The consequences of sexual desire in young women is akin to that of contracting the bubonic plague. That seems to be the message of the 1965 film version of A Rage to Live, best on the best-selling novel by John O'Hara. The opening sequences introduce us to Grace Caldwell (Suzanne Pleshette), a gorgeous high school student who lives a seemingly idyllic life in small town America. Grace shares her affluent home with her widowed mother Emily (Carmen Matthews) and her older brother Brock (Linden Chiles), a straight-as-an-arrow type who is attending Yale and who tries to fill the role of father and husband to the best of his ability. Grace is a "good girl" is all respects. She studies hard and looks after her mother, who she clearly adores. However, she does have one disturbing aspect to her personality: she has an active sexual desire in an age where a young woman was supposed to value her virginity above virtually anything else. Grace likes to flirt with her male classmates and there is no shortage of potential lovers. Disturbingly, she realizes that she doesn't have to have any deep emotions for any of them in order to find them sexually attractive. When she gets caught necking with one such boy, Charlie (Mark Goddard), they are discovered by his mother and Grace becomes the center of a local scandal. The notion of such an innocent act leading to such consequences probably seemed over the top even in 1965, but the situation does worsen when Grace does end up bedding several young men, thus living up (or down) to her new-found reputation as a "bad girl". This brings strife to her family and friends and Grace seeks to smooth things over by accompanying her ill mother on a vacation to an island resort. However, temptation rears its ugly head and while Grace sneaks out to have a dalliance with a hunky waiter, mom is stricken by an attack and dies. Consumed by guilt, Grace is convinced that she is nothing more than a slut, destined to live a life of shame. She gets a second chance when she meets Sidney Tate (Bradford Dillman), a handsome, hard working young man who is instantly attracted to her. Before long, he asks her to marry him, leading Grace to confess that she isn't a virgin. Sidney takes this bit of news with the same gravity he would if she had confessed to being a serial murderer, but he is forgiving of her past and believes her vow to stay loyal. The happy couple soon has a baby and all seems well...until Roger Bannon (Ben Gazzara) enters their lives. Roger had known Grace slightly for years and confesses to her that he has long been obsessed with her. Although devoted to her devout but boring husband, Grace becomes tempted by Roger's gruff, blue collar ways and is turned on by his raw sexuality. Before long, they become lovers-and their relationship sets in motion a series of dire events that lead to a shocking (and ironic) conclusion.
A Rage to Live seems very dated in its early sequences. Yet, it serves as a disturbing time capsule from an era in which women were supposed to know their place and regard sex as nothing more than a wifely duty, similar to doing housework or changing diapers. The notion that a woman may have sexual desires of her own had profound consequences in polite circles. One of the drawbacks of these opening scenes is that Suzanne Pleshette was in her mid-twenties at the time and, although her performance is excellent, she is simply too old to play a high school girl. Thus, when her mother or brother dictate directives to her, it seems rather absurd to see this clearly mature young woman meekly obeying them. This becomes less of an issue as the story progresses and Pleshette is playing a character her own age. Director Walter Grauman plays up the soap opera elements of the story, all to the accompaniment of a fine score by Nelson Riddle and crisp black and white cinematography by Charles Lawton. As soon as Grace resolves one crisis in her troubled life, another takes its place. Yet, these problems are all of her own making. The concept of the film- a likable woman who cannot control her sexual urges and fantasies- was certainly daring for its day, especially since Grace is presented as a sympathetic figure who dotes on her husband and young child. Yet, she repeatedly risks it all for another turn under the covers. The cautionary aspects of the tale are as old as time: if you play with fire, you'll probably end up getting burned. Yet, Grace is not a villain. Her defense of her unfaithful actions to her husband is the time worn excuse: she loves her spouse and her dalliances are only to fulfill her physical needs. (Seeing how boring Dillman's Sidney is, you can hardly blame her.)
The film is engrossing throughout, even during those scenes that approach guilty pleasure status. Peter Graves turns up later in the film in a key role as a would-be lover of Grace's who plays an instrumental role in her fate. Carmen Matthews is especially good as Pleshette's long-suffering mother and reliable character actor James Gregory provides a typically deft turn as the family doctor. Gazzara is especially good as the guy from the other side of tracks whose animal magnetism initially attracts Grace but eventually frightens her.
A Rage to Live is by no means an example of classic movie-making but it is certainly worth a look, if only to observe how cinema was maturing rapidly during this period and exploring subjects that would have been taboo only a few years before.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn to order DVD. Quality is excellent, though there are no bonus features. The DVD is region free.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the little-remembered 1954 "B" movie thriller "Highway Dragnet". Despite it's modest production values, the film is a textbook example of how efficiently films in this genre were made and how much action and plot devices can be worked into a movie with an abbreviated running time (70 minutes, in this case.) Young Roger Corman wrote the story upon which the screenplay was based and also served as one of the producers. That's about the only aspect of the film that one could point out in terms of separating "Highway Dragnet" from countless other crime dramas shot in a similar style. That isn't meant as a criticism. We're rediscovering how cleverly made so many of these micro-budget flicks were and this one is one of the better examples. The film opens with a brief segment in Las Vegas. Richard Conte is Jim Henry, who has just returned from the conflict in Korea and is now looking to enjoy civilian life. He's on his way back to his family home in the Salton Sea area in California when his pit stop at a Vegas casino results in a tense encounter with an abrasive blonde at the bar. The two publicly quarrel and Jim leaves the premises. The next day he is on a desert highway hitchhiking when cops pull up and arrest him. Turns out the sassy dame was found strangled in her bed and Jim is the prime suspect. He has an alibi that he was out with a friend all night but due to some convoluted plot reasons, the tale can't be easily substantiated. Jim resists the arresting officers, steals one of their guns and makes a getaway in the squad car. A full dragnet is in place when he ditches the police car when he comes across two stranded women who are trying to fix their broken-down car. Jim jumps to the rescue and gets the vehicle working, but also insists on traveling with them, as it gives him cover from the police. His new companions are Mrs. Cummings (Joan Bennett), a fashion photographer and her model Susan Willis (Wanda Hendrix). The women are en route to photo shoot at a local desert resort hotel. When they arrive there, they learn that Jim is wanted for murder. He takes off with them into the desert where the car breaks down and they are at the mercy of the relentless sun. Mrs. Cummings is determined to kill Jim if she has the opportunity but Susan, who is clearly enamored of the ex-serviceman, argues that she thinks he is innocent. The cat and mouse game continues as Jim desperately tries to make it back to his family home, where the man who can exonerate him is supposed to be waiting.
"Highway Dragnetl" is a fun romp, especially if you like the old style of crime movies in which the hero is nonplussed by events and seems to have Bondian abilities to escape every trap. Richard Conte makes a good, stalwart hero and his female co-stars are equally impressive. The climax of the film, shot on location amid flooded homes in the Salton Sea area, is quite atmospheric and impressive, even if the resolution of the crime is bit thin and far-fetched when it comes to revealing the real murderer. Director Nathan Juran wisely eschews studio-bound shots in favor of capitalizing on the desert locations and they add considerably to the quality of the production. "HighwayDragmetl" isn't a film noir classic but it's well-made and thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended, especially since you'll only need 70 minutes to experience it.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray offers a pristine transfer and a trailer gallery of other "B" crime movies available from the company.
Fritz Lang first made his mark in Germany during the short-lived Wiemar Republic in between the two world wars. Lang had immigrated from his native Austria to Berlin, where he made quite an impression during the silent era, directing such landmark masterpieces as "M" and "Metropolis". However, the rise of National Socialism repulsed him. He spawned an offer to make propaganda films for the Nazis and discreetly left the country before the worst aspects of Hitler's regime became reality. In Hollywood, Lang found he was welcomed by studios and was consistently employed on films for the major studios. However, Lang was working under constraints that early German cinema did not have, namely, the dreaded Hays Code, under which Hollywood engaged in self-censorship in order to prevent government oversight of film content. Consequently, many of the films directed by Lang in Hollywood were largely routine, run-of-the-mill productions although occasionally, he oversaw a true gem that reminded viewers of his genius. One of Lang's last American films before he returned to Germany was "While the City Sleeps", a tightly-wound 1956 urban thriller that was one of the first major productions to deal overtly with a serial killer.
The story opens on a harrowing note with a pre-credits scene in which an attractive young woman has her apartment entered by a delivery man who had previously stopped at her apartment. In short order, he subjects her to a horrific death. The murder quickly becomes big news and Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick), the elderly owner of The Sentinel, the city's most influential newspaper, barks orders that the search for the murder has to be played to the hilt in order to increase circulation. However, Kyne soon passes away, leaving control of The Sentinel to his son, Walter (Vincent Price), an inept elitist with a penchant for high living. Walter is well-aware that he is ill-equipped to run a major media organization that also includes a television network. He quickly alienates his most seasoned staffers and devises a Trumpian strategy of dangling a promotion in front of his three top reporters, thus causing the colleagues to turn on each other amid a chaotic environment of backstabbing. Walter has informed the competing journalists that the first man to solve the murder will get the job, then sits back and cruelly enjoys his manipulation of them. The staffers are old hands at getting big stories. Mark Loving (George Sanders) is a snooty newsroom editor who is romancing Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino), the office vamp and resident gossip columnist. Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell) is a cigar-chomping old time veteran reporter who quickly compromises his pride in the hopes of nailing down the promotion. James Craig is Harry Kritzer, an oily top reporter who is secretly romancing Walter's wife Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming), who enjoys making her husband an unknowing cuckold while at the same time manipulating Harry by threatening to withdraw her sexual favors. The central character in the story, however, is Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews), The Sentinel's top reporter and their celebrity on-air news anchor. Mobley, a chain-smoking cynic, wants no part of Walter's cruel ploy to win a promotion through sacrificing professional integrity. Edward, too, is involved in the hotbed of interoffice romances, and becomes engaged to Loving's secretary Sally (Nancy Liggett).
The interesting script for "While the City Sleeps" meanders but in a positive way. These are all fascinating enough characters to make the sordid aspects of the serial killer plot take second place. Mobley is an especially interesting character and far from the knight in shining armor found in many films of this era. He smokes and drinks too much and even alienates Nancy by almost succumbing to the sexual advances of Mildred. He loathes working for Walter but is too comfortable in his job and celebrity status to leave. Working with some inside tips from a friendly police detective (Howard Duff), Mobley comes up with a strategy for luring the killer into the open by using Nancy as bait. This kicks the murder plot into overdrive in the final section of the film and adds considerable suspense to the proceedings.
Bernard Herrmann was often described as being ‘temperamental’ and ‘explosive’
by nature. However, very few could ever criticize his approach and dedication
in regards to his work. His collaborations with director Alfred Hitchcock are
today reflected upon as legendary; a clash of personalities which proved that both
fire and gasoline didn’t necessarily have to end in utter devastation.
tie in with Record Store Day UK 2018, Silva Screen Records have released a
strictly limited edition 7” EP showcasing the very best of this turbulent and
tremendous partnership. The Double A Side single (SIL71566) features two tracks
from Vertigo (Prelude / The Nightmare) with the flipside featuring Overture /
Main title from North by Northwest. The music is perfectly executed by the
highly respected City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Paul
crackles with tension as James Stewart’s character Scottie goes through an
emotional wringer. Herrmann blew away the lush melodies that dominated music in
films of previous decades and delivered harsh, stinging, repetitive themes overlaid
on a deceptive symphonic score. The sound is as experimental as the film, which
60 years from release remains one of the milestones of cinematic history. One
year on in North by Northwest, Cary Grant is the man in peril. This time it’s
not mentally but physically as he is pursued by a spy network and the police.
Herrmann ratchets up the tension with an orchestral tour-de-force which
highlighted the thrill of the chase. Herrmann described it as, “a kaleidoscopic
orchestral fandango designed to kick-off the exciting rout which follows."
Screen has produced just 1200 individually numbered copies of this attractively
designed 7” single. Pressed in a transparent Amber coloured vinyl and given the
continuously swelling number of Herrmann devotees, I very much doubt that this
will remain around for too long. So check in with your local participating
Record Store Day UK outlet to avoid any possible disappointment. You’ll find it
to be well worth it.
CLICK HERE TO FIND A RETAILER THAT WILL STOCK THIS ITEM ON RECORD DAY UK, 21 APRIL
some 47 years there is still something about Ron Grainer’s score for The Omega Man (1971)
(SILLP1561) that continues to withstand the test of time. Whilst the film might
arguably appear to be a little dated these days, Grainer’s music lives on to
uphold and support its continuing cult status. It’s perhaps no surprise then
that Silva Screen Records have decided to release its first ever double vinyl
pressing exclusively in time for Record Store Day UK, which is 21 April 2018.
Omega Man is an eclectic mix of styles ranging from mellow jazz, traditional
lounge, and romantic mood setters to excellent dramatic action themes that
feature contemporary, modern instrumentation including synthesisers and
haunting water chimes. Everything is here. It remains a defining example of
just how good film music used to be, full of strong melody and executed with
perfect orchestration. To this day it is arguably regarded as Grainer’s
crowning glory, and rightfully so. Grainer was brave enough to mix the
traditional elements with the contemporary, gently embedding electronic effects
and reverb to produce something highly unique.
Screen's double vinyl album contains the full 18 tracks as previously released
on the FSM CD of 1997. The packaging is superb; both records are contained
within a super heavyweight gatefold sleeve, with a flat spine that is close to
8mm in width. However, if you are interested in this first ever vinyl edition
of the score and particularly by its widely advertised ‘coloured vinyl’, you
may want to check first with participating stores, as my copy is unmistakably a
traditional black vinyl pressing. In regards to its audio, everything sounds
astonishingly good and contains plenty of punch where it counts.
this is a Record Store Day UK exclusive it is worth checking out in advance (with
any participating outlet) if they will be stocking this particular title. Because
of the codes of conduct surrounding Record Store Day UK, any remaining stock will
be available for sale online from 00.01am on the 28th April 2018.
Omega Man is limited to just 1000 (individually numbered) copies. Due to the
popularity of this glorious score, you might want to begin your research in
advance and in order to avoid any possible disappointment. It’s sure to be one
of the outstanding titles of the day.
Click here to find a retail out that will sell this release.
The first thing you note when reading the sleeve notes
for 100 Years of Horror (Mill Creek Entertainment)
is the three-disc set’s staggering running time: ten hours and fifty-five
minutes.It’s a somewhat daunting task
to review such a monumentally staged effort as this, one at least partially
conceived as a labor-of-love.The series
makes a noble effort to trace the history and the development of the horror
film from the silent era through the slasher films of the 1980s and a bit
beyond, not always neatly or logically compartmentalizing sub-genres as
“Dinosaurs,” “Aliens” “Gore,” “Mutants,” Scream Queens” etc. along the way.It’s a bit difficult to precisely date when host
and horror film icon Christopher Lee’s commentaries and introductory segments
were filmed.The set itself carries a
1996 copyright, but Lee makes an off-hand mention of the “new” Dracula film
starring Gary Oldman… which would date the saturnine actor’s participation to
1992 or thereabouts.Later in the set,
Lee references Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein,
which then confusingly forward dates the documentary to 1994.
It’s also unclear where this series was originally
destined.With its twenty-five minute
running time per episode, it would appear as if this twenty-six part series was
produced with the intent of television distribution in mind.100
Years of Horror is one of the earliest efforts of executive producer Dante
J. Pugliese who would carve out a career producing a number of these minimal
investment “clip show” style documentaries.This series first appeared as a 5 volume VHS set via Passport
International in the latter days of 1995, and has since enjoyed several DVD
releases; there were both cut-down versions and a
highly-sought-after-by-collectors box set issued in 2006.This new issue by Mill Creek not only brings
the set back into print with new packaging, but does so at a very reasonable
price point:MSRP: $14.98, and even
cheaper from the usual assortment of on-line merchants.
Perhaps acknowledging Christopher Lee’s contribution to
the legacy, the series first episode is fittingly dedicated to Dracula and his Disciples.Lee was, inarguably, one of the two most
iconic figures to essay the role of Count Dracula.Though Bela Lugosi’s halting speaking manner,
grey pallor and widow-peaked hairline remains the more iconic visual portraiture,
Lugosi actually only portrayed Count Dracula in a feature-length film twice: in
the 1931 original and, for the final time, in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).Lee, on the other hand, shot no less than seven
Dracula films for Hammer Studios and one for Jess Franco.Though he would log considerably more
cinematic hours on screen as the Prince of Darkness, the gentlemanly Lee
generously allows here that even some forty years following the actor’s death
in 1956, Bela Lugosi was still “inexorably linked” to the public’s persona of
Though he would never work with the actor – as he would on
two occasions with Lugosi’s occasional foil Boris Karloff - Lee recalled his first
attendance at a horror film in a cinema was Lugosi’s Dark Eyes of London (1939).Lugosi would, in some manner of speaking, unwittingly pave the way for
Lee’s future assumption in other similarly cloaked roles. As had his predecessor,
Lee would portray several other vampire characters on film that were Count Dracula
in all but name.Just as Lugosi would exploit
his image as Transylvania’s most famous resident in such films as Return of the Vampire and Mark of the Vampire, so would a fanged
Christopher Lee with such impersonations as Dracula
and Son and Uncle Was a Vampire.
The documentary makes clear that, no matter how celebrated
either man’s portrayal was, neither actor held dominion on the character.The film points out that several other actors
- Francis Lederer and Lon Chaney Jr. among them – have tackled the role to reasonable
degrees of satisfaction.It was also
pleasing to see a brief interview segment with one of my favorite Dracula’s,
the wizened John Carradine, captured in his eighties here.Carradine triumphantly recounts not only did
he appear as Dracula in “three” films for Universal (well, three, if you choose
to count his appearance on a 1977 episode of NBC-TV’s McCloud (“McCloud Meets Dracula”).Carradine was also mysteriously prideful of his appearing as a Count
Dracula-style character in several obscure films shot in Mexico (Las Vampiras) and the Philippines (the
outrageous and exploitative Vampire
Hookers).What the Mexican and
Filipino efforts might lack in comprehensibility and budget, they’re nonetheless
not-to-be-missed totems of low-brow Midnight Movie Madness.For whatever reason, Carradine made no
mention of his top-hatted participation the wild and wooly William (“One Shot”)
Beaudine western Billy the Kid vs.
Dracula (1966), a long-time “guilty pleasure” of mine.
(Barry Monush, author of the new book "Steven Spielberg FAQ" enlightens readers as to how the famed director inspired him to write this overview of the famed director's career.)
BY BARRY MONUSH
As it gets harder
these days to find “reliables,” it’s nice to have certain filmmakers still
around who have given me more pleasure than pain over the years. And even nicer
when you’re given a chance to celebrate them in print. Such is the case with
Applause Books, were tossing around possible ideas for further volumes of their
FAQ series, and I tossed back at them
the suggestion of a Spielberg book. Of course it got an instant response,
because absolutely everyone is aware
of Steven Spielberg. You needn’t be the sort of film aficionado that follows
the scene with fervent interest (i.e. readers of this website) to know he’s out
there making movies and has been doing so for some 45 years with a track record
of success far exceeding anyone else. When you’re pitching ideas, it helps for
your topic to have a high awareness factor in order to get a book on that someone
“greenlighted,” but it’s even better when the subject is worthy of the tribute.
To me, the motion
picture scene since the 1970s would be inconceivable without the presence of
Steven Spielberg. Some would go so far as to say he created the world of motion
pictures as we know it today, which shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a high
compliment. For everyone who loves the cinematic world of Steven Spielberg,
there are plenty who will give you a theatrical grimace at the mere mention of
his name. Trust me, I know, I’ve seen it, when people asked me what the subject
was for my newest book. They either lit up or cringed. You don’t get to be that well known and that well-to-do financially without making some people a bit
resentful or dismissive.
With great fame
comes expectations of an unreasonable size. You can’t blow people away with the
thrills of Jaws or the sense of
wonder inherent in Close Encounters of
the Third Kind or E.T. The
Extra-Terrestrial and then make a mere “good” movie; you’re expected to score
a slam dunk, a home run and a touchdown
every time you’re given the ball. As a result, some very good Steven Spielberg
films have been shortchanged over the years by those who wanted him to reach
Olympian peaks each time they plunked their cash down at the box office. Moviegoers
have pigeonholed him according to their own personal tastes and fond memories, and
often have stubbornly resisted venturing with him into new territory. Much as
“those wonderful people out there in the dark” are loathe to admit it, history
has shown that audiences let down filmmakers far more often than filmmakers do
the audience. Of course any director worth their salt is going to go in unexpected
ways once in a while or try out new genres or techniques, which is what makes
movie going something exciting. Believe me, if you had a mild initial response
to such movies as Empire of the Sun,
Amistad, or Munich, I recommend
you see them again. These are all strong,
impressive, moving works with something to say about the human condition. If
they do not tower as highly or with as much resonance as, say, Schindler’s List, that’s to be forgiven.
That’s an awful lofty peak to reach, after all.
I don’t need this
constant reassurance of greatness with Spielberg or any filmmaker for that
matter. I know he’s good; quite good. Even when I’ve come away disappointed
from one of his efforts, I know I wasn’t watching a hack on a downward spiral,
but a singular talent whose capabilities were still evident even within the
missteps. Such are all the best filmmakers. And Spielberg really is one of the
best. It’s been evident from the start; it was even evident in his television
work, in the handful of series episodes and movies he made for the small screen
before he ventured towards the larger canvas of motion pictures.
pretty vividly the segment of the Night
Gallery pilot he directed long before I even realized who Steven Spielberg
was. Blind Joan Crawford’s justifiable punishment for her abominable behavior
was dramatized in a lean but eerie fashion: her sight is restored for a brief
period only to find herself waking up during a New York blackout. Her
accidental stumble through a window was dramatized by dropping a plate of glass
and watching it shatter in slow motion. A great touch. Watching the segment
again, all these years later, there’s nothing in this credit to suggest that
its director had never before taken on a professional directing job prior to
this, nor that he had only recently turned 22 years of age. His work was that
of a professional with decades of experience behind him.
The Warner Archive has released the 1970 counter-culture drama The Strawberry Statement. The film was released in an era of increasing unrest, sandwiched between the 1968 Chicago riots at the Democratic convention, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F. Kennedy and the shooting of student protesters at Kent State University (which, in a nightmarish example of unintended "good timing" occurred one month after the release of this film.) Although the movie was honored at the Cannes Film Festival, the general consensus was that, like Antonioni's more notorious failure Zabriskie Point, the film was an unfocused and unsuccessful attempt to play upon the unrest among young Americans during this era. Looking at the movie today, that criticism still holds up. The story centers on Simon (Bruce Davison), an apolitical student at a San Francisco university (it was actually filmed at Berkeley) who gradually becomes interested in the protest movement. Students are on strike and are occupying the dean's office (a not uncommon practice of the day) to protest the closing of a community playground for inner city children. The university, which owns the property, intends to put in an ROTC office temporarily, and then lease the land to big business. The students have succeeded in virtually closing down the university and Simon becomes more enamored with their cause. Before long he is occupying the dean's office, too, and begins a romantic relationship with a more radical protester, Linda (Kim Darby). The film meanders between their encounters, life on campus and anti-Establishment rallies. However, a clear depiction of the characters or their motivations is never provided. Simon is charismatic, but rather hollow. Linda is never presented in anything but a superficial manner. We know nothing of her background or motivations. There are no other major characters, though reliable supporting actors like Bud Cort, James Coco and Bob Balaban contribute positively.
The film's director, Stuart Hagmann, had a brief and rather undistinguished career, primarily highlighted by this MGM production. He relies on fast cuts, inventive camera angles and a score filled with rock and folk music provided by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Thunderclap Newman to compensate for the weak screenplay that had been based on a recently-published novel. The script by Israel Horovitz does provide some nuance in assessing protest movements. This was filmed during an era in which the military was draft was going full force, even as the Vietnam War was becoming increasingly unpopular. Adding insult to injury, the young people who fought that war weren't allowed to vote at the time because the voting age was 21. (Even today, with a voting age of 18, soldiers who are deemed old enough to drive tanks into combat can't legally enjoy a beer.) Consequently, presidential candidates who had run on a Vietnam withdrawal policy in 1968 (Senators Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy), had enormous support from a base that could not vote for them. The war that had been started by Democrats and escalated by the newly-elected Republican President, Richard Nixon, seemed to be a quagmire that would go on forever. (Curiously, our Afghanistan quagmire was started by a Republican president and escalated by a Democratic president, so not much has changed in terms of the political Establishment.) Where The Strawberry Statement succeeds is in its depiction of the various motives those who comprise a protest movement might have. Some are true believers, some are idealists, some are just weak-willed followers, and others just want to get laid in the name of upholding democracy. Radical protesters complain about a lack of freedom and rights, even as they ironically decorate their dorm rooms with posters of Che Guevara, a man who sacrificed his life in an attempt to tear down dictatorships even as he courted the totalitarian state of Fidel Castro. There are rather pretentious uses of film clips of key political figures of the day including H. Rap Brown and President Nixon, who is seen serenading White House guests while playing Home on the Range on the piano. There must be significance to this somewhere, but it comes across as bizarre. The film does show how even the most sincere political protest movements, from the Tea Party on the right and the Occupy movement on the left, inevitably become defined by the crazy fringe element that often negates the validity of their message. (In this film, protesters assail police officers, using their "Peace Now" signs as instruments of destruction.) The film succeeds in capturing the craziness of the era in the final, harrowing sequence in which an army of policeman brutally assail students at a sit-in, who are peacefully signing "Give Peace a Chance." Here, director Hagmann finds his stride and provides a truly mesmerizing sequence. However, despite the fine performances of the cast, the film falls short of its overall potential.
of the gems of 1968 was The Lion in
Winter, a multi-nominee for the Oscars (including Best Picture and
Director), and one of the better period costume dramas that seemed to be so
popular in the 60s. Capitalizing on the success of Becket and A Man for All
Seasons, Winter is based on a stage play by James Goldman, who also wrote
the screenplay and won an Oscar for it.
the picture is a handsome production, its primary asset is the acting. What a
cast, and what performances! Katharine Hepburn, as Eleanor of Aquitaine, picked
up the Best Actress trophy (although that year there was a tie—she shared the
award with Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl).
Peter O’Toole stars as Henry II for the second time (he played a younger
version of the man in Becket, four
years earlier), and received a nomination for Best Actor. For my money, this is
the performance out of many nominations for which he should have won—he
dominates the movie with a commanding, almost-mad presence. Interestingly, the
actor was only 36 when the film was made, and he plays a Henry who is in his
fifties. On the other hand, Hepburn was 61 when she made the picture, and she
plays a 45-year-old Eleanor. The miracle is that one doesn’t notice either
actor’s true age.
rounding out the cast are Henry’s three sons, played by a young Anthony Hopkins
(as Richard the Lionheart), John Castle (as Geoffrey), and Nigel Terry (as
John, who later became King John). While all three are terrific, and it’s
especially enlightening to examine Hopkins’ performance and compare it to his
later more renowned work, the real revelation in the picture is the appearance
of a very young Timothy Dalton as
King Philip II of France. Dalton is outstanding
in a small but pivotal role upon which the plot hinges.
year is 1182. Henry II decides to hold a Christmas party at the castle, so he
lets his wife Eleanor out of prison (!) so she can attend along with their
three surviving sons (the others are long dead) and Henry’s young mistress,
Alais (Jane Merrow). Eleanor has long accepted with grace and humor that Henry
beds other women and that their marriage is over—although throughout the course
of the story it is apparent that there are deep wounds in her heart. All three
sons are vying for the throne since Henry, being in his fifties, is on his way
to the grave—although one wouldn’t know it from the energy he displays. Henry’s
favorite is young John, who is a bit of a bumpkin. Eleanor prefers Richard.
Geoffrey prefers himself. Oddly, whoever is chosen gets Alais!
short, The Lion in Winter is the
story of a dysfunctional family. Eleanor wryly delivers the line that is the
title of this review at a key moment after the men attempt to kill each other.
In fact, the script is full of great lines. Henry: “What shall we hang?—the
holly, or each other?” Eleanor: “In a world where carpenters get resurrected,
everything is possible.” Eleanor (to one of her sons): “Hush dear, mother’s
Lorber’s newly restored 4K Blu-ray looks marvelous, and the sound is excellent.
It shows off John Barry’s Oscar-winning score (play it loud!) and includes an
audio commentary by the late director Anthony Harvey. There is a supplemental
interview with sound recordist Simon Kaye, which is fine, but one wishes there
could have been interviews with some of the surviving stars such as Hopkins and
Dalton. The theatrical trailer and other Kino Lorber title trailers are also
The Lion in Winter is a top-notch
exercise in superlative acting and grand writing. It is prestige cinema at its
finest. Don’t miss it.
Milos Forman, the Czech immigrant to Hollywood who would be awarded two Oscars, has died at age 86. Forman was a rising star in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s, directing such lighthearted, quirky films as "Black Peter" and "The Fireman's Ball". Forman's films were breaking new ground at a time when the progressive Czech government was pushing the envelope against Soviet control and enjoying new freedoms. All of that came crashing down in 1968 when the short-lived "Prague Spring" was crushed by the Soviet invasion. Forman immigrated to America and found the opportunity to make films for major studios. However, his first effort, the critically acclaimed 1971 generation gap comedy "Taking Off" failed at the boxoffice. In 1975, Forman was given another chance, this time by producer Michael Douglas to direct the film version of Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The film swept the major Oscar categories and Forman was honored as Best Director. Forman was painstaking in his choice of film projects, motivated more by passion for the subject than finding a wide audience, although he did direct the film adaptation of the Broadway stage musical "Hair" in 1979. However, the movie came along years too late to click with young viewers. In 1981, Forman adapted E.L. Doctorow's bestseller "Ragtime" to the screen. The massive production was at odds with his tendency to direct smaller, more personal stories. The film won wide acclaim in some quarters but was an expensive failure at the boxoffice. He rebounded, however, in 1984 with the film version of the stage hit "Amadeus", and once again won the Best Director Oscar. Forman worked only sporadically in the following years, directing such diverse fare as "Heartburn", "Valmont", "Man on the Moon" and "The People vs. Larry Flynt". For more click here.
film director Richard Rush, actor Steve Railsback and actress Sharron Farrell
to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Mr. Rush’s The Stunt Man,, They will be among the
nearly 70 celebrities who will be appearing together at the upcoming Hollywood
Show which will include personal appearances, autograph signings, and photo
opportunities. Celebrities will be appearing on both Saturday, April 28th
and Sunday April 29th. A special preview night will be held on
Friday, April 27th although no celebrities will be in attendance. This
event will take place at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel at 5400 West
Century Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045
Rush will be appearing only on Saturday, April 28th and will be
charging $30.00 to sign photos and other memorabilia, and $50.00 to sign
posters. This is the first time that he has ever made an appearance at a
convention will also host the following reunions: Walker Texas Ranger reunion, The
Twilight Zone reunion, Land of the
Lost reunion, and more.
This writer has always been a fan of the 1971 doomsday thriller "The Omega Man" starring Charlton Heston as the presumably last man alive after biological warfare seems to have eradicated everyone else on earth (he survived by injecting himself with an experimental vaccine.) As Roger Ebert once noted, most of the scenarios that center on "the last man alive" end up providing a Cecil B. DeMille-like cast of characters and "The Omega Man" is no exception. The film's most haunting scenes are in its brilliant opening shots that somehow manage to capture L.A. streets virtually deserted. But soon enough, we see that Heston's character is pursued by a cult of other, disfigured survivors who want to eradicate him because he represents the sins of the old world order. Then he bumps into sexy Rosalind Cash, who becomes his lover and introduces him to her band of survivors. Much of the film creaks with age (Cash's "Black Power" shtick and Heston's final Christ-like imagery seem silly today) but it's still an exciting thriller set in the "future"- 1975! The trailer provides many highlight and hints of Ron Grainer's great score. The film was based on Richard Matheson's novel "I Am Legend" but eschewed the plot about the protagonist being pursued by vampires, as did the 2007 Will Smith remake which did retain the novel's title. The first version of the novel was filmed in 1964 as a low-budget but admirable Italian production that is the only one to date to keep the vampire angle.
The cataclysmic prison riot near the end of The
Big House (1930) reaches such a fevered pitch that army tanks are called in to
combat the inmates. The tanks roll into the prison yard like armor-plated
creatures, and then, unexpectedly, start rolling towards
the screen, towards the viewer. What did movie audiences think in 1930 as these
shiny, black, menacing machines moved towards them? By the riot's end, a
single tank crashes through a wall, its main gun slowly swiveling, as sinister anything
in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.It’s
impressive even now, watching on an Acer laptop in 2014. What was it like in
one of the vaunted movie palaces of yesteryear? Did audiences cheer
because the army was going to save the day? Or was there some fear, too, fear
that the machines were coming not just for criminals, but for everybody…
The Big House, now available on DVD as part of the Warner Bros Archive
Collection, was a spectacular success for MGM, and ushered in the prison movie
as a viable genre. Films had been set in prisons before,
but it was The Big House that established the characters and themes that would
mark the genre forever (ie. the scared new guy, the crusty lifers, the
conniving weasel, the kindly old guard, the dour but ineffectual warden, the inevitable
jail break, etc.). The film was also a marked contrast to the slick
films made by MGM at the time, causing Chester B. Bahn of the Syracuse Herald
to write that this "stark tragedy" was "so horrible, so
devastating, that you don't want to think about it, don't want to talk about
Although prison movies weren't churned out the way westerns and horror movies
were during the 1930s, the subject undoubtedly had legs. We still see
prison movies today, as well as TV shows (of both the scripted and “non-scripted”
variety). But every prison movie or show we see now has something of The Big
House in its DNA. The Big House did it first, and I’m not sure if any
modern prison movies have done it any better. More explicit, perhaps, but
For one thing, The Big House was unabashedly artsy. Directed by George Hill
with photography by Harold Wenstrom, the film is framed by rich, deep blacks
that gave the atmosphere a harder edge than most black and white films of the
day. A more accurate description of the film would be “black & grey,” for
there isn’t much white in it. Grey is the color of the prison uniform,
and grey is the color of the detainees’ pasty complexions. The prison is a
murky place, and when a con is being marched into the “dungeon” to serve some
time in solitary, it’s as if he’s being marched into the very wings of
The opening scene follows a truck filled with new prisoners as it approaches
the monolithic, unnamed building. There’s something about the scene that
looks like an illustration come to life, especially when the prisoners step out
of the truck and appear incredibly tiny as they march into the prison. Kent
(Robert Montgomery) is a newbie, sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter after
killing a man in a car accident. He’s thrown into a cramped cell with two
legitimately bad men, Butch (Wallace Beery) and Morgan (Chester Morris).
One of the warden’s aids laments that a young kid doesn’t stand a chance in a
cell with such hard cases, to which the warden agrees that overcrowding and
idleness are the banes of the prison system. Kent’s journey through
prison life, though, is only part of the story. The film's
greatness comes from the interplay between Butch and Morgan, for they are
two hardened criminals who lean on each other to get through their dreary days.
Butch is downright sadistic, the sort of brute who harasses people only to back
off and say, “I was only kidding.” He’s allegedly murdered several people,
including a few of his past girlfriends, but one never knows if he’s serious or
not. He also lets his temperament get the best of him, even turning on his
buddy Morgan more than once during the film. Morgan, meanwhile, falls for
Kent’s sister (Leila Hyams) when he spots her during visiting hours.
Left to right: Stars Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello and director Brad Peyton at the Warner Bros. junket. (Photo: copyright Mark Cerulli. All rights reserved.)
BY MARK CERULLI
when he used to wrestle for the WWE, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would ask, “Can
you smell what The Rock is cooking?”Well, his latest big screen blowout, Rampage
smells a lot like jet fuel – there are more smashed planes and helicopters in
this film than in ten Godzilla movies
on the 1980s video game of the same name, the big screen version features not
one, not two, but THREE hyper-deadly creatures making a beeline for downtown
Chicago. Johnson plays a zoo
primatologist who prefers animals to people, reluctantly teaming with a lovely
geneticist (Naomie Harris) to stop them. Although Johnson is the movie’s star, he shares
the screen with an even bigger hero: a
massive gorilla named “George”. “They’re a lot alike,” director Brad Peyton
said, “They’re both funny, they’re both alpha males and they’re both the
biggest guy in every room.” Rampage
is Johnson’s third collaboration with Peyton, who previously directed him in San Andreas and Journey 2: Mysterious Island.Ahead of the film’s debut, Warner
Bros staged an elaborate press junket at a Hollywood studio where key cast and
crewmembers talked about the film…
conceit of this idea is a ridiculous one, “Johnson told the assembled crowd of
reporters, “Three gigantic monsters destroying the city of Chicago… we took a
lot of swings at it to make it fun and give the story an anchor in heart and
soul, which is my relationship with my best friend – this rare, gigantic albino
(Photo: copyright Mark Cerulli. All rights reserved.)
wanted to make a monster movie that would stand the test of time,” Johnson
continued. “There’s been a lot of great ones – King Kong, Godzilla, even Jurassic
Park I’d include – so we wanted to raise the bar, even a little bit and anchor
it in a relationship.”Since George, the
gorilla, exhibits many human-like qualities and has a deep bond with Johnson’s
character, he goes all out to save him from the inevitable military hardware
brought out to take the huge ape down.Special note should be made of the remarkable visuals created by New
Zealand-based Weta Digital, which has a long history of creating amazing
effects in blockbusters like Avatar, Justice League and War For The Planet Of The Apes.
(Photo courtesy Warner Bros.)
film gives Naomie Harris – who Cinema Retro readers know as Moneypenny in the
Daniel Craig Bonds – a chance to get out of MI6 to dodge falling buildings and
gigantic creatures, an experience that was well out of her acting comfort zone:“This was reacting to tennis balls and I was
absolutely terrified,” Harris says with a laugh, referring to the weeks of complex
green screen work she had to do to dodge said giant monsters.Luckily, her amiable co-star came to the
rescue:“I had to lean on Dwayne, he’s
the master of this and I was completely lost in the beginning.”
odd that my comfort zone is destruction,” Johnson added, which got a big laugh.And destruction there is – from a space
station spinning high above the earth to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile being torn
up, Rampage is a fast-moving visual
feast, which the cast doesn’t take too seriously and neither should the
audience.Instead Rampage is a ride meant to be enjoyed… As the movie’s director summed up: “What I’ve
learned from him (Dwayne) is ‘When you get up to the plate, try and hit a grand
slam.’ As a Canadian, I wasn’t trained to think like that, but this gigantic
Hawaiian dude really knows how to do this right!”
(Photo courtesy Warner Bros.)
Rampage roars into theaters
Friday, April 13th, from Warner Bros. Pictures. Click here to visit official site.
The feud between John Sturges and McQueen was tragic...he had made McQueen a star in The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. However, McQueen's long-delayed plans to bring a racing movie to the screen culminated in the ill-conceived Le Mans. The two old friends feuded over the film's concept. After Sturges quit the project, "B" movie director Lee H. Katzen took over. The film was one of the few outright bombs of McQueen's career, consisting mostly of footage of speeding cars and virtually no plot. (Thanks to Cinema Retro contributing writer Steve Saragossi for sharing this rare photo).
Riding high: at the peak of his career, Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were the top boxoffice stars in the world.
At age 82, Burt Reynolds is beaten but not broken. The one-time superstar had many ups-and-downs in his career and he's now walking with a cane, the result of doing many dangerous stunts that went wrong. But he's still in there kicking. Reynolds, who resides in Florida, mentors acting students and is also starring in a new film, appropriately titled "The Last Movie Star", about a forgotten leading man who is to receive an honor late in life at a Nashville film festival. Reynolds was recently in New York to make an appearance at a retrospective of his films and was interviewed by Kathryn Shattuck of the New York Times. He comes across as candid and very much the same kind of wise guy that he popularized on screen. Click here to read.
great to see German label All Score Media back on the soundtrack circuit. Their
latest vinyl LP release No Place for a Man (ASM 045) is a fictional homage to
the Italian Spaghetti Western genre of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Performed by the duo
Mondo Sangue (Cristiano Sangueduro and Cristina Casereccia), the score is a
passionate and honest tribute to the iconic genre soundtracks of the past. The
influences are certainly there, from Ennio Morricone to the late great Franco
De Gemini, for whom the album is quietly dedicated. There is a great deal of
tradition to be found within the album tracks. One could perhaps argue it is
almost stereotypical, but never in the negative sense of the word. The Spaghetti
Western score had of course become somewhat ‘formulised’ during its reign, so
expect lovely examples of twanging guitars, harmonica, epic choral vocals and mouth
harps. There are also a couple of vocal tracks such as ‘Somewhere in the West’
performed by Cristina Casereccia and ‘’No Place for a Man’ has Casereccia duet
with Alberto Rocca. All of these tracks work very well and create a comforting sense
of familiarity. Listening to the track ‘Il Portoghese’ and its delicate
whistling motif transports you straight back to Morricone’s ‘A Fistful of
Dynamite” (1971). Overall, fans of the genre should love this piece. There are
not too many labels delivering these retrospective, tribute scores, so they
really should be held dear. Cineploit are another label who produce period
sounding, fictional scores and in many ways offer a sense of continuity, a
linkage to the past and everything that was so appealing about it.
Score Media have produced a delightful sounding and excellent package for this
release. The album sleeve is beautifully illustrated by Sue Elderberry. The 180g
vinyl LPs are limited to just 666 pieces and are all individually hand
numbered. Each LP also comes with an autographed photo card signed by vocal duo
Cristina Casereccia and Alberto Rocca and there’s also a download code so as to
listen when on the move. There is obviously a great deal of love gone into this
release and it clearly shines through. No Place for a Man is an excellent
production that should be both respected and applauded.
After a costly divorce, Russell Crowe decided to take stock of the vast amounts of memorabilia he had accumulated over the years, including an abundance of costumes and props from his own movies, including a leather jock strap from his 2005 boxing film "Cinderella Man". He decided to part with some of the cherished items at auction in Sydney, where the actor made a surprise personal appearance at the event. In total, the auction raised $3.7 million in revenue, leading the Oscar-winning star to quip that it wasn't a bad hourly rate. Indeed- although it doesn't put much of a dent in the divorce agreement that reputedly saw his wife gain possession of an $11 million mansion and a $20 million payout. That can buy a lot a leather jock straps.... For full coverage and the final prices realized on individual items, click here.
I've become somewhat jaded and downright cynical when it comes to the tidal wave of musical stage productions based on popular, non-musical motion pictures. So it was with a sense of wariness that I approached the world premiere engagement of "The Sting" at the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ. After all, the classic, Oscar-winning 1973 film doesn't need musical production numbers to "improve it". There was already a great deal of interest in the production prior to the relatively last-minute announcement last month that the production would star Harry Connick, Jr. That sent already healthy tickets sales into overdrive and you'd be hard-pressed to find seats for the engagement, which runs through April 29. It doesn't take long to set aside one's suspicions that this might be a lightweight rip-off of a great film. As with all Papermill shows, this one first impresses with its creative and often ingenious sets designed by Beowulf Boritt and the magnificent orchestra under the musical direction of Fred Lassen. Not having seen the film version in decades, I can't say precisely how much of the movie's script by David S. Ward makes it into the musical production, but the book by Bob Martin seemed to include most of the important elements. The plot, set during the Depression, can be summarized succinctly by simply saying it involves the teaming of a legendary con man, Henry Gondorff (Harry Connick, Jr.) with an aspiring young protege, Johnny Hooker (J. Harrison Ghee) to use the ultimate scam to take down Doyle Lonnegan (Tom Hewitt), a filthy rich, ruthless crime kingpin who has murdered an old friend of Gondorff and Hooker. The elaborate plan requires military-like strategy, a good deal of money and a virtual army of experienced grifters. The pace of the production is suitably brisk, the dialogue punctuated with wisecracks and most of the musical numbers enable the advancement of the story line. The score by Mark Kollman and Greg Kotts (with contributions by Connick) is breezy and fun even if there isn't a single breakthrough number that you'll find yourself humming afterward. The dance numbers are outstanding thanks to the talents of choreographer Warren Carlyle. Connick's legions of loyal fans will be pleased that he gets to perform some solo numbers and he proves to be a very able and charismatic actor, as well. His on-stage partner in crime (Ghee) also delivers the goods with an assured and highly amusing performance. We won't make the case that Connick and Ghee will make you forget the teaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford but they clearly have broad appeal to the audience, if the reaction at the show I attended is any indication. It must be said that the show benefits from some sensational supporting performances with Tom Hewitt in the villainous role so memorably played on film by Robert Shaw, Kate Shindle as a hooker with a heart of gold, Janet Dascal as a femme fatale and Kevyn Morrow as the ill-fated grifter whose murder sets off the caper especially impressive. Special praise should be lavished on Tony-nominated director John Rando, who has the daunting task of seamlessly overseeing the movements of a very large cast, which includes an abundance of nattily-clad con men and scantily-clad prostitutes, as well as ensuring that the cumbersome, elaborate sets are moved quickly and flawlessly. This production cost a considerable sum and every penny of it is up there on the stage. The goal is very obviously to move the musical a scant few miles to Broadway, as so many other Papermill productions have.
Robert Shaw, Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the Oscar-winning film version.
The production can still use some tweaking. The first act ends with the con men having successfully amassed their "army" of fellow charlatans, thus the audience is eager to get to the actual caper in the second act. However, there are so many musical numbers (all of them admittedly impressive) that it distracts from the sense of anticipation to see the elaborate "sting" enacted. At least one of the numbers can be eliminated because several are superfluous to the main story line. Additionally, although there is an abundance of great Scott Joplin songs, audiences may feel cheated that there are only a few fleeting, occasional strains of the legendary "The Entertainer", so memorably arranged for the film version by Marvin Hamlisch. In a recent interview, Harry Connick Jr explains why he had reservations about using the tune, but that won't negate the feeling of disappointment by viewers. It's like making a James Bond movie and not including the signature theme. Still, these are minor criticisms. "The Sting" musical production has not been created with the intention of winning awards or pleasing critics, who are generally down on these adaptations of hit movies for the stage. Its main purpose is to appeal to mass audiences and if the reaction I witnessed is any indication, the creative team has succeeded admirably.
James Bawden was a TV
columnist for the Toronto Star, and
Ron Miller was TV editor at the San Jose
Mercury News and is a former president of the Television Critics
Association. During their respective careers stretching back some fifty years the
list of stars they have interviewed reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood. These two volumes bring together an
incredible assortment of interviews from almost the birth of cinema itself,
with Buster Keaton, Jackie Coogan and Gloria Swanson representing the silent
era. The great leading men are all here, including James Stewart, Henry Fonda,
Kirk Douglas, Victor Mature and Cary Grant, and of course classic leading
ladies like Bette Davis, Janet Leigh, Fay Wray and Joan Fontaine. Along the way
they also met character actors and horror stars like Ernest Borgnine, Victor
Buono, John Carradine, and Lon Chaney Jr., and even singing cowboys Gene Autry
and Roy Rogers make an appearance. With each book containing over thirty
interviews, this is an opportunity to revisit the golden era of Hollywood. Many
of the interviews, generally to publicise their latest film, were conducted on
sets, in theatre dressing rooms, or if they were lucky, the star’s home, and
the authors preface each interview with their own recollection of the moment,
giving us a little more insight into how these stars were when the cameras were
switched off. Ron Miller has even written an entire chapter titled “My seven
minutes alone with Elizabeth Taylor,” recalling the lengths he was required to
go to in order to interview with star whilst she was filming the TV miniseries North and South (1985). The effort that
went into securing those seven minutes is possibly more entertaining than the
interview itself, and secures some sympathy for those dogged TV and film
journalists who have to jump through sometimes dozens of hoops before getting
Miller has helpfully
also provided a chapter titled “How to Talk to a Movie Star,” which provides
invaluable advice for anyone considering taking this up as a career, including
a recollection of the time James Bawden interviewed Julie Harris. “I hate star
interviews!” she exclaimed, so Bawden quickly told her that he had never
understood Shakespeare until the time he saw her in a production of Romeo and Juliet. “You’ve convinced me!”
she replied and spent an hour answering his questions. The lesson? Flattery
frequently gets you somewhere.
interviewing stars like Boris Karloff when barely out of their teens to
developing personal friendships with stars such as Bob Hope, Bawden and
Miller’s collection is a feast of nostalgia and insight into a
never-to-be-repeated era of Hollywood history, and these two books are a must
for the bookshelf of any respecting film fan or potential Hollywood journalist. (Both books are published by University Press of Kentucky.)
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Here's the original American theatrical trailer for director Robert Aldrich's classic 1967 WWII adventure "The Dirty Dozen". Interestingly, the narrator provides the actor's personal assessments of the characters they play. For some reason Jim Brown is referred to as "Jimmy Brown" and Donald Sutherland, then a struggling character actor, is only glimpsed and isn't mentioned by name in the credits. He recently told "60 Minutes" that the film helped raise his profile considerably. However, as the trailer was cut long before the film's release, he was still largely unknown at the time.
The annual Steve McQueen Car and Motorcycle Show will take place this year on June 18 in Chino Hills, California. As always, the proceeds will benefit the charity organization Boys Republic, a camp where Steve McQueen spent some of his troubled youth. The iconic actor never forgot the positive influence that Boys Republic had on him in his early years. Despite its name, the Club also now benefits young girls who have challenges in life. The annual event operates with the permission and participation of the McQueen family and is much-anticipated by classic car lovers. For details, click here.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVE
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Remember that scene in Mel Brooks' The Producers when the first performance of Springtime for Hitler has just been performed for an opening night crowd on Broadway? The camera pans around the silent audience to show people sitting slack-jawed, mouths agape at the travesty they have just witnessed. I had a similar experience watching Sextette for the first time. Mind you, as a long time retro movie analyst, I was well-aware of the film's reputation as a notorious misfire. However, no criticism can quite prepare anyone for the experience of actually watching this bizarre spectacle unfold before your eyes. Scorpion Video has made that possible with a special edition DVD release of the 1978 musical comedy that was to be Mae West's second attempt to make a big screen comeback. (The first, the notorious 1970 bomb Myra Breckenridge, outraged her when she saw the final cut.) Sextette went into production in 1976, produced by "Briggs and Sullivan", a headed-for-oblivion duo whose pretentious billing perhaps unwittingly brings to mind circus masters Barnum and Bailey. The producers had acquired the rights to West's play Sextet, which apparently resulted in legal and censorship problems for the great screen diva way back when it was first presented. By the time it was dusted off for audiences in the 1970s, we were already living in an era in which Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice could comfortably slip between the sheets together, thus rendering the sexual humor in West's farce seem about as daring as a Disney production.
The film, directed by the generally admirable Ken Hughes (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), presents West as Marlo Manners, a legendary diva of the cinema who still causes hearts to flutter whenever she makes a public appearance. When we first see her (a full 8 minutes into the movie), she is checking into a London hotel to enjoy her honeymoon with her latest (and sixth husband), handsome young Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton). It isn't long before Barrington realizes that Marlo has a fanatical fan base and a seemingly endless string of former and would-be lovers clamoring for her attention. Among them, some ex-husbands including a crazy movie director (Ringo Starr) and a gangster who was presumed dead (George Hamilton). Then there is a Soviet diplomat (Tony Curtis) who is the central figure in a world peace conference that coincidentally happens to be taking place in the same hotel. Add to the zany mix her hyper-active business manager (Dom DeLuise), a singing waiter (Alice Cooper!) and a fey dress designer (The Who's Keith Moon) and you probably have to admire whoever managed to get this eclectic group of talented people together, even if they all should have known better. West's old pal George Raft even shows up and rides an elevator with her. The razor-thin plots involves Marlo trying to consummate her marriage to Barrington, who is a naive virgin who inadvertently implies to Hollywood gossip guru Rona Barrett that he is gay. In fact, just about the only audience that might derive any visual pleasure from the film are gay males, due to the abundance of scantily-clad muscle men who flex their abs every time Marlo walks by. To make matters even more bizarre, the cast occasionally breaks out into songs as though this was some old Busby Berkeley musical. The nadir of this is reached when an understandably embarrassed Dalton is forced to sing the Captain and Tennille's Love Will Keep Us Together to his on-screen bride. (Presumably, Dalton left this achievement off his credentials or he probably wouldn't have ended up playing James Bond.) In the midst of this madness, Marlo also barges in on the peace conference and convinces all the diplomats (including Walter Pidgeon!) to engage in some kumbaya moments of diplomacy.
West was certainly a screen legend in her time and one of the most liberated women in show business. You have to admire her for promoting women's lib and sexual freedom in an era in which most people were tone deaf to such sentiments. However, knowing when to quit was obviously not one of her attributes. As Marlo brings twenty-something men to states of sexual frenzy in Sextette, you keep waiting for at least one joke regarding the fact that the woman was in her 80s when the film was made. Unfortunately, throughout the entire movie, no such realization is apparent. Men salivate over her, as West creaks stiffly from frame to frame looking like the Marie Antoinette figure from Madame Tussaud's wax museum. West had parlayed her limited schtick of tossing off sexually suggestive one-liners into a full time screen career, not so much acting as merely quipping. It may have worked great in her prime opposite Cary Grant and W.C. Fields, but it's a sad spectacle to see Ringo Starr try to control his urges in her presence. The only cast member to emerge unscathed is DeLuise, who gives an energetic and amusing performance that even sees him jumping atop a piano and engaging in an impressive tap dance.
The Scorpion DVD transfer is excellent and includes an extensive and spellbinding interview with Ian Whitcomb, who served as a music consultant on the film. A good friend of Mae West's, he relates affectionate tales of their relationship and provides some uncomfortable details about the filming. (West would periodically seem to lose her powers of concentration and often had to have her lines read to her through an ear piece.) He also reads entries from his diary that were written during production. There is also a very informative on-screen essay by film critic Dennis Dermody that explores the film's disastrous reception by critics and the public. An original TV spot is also included.
Sextette easily manages to gain that rare status of being so bad it's good. You must add this DVD to your collection.
(Look for an article about the making of the film in Cinema Retro #26)
If you're generally in the mood for light, uplifting movies, chances are you aren't enamored of the boxing genre. To be sure, the wonderful "Rocky" films assured viewers of a happy, upbeat ending, but they were marketed for mass audience appeal. On the other side of the coin, most of the films that explore the ironically nicknamed "Sweet Science" of boxing center on the gritty underbelly of the sport. As far back as Wallace Beery's "The Champ" through "Champion", "Requiem for a Heavyweight", "Fat City" and "Raging Bull", the general theme has been to present the peculiar world of boxing and boxers as one of unrelenting cruelty, exploitation, double-crosses and physical punishment. Small wonder that few such films had viewers emerging from theaters with broad smiles on their faces. Yet, the boxing genre is a reliable staple when it comes to presenting thoroughly engrossing tales and the latest entry, a low-budget British film, "Jawbone" can justifiably take its place among the major achievements in the genre.
You probably never heard of "Jawbone". which had a very limited theatrical release in the UK and is now making its debut in America through a DVD release from Lionsgate. I had no expectations for the movie but decided to give the review screener a try, as I've always had a weakness for boxing films."Jawbone" grabs you from the very first frames. We see the central character, Jimmy McCabe (Johnny Harris) in the depths of depression, sitting night after night in the dock areas of London and under the city's bridges swilling down hard liquor from a bottle. We learn that he is destitute and about to be evicted from his childhood home which he shared with his beloved mother, who passed away some months before. He's offered housing by the local council but he stubbornly refuses. It's a battle he can't win and he ends up homeless. We learn he was once a boxer of some repute and out of desperation, he returns to the gritty gym where he once trained. The owner, Bill Carney (Ray Winstone), was once Jimmy's mentor, a function he still provides for street kids from the neighborhood he continues to train. Jimmy lost Bill's respect when he began his downward spiral, but he implores his old friend to give him one more chance by allowing him to train at the gym and to lodge there as well. Bill has a heart-to-heart talk with Jimmy and informs him that any return to his bad habits will see him permanently banned from the gym. Grateful, Jimmy joins Alcoholics Anonymous but is so ashamed of his transgressions that he can't accept the outpouring of support from the other members. Still, he resists taking to the bottle and begins an intense period of training. Bill and his partner Eddie ((Michael Smiley) recognize that he still has some of his old abilities and support his efforts at redemption. However, Jimmy desperately needs some money so he seeks out an old acquaintance, Joe Padgett (Ian McShane), a superficially friendly fight promoter who specializes in matches that are so brutal they aren't officially recognized.The smarmy Joe treats the starving Jimmy to a fat steak dinner and advances him a couple of hundred quid- then tells him he can arrange for him to make some sure money by participating in grueling off-the-grid match against a particularly vicious, undefeated opponent. He warns that Jimmy will probably be pulverized but the loser is guaranteed a paltry 2500 pounds, of which Joe will take a 50% slice.
"Jawbone" follows some well-worn story elements of the genre. We see Jimmy rally his strength, train to the point of exhaustion and arrive at the big match. He finds it closer to the experience of being a gladiator in ancient Rome. There are the bare bones symbols of civility: a referee and a busty ring girl who holds up a sign announcing each round. but the only rule is not to hit below the waist. Anything and everything else goes. Jimmy finds himself the underdog amidst a roaring crowd of barbarians who are cheering on the vicious champion. The fight that follows is as terrifically exciting and well-filmed as any you've seen in more commercial boxing movies. But "Jawbone" is about much more than this one exciting sequence. It's about the human condition and the ability- or inability- of one man to conquer his personal demons. The film is superbly acted with writer/star Johnny Harris giving the kind of performance that generally gets BAFTA and Oscar recognition. Similarly, the supporting cast is superb with Winstone and Smiley particularly good and McShane riveting in his small but pivotal role. Much credit goes to director Thomas Napper, a highly regarded second-unit director on numerous blockbuster films, who breaks out as a director of great skill with this film. Although "Jawbone" has many elements of the traditional boxing film, it steadfastly avoids the predictable love story. There isn't a love interest for Jimmy because he can barely keep himself alive. Harris's script resonates with great, believable dialogue and the film is complimented by a fine musical score by Paul Weller, excellent cinematography by Tat Radcliffe and editing by David Charap. Everything about "Jawbone" is impressive, especially the fact that Harris and Napper manage to convey a great deal of emotion into the brief 90 minute running time. There isn't a wasted frame and by the film's emotional climax you realize it didn't need to run a second longer. This is economic filmmaking at its best. The movie is an outstanding achievement for all concerned and one can only gripe that it didn't get the theatrical distribution it so richly deserved. However, the Lionsgate DVD offers a very fine transfer and a very interesting "making of" documentary that describes how the bare bones production came together and ended up looking so good. There is also a gallery of trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
"Jawbone" is one of the best indie films I've seen in quite some time. If you'll excuse an unpardonable pun, it's a knockout.
News blurb from Film Daily, November 20, 1958 regarding the beginning of production on "One-Eyed Jacks". Stanley Kubrick was originally signed to be the director but he had a falling out with star Marlon Brando, who was also producing the film. Brando ended up taking over the direction, a bold move for someone with no experience behind the camera. "Jacks" went far over-budget due to Brando's sense of perfectionism and laissez faire attitude regarding studio concerns. The film wasn't ready for release until 1961, following a contentious period during which considerable footage had to be cut in order to produce a final version of the film everyone felt was acceptable. The movie earned high marks from critics and did attract large audiences that should have ensured a significant profit, but due to the fact the film ended up costing over $6 million, it was deemed a money-loser for Paramount. Nevertheless, Brando did create an innovative take on the western genre and a riveting film, as well. However, he never aspired to direct a film again.
Retro-active: The Best from the Cinema Retro Archive
By Todd Garbarini
Swamp Thing (1982)
is a peculiar entry in the Wes Craven canon.
For a director who cut his teeth in porn (most directors began their
careers as editors in this field in the early 1970s) and directed such fare as The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Swamp Thing is a much gentler film. One of the few PG-rated entries to his credit,
it was made just a few years prior to his very own A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the movie that turned the horror film
industry on its ear with the introduction of Fred Krueger and which spawned one
of the most successful franchises in the genre.
Released on Friday, February 19, 1982 by the
late Joseph E. Levine’s long-defunct Embassy Pictures, Swamp Thing is a film version of the DC Comic that was created by
Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. Set in
the swamps of Louisiana (though filmed in South Carolina), brother and sister
scientists Alec and Linda Holland (Ray Wise and Nannette Brown) are hard at
work on an experiment that is designed to create a plant and animal hybrid that
can withstand the extreme temperatures of various environments. Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) works for the
government and makes a trip to the lab to see how things are coming along. Just as it appears that the government has
spent its money well, the henchmen of one sinister Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis
Jourdan), headed by the late cinema baddy David Hess, attempt to steal the written
magic formula and the serum from the clutches of its rightful owner. Linda is killed, and Alec gets doused with
the new concoction, ends up on fire (yes, that is stunt man Anthony Cecere running
outside engulfed in flames, a feat he
would repeat in A Nightmare on Elm Street)
and jumps into the swamp, reemerging as the titular creature who is henceforth
played by Dick Durock. Dr. Arcane believes that this serum will make him
immortal and he will therefore stop at nothing to make sure that he gets his
hands on the complete formula. Alice
begins to fall for Alec/Swamp Thing as she is eluding Dr. Arcane's machine gun-toting
minions. Mr. Hess, who appeared in the
aforementioned Last House, plays the
usual crazy, bullying nut job that he did so well in Hitch Hike (1977) and House
on the Edge of the Park (1980), and the supporting cast that surrounds him
are a terrific group of menaces. Reggie Batts nearly steals the film in his
turn as Judd, a young store proprietor who does everything he can to help Alice
avoid capture. There are various animated wipes, dissolves, and visual
transitions/segues that take you from one piece of action to the next in an
effort to emulate the look of a comic book. For the most part, the film succeeds.
Swamp Thing was
originally available on home video on capacitance electronic disc (CED),
laserdisc (LD), and the ubiquitous VHS cassette. Although it made its DVD debut in 2000, the
discs were pulled from the shelves when it was discovered that the DVD was
sourced from the international print which ran 93 minutes in length and contained
an additional two minutes of nudity that was not seen in the original 91-minute
PG-rated 1982 domestic theatrical exhibition. Bowing to some consumer complaints, MGM reissued the movie on DVD in
2005 in its original version, minus the nudity. It is this version that appears
on both the new DVD and Blu-ray. It would have been nice if the missing footage
had been included as an extra (if it is here as an Easter egg, kudos to those
of you who can find it!).
The transfer of the film is excellent; there
are a few spots and very small scratches here and there but nothing to distract
from your pleasure of watching the image. Scream Factory, an imprint of Shout! Factory, is to be commended for
continually putting out our favorite genre films in these new versions with
top-notch extras. Best of all, this is a
DVD/Blu-ray combo. I don't know what the criteria is (or who the decision maker
is) when it comes to deciding to release a title in separate formats or as a
combo, but I sincerely wish that all of Scream Factory's titles were sold as
combos forthwith. That being said, both
formats boast excellent transfers, with Blu-ray obviously being the sharper and
clearer of the two.
There are some really nice extras on the
discs (which are presented equally on both formats). The movie contains two
separate full-length commentaries. The first is with writer/director Wes Craven
and it is moderated by Sean Clark of Horrors Hallowed
Clark is a walking/talking encyclopedia and asks Mr. Craven lots of interesting
and intelligent questions about the production and the people involved.
The second commentary is with makeup effects
artist William Munns, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. This track is an absolute joy to listen to as
Mr. Munns remembers a great deal about the making of the film. Growing up in Studio City, CA, he speaks quite
eloquently about his experience in the film business prior to Swamp Thing, in addition to the issues
that began to flourish when the film was green-lighted. He recalls having to wait a long time as the
financing was secured, and even went to work on a film initially called Witch (later released as Superstition) in
the interim. Since the sex of the Swamp
Thing was an issue, he had to work around the anatomically correct creature and
his recollections are humorous in how this was handled (he says that the film
needed a PG-13 rating, however Swamp
Thing was shot in the summer of 1981 and this rating was not used until 1984
with the release of John Milius’ Red Dawn). He talks about fitting the suit, discusses
how the makeup crew became the scapegoat when filming came to a crawl due to
the other departments that were behind, the dangers of wearing the Swamp Thing
suit, the stunts that needed to be done, and how he took over as Swamp Thing
when Mr. Durock could no longer perform.
The bonus features consist of:
Tales from the Swamp is an
interview with Adrienne Barbeau. The
segment runs 16:56 and Ms. Barbeau is a delight to listen to. Jovial and funny,
she recalls the time that she spent on the film and talks about the bacteria
and parasites in the water, the long hours on the set while they were in South Carolina,
and the challenging elements around them. The original script that was given to
her by Wes Craven was far more audacious than what ended up on screen.
Unfortunately, just as the film went before the cameras, the production company
began to chip away the film's budget, necessitating constant rewriting during
the course of shooting and many concessions needed to be made. Ms. Barbeau is
rather candid and pulls no punches in explaining her disappointment with the
final product at the time, however she has developed an appreciation of the
film in the years since its release.
Hey, Jude is
the name of the second segment, and this is a fun and entertaining interview
with actor Reggie Batts who plays Jude (hence the name!). It runs 14:30. Mr. Batts explains how he got the role in the
film and was a fan of DC comics. Following
the release of Swamp Thing, he also appeared
in the North and South (1985) miniseries
The last segment is titled That Swamp Thing, and it’s a look back
with creator Len Wein who explains how he came up with the name for the
creature and how he got his start as an animator. The segment runs 13:19.
The original theatrical trailer is also
included, and this is in excellent condition, not the usual scratch-ridden mess
that we’re used to seeing.
The photo galleries consist of posters and lobby
cards; photos from the film; William Munn’s behind-the-scenes photos; and behind-the-scenes
photos by Geoffrey Rayle.
As an added bonus, the DVD/Blu-ray sleeve is
reversible and has the French poster artwork under the title of La Creature Du Marais, which translates
to “The Creature of the Swamp”.
Twilight Time has released a Blu-ray edition of the
biting social satire The Hospital.
By 1971, the playwright Paddy Chayefsky was considered so
revered that he remains the only writer that comes to mind who could demand a
possessive credit on films he wrote the screenplays for. (The film’s titles
were followed by the credit “By Paddy Chayefsky”). Such a case is The Hospital, a film that was highly
acclaimed in its day and voted into the National Film Registry in America in
1995, signifyingits status as a
classic. Why, then, consider it a “long over-looked film”? Because the virtues
of The Hospital were overshadowed by
Chayefsky’s 1976 masterpiece Network, a
glossier and more outrageous movie that resonated even more soundly with
audiences and critics. Consequently, The
Hospital is rarely discussed in critical circles and seen even less on the
big screen within the art house circuits. Yet, the power of this film is as
timely as ever.
Non-American audiences may well scratch their collective
heads over the on-going, increasingly contentious debate over the health care
system in the United States.In order to
explore the premise of The Hospital, its
relevance must be placed within the context of this debate. In the post-WWII
world, almost every modern, industrialized nation installed a form of national
health care. In America, however, it remained a “for profit” system that gave
insurers every incentive to deny sick people coverage. Virtually everyone in
America agrees that the system has become hopelessly broken but despite the
fact that the uninsured rate in America is now at an all-time low, the debate
over the merits of President Obama’s attempts to the health care system remain
largely split on the basis of one’s political party- and millions remain
without coverage. Paddy Chayefsky foresaw the ultimate collapse of the system.
His screenplay places the crisis in a localized level- specifically one
over-burdened New York City hospital that is desperately trying to stay open in
a bizarro world where the need for profits often trumps the incentive to provide
proper care. The sequences in which an
omnipresent aspect of the emergency room is a bureaucrat who harasses
critically ill patients to produce proof of their medical insurance is a daily
occurrence in hospitals across the USA.
Chayefsky views the crisis through the eyes of Dr. Bock
(George C. Scott), a weather-beaten, revered doctor who is not only going
through a mid-life crisis of divorce and impotence, but who is chronically
depressed because his life’s goal of helping the sick has been converted into
dealing with a monstrous administrative system that is out of control. Bock gamely
soldiers on, trying to bring sense to the madhouse he oversees, even has he
contemplates suicide on a daily basis. When a string of mysteriousmurders with comical overtones take place at
the hospital, Bock finds himself taking on the role of detective, as well. He
does find time for an intense fling with Barbara (Diana Rigg), a free-spirited
young woman who is intent on taking her
crazed father from his sick bed and returning to their hippie lifestyle on an
Indian reservation.She tempts Bock to
give up his high pressure career and join her.The chemistry between Scott and Rigg is dynamic and Chayefsky gives them
one of his trademark sequences characterized by extended dialogue that allows
both actors to showcase their brilliance on screen. (Chayefsky wrote a similar
sequence between William Holden and Beatrice Straight in Network) It’s a sheer joy to listen to Scott and Rigg speak the
superb dialogue and enact the sequence with such passion. In today’s era in
which seemingly every film is based on cheesy CGI effects, it’s even more of a
treasure to relish Chayefsky’s writing.
The 1970 film Darker Than Amber should have been a huge commercial success. It
should have been the start of a major film franchise. It should have elevated
Rod Taylor to the ranks of the era’s top action stars. None of these expectations
were realized despite the fact that the movie expertly combines mystery,
action, drama and romance with a unique protagonist.
The movie is based on the seventh in a series
of 21 novels written by John D. MacDonald between 1964 and 1985 featuring Travis
McGee, a self-described beach bum who lives on a houseboat called The Busted Flush in Fort Lauderdale,
Florida. When not enjoying his sporadic retirement, he works as a “salvage
consultant” in return for half of the value of whatever he retrieves for
clients. Though he is not an official detective, he possesses intrinsic investigative
skills and is an enemy to evildoers. On occasion, he may offer his services pro
bono because he is also a knight-errant, though one with sullied armor. His
best friend is Meyer Meyer, an economist who lives in a nearby cabin cruiser
and who provides him with periodic philosophical advice.
was the first and last appearance of Travis McGee on cinema screens. The film’s
box office failure may have been due in part to the inexperience of the
relatively new studios that produced and distributed it. National General
Pictures began distributing films in 1967, including their own productions as
well as movies from Cinema Center Films, the recently-formed subsidiary of the
CBS Television Network. NGP released McGee’s film debut, which was produced by
CCF, with meagre publicity and it disappeared quickly from theaters. (CCF
ceased production in 1972 and NGP stopped distributing films in 1973; Warner
Bros. subsequently acquired the rights to all of NGP’s movies.)
Than Amber begins, McGee and Meyer are fishing in a skiff underneath a
bridge when his line gets snagged by a woman who has been thrown over with
weights tied to her feet. Travis saves her life and brings her back to his
houseboat. Her name is Evangeline Bellemer and she is consumed with shame and
guilt due to a shady past. Her despair combined with her stoic acceptance of
pain intrigues McGee who becomes romantically involved with her. Unwisely, she
makes the fatal mistake of leaving the houseboat to retrieve money from her
apartment. McGee is infuriated by her fate as well as that of his friend, Burk,
from whom he rented the skiff. His ensuing investigation leads him to Terry,
Griff and Adele, a trio of crooks who used Vangie in a scam that victimized men
on cruise ships. McGee hatches a plan of revenge with the help of Meyer and
Merrimay, an actress who resembles Vangie. The plan will take him to Miami, to
Nassau and back to Florida. But he underestimates his adversaries who will kill
anyone that stands in their way. After Griff outfoxes him, he is only saved
from a shallow grave by the appearance of a stray pup. And when his plan to
manipulate Adele fails, he finds that he is no match for the ferociously demented
Terry who proceeds to beat the living daylights out of him.
This was the first movie that Robert Clouse
directed and it is an auspicious debut. Unlike many films in which the location
photography serves as a travelogue, Clouse and cinematographer Frank Phillips authentically
capture Florida’s leisurely sleaze along with its stunning splendor. He also utilizes
peripheral characters to good effect, a good example being the diner scene with
the maid Nicole. However, Clouse excels with the action sequences which are further
enhanced by the credible exposition of the principle characters. Not only are McGee
and Vangie well-defined but Terry and Griff also emerge as atypical villains courtesy
of brief vignettes. Because of this, the inevitable clashes are not just
exercises in wanton violence. While McGee’s bout with Griff is exciting, it is
only a prelude to his eagerly-anticipated fracas with Terry. This bareknuckle brutal
fight, which begins on the cruise ship and ends on the pier, is a thrillingly
staged, bone-breaking, blood-splattering, vessel-bursting battle between two
equally-pitiless antagonists whose only desire is to pummel the life out of one
In the screenplay credited to Ed Waters, the
novel’s title loses its source. In the novel, Vangie is Eurasian and has dark
hair and dark eyes with “irises a strange yellow-brown, just a little darker
than amber.” In the movie, Vangie is blonde and no mention is made of her eyes.
Then again, the title could pertain to the movie if it refers to something that
is quite prominent in the fight sequence: blood. (According to the biography of
John D. MacDonald, The Red Hot Typewriter,
MacDonald disliked the script and contributed to major uncredited revisions
with executive producer Jack Reeves.) Basically, the script follows the novel’s
plotline fairly closely, one exception being McGee’s affair with Vangie, who elicits
more sympathy than the novel’s callous prostitute. The ending of the film is also
more poignant than that of the novel in which McGee is relatively unchanged by
his experiences. In the film, the bruised and battered McGee looks sadly out to
the sea, unable to forget the woman whose life he saved but whose death he was
unable to prevent.
you go down in deep water, you’re scared. You don’t know how scared you can be.
Soon, you forget. But the reef never forgets. It just waits.”—Gilbert Roland as
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef,” released in a limited edition
(3,000 copies) Blu-ray by Twilight Time, is either the second or third movie
ever made in Cinemascope. “The Robe” was the first, and “How to Marry a
Millionaire” was in production at the same time as “Reef” so there’s some
dispute about the release chronology. Basically “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” is
Romeo and Juliet set in the sponge-diving world around Tarpon Springs, Fla.
with a young Robert Wagner and Terry Moore as the “sponge-crossed” couple.
Wagner plays Tony Petrakis, son of Mike (Gilbert Roland), one of the best Greek
sponge divers in the business. Moore plays Gwyneth Rhys, daughter of Thomas
Rhys (Richard Boone) the leader of the Conches, the Anglo “hook boat” sponge
fishermen. According to the script by A.I. Bezzerides, there’s no love lost
between the two factions. Greeks stay out in the deep water, the Conches fish
in the shallow waters of the Everglades.
Times are tough for the Greeks, however. The sponges are
disappearing. And Mike owes money to a loan shark who threatens to take his
boat. Mike and his family have two choices. They can go out to the 12-Mile Reef
where Mike already lost one of his sons or they can try moving into the Everglades—
Conch territory. They try the Everglades and do okay until Conch Arnold Dix
(Peter Graves) shows up with some buddies, threatens to cut Mike’s air hose and
grabs their sponge haul. When Mike gets back to Tarpon Springs he looks the
Conches up at their favorite watering haul to settle the score. There Mike
meets Rhys and Dix but violence is prevented when cops show up. Meanwhile,
young Tony and Gwyneth catch love at first sight and run off together while the
grownups are arguing. Wagner, complete with hair dyed black and permed to make
him look Greek, plays Tony as the young stud trying to get out from under the
shadow of his macho father, who calls him “Little Tony.” Moore plays a goofy
girl gaga over handsome Tony, even though Dix thinks he’s her boyfriend.
“Beyond the 12-Mile Reef” has plenty of plot
complications, which only get worse when Mike decides his only recourse is to
dive the 12-Mile Reef. On the way out to the reef, Roland, in one of his best
performances as a tough but tender-hearted macho man, gives the speech quoted
above, telling Tony he can’t let him dive because it’s too dangerous.
I don’t want to give too much more of the plot away. It’s
a very simple story with very broad characters, and admittedly has a totally
unbelievable ending. I’ve read a lot of nasty reviews of the film that dismiss it
as shallow melodrama with some critics, even faulting screenwriter Bezzerides
for inventing the sociological issues posed by the conflict between the Greeks
and the Conches. But who cares about that?
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” on Blu-ray is an exceptionally
entertaining movie for several reasons. First is the on-location Cinemascope
photography shot around Tarpon Springs and Key West by Edward Cronjager. Director
Robert D. Webb uses Cronjager’s camera to capture a lot of the local color and
some of the culture of the Greek divers. I’ve been to Tarpon Springs and it
doesn’t look much different today. The underwater scenes are spectacular. Second
is a near-perfect music score by the inestimable Bernard Herrmann. Bernie
outdoes himself with this soundtrack, providing a truly sensory experience that
makes you feel your down in the water with the divers. Third, is the presence
of two great actors in the cast. Roland and Boone provide the anchor for this
film, giving it a weight its two fledgling co-stars simply didn’t have. Enough
cannot be said about Roland, who never fails to give his characters a sense of
“stature” as he so eloquently put it in “The Lady and the Bullfighter.” Boone as
Rhys has the authority needed to play a man who all the Conches look up to.
favourite Spaghetti Western theme song – and I stress theme song, not theme music
– is Roberto Fia’s splendidly triumphant rendition of composer Luis Bacalov’s ‘Django’.
The only one that comes close to challenging it for my affection is ‘Angel Face’,
the opening credits ballad from A Pistol for Ringo (o.t. Una pistola per Ringo),
Graf Maurizio’s silky vocal marrying up with Ennio Morricone’s passionate
melody to forge a little scoop of sorrow-tinged nectar. And although I confess
that my knowledge of Italian westerns is criminally deficient, of the titles I
have actually seen I’d unhesitatingly cite A Pistol for Ringo among my
in 1965, the film was directed by Duccio Tessari, an uncredited co-writer on
the previous year’s uber-classic A Fistful of Dollars. Part of the appeal of
Tessari’s film is that the story takes place on the run up to Christmas,
although being as sun-baked southern Spain is doubling for the Wild West it’s
an exceptionally balmy one. Nevertheless, the inclusion of tinsel-decked trees,
Christmas dinner and even a carol or two embroider the proceedings with a
festive ambience conspicuously rare – perhaps even unique (I reiterate that my
knowledge is lacking) – in Spaghetti Western terrain.
a couple of days before Christmas in the town of Quemado and ruthless Mexican
bandit Sancho (Fernando Sancho) and his gang have plundered the bank of its entire
cash reserve. Their escape route to the border cut off by pursuing lawmen, the
bandits hole up at the hacienda of Major Clyde (Antonio Hasas) where they take everyone
hostage, including Clyde’s daughter Ruby (Hally Hammond), who also happens to
be the fiancée of the Sheriff (George Martin). Under siege, Sancho threatens to
kill two hostages a day until the law agrees to back off and let them ride away
unhindered. Desperate for help, the Sheriff turns to scar-cheeked gunslinger
Angel Face (Montgomery Wood) – Ringo to his friends – who’s currently locked up
in the town jail on a quadruple murder charge. He makes Ringo a proposal: infiltrate
the gang, eliminate them and rescue the hostages and he’ll be rewarded with 30%
of the retrieved cash and exonerated of his crimes.
Tessari co-scripted A Pistol for Ringo, his fifth feature film, with Alfonso
Balcázar. Casting Montgomery Wood in his debut starring role was a
masterstroke; Wood is actually the nom de guerre of former stuntman Giuliano
Gemma – all the better for performing his own gags, which include crashing
through a ceiling to land upright on a grand piano and leaping from a galloping
steed. Gemma has a scorching intensity about him and he gifts the self-serving
Ringo with an affable personality and a cunning, cocksure attitude in the face
of adversity. He also prefers milk to hard liquor and has a habit of dishing
out pearls of wisdom at felicitous moments (“Never cry for a dead person – it’s
pointless.”). He’s introduced playing hopscotch with some children, breaks off
to take down a quartet of gunmen with the matter-of-factness of swatting flies,
finishes up the game and strolls casually away. This is a guy who, with three
bad guys still to be disposed of, realises he only has one bullet left in his
gun and yet somehow still manages to pull it off. You’d really not want to be
looking down the business end of Ringo’s six-shooter, but just the same he’s a
very likeable anti-hero figure.
Sancho meanwhile makes for a nicely greasy villain, coincidentally also named
Sancho. He shares some great scenes with Gemma, the best of which finds Sancho
threatening to put a bullet through the bound Ringo’s head, only to find
himself compelled to relent time and again as our unflustered hero convinces
him he’s a valuable asset best kept alive – and what’s more his help is going
to cost Sancho an ever-escalating cut of the booty! There’s even some gentle
humour thrown in during a gathering ‘round the piano to sing carols, with
Sancho awkwardly mumbling his way through “Silent Night”.
Hammond is actually Lorella De Luca, director Tessari’s wife, and she
brings a measure of prim sex appeal to the show, although beyond playing
vulnerable she isn’t given too much to do – at least not until the finale when
she finally gets her hands on a shotgun. Meanwhile Nieves Navarro (wife of the
film’s co-producer Luciano Ercoli) fills the role of sultry bad girl rather
deliciously; despite the fact she’s one of the intruders in wealthy landowner
Antonio Hasas’s home, he has an amorous eye on her – and who can blame him? Amiable
Manuel Muñiz is in situ primarily for light relief.
of light relief, in my limited experience of Italian westerns they generally
tend to be more brutal than their American counterparts, but A Pistol for Ringo
is a bloodless, pretty frivolous affair, more mischievous in tone than one
might expect from the sub-genre. That tone is established in the first few
seconds as two unsmiling gunslingers stride towards each other and then, as
opposed to drawing their weapons as anticipated, wish each other a Merry
Christmas. To be fair the story itself is no great shakes, I can’t defend it, but
regardless of any shortcomings this is very respectable fare that gallops along
at a lively pace and – as do the best of them – leaves you wanting more.
Though we’re only a few months into 2018, I’m already dead
certain that Shout! Factory’s brand new Blu-ray edition of Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993) will be regarded as one
of the most generous, lovingly produced and expansive reissues of the
year.This remarkable set offers nearly
three hours of beautifully constructed bonus materials to supplement the actual
feature’s ninety-nine minute running time.In case you’re wondering, the short answer is, “Yes.” It’s officially now time to retire your
treasured Laserdisc copy of Matinee as
well as the now-rendered-totally-inconsequential bare bones DVD issued by
Universal in 2010.
an undeniably warm and wonderful film, an affectionate but quirky Valentine.In a series of amazing supplemental features
included with this set, several key members of the film’s creative team suggest
the movie was, in essence, director Joe Dante’s (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins) very personal love letter to the
art of the B-movie.Critically praised,
but not commercially successful upon its release in early winter of 1993,
Shout! Factory has added this title to its “Shout Select” catalogue designed to
“shine a light” on “unheralded gems.”This film is certainly one such deserved
jewel, but Matinee Director of Photography
John Hora appears less dreamy eyed than some when offering his own honest post-assessment.
Cognizant that the Hollywood industry was just that, an industry, it was Hora’s contention that
regardless of the immaculate staging and wonderful storytelling of Dante’s very
personal film, he suggested the director would need to pursue a more
traditional career path following the indulgence of Matinee.The age of making
films for what Hora would describe – perhaps too dismissively - as a
“specialized audience,” had passed.Making more marketplace films for consumption by a more general public of
cinemagoers would be the only guarantor of future employment.
If Hora offered a tough in-hindsight assessment, it was
not an unreasonable one.Dante himself
would recall that no one, neither early on at Warner Bros. nor later at Universal,
were particularly optimistic about the film’s potential as box office dynamite.Acknowledging the project as a labor-of-love,
Dante accepted his tribute to the “B-movie” magic of days long gone might best be
realized as an independent film project. When Dante’s early investors reneged
on their promises of bankrolling the production, the director was forced to
negotiate directly with the juggernaut that was Universal Studios for
financing. In Dante’s own recollection, Universal’s accountants emerged shakily
from the board room giving the eccentric project a nervous, wary blessing.It was a rare industry moment, the director
would concede with a sigh, when “Passion won over reason.”
In hindsight Dante mused that Universal’s green lighting
of Matinee was to “my everlasting
gratitude, their everlasting regret.”The film is undeniably brilliant cinema and
most assuredly a wonderful time capsule piece; but it was in design and intent an
indie film, one not likely destined for blockbuster status.Dante’s original idea was to bring the film
out in limited release in art house cinemas.He hoped positive word-to-mouth might help create a buzz, and was
confident that this film – one designed for cineastes
in mind - would be met with favorable critical appraisal.But in 1993 Universal was a corporate titanic
that dropped their films into blanketing nationwide release for a quick return
on investment.Sadly, Matinee was too insular a film to appeal
to a mass audience, finishing a disappointing sixth even in its first week or
Originally in development at Warner Bros., writer Jerico
Stone’s original screenplay of Matinee
– which Dante described as a “fantasy” concerning nostalgic friends who
congregate one night at a haunted neighborhood theater - would differ wildly
from the final product.Though Stone,
billed simply as “Jerico,” would share on-screen credit along with screenwriter
Charlie Haas for the original story, he would, much aggrieved, later litigate
unsuccessfully against the Writer’s Guild for screenplay credit.In any event, Warner Bros. would eventually
pass on Stone’s early unmarketable treatment, as would several other
studios.Undeterred, Dante chose to
bring in fellow New Jersey “Monster Kid” and writer Ed Naha (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) to take a
whack at the script.It was Naha who wove
in the un-credited idea of a beloved TV-horror film host (ala WCAU and WABC’s Zacherley) coming to visit a
neighborhood bijou to promote the latest offering of low-budget cinematic
Revisiting A Passage to India (1984)
on Turner Classics the other night, I was struck in a way that I had never been
before by how incredibly beautiful and powerful Judy Davis’s performance is in
this movie. The plot of the film, based loosely on a 1924 novel by English
writer E.M. Forster, revolves around the adventures of two Victorian English
women in early 20th century India. The younger woman, Adela Quested, played by Davis, has come to that
country with the likely intention of marrying a local British magistrate named
Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers). She is accompanied on her sea voyage by Heaslop’s
mother, known in the film simply as Mrs. Moore, played exquisitely by Peggy
Ashcroft. The two women become good friends during the trip and share a disdain
for the kind of English class snobbery they encounter upon their arrival. One
hot afternoon they decide to take a day trip from the city, known as
Chandrapore in the novel, where they have lodgings to visit the fictional Marabar
Caves, a site reportedly based on the Barabar Caves in the Makhdumpur region of Jehanabad
district, Bihar. Note: David Lean, the film’s director and writer, decided against
shooting these scenes at Barabar because he felt the location lacked the scenic
grandeur he so loved to showcase in his pictures.
During the outing, Mrs.
Moore has an attack of severe claustrophobia while visiting the first cave -- a
foreshadowing of her own death within a few short days. She insists that Adela
and Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee), a young Indian physician whose idea it was to
visit the caverns, continue their sightseeing without her. Shortly after this an incident occurs (or does it?)
involving the couple. We see a frantic Adela running down a steep
ravine in a state of great agitation, as if being chased by someone. (In an
important earlier linking scene we saw her riding her bicycle alone on the
outskirts of town where she encountered a number of highly erotic Indian
statues abandoned in the tall grass; an experience which clearly left her
emotionally shaken.)Upon returning to Chandrapore, Aziz is shocked to find himself accused of
attempted rape. He is immediately arrested and jailed to await trial. All this
is prelude to the moment when Adela takes the witness stand for the prosecution
Among my favorite classic American film is Alice Adams (1935), the early Katherine Hepburn
vehicle. There is a moment in that movie when director George Stevens puts the
young actress’s face fully in frame (just as David Lean does in Passage with
Davis, but with less tenderness) holding it there as she muses on small-town
social snobbery. “People do talk about you, oh yes they do…,” Alice says in her
silly, heartbreaking manner. There is something of this same unsparing,
introspective quality in the climatic courtroom scene with Adela: there is much
more, too. Two lives hang in the balance here, the life of the accused and that
of his accuser. What Adela says or doesn’t say at that moment will forever
determine not only Aziz’s fate, but hers as well. She can either choose to save face by
remaining silent on the matter, or risk destroying everything by speaking up. Everything hinges on her decision. I am reminded
of those famous lines from T.S. Eliot: Do I dare/ Disturb the universe? / In a minute there is time / For
decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse… So how should I presume?
Published for the first time anywhere, in
celebration of the 100th anniversary of Mickey Spillane's birth, come two short
novels in the same book. "The Last Stand" (Spillane's final novel) is
preceded by "A Bullet for Satisfaction," an unfinished manuscript
that was finalized by Spillane's long-time collaborator Max Allan Collins. Both
stories are satisfying reads. The book has been published by the Hard Case Crime imprint from Titan Books.
Mickey Spillane is best known for his
character Mike Hammer, the fictional P.I. that redefined the "action
hero" and spawned countless imitators. Unlike private investigators before
him, Mike Hammer was a merciless executor of villains who slept with countless
beautiful, willing women. Sound like anyone we know? The first Mike Hammer
novel, "I, The Jury," was published in 1947, six years prior to Ian
Fleming's James Bond debut, "Casino Royale." It may be argued that if
Fleming was indeed James Bond's literary father, Spillane and Mike Hammer could
be considered, if not grandfathers, then influences. Fleming admitted to that
but he also had an influence on Spillane. The mid-1960s saw Spillane introduce
a new character, Tiger Mann, an agent for a private organization dedicated to
wiping out Communism. Tiger Mann lasted four novels.
If there is such a thing as a
"Tough-Guy-Renaissance-Man," Mickey Spillane was it. After a brief
stint in college he worked summers as a lifeguard and for a period of time was
a trapeze artist for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.Through a friendship with
fellow Gimbels department store employee Joe Gill, he began his career
as a comic book writer in 1940, eventually writing an eight-page story a day on
a diverse number of characters from different publishing companies, including
Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman and Captain America. He enlisted in the United
States Army Air Corps on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor and
became a fighter pilot and flight instructor.
"I, The Jury" was written in just
19 days and sent off to publisher E. P. Dutton. Between the hardcover released
in 1947 and the subsequent paperback a year later, the novel sold more than 6
1/2 million copies in the US alone. A new career began, along with a
reinvention of the genre.
Mickey Spillane was also an actor. His first
leading role was given to him by John Wayne, who hired him in 1954 to appear
with Pat O'Brien and lion-tamer Clyde Beatty in the Wayne-produced film
"Ring of Fear," which Spillane, without credit, also co-wrote, although,
he did receive a white Jaguar as a gift from producer Wayne. He also starred as
his most famous creation, Mike Hammer, in the 1963 British produced film
"The Girl Hunters" for which he received favorable notices acting
alongside such veterans as Lloyd Nolan and future “Goldfinger” actress Shirley
Eaton. But perhaps for many of us of a particular age, he was most well known
for his appearances in the Miller Lite commercials as his alter-ego of Hammer
along with "Doll," Lee Meredith of "The Producers" fame.
First up in the book is "A Bullet for
Satisfaction”, which presents a very Hammeresque character in a Hammeresque
story. Told in Spillane's traditional first-person style, Detective Capt. Rod
Dexter is both the hero (anti-hero?) and narrator. The book opens with Dexter
investigating the murder of the politically connected Mayes Rogers. But no one
seems to be talking. In an argument with the D.A, he loses his temper; "Then
I'll just continue my investigation of the Rogers’ murder and go anywhere and
everywhere it leads me. And before I'm through with you, you'll be doing plenty
of talking". Not
surprisingly, he loses his job. He takes it on his own to continue the
investigation unofficially. The web spins, the clock turns and he finds himself
getting deeper and deeper into trouble as he comes closer to unraveling a
conspiracy. Of course he finds time for a dalliance, this time with the sister
of Rogers’ widow.
Much like Mike Hammer, Det. Dexter is a man
driven by vengeance. And much like Hammer, Dexter has a lot of luck with dames.
When he, along with one of the women he seduces are kidnapped, Dexter diagnoses
the situation thusly: "The other one grabbed Jean. She tried to break
away and he slapped her until she was still. He was dead - he just didn't know
it yet." A short time later: "Behind the wheel now, Bacon smiled
and let a low, rumbling laugh come deep from his throat. 'What have you got
against a little joy ride, Dexter?' He laughed again. So did the guy in the
back. Killing them would be a pleasure."
Yes, Mickey Spillane's work can be a guilty
pleasure but he never fails to satisfy. I guess that's why sales of his books
have now topped 225 million.
The lead story here, "The Last
Stand", is an entirely different type of book. First of all, it's told in
the third-person, not Spillane's typical style. There are no shoot outs.
There's no sex. There's a hell of a terrific story, though.
Joe Gillian is a pilot who, when his vintage
BT 13A airplane loses power, lands "in the middle of a desert that was
someplace in the United States where nobody would ever look to find him and, so
far, not even a vulture was eyeing him for supper."
Drinking a beer (Miller Lite, natch -
Spillane got a plug in) to pass the time, he meets Sequoia Pete, an Indian from
a local reservation who's "fossil hunting" but who has lost his horse.
They share a "Tastes great, less filling, right?"beer and try to find their way back to
Pete's hogan. The buddy movie begins.
The love interest shows up soon after in the
form of Pete's sister who is as brilliant as she is sexy and Joe finds himself
pulled into a whirlwind of trouble that involves criminals, G-men, the tribe
and a secret that could lead to incredible wealth and power.
Then there's Many Thunders, aka Big Arms. "They
call him Big Arms for a reason," Running Fox said softly. "He picks
up train wheels. He plays with tree trunks. Sometimes he lifts cars right off
the ground." He also considers Running Fox to be his woman and has
hurt many other men who he thought were a threat to his claim. And he's going
to fight Joe on Feast Day.
"The Last Stand" is a terrific romp
through the western desert of the US with colorful, well-fleshed characters and
a fine story. It's written cinematically. You can almost picture the people and
the world they inhabit.
I thoroughly enjoyed both these stories both
times I read them. I can't say this about too many books, but when I turned the
last page of "The Last Stand" I turned the book over, turned to the
first page and started to read it again.
Pinter was one of the groundbreaking playwrights that emerged out of the 1950s,
along with Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and a handful of others. They changed
the landscape of what audiences could expect on the stage. Pinter’s first
decade of remarkable plays (and a few screenplays) fall into a category dubbed
by critics as “comedies of menace.” They feature (usually) working-class
Britons in situations in which an ambiguous threat lies underneath the surface
of an otherwise mundane existence. The subtext
is everything in a Pinter play. Known for the pauses in dialogue
(specifically designated in the scripts), Pinter was able to pack weighty
meaning in what is not said, more so
than perhaps any other modern playwright.
The Birthday Party was his first
full-length play (written in 1957, premiered in 1958) and is one of his
most-produced and well-known works—although probably not so much by anyone who
isn’t an aficionado of the theatre. You’re not going to see a production of The Birthday Party at your local high
school. The Homecoming (1967) won
Pinter the Tony Award, and, for my money, is his greatest work (it was
brilliantly filmed by Peter Hall in 1973 for the American Film Theatre
experiment). As a screenwriter, Pinter’s work on The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Betrayal (1983) received Oscar nominations, and he received the
Nobel Prize shortly before his death.
filmmaker William Friedkin, who had yet to make The French Connection and The
Exorcist, had seen a production of The
Birthday Party in England in the early 60s and, by his account, was knocked
out by it. He personally met with Pinter to convince the elusive playwright to
allow him to adapt the play into a film. It took some doing, but finally Pinter
relented and wrote the screenplay himself. The picture was produced on a
shoestring budget, but Friedkin managed to employ several outstanding British
actors—many of whom were already a part of Pinter’s unofficial “repertory
those familiar with Pinter, the results are outstanding. For everyone else—The Birthday Party could very well be a
Shaw stars as Stanley, a nervous boarder in a seaside village rooming house run
by Meg (Dandy Nichols) and Petey (Moultrie Kelsall). It may—or may not
be!—Stanley’s birthday. Enter two mysterious new boarders, Goldberg (Sydney
Tafler) and McCann (Patrick Magee), whom we know have an agenda with Stanley
but we’re never sure what it really is. We just know it’s a threat, and they
make things very uncomfortable for him… and the audience. Shaw and Magee,
especially, deliver riveting performances.
say more would be a disservice to the viewer and to Pinter, for much of the
power of The Birthday Party is its
mystery and ambiguity. Just know that by embarking on this journey you will be
entering a heightened realism in which characters never say what they mean and what
they don’t say means more. As an adaptation of Pinter’s play, Friedkin’s The Birthday Party is quite faithful and
Lorber’s new Blu-ray presents a 1080p transfer that looks fair enough for its
age and intentionally drab cinematography and setting. The nearly half-hour supplemental
interview with director Friedkin is fascinating—he relates the entire history
of how he got involved with Pinter and the film, and he throws in anecdotes
about the playwright and a few other characters (like Joseph Losey). Theatrical
trailers for this and other Kino Lorber releases—many related to Pinter—are
The Birthday Party will certainly be
appreciated by those of us who were theatre majors many years ago, and by the
art house cinema crowd. For others, the picture might be an acquired taste.
(Author Gabriel Hershman has written "Black Sheep: the Authorized Biography of Nicol Williamson" (The History Press). Williamson, who passed away in 2011 at age 75, was an enormous talent. John Osborne called him "The greatest actor since Brando". However, he had many personal demons that sidetracked what should have been a far more successful career. Hershman explores the peaks and valleys of this temperamental man's dramatic life and career and in this article reminds us of why his talents and work should be rediscovered.)
BY GABRIEL HERSHMAN
Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Alan Bates, Albert Finney,
Tom Courtenay and … Nicol Williamson. Just a few of the most influential actors
of their generation.
Were you surprised when I mentioned Nicol’s name? He was, at the time of
his death, the least well known of
that generation of actors. And yet, in my opinion, Nicol should have topped that
list. Anybody who saw Nicol in Osborne’s InadmissibleEvidence, sweating, combustible,
driven by almost orgasmic self-loathing – ‘the greatest performance in a modern
play’ in Michael Coveney’s words – knew they were watching an extraordinary
If only we could re-visit Waiting
for Godot, Diary of a Madman, The Ginger Man and, of course, Hamlet – a performance that led Nicol to
the White House to give a one-man show in front of Richard Nixon – then it
would be clear: Nicol was the
foremost actor of his generation.
But … Nicol’s stage triumphs made his screen career
seem desperately unsatisfactory by comparison. Yes, Nicol wanted to be a film
star. An early meltdown at Dundee Rep came when Lindsay Anderson chose not to
cast him as Frank Machin in ThisSportingLife (1963). If he’d got that role – and there’s no reason to
assume Nicol would have made a lesser impact than Richard Harris – then Nicol’s
film career could have been different. Sadly, it was several years before
audiences would see him in a major role, to glimpse that blowtorch talent on
Nicol shone in The
Bofors Gun (1968), playing a deranged, alcoholic squaddie who kills himself
and, in so doing, scuppers the career prospects of a mild-mannered bombardier
who’s desperate for promotion. It was a barnstorming portrayal.Pauline Kael later criticised this and other performances
of Nicol’s as ‘too strong’ – but she was wrong. Take LaughterintheDark
(1969). He was vulnerable and oddly affecting as the businessman blinded by
infatuation (and a car crash) in Tony Richardson’s otherwise ineffective
re-working of Nabokov’s classic.
Nicol was on top form again with one of his serial
collaborators, Jack Gold, in The Reckoning
(1970), a powerful story of class and revenge. It should have been up there
with GetCarter but it was overlooked. The film of Hamlet – although too dark and claustrophobic – at least captured Nicol’s
nasal, deliberately unsexy prince for posterity.
By 1970, despite not having a movie hit, Nicol was a
genuine superstar. He wed gorgeous actress Jill Townsend who would enjoy small-screen
success with Poldark. Yet an essay by
Kenneth Tynan, written at the time of Nicol’s White House triumph, hinted at the
demons that eventually destroyed him. In particular, it seems to me, that Nicol’s
altercations– unlike those of Harris and Reed – were often with influential
people. ‘Victims’ included Broadway producer David Merrick, whom Nicol punched
when the legendary showman demanded cuts to InadmissibleEvidence, Dick Cavett, whose chat
show he once unceremoniously exited, and, later, Evan Handler, who got a beating
during the infamous Broadway performance of I
Perhaps – for all their hellraising and vitriolic
behavior – guys like Reed and Harris knew who to be nice to. Perhaps they were
simply more endearing drunks? Either way, by the early Seventies, Nicol was
losing ground. He stumbled again on film. Who remembers his Red Bull
performance in The Jerusalem File? Or
TheMonk? (Don’t worry, even diehard fans of Seventies movies don’t
know them!!) They have disappeared.
Nicol offered a brilliant interpretation of Arturo Ui
– the Hitler-like gangster in a TV version of Brecht’s classic drama. But it
was soon forgotten. Nicol made a memorable villain (his son, Luke, thought it
was his greatest screen performance) in The
Wilby Conspiracy. But it didn’t do much for his screen career. Playing
Sherlock Holmes in The Seven Per Cent Solution
looked like a breakthrough. Yet some enthusiasts had trouble accepting Nicol as
a drug-addled Holmes.
Williamson starred as Sherlock Holmes opposite Robert Duvall as Watson in the 1976 film "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution".
By then Nicol’s life was increasingly troubled. He
stormed out of Enemy of the People and
times before a scene was shot. He eventually took the lead in TheHumanFactor, Otto Preminger’s
cash-strapped tale of political double dealing. Yet again it was a troubled project. Preminger
seemed to be in the early stage of Alzheimer’s. It needed Hitchcock to bring it
to life. Yet in Nicol’s self-effacing, benevolent lead – a political agnostic
caught between despicable ideologies – there was so much nuance and subtlety.
Stage success continued to come Nicol’s way, in Coriolanus and TwelfthNight, in a Royal
Court revival of InadmissibleEvidence, and, especially, in a Broadway
production of UncleVanya. George C. Scott, his notoriously
fiery co-star, was driven to apoplexy when Nicol won better notices. Yet
genuine film stardom was elusive. Sadly for Nicol, who hated TV, it’s likely
that an episode of Columbo was his
best remembered screen performances of the decade. (Rosebud?!) See, I told
The Eighties finally gave Nicol a palpable hit – as Merlin
in Excalibur. Such was Nicol’s
perceived unreliability, and lack of box office clout, that John Boorman had to
fight to win approval to cast him. Nicol enjoyed the role but, strangely, it
did little for his film career. Instead he played third fiddle to Oliver Reed
and Klaus Kinski (whom he cheerfully described as ‘a cunt’) in the enjoyably
hammy Venom. To be fair, if anyone
caused trouble on that film, it was not Nicol.
After that? Who remembers I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can? Or his portrayal of Mountbatten in
the TV series The Last Viceroy? A late
supporting role (well, he was only 50 but approaching the end of his film career)
in BlackWidow gave a hint of what could have been. He played, with
endearing tenderness, a successful but lonely museum director. If you re-visit
the film, watch Nicol’s performance carefully, the way he fiddles with his watch
when he meets Theresa Russell, his little jig when he shows her his Seattle
dream house. Ah, what a talent Hollywood missed out on in the Eighties!
Nicol continued to shine on stage. But great
theatrical performances exist only in memory. Trevor Nunn, a particularly
insightful contributor to my biography, remarked that ‘the achievements of
those who work in the theatre are no more than writing on the sand. There may
well be a vivid and important message for all to see, for a while, but by and
by the tide comes in, and when it next goes out, that writing has disappeared’.
All too true, sadly. Nicol continued to appear on
stage, memorably in his one-man show Jack:
A Night on the Town with John Barrymore. A contributor to my book, Saskia
Wickham, told me she thought Nicol was “mesmerising and just sublime … a
genius”. This, in the end, is where the appeal of Nicol and – my biography – resides.
Nicol was perhaps a great screen actor lost. But I suspect that history will
regard him as probably the greatest stage actor of his generation nevertheless.
Russell’s controversial but widely-acclaimed adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s
novel, Women in Love, might have had
a better and more appropriate title—Men
in Love. While touted as being an examination of the nature of love and
sexuality between two men and two women, in the end we are left with the more
potent notion that there is a love that can exist between two males—as friends—that is more powerful and
“eternal” than the love a man will have for a woman.
in 1969 in Britain and in 1970 in the U.S. (hence, its four Oscar nominations
for the year 1970), Women in Love has
not aged well in terms of its arty and borderline pretentious direction… but as
I tell my Film History students, “judge a film within the context of when it
was released.” In that regard, Women was
a groundbreaking and daring motion picture of its time. In the U.S. it played
only in the big city art house theaters, probably due to its frank nudity (both
female and male—one of the first
mainstream pictures to feature full frontal men in the raw) and subject matter.
the early 1920s in the English countryside, where class standing is very much a
thing; but a movement is afoot for the emancipation of women, free-thinking,
avant-garde art, and the breaking of social taboos. While the story focuses on
four characters—Rupert (Alan Bates), Gerald (Oliver Reed), Gudrun (Glenda
Jackson), and Ursula (Jennie Linden)—the “protagonist,” as it were, is Rupert.
In fact, it is how he approaches his relationships with his best friend Gerald
and the woman he eventually marries, Ursula, that is the crux of the story.
Jackson, however, won the Best Actress Oscar as the free-spirited,
take-no-prisoners Gudrun in what is honestly a supporting role in the story.
This statement is not meant to take away from her engaging, charismatic
performance—she’s terrific. There is no question that she steals the movie. But
Linden has more screen time as her younger, more conservative sister.
made the film a cause célèbre at the time was the
much-talked-about nude wrestling scene between Bates and Reed—which, apparently,
they had to talk Russell in to filming because they were keen to do it. Beautifully
shot by Oscar-nominated Billy Williams, the rumble in an English manor study by
firelight rightly is a remarkable piece of cinema.
Russell received his only directing Oscar nomination for the film. Some might
watch it today and think that his work—and the acting as well—is over-the-top.
The truth is that Russell intentionally stylized
the movie with a heightened realism that matches the passion and intensity
of its subject matter. This is a picture in which style and substance are
notched up to eleven. Russell, in his later career, would often be accused of extravagance
and pretentiousness—but here, Women in
Love is relatively tame in comparison.
gorgeous period piece with heady dialogue, editing influenced by the French New
Wave, lovely costumes, and beautiful scenery, is showcased by the Criterion
Collection’s new restored 4K digital transfer with an uncompressed monaural
include two different commentaries from 2003 (one by Russell, one by
producer/screenwriter Larry Kramer); new interviews with DP Billy Williams and
editor Michael Bradswell; vintage interviews with Russell and Jackson; an
interesting on-location piece featuring Bates, Linden, and Kramer; and the
most striking supplement is Russell’s own biopic autobiography, A British Picture—Portrait of an Enfant
Terrible (1989), a bizarre but fun piece in which a little boy plays
Russell throughout the years, even when Russell is an adult. Another
interesting, but less successful, inclusion is a 1972 short film, Second Best, based on a D. H. Lawrence
short story, produced by and starring Bates. The booklet features an essay by
scholar Linda Ruth Williams.
English, and literature buffs will certainly appreciate Women in Love. For those willing to position it in its appropriate
historical place, it’s a scrumptious and sensual delight.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from the BFI Southbank:
From Monday 2 April – Monday 30 April, BFI Southbank will celebrate one
of the undisputed masters of cinema, Sergio Leone, with screenings of all his films,
as well as a complementary season of contemporary westerns. The season
coincides with the re-release of AFistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone,
1964), which is back in selected
cinemas courtesy of Park
Circus on Friday 13
April, and plays
on extended run during the season. Also included in the season will
be the other two films in Leone’s Dollars Trilogy –Fora Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly (1966) – as well as his virtuosic
Once Upon a Time in
the West(1968), and the American gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America(1984).
There will also be a talk from Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling on Friday 6 Aprilexamining the distinctively
Italian character of Leone’s unique films and
charting how they’ve been
interpreted and celebrated over the years. Leone continues to influence filmmakers, from Edgar Wright
(whose first film was a parody called A Fistful of Fingers) to Quentin
Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and David Mackenzie, and to complement the season,
there will be screenings of modern takes on westerns, including feminist interpretations and those
which explore the African diaspora's contribution to
the genre; these will
include My Pure Land (2017), followed by
a Q&A with director Sarmad
or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016) and a preview of Chloé
Zhao's The Rider (2017).
Sergio Leone came from a filmmaking family, cutting his teeth working on dozens
of features including Ben Hur, and directed his first
Colossus of Rhodes (1961), a traditional
Italian ‘swords and sandals’ film, before moving
on to the genre that would define his career.A Fistful of
Dollars (1964) was the film that put Leone on the map, a
that flips the American western and gives it some European punch. The first
part of Leone’s Dollars
Trilogy, which is re-released on Friday 13 April, firmly sets out
the winning blueprint for the other two: not least in establishing both the
role of Clint Eastwood’s nameless anti-hero and his
memorable collaboration with Ennio Morricone. It’s
sequel For a Few Dollars More (1965) boasted double the budget of its predecessor and saw Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood play a couple of smart but ruthless bounty
hunters closing in on a vicious gang and their horrific leader. Eastwood’s final
film with Leone The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly(1966), which
completed the Dollars Trilogy, ironically
produced some of their finest work during a period of deteriorating relations.
Eastwood stars as Blondie who, in competition with two equally dangerous and
resourceful men, is after a stash of stolen confederate
gold. The resulting film is undoubtedly one of the greatest westerns ever made.
Also screening in
the season will be Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) starring Henry Fonda, Charles
Bronson and Claudia Cardinale. A piece of land with a
vital water source becomes the focus for this epic
piece covering all the best aspects of the Wild West;
it is both a homage to what
came before and a thoroughly
entertaining addition to the genre. Leone’s final
western A Fistful of Dynamite(1971) is set during the Mexican Revolution in 1913 and
sees a bandit and a British explosives expert
reluctantly team-up in a
tale that reflects the
political instability and violence rocking Italy at the time. Though often overshadowed by his
previous work, his final western is a rarely seen
treat. Completing the programme is Leone’s final film
as director, Once Upon a Time in America(1984), which saw the director transfer his ‘adult fairytale’ approach to the American gangster genre, following the friendship between four
youngsters from New York’s Lower East Side as they rise within the ranks of
organised crime. Despite an all-star cast including
Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern and Joe Pesci, the film was overlooked
critically and commercially in the US, but has since been re-appraised
as one of the greatest gangster films in cinema history.
westerns screening alongside the Leone titles bring
the genre right up to the present day, with recent releases and previews of
brand new features, and regular BFI series WOMAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA and AFRICAN ODYSSEYS alsofeaturing
films from the genre. Based on a true story, My Pure Land (Sarmad Masud, 2017) is a western with a feminist
twist which centres on a land dispute in rural Pakistan; the screening on Thursday
12 April will be followed by a Q&A with director Sarmad Masud.
Another western with a distinctly feminist perspective is Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Mouly
Surya, 2017), which intelligently blends the western genre with arthouse
sensibilities; the film, which previews as part of the BFI’s WOMAN WITH A
MOVE CAMERA series will be followed by a Q&A with the director Mouly
The works of William Shakespeare were ideally
suited to the sensibilities of Orson Welles. More than once, on stage and in
the cinema, The Bard’s scenarios supplied a prime source for Welles the auteur,
and the dramatist’s distinct personalities manifest themselves in grandiose roles
skillfully personified by Welles the actor, in his straightforward Shakespearian
adaptations and in characters created to embody correspondingly epic types (Charles
Foster Kane, as the most notable example). This artistic appreciation and cross-form
application was most outstandingly realized in Chimes at Midnight, from 1965, but the same impassioned devotion—aesthetic
and thematic—is likewise evident in the dynamic, striking Othello (1951), otherwise known as The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice, an unsung Welles film now
available on an exceptional Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
love affair with Shakespeare began at a young age, when he published an
annotated series of Shakespearean texts at the age of 12 and, later, at just 16,
when he performed in assortedproductions
at Dublin’s Gate Theatre, an outing that would prove significant to Othello’s genesis. Fleeing the infamous
blacklist business in America, Welles arrived in Rome to star in Gregory
Ratoff’s Black Magic (1949), and it
was around that time that he embarked on the disorderly path toward what would
be his second consecutive cinematic rendering of a Shakespeare primer,
following 1948’s Macbeth. What ensued
was a convoluted lesson in haphazard, yet thoroughly determined independent
filmmaking, with years of on-again, off-again shooting, different
cinematographers and editors, several locations (Rome, Venice, Morocco, etc.),
miscellaneous financial interruptions, and multiple casting changes—there were two
Desdemonas before Welles settled on Suzanne Cloutier, whose voice he
nevertheless had dubbed by Gudrun Ure. Othello
was initially (finally) released in 1952, when it shared the Grand Prize with Two Cents Worth of Hope (1952) at the
Cannes Film Festival. But that was not the end of its difficulties. The details
of the whole process are recounted (and frequently repeated) on the Criterion
disc, dispersed amongst a range of interviews and documentaries and in Geoffrey
O’Brien’s accompanying essay. But what matters most, is that while a decent
film managing to survive the turmoil would be remarkable enough, that a very good film was the ultimate result
is even more impressive.
Beginning just after the death of
Othello (Welles assumes audiences know how and why this happened and so spends
little time worrying about exposition), Othello
flashes back and delves into the intricate web of deception that led to the Venetian
general’s demise. Prominent in this charade is Othello’s traitorous ensign,Iago
(Micheál MacLiammóir), whose dubious, ambiguous motives are born not from some pure,
abstract malevolence, but from an ordinary professional, personal resentfulness
(or, so Welles would also interpret it, potential impotency). Driving a wedge
between Othello and his radiant wife, Desdemona (Cloutier),
the weaselly Iago takes advantage of Roderigo’s (Robert Coote) jealousy—he,
too, has amorous eyes for Desdemona—and the two of them devise a ruse to drive
Othello mad with suspicion and to concurrently sew discord between he and his favored
lieutenant, Cassio (Michael Laurence). Cloutier is at her best in moments of
unknowing bewilderment, her chaste beauty convincingly stunned by Othello’s
rage and his distrust, while MacLiammóir, who co-founded the Gate and was
fundamental to Welles’ early theatrical career, is the embodiment of deceit; hovering
always on the periphery, scheming and biding his time, he is all vacillating slants
and slithering movements. Welles, of course, is center stage, his performance
descending from one of class, command, and charm (“I think this tale would win
my daughter, too,” says one onlooker as Othello captivates the crowd—and the
viewer), to one of deadening confusion and despair. And yet, even as the seeds
of doubt produce an ensnaring crop of gradual torment, Welles loses none of his
booming, prevailing presence, nor the magnitude of his theatrical inflection.
Welles had openly criticized Laurence
Olivier’s approach to Shakespearean cinema, regarding his interpretations as
little more than filmed theater. So, it stands to reason that Welles, already a
visual mastermind, would render his Othello
in extraordinary illustrative fashion. There may be less polish—a result of
budgetary restrictions and the movie’s slapdash assembly—but there is a tangible
increase in filmic vigor, as Welles treats the material not as something
required for “serious” actors and directors to undertake, but as something to
be passionately fulfilled. Translating this enthusiasm with requisite care and affection,
Welles advances Othello as an artful
mélange of stark, expressionistic designs and vivid, textured imagery, like
engravings animated by the complex balance of light and shadow for which he was
so renowned. Part of his innate, virtuoso style has to do with nearly shot-by-shot
ingenuity, crafting (and Othello feels
very much like an artisanal creation) a rich production design detailed in
depth and accented by astonishing camera angles, reflective surfaces, and
crossed shadows generated by tapestries, iron bars, and thatched roofs. Gloomy
interiors portent the delirious, devastating downfall to come, while outside,
the backdrop of bleak skies and raging waters induce a similarly imposing
it was announced that Flowers in the Attic was lined up for its UK Blu-ray
debut, it occurred to me that I had no real memory of my one and only dip into
writer-director Jeffrey Bloom’s adaptation of the controversial, best-selling
Virginia (V.C.) Andrews novel – which I guess would have been right back upon
its initial release in 1987. Interest to revisit it duly piqued, my
anticipation was tempered a tad by the sense that being unable to remember it had
surely to be indicative that it wasn’t actually very good. Although it still
amuses me that a guy named Bloom wrote and directed a film with Flowers in the
title, regrettably my reservations proved well founded. It really is rather
awful. There be spoilers ahead!
the death of her husband, Corinne Dollenganger (Victoria Tennant) falls on hard
times and is forced to return, with her four children in tow, to the childhood
home she left in disgrace 17 years earlier. Corinne’s puritanical mother, Fran
(Louise Fletcher), isn’t best pleased to see them and, although she evidently
despises both her own daughter and the grandchildren she’s never met, she
reluctantly allows them to stay, telling them that she’ll give them food and
shelter but never kindness and love. The children (Jeb Stuart Adams, Kristy
Swanson, Ben Ganger and Lindsay Parker) remain upstairs out of sight, whilst
Corinne makes an effort to reconnect with her bedridden, dying father (Marshall
Colt). She tells the siblings that if she’s able to atone for her past
transgressions before he dies, and most importantly convince him that she never
had children, then he’ll write her back into his will and they’ll be well-heeled
for the rest of their lives. But as the days pass it becomes apparent that the
children have become prisoners – visited in their locked room only to be fed –
and Corinne becomes ever more distant, spending less and less time with them.
What can she possibly have done all those years ago that was so terrible? And
what is the purpose of those four child-sized holes being dug in the woods?
sounds rather intriguing, doesn’t it? An adaptation of the first in a quartet
of novels (with a tweaked denouement) it’s certainly a nice set up; once the
family receive a frosty welcome at grandma’s abode all the pieces are in place
for a potentially gripping and increasingly sinister tale. Unfortunately, things
quickly devolve into a bit of a slog, the various plot turns becoming ever more
irksome as the children – who are far from dullards – fail to do what anyone
with half a brain cell trapped in their situation would.
When you think of a touching movie about the adventures of an elderly man and his beloved cat, chances are "Harry and Tonto" springs to mind. However, there is another worthwhile movie that merits a look, even if it doesn't boast Art Carney in his Oscar-winning performance. "Frank and the Wondercat" is a 2015 documentary by Pablo Alvarez-Mesa and Tony Massil that won acclaim on the film festival circuit a few years ago. It's now been released on DVD by BrinkVision and is streaming on Amazon Prime. Ostensibly, it's an amusing tale that follows 80 year-old Pittsburgh native Frank Furko as he reminisces about Pudgie Wudgie, his tabby cat of fourteen years who was not only his constant companion, but the center of his life as well. However, as the movie progresses it becomes a poignant examination of sentiment, loneliness and dignity in old age. Frank learned early on that Pudgie was somewhat unique among cats in that he was agreeable to being dressed up in all types of exotic costumes and disguises. Pudgie was also adept at learning some tricks that could be performed on stage. For Frank, he proved to be the perfect tonic following a divorce after 20 years of marriage. Before long, Frank became a local sensation even in the era in which "hi tech" meant VHS tapes, upon which Frank dutifully recorded all of Pudgie's appearances. From charity performances to fairs to schools to local TV stations, Frank and Pudgie's legend grew. The documentary makes good use of the battered VHS archives Frank keeps stuffed in drawers inside his cluttered home, which is a monument to his departed best friend. We see gloriously scratchy videos with garish colors as we relive Frank and Pudgie's moments of glory. There is also a clip from the nationally-syndicated "Maury Povich Show" where Pudgie won first prize in a pet contest and Frank discusses how the duo were invited to New York to appear on David Letterman's show. But the comedic aspects of the film are matched by the moving examination of Frank's personal life now that Pudgie is gone. He reflects on his early life and relives painful episodes with his strict father, his undying love for his late mother and his on-going dedication to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL team maintains a museum where there is a wall dedicated to Frank and Pudgie, who never missed a game. (Pudgie would attend in full fan regalia.) We watch as Frank stands by the wall and explains to passersby just how special the Frank and Pudgie team were to local fans. We also see him pay visits to the cemetery where Pudgie is buried in the same plot as Frank's parents (albeit they didn't get their images engraved on the stone.) Frank shows off stacks of condolence letters he received from people everywhere upon Pudgie's passing. It's clear they still provide a much-needed balm for his ailing soul.
"Frank and the Wondercat" is emblematic of the many fine documentaries that often go unnoticed. Fortunately, for this one there is a happy ending with its exposure on DVD and Amazon Prime. Filmmakers Alvarez-Mesa and Massil never mock or exploit their subject and present Frank and his story in a dignified manner. He's eccentric, to be sure, but he's a lovable eccentric. One would think that their film is appreciated by him as the grand achievement of his "partnership" with Pudgie. You don't have to be a cat a lover to admire the movie, but if you are, chances are you'll end up loving it.
One need not be an enthusiast of silent-era cinema to
find Bill Morrison’s illuminating Dawson
City: Frozen Time a totally engrossing, masterfully assembled
documentary.Anyone with even a passing
interest in the history of the 19th and 20th centuries,
of the Klondike Gold Rush, of film preservation, or of time-capsule newsreel
footage will find this film absolutely fascinating and rewarding.Aside from a bit of on-screen prefatory and postscript
talking-head commentary - courtesy of the two surviving and earliest on-site “lost
film” investigators - most of Morrison’s two-hour long film is presented to us as
an intriguing mosaic; an emotive montage expertly combining the imagery of
long-lost vintage newsreels, miraculously salvaged snippets of silent film
footage, and an astonishing series of rescued glass-plate negative photographs –
the latter courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush chronicler Eric Hegg (1867-1947).
There is, perhaps surprisingly, no accompanying audio
narration present on the soundtrack, as combination director/editor/writer Morrison
chose to share the tale almost exclusively through visuals alone.His documentary, in a sense, mimics how a vintage
silent film itself would unspool before us.It’s this composite of photographs, film reels, broadsides, and vintage
newspaper clippings alone that propel the narrative forward. Morrison’s own succinctly
composed inter-titles are overlaid images to provide necessary detail or to impart
historical context.Alex Somers’ moody
and evocative musical score perfectly underpins the gentle historical drama.
The film begins, fittingly, in 1978, more or less at the mystery’s
starting point in a remote Canadian township.It was in the summer of that year when a backhoe operated by the town’s
Pentecostal minister unearthed a most curious discovery:hundreds upon hundreds of film canisters dating
1903 through 1929 were found buried in the permafrost beneath Dawson City’s moribund
recreation center.Thankfully, and with
the gratitude of scholars and filmgoers worldwide, the backhoe operator chose to
engage a work stoppage.Rather than
plough the canisters forever and for all time into oblivion, he decided it prudent
to contact local authorities about this mysterious trove of unearthed film reels.This unusual cache of film prints – most in
various stages of decomposition - was first brought to the attention of Michael
Gates of the Canadian Parks Service.Sensing this find might be an important one, Gates brought in an expert,
Sam Kula, director of Canada’s National Film, Television, and Sound Archives.Shortly after, Kathy Jones, the director of
the Dawson City Museum, was also brought in to assist and help monitor the
Ultimately some 1,500 reels of film were excavated from
the construction site, though – frustratingly - only three hundred and
seventy-two or so of these were eventually deemed salvageable.The enormity of the find - combined with the
fact that many of the unearthed films were identified as early Hollywood
productions - caused the National Archives of Canada to enlist the assistance
of the U.S. Library of Congress.Together the cultural branches of both Canada and the U.S. were able to
save and restore some 533 reels – to one degree or another – salvaging what an
inter-title describes as the “last remnants of 372 silent film titles.”The 372 reels that did survive were found
beneath a former ice skating rink/swimming pool housed inside the old community
recreation center, once owned and operated by the Dawson Amateur Athletic
Association.It was in 1929 that the
film canisters were ingloriously deposited as landfill under the rink at center-ice,
a clumsily engineered attempt to smooth over the complaints of skaters fretting
about the unevenness of the surface at midpoint.
Chances are you never heard of Oscar Micheaux. However, if you read about his remarkable life, you'll be impressed- especially if you are a retro movie lover. Micheaux was a pioneer in African-American cinema. Like most black people, he was appalled by the content of D.W. Griffith's 1915 cinematic sensation "Birth of a Nation". While the film was a landmark in terms of its technical achievements, it was also one of the most racist films the industry would ever produce, extolling the Ku Klux Klan as heroes while vilifying black men as dangers to civilized society. Micheaux, an industrious young man, had already found success writing and publishing novels. In 1918, he decided to also try his hand at making movies. In those days many theaters were still segregated and Micheaux made intelligent, adult films for black audiences. They became sensations with grateful viewers who were sickened by seeing members of their race depicted in degrading manners in mainstream Hollywood production.s. Micheaux would go on to make 44 films and had just started to bridge the gap into desegregated cinema when he passed away. Writing in The Daily Beast, Gil Troy looks back on the life and career of this under-appreciated filmmaker. Click here to read.