capturing folk and blues artists performing in the prime of their careers – are
either frustratingly truncated or mercifully brief in length.
As a lifelong folk music enthusiast, I would find this
film a treasure even if the film’s “star players” (Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter,
Paul & Mary) were not featured. Watching snippets of such legends as Son House or Mississippi John Hurt
sing the blues, Tex Logan and the Lilly Bros. sing their brand of high,
lonesome bluegrass or Minneapolis’ Spider John Koerner wail away on a racked
harmonica and 12-string guitar would be enough to make me a fan. It would be too mammoth a task to list the
expansive list of folk and blues and gospel and roots artists caught on film -
no matter how briefly - in Lerner’s omnibus
film Festival, but it’s safe to say
that few important figures of Newport’s most consequential to pop-culture era festivals
are not represented.
Photographed on a set of shoulder-supported 16mm
“Sound-On-Film” Auricons, Lerner – augmented by a three member camera crew - seems
to have made an earnest effort to faithfully capture the essential comradely
spirit of the annual Newport event. This
black and white documentary film offers no narration or even narrative line,
and subsequently – as the New York Times
noted dourly in their review of the film in October of 1967, it is occasionally
“distressing and annoying” that “the more esoteric folk performers […] are not
clearly identified.” This stunningly
beautiful 2K digital Criterion release - featuring the original uncompressed
monorail sound - has thoughtfully remedied this by offering the option of removable
captions. These captions prominently
identify both the artists and the songs being performed as they unspool before
one of two documentaries released in 1967 that prominently (and perhaps)
accidentally captured on film the unlikely but meteoric pop-music ascension of folk-rock
icon Bob Dylan. The rightfully esteemed
- but more diverse in scope - Festival
has always been a bit more obscure than D.A. Pennebaker’s seminal and more celebrated
Don’t Look Back. Some of the thunder of Mr. Lerner’s wonderful
film was likely the result of having been released to theaters a mere month
following Don’t Look Back in the
autumn of 1967.
is a “music” film, aside from Peter, Paul, and Mary’s warbling of “Come and Go
with Me” that plays under the film’s opening credits, I don’t recall any other time
when we’re treated to full performance of a song. The cameras tend to linger democratically on both
the artists and the visitors to the
festival – the latter being almost uniformly young, white, and well-scrubbed. These are kids who have chosen to abandon
their schools and jobs for a long weekend of rebellious camping on the beaches
and fens of Newport. Other sleep-deprived
youngsters splay out uncomfortably on the backs of motorbikes and car hoods.
Not all hit plays and musicals translate into hit films, as evidenced by the 1992 screen adaptation of playwright Michael Frayn's comedy stage hit "Noises Off" which became a sensation on Broadway, the West End and in countless road productions. The premise of the production remains the same in Marty Kaplan's screenplay: a touring production of a British sex farce called "Nothing On" is frantically rehearsing amidst a string of disasters for a pivotal performance in Des Moines on the long road for a hoped-for eventual opening on Broadway. The film version tells the story in flashbacks with the play's director, Lloyd Fellowes (Michael Caine), a basket case of nerves as he paces about the Broadway theater where the premiere performance is underway. This plot gimmick poses a problem from the outset: the premise of the script is that, as the production lurches from disastrous road engagement to disastrous road engagement, it seems virtually impossible that the cast and crew will ever get their act together sufficiently to merit an opening on Broadway...but since the prologue shows us the play has opened on Broadway, it robs the script of any surprise because we know these inept players will indeed overcome the tidal wave of mishaps. This is yet another British property that has been Americanized, with only old pros Caine and Denholm Elliott representing the Brits. The other key roles are filled by talented American actors, among them Carol Burnett, John Ritter, Julie Hagerty, Marilu Henner, Christopher Reeve and Mark Linn-Baker. They all perform very well but why have people who have pretend British accents when you can have British actors to begin with? The answer is" boxoffice. The studio obviously felt that there weren't sufficient big names available in the UK film industry to certify the film would be a hit. They missed the boat completely. "Noises Off" was a big flop, though it has developed something of a cult following in the ensuing years.
The film was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, once Hollywood's golden boy. He hadn't had a hit since "Paper Moon" in 1973 and his association on "Noises Off" as a work-for-hire director seems to signify he was more in search of a paycheck than in presenting a film he had a great passion for. Things start off brightly as we see the rehearsal for "Nothing On" fall apart at the seams as director Fellowes reaches for his Valium. Things don't go well on opening night and, indeed, the situation deteriorates to a disastrous level on the road. Part of the problem is the complexity of the farce, which requires actors to bound all over the stage, entering and exiting with precision timing. Critics and audiences loved the theatrical version of "Noises Off" because of these logistical challenges that inevitably face the cast and director. On film, however, we're all too aware that numerous takes and deliberate editing can salvage a scene in a way that a live production can't benefit from. Bogdanovich does a good job of directing the hectic traffic but he's hampered by the fact that we see the same scenes played out under different circumstances until they get to be predictable and boring. By the time the show's most accident-prone performance is depicted, the entire affair has become monotonous, even if the cast members exert themselves admirably and deliver deft comedic performances. Some of the more amusing aspects of the film revolve around the off-stage shenanigans that find secret affairs, jealous lovers and drunken temper tantrums combining to drive the director to the point of insanity. Caine gives the film's most amusing performance and he's in top form. Because of the many cast members, most don't get adequate opportunity to stand out, though Nicollette Sheriden deserves special credit for being able to suffer through the antics while cast in bra and panties. One continuing joke that does work well is Bogdanovich's clever use of a bottle of booze and a bouquet of flowers that ended up being frantically and accidentally passed around backstage and being cleverly used and misused by those who come into possession of them.
The film's epilogue wraps things up with a too abrupt ending that seems overly cheerful considering the mishaps that we have witnessed.
"Noises Off" isn't a bad film but it never rises to the level of classic farce that many feel the stage production succeeded in doing. If you have any background in theater, you will probably find the movie more enjoyable than the average viewer.
Fassbender plays a Norwegian detective with the high school bully magnet name
of “Harry Hole” on the icy trail of a serial killer who always leaves a snowman
at his crime scenes. Based on the, um,
Hole literary series by Norwegian writer Jo NesbØ, the thriller also stars
Rebecca Ferguson as a damaged policewoman trying to solve the crimes, Oscar-winner
J.K. Simmons as a creepy industrialist and, curiously, Val Kilmer as an
alcoholic detective who first opens up the case. (Kilmer’s rumored bout with cancer has sadly
taken a toll as the actor looks nothing like the blonde Adonis he was in Top Gun and Batman Forever. It also sounded like he was dubbed throughout.) Although the Nordic scenery looks bleakly majestic
due to Dion Beebe’s stunning cinematography and soaring helicopter shots, the
plot twists and turns into a slushy mess.
by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson (Tinker,
Tailor, Soldier, Spy), The Snowman
careens along several avenues of investigation in an effort to add layers of
complexity… but promising leads fizzle out and a sex trafficking subplot seems
to die on the vine. (There’s also an
intruder scene in the detective’s shabby apartment that makes no sense.) All
that said, The Snowman is not a total
loss as it has some gripping moments and Fassbender is, as always, a powerful screen
presence.For the gore fans, the shadowy
killer employs a unique and gruesome mechanical device to dispatch his victims.Fassbender must have sacrificed half a lung to
play the heavy-smoking Harry Hole (!), but if that character were the Stage 4
lush portrayed on the screen, how could he function so effectively, noticing
subtle clues and putting the pieces together?That also didn’t quite wash. The Snowman is a big budget, well-made
film with an impressive scope and feel, but somehow it left me a bit… cold.
In an article in the Hollywood Reporter about the trend toward female action heroes, James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli confirms that Eon Productions has finalized a deal with IM Global and Paramount to adapt the spy novel "The Rhythm Section" by Mark Burnell for the screen. Blake Lively will star in the espionage adventure which Broccoli tried unsuccessfully to film for the last seven years. However, the sudden interest in action flicks with women in the lead roles finally made the project a reality. Reed Morano, director of "The Handmaid's Tale", will helm the film which will be slotted for a February 2019 release. Broccoli and her stepbrother and fellow producer Michael G. Wilson are simultaneously prepping the next James Bond film for release, also in 2019. It will mark Daniel Craig's final appearance in the role. For more click here. - Lee Pfeiffer
The Warner Archive has released a Blu-ray edition of director Richard Rush's 1974 action comedy "Freebie and the Bean". The movie clearly rode the wave of enthusiasm during this period for maverick cop movies, largely because in those bad old days America was awash in crime. Consequently, Hollywood provided us with tough guy lawmen- Harry Callahan, Popeye Doyle, Lon McQ- to name but a few, who decided to toss away the rule book and bring about their own brand of common sense justice. The fact that, in doing so, these protectors of the peace often endangered far more innocent bystanders than the criminals did, was a common theme of these pro-vigilante cop flicks. "Freebie and the Bean" takes this element of rogue lawmen movies to an extreme, perhaps intentionally as a satirical device, or perhaps just to satiate the whims of the audience who, back in the day, would howl with delight every time a constitutional right was violated in order to mete out justice to a villain. The wafer-thin plot presents us with two San Francisco detectives - Freebie (James Caan) and his partner Bean (Alan Arkin)- as wise-cracking nonconformists who are borderline psychopaths. They routinely beat up suspects, deprive them of civil rights and in one "amusing" scene actually murder someone while he is sitting on a public toilet. In between, they terrorize half the population of the city by engaging in high speed chases that cause enormous damage. The only thing that separates them from the criminals they hunt is the fact that they are sanctioned by wearing badges. Freebie and Bean are assigned to protect an organized crime figure (Jack Kruschen), who the D.A. needs to appear as a witness as a high-profile trial. However, there is a contract out on him and the two cops must keep him safe until the trial begins.
Most of the film consists of endless chases on foot and by car, as the vulgarians in badges exchange insults and Bean is inevitably the victim of Freebie's cruel practical jokes. Arkin does his usual slow-burn shtick while Caan goes for his typical wise-ass approach. About the only cliche left out of this cop/buddy scenario is the "one guy is black and the other guy is white" standard. The script by Robert Kaufman is a crude, patchwork affair that resembles something some drunken college students could have churned out during a dorm party. Arkin and Caan do display a good deal of on-screen chemistry but director Richard Rush, who would go on to make the more estimable "The Stunt Man", places most of the emphasis on staging spectacular car chases. It must be said that the stunt work and action scenes are truly impressive and give the film its most redeeming qualities. However, the characters are all cringe-inducing sleazebags- including the good guys. The impressive supporting cast includes Loretta Swit, Alex Rocco, Mike Kellin and Paul Koslo- but their characters are woefully underdeveloped. Only Valerie Harper injects a note of grace and dignity as Bean's long-suffering wife who he accuses, in howling Ralph Kramden style, of having an affair with a gardner. The scene offers some humanity and poignancy but even that slips into vulgarity with a tasteless caveat about feminine hygiene. The movie has one other opportunity to veer into some genuinely emotional territory when, in the climax , one of the key characters is shot point blank and apparently mortally wounded. For a few brief minutes the film develops a sense of human compassion before plunging into the absurd final act when the severely wounded character inexplicably leaps from a hospital gurney to engage in a wrestling match.
Upon its release, "Freebie and the Bean" was greeted with largely awful reviews. Vincent Canby of the New York Times noted the sheer inhumanity of the characters, writing: "It's as sensitive as a doorknob and as witty as a bumper sticker" and also observed that there were so many automobile chases that he suspected the film was actually directed by a car. Alan Arkin dismissed the film as "absolute garbage"- but audiences loved it. The movie became a surprise hit and went on to develop a cult following that thrives even today. Fans of the film will welcome its Blu-ray release. The transfer is up to Warner Archives standards but the only bonus extra is the theatrical trailer. That's good news for "Bean" freaks but scant compensation for those of us who decry the sheer waste of talent in the film.
was released by American International in 1976, just as the blaxploitation
sub-genre was pretty much tailing off and indeed when A.I.’s most prolific
years lay behind them. It was directed by Arthur Marks, best known to me for his
year earlier blaxploitation entry, Friday
Foster (headlining Pam Grier and Yaphet Kotto), but also notable as
writer/director on early 70s drive-in fodder such as Bonnie’s Kids and The
opens with a fast-paced prologue set in 1942 New Orleans, during which a heated
argument in a meat-processing plant between Betty Jo Walker (Alice Jubert) and
Theotis Bliss (Fred Pinkard) culminates with him slitting her throat. The body
is discovered by her brother, scar-faced black-marketeer J.D. (David McKnight),
who’s mistaken for the killer by her boyfriend, Theotis’ brother Elija (Louis
Gossett), who promptly shoots J.D. dead. (Keeping up? This is the framework for
everything that follows.) We slingshot forward 34 years to present day and meet
Isaac ‘Ike’ Hendrix (Glynn Turman), cab driver by day, law student by night.
Out at a club with his girlfriend Christella (Joan Pringle) and some friends,
Ike gets up on stage to participate in a hypnosis act, but whilst he’s in a
trance his mind is infiltrated by the vengeful spirit of J.D. With increasing
frequency, the unhinged gangster intermittently seizes control of Ike, using
him as a tool to exact revenge upon Elija and Theotis, who’ve now moved up in
the world and – along with the former’s daughter Roberta (Jubert again) – are shamelessly
using a religious set-up as front for their criminal activities.
by Jaison Starks, J.D.’s Revenge is a
gritty serving of schlock with a supernatural slant, serving up a banquet of
graphic bovine slaughter, un-PC dialogue, scathingly sexist attitude and more
than a splash of Dulux-variety bloodshed. Yet although it’s staged competently
enough, it falls shy of joining the ranks of the more thrilling blaxploitationers,
in fact on a couple of occasions it almost crosses the line into parody; it’s
hard not to smirk when Ike takes to strutting around togged up in unflattering,
ill-fitting 1940s regalia, whilst his frenetic cavorting during the climactic
face-off is truly bizarre. The only thing that rescues it from descending into
silliness is the omnipresent streak of nastiness against which the unfolding
events are juxtaposed. Nowhere is this more prevalent than a scene in which Ike
drastically changes his hairstyle; he looks utterly ridiculous and Christella
tells him so, but any urge on the viewer’s part to laugh is swiftly quelled as
Ike brutally strikes her down and rapes her. It’s one of a handful of unforgivably
misogynistic scenes that hamper producer-director Marks’s movie. To play fair, hard
as it may be for a young 21st century audience to comprehend, in
1976 such material was perfectly acceptable and the makers would simply have been
feeding demand; viewed 40 years on, however, there’s no disputing that it’s archaic
and makes for uncomfortable viewing.
root, of course, Sparkes’s script is riffing on the hackneyed – though seldom
less than fun – Jekyll/Hyde formula, and
Turman does an excellent job of vacillating between the two diverse personas of
Ike and J.D. Nuances such as Ike absentmindedly running a finger across his
cheek where J.D. was scarred subtly add veracity to the notion he’s possessed.
Gossett meanwhile brings bags of energy to the table, particularly in the
scenes when he’s vigorously preaching to his flock, and both Pringle and Jubert
deliver admirable work. As an additional note on the cast, J.D.’s Revengefeatures what
was the second (and final) screen appearance of Ruth Kempf, who’d achieved
global recognition in her fleeting but memorable debut as novice pilot Mrs Bell
in Bond film Live and Let Die; it’s
fair to say, however, she’s left in far worse shape having crossed paths with
the possessed Ike than she was in the wake of her comparatively lightweight
encounter with 007!
The FX work,
when it isn’t bluntly quease-inducing, is nicely effective. Particularly striking
is an optical when Ike is stands before a shattered mirror and sees the
glowering visage of J.D. staring back at him.
The world of horror films lost two of its
most important and influential figures recently with the passing of filmmaking
geniuses George Romero and Tobe Hooper. Although the careers of these two great
artists can fill (and have filled) entire books, I’d like to briefly mention
their most important works and pay my respects to them both.
When I was around ten or eleven-years-old, I
had snuck out of bed late one night to watch some old movie on TV; a Tarzan
flick I think it was. In order to avoid waking my parents, I had to keep the
volume on the television set very low, but sit close to the set so that I could
hear. As I sat alone in my parents’ dark living room waiting patiently for the
commercials to end, a bunch of zombies appeared on the screen and quickly
lurched forward with their arms outstretched! I jumped back while
simultaneously screaming which, of course, woke my mom. Needless to say, I
never got to finish the Tarzan movie, but I made up for it by having my first
taste of the cinema of writer/director (and sometimes editor and actor) George
A. Romero; even if it was only a TV spot for his 1979 zombie masterpiece Dawn of the Dead.
Romero’s feature film debut, 1968’s immortal Night of the Living Dead, which was made
independently for the paltry sum of $114, 000, not only began his immensely
popular zombie series (six films which
lasted until 2009), but also singlehandedly created the entire zombie mythology
which is still being used today. As a matter of fact, anyone who has made a
zombie film after 1968 not only owes a debt to Romero, but a royalty check as
well. Night, which deals with the
dead returning to life as flesh-eating ghouls and surrounding an old farmhouse
filled with seven frightened and bickering humans who cannot get along, was
filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where Romero lived for much of his adult
life) and combines scares/graphic violence with social commentary; a formula
the master filmmaker would return to many times. The creepy, atmospheric and
nihilistic film reflects the turbulent time in which it was made and its
graphic tone was mainly inspired by the Vietnam War.
If I had to pick one film in the Romero canon
that I feel is an underrated masterwork, it would have to be his amazing, 1976,
modern-day vampire film Martin. This
enthralling piece of cinema, which Romero himself has said to be his favorite
of all the films he’s directed, concerns a shy and confused young man (excellently
portrayed by John Amplas) who may or may not be a vampire. Romero leaves this
up to the audience to decide. The master filmmaker also touches upon subjects
such as religious beliefs (both too strict and too casual), mental illness
(perhaps caused by a strict, religious upbringing), the healing/saving power of
love and understanding, disbelief in things that have yet to be proven, and how
such disbelief can allow someone/something dangerous to move about freely in
the world, just to name a few.
Although he is known for a plethora of
thoughtful and entertaining films (The
Crazies (1973), Creepshow,
Knightriders, Two Evil Eyes, The Dark Half, Bruiser, etc.), many of which
he made alongside special makeup effects master and longtime friend Tom Savini,
the pioneering Romero will forever be remembered for his series of scary,
gore-filled and thought-provoking zombie films.
If the word zombie has become synonymous with
George Romero, then there’s only one phrase that springs to mind whenever
someone mentions writer/director Tobe Hooper: “chain saw”. A native of Austin
Texas and a former college professor, Hooper’s name was put on the horror map
after the 1974 release of his now legendary, low-budget, living hell of a horror
movie The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; a
film about a crazed family who hunt, kill and eat humans (in this film, it’s a
group of hippie friends) in order to survive after “progress” has made them
obsolete. Chain Saw’s savagery was
inspired by violent Vietnam War news reports which Hooper would view nightly on
television. Few who saw this indie masterwork back in the day have ever
forgotten the absolutely shocking first appearance of the film’s central
villain, Leatherface (the late Gunnar Hansen); a cannibalistic, chain saw-wielding
killer who wore a mask made of human flesh. The terrifying film, which shows very
little onscreen gore, not only became an enormous hit which, to date, has
spawned four sequels, a remake and two prequels, but its influence on horror
cinema is immeasurable. A true artistic work, Chain Saw, which also stars the late Marilyn Burns and features
narration from John Larroquette, now has a permanent place at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York.
José R. Larraz’s 1982 film “Black Candles” -- original title, “Los
Ritos Sexuales del Diablo” -- has been released on Blu-ray by the specialty
label Code Red. Carol (Vanesa Hidalgo)
and her boyfriend Robert (Jeffrey Healey) fly to the U.K., where they accept an
invitation by her widowed sister-in-law Fiona (“Martha Belton,” aka Helga Liné)
to stay at Fiona’s country estate. As
the viewer already knows from a pre-credit sex scene, Fiona and virtually
everyone else on and around the estate are members of a devil-worshipping orgy
cult. But Carol and Robert are clueless,
even after they see satanic lithographs on the wall and Carol experiences bad
dreams. Fiona seduces Robert into the
coven, while the coven’s master, the sinisterly goateed Reverend
Hübner, decides to initiate Carol at the cult’s next satanic ceremony
. . . And that’s probably all anyone
needs or wants to know about the plot, which unabashedly copies “Rosemary’s
Baby” and adds all the nudity and simulated intercourse that Euro-movie fans
would expect from the relaxed censorship of early 1980s, low-budget
sexploitation cinema. Like Larraz’s
marginally more famous “Vampyres” (1974), it’s probably better judged against the
criteria of Joe Bob Briggs, “The Bare Facts Video Guide,” and “Mr. Skin” than
by mainstream critical standards. That
is: How many skin and sex scenes are in
the film? Where do they occur? How long, umm, do they last? And how much skin do they show? By those benchmarks, Larraz delivers the
goods. And for the record, his film at
least is more honest in meeting the viewer’s baser expectations than any of the
terrible sequels and remakes of “Rosemary’s Baby,” not least the now mercifully
forgotten 2014 TV miniseries. The only
actors in the cast likely to be recognized by anyone are Helga Liné, the foxy
leading lady of countless 1960s and ‘70s Eurospy films, spaghetti westerns,
giallo thrillers, and gladiator movies -- yes, she’s frequently nude in “Black
Candles,” and in sleek form at almost 50 -- and Carmen Carrión, a familiar
supporting actress in Jess Franco’s Eurotrash soft-core sex movies.
BCI Eclipse released “Black Candles” on DVD in the U.S. in 2007
as part of a “Welcome to the Grindhouse” double feature. Before that, there was a DVD-R pressing from
Midnight Video under Larraz’s original Spanish title. The Code Red hi-def Blu-ray in anamorphic,
1.78:1 widescreen is far superior to either in sharpness and clarity, and
likely the best home video edition we’ll ever see. The BCI Eclipse DVD lists an 85 minute
running time, and Code Red lists 82 minutes for its Blu-ray. Based on a comparison viewing, however, the
two editions seem to be substantially the same. The opening credits of the Code Red print give the title as “Hot
Fantasies,” once used for late-night cable showings. The only extras are other Code Red
trailers. The Code Red Blu-ray, which
retails for $24.95, is available from Screen Archives Entertainment HERE.
FRED BLOSSER IS THE AUTHOR OF "SAVAGE SCROLLS: VOLUME ONE: SCHOLARSHIP FROM THE HYBORIAN AGE". CLICK HERE TO ORDER ON AMAZON
it to The Criterion Collection to present a jaw-dropping, eye-popping Blu-ray
release of Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 masterpiece that many critics have called one
of the most beautiful films ever made. While the picture received many
accolades upon its initial release, including Oscar nominations for Picture,
Director, Adapted Screenplay—and wins for Cinematography, Production Design,
Costumes, and Adapted Score—it was again one those Kubrick films that was
controversial and misunderstood at first. It was not a financial success in the
U.S., and yet today it’s considered one of the auteur’s greatest works.
such titles as Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange, it may have seemed
to be an odd choice for Kubrick to make a picture such as Barry Lyndon. One must look back to the period between 2001 and Clockwork to understand it. Kubrick had wanted to make an epic
movie about Napoleon and, in fact, spent two years in pre-production on it
before MGM got cold feet and pulled the plug. The director changed studios (to
Warner Brothers) and shot Clockwork cheaply
and quickly to prove that he could make them some money—and he did. So what was
he to do with all the previous research materials he had amassed for the
Napoleon project? He satisfied his desire to study the past by adapting an 18th
Century novel by William Makepeace Thackeray (The Luck of Barry Lyndon) so that he could tell a tale about class
dichotomy, ambition, greed, and hubris.
the beginning, Kubrick wanted to take an audience back to late 1770s England
and Ireland to demonstrate exactly what
it was like to live then. The authenticity he strove to achieve consisted of commissioning
a NASA lens so fast that it was capable of filming by candlelight (as well as utilizing
only natural light throughout the production), employing real clothing from the
period, and shooting at real locations where this past still existed. The
results are breathtakingly gorgeous renditions of English and Irish
countrysides and majestic, elegant manors. All of this surrounds the precise
depiction of the manners of an aristocracy that hasn’t been seen on screen
before or since.
O’Neal, who was at the time of production still a box-office star, was cast as
Barry, at first a naïve Irish boy who allows heartbreak and jealousy to shape
his future endeavors to elevate his social standing. He learns quickly that to
get ahead in society he must be a bit of a rogue, a schemer, a liar, and a cad.
The first half of the little-over-three-hour picture documents Barry’s rise to
prominence. After the intermission, we witness his resounding fall from grace.
story is told with Kubrick’s keen sense of irony—in
fact, no other filmmaker has had such a firm ability to elicit this very
difficult blend of satire, causticness, and paradox. You find it in all of his
pictures, but Barry Lyndon literally exudes it. This is accomplished in no
small part by the detached and slightly amused voice-over narration by Michael
the movie is slowly paced—as it should be. Things moved slower in the 1700s.
There is a stateliness and pageantry to the proceedings that is entirely
appropriate to the setting, but also to the overall message of the film—that
despite the airs one puts on to impress, underneath we’re all still human and
pretty much the same.
aspect of the production is about as perfect as it can get. John Alcott’s
cinematography, Ken Adam’s production design, Milena Canonero and Ulla-Britt Söderlund’s
costumes, and the musical score, adapted by Leonard Rosenman and consisting of
classical pieces and traditional folk material performed by the Chieftains, all
combine to transport the viewer into an age of great beauty and yet cold,
Criterion Blu-ray is a 4K digital restoration that looks magnificent, and this
is accompanied by an uncompressed monaural soundtrack as well as an alternate
5.1 surround soundtrack. The music, as well as every birdsong and musket shot,
sounds clean, clear, and vibrant.
entire second disk contains the plentiful supplements that will take a few
hours to get through. The main attraction is “Making Barry Lyndon,” a new documentary that features audio excerpts from
a 1976 interview with Kubrick about the movie, appearances by executive
producer Jan Harlan, the director’s daughter Katharina Kubrick (who also
appears as an extra in the film), and other members from the cast and crew (no
Ryan O’Neal, though). There are separate featurettes on each of the technical
aspects—cinematography; production design; costumes; editing; music; and the
fine art of the period from which Kubrick and the designers drew inspiration.
An interview with author/critic Michael Ciment focuses on the themes in the
director’s works and how they relate to Lyndon.
There are two theatrical trailers. The thick booklet enclosed in the package contains
an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and vintage, illustrated pieces from American Cinematographer.
short, Barry Lyndon is a remarkable
piece of cinema that is unfortunately underrated by the general public. It deserves
a spot alongside Stanley Kubrick’s other acknowledged “masterpieces.” The new
Criterion edition is just the way to see it and perhaps rediscover this
brilliant work of art.
Our friends at Park Circus invited us to a preview
of The Shining, which is returning to
the big screen this Halloween for limited screening in 100 theatres. This is
where the film really should be seen.
I first saw The Shining, under age, in my local cinema where the kindly staff
used to let us watch X Cert films from the stalls which were closed to the
public. At the time The Shining really
didn’t have the impact of Friday The 13th
to my 13 year old self. Certain images did stay with me obviously, this was Kubrick
after all, but the one thing I do remember was that the image from the poster
of Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny” moment terrified my younger sister and I
used to put the poster up just to scare her. Boys, eh? Over the years I’ve re-watched The Shining several times and each time
it’s become more and more of a favourite. This is an adult film, dealing with
adult themes and it’s a lot different watching the terror of the young boy Doc as
a parent, rather than being closer in age to the character, as I was then. What
I also gleaned from this screening was how important sound is in this film and
this new print really does justice to the look and aural experience Kubrick
strove to achieve.
There were many points that stood out that
I’d missed on TV and DVD viewings, such as the aforementioned use of sound when
one of the protagonists is “Shining” or indeed the use of mirrors throughout
the film; whole scenes where the character’s reflections address the camera, T
shirt logo’s in reverse, which pre- empt the famous use of the words REDRUM
later in the film.
The film was trailered by the short but interesting new documentary Work & Play. This accompanying film
concentrates on the stories of the actual people involved with the production, whereas
other documentaries have concentrated of the enigma of Kubrick and the film
itself, such as Room 247. Here we
have interviews with the film’s iconic twins who are just as fascinating to
look at today and still talk in unison- obviously even off the camera, as well
as those who rightly intone that “95% of films are forgotten but the ones that
fall into that 5% are the great ones, the ones that remain”. So does The
Shining fall into that 5%? As far as horror movies go, yes. Like a great
wine, The Shining gets better with
age, both in look and standing. Although Jack Nicholson’s performance has been pastiched
many times, it still stands up as one of the best examples of a man falling
into madness ever to cross the silver screen. Although Steadycam camera shots
had been used in horror a couple of years earlier (i.e John Carpenter’s Halloween), they have never been utilized
better than the scenes of Danny or “Doc”, the boy who can shine, as he races
through the Overlook Hotel’s corridors. Again, this is another example of the
use of soundscape, as the child’s bike wheels jar from hard floor to carpet in
the same way a heartbeat quickens when you approach something dreadful.
The wonderful touches such as Doc wearing an Apollo
NASA T shirt alluding to the fact that Kubrick was supposed to have been the
director of the “faked” moon landings just add to the fascination of this film.
The documentary shows that the working title was “The Shine” and that is exactly what this film will continue to do.
I’d be interested to see what Stephen King thinks of the movie now after
famously disliking it for so many years. Whatever the case, this is a landmark
work and whatever one thinks of the finished product, it’s clear that King wrote
a timeless source novel and Kubrick developed it into a classic film. This is
the perfect time of year to see for yourself, thanks to Park Circus. Let it
CLICK HERE FOR LIST OF INTERNATIONAL CINEMAS SHOWING THE FILM
Tim Hunter’s “River’s Edge” (1987), high-school student John (Daniel Roebuck)
tells his pals Matt, Layne, Clarissa, and Maggie that he’s killed another
friend, Jamie.The other kids don’t
believe him -- he makes the statement with complete lack of emotion -- until he
takes them down by the river and shows them the body.The revelation stymies the teens.As Hunter observes in his commentary track on
the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition of the film, “These are kids who just don’t
have the tools to make the tough choices life has thrown their way. . . . No
one has taught them morals or values.”Their parents are either dead like John’s, absent like Matt’s father, or
helpless like Matt’s divorced, stressed out mother.
(Crispin Glover) argues that there’s nothing they can do for Jamie now, and
they have to be loyal to John. He tries
to cover up the crime by rolling Jamie’s corpse into the river, and advises
John to lay low at the run-down house of their pot dealer, Feck, a crippled
ex-biker (Dennis Hopper), until he can sneak out of town. Maggie (Roxana Zal) and Clarissa (Ione Skye,
billed as Iona Skye Leitch) make a half-hearted attempt to report the murder
before changing their minds. Only Matt
(Keanu Reeves) shows any sustained remorse over Jamie’s death. He goes to the police, setting up a tense
series of events as the cops look for John, Feck and John wander back to the
river, and Layne tries to figure out who snitched. Like the events of two other seminal teen
movies, “American Graffiti” (1973) and “Dazed and Confused” (1993), the action
stretches into nighttime and into the following morning. In the meantime, Matt’s little brother Tim
(Joshua Miller), angry at Matt for hitting him after Tim callously upsets their
younger sister Kim, steals a gun from Feck’s house and determines to use it on
and visually bleak, “River’s Edge” benefits from a strong script by Neal
Jimenez and uniformly fine performances, with Reeves, Glover, and Hopper
notably compelling. Reeves’ pensive,
low-key presence effectively balances Glover’s jumpy, gawky physicality.
“There’s a great method to Crispin’s madness,” Hunter observes in his
commentary track. Glover is particularly
striking in a display of grief near the end of the movie, aligning vocal
reaction and body posture perfectly. To
say more would reveal a spoiler, but you’ll know the scene when you see
it. Skye and Zal have one of the best
moments in the film, providing some subtle macabre humor as Clarissa and Maggie
debate reporting the murder and go to a pay phone:
do I call anyway?”
police, I guess.”
am I supposed to know the number?”
holds the receiver indecisively. “You do
don’t know what to say. Here, I’ll dial,
his commentary track, Hunter compliments Danyi Deats, who plays the murdered
Jamie. Aside from a silent flashback to
the moment of Jamie’s murder, Deats’ scenes call for her to lie still on the
open ground as the dead girl’s corpse, vulnerably and frontally nude. “She had a tough time,” Hunter says
sympathetically, commenting that Deats took the pivotal but static role to get
her SAG card. Jamie’s motionless, waxen
corpse mirrors two other objects in the film: Feck’s inflatable sex doll, which
he calls “Ally,” and little Kim’s doll which Tim vindictively throws off a
bridge into the river in the film’s opening shot. Tim’s action begins the string of events that
lead him to stalk Matt with a gun. It’s
telling that Kim shows more feeling for her lost doll and Feck for his sex toy
than Jamie’s friends display for her.
The 1980s details of
“River’s Edge” look a little quaint today, when the 24/7 media give parents new
reasons to worry about their kids with headlines and top-of-the-hour stories
about teens sexting and swapping explicit selfies by smartphone. Nevertheless, the movie’s story and characters
remain unsettling. The Kino Lorber
Blu-ray’s hi-def, 1920x1080p image is serviceable. Besides the director’s commentary track, the
disc includes a theatrical trailer.