This film comes across as something of a
vanity project for Pacino, part documentary, part dramatisation of Shakespeare's Richard III, in an attempt to explore, understand and
represent the play to the common man. The film and its aims are ambitious perhaps and in great danger of hilarious
and actorly self parody in places ("It has always been a dream of mine to
communicate how I feel about Shakespeare to other people") . Although overall Pacino's film is a little confused
about what it's exact aims are, it does capture some entertaining aspects of
the creative acting and directing process.
Pacino's sincere passion for Richard III, his
earnest attempts to analyse it and make it relevant are admirable; the play is
complex and interwoven, full of scheming politics, intrigue and backstabbing. He tackles head on a number of issues
including the difficulties American actors and audiences face with the language
of Shakespeare, their overly reverential attitude toward the text (which Derek
Jacobi points out is the main stumbling block for American actors) and the fact
that the average man-on-the-street honestly just finds Shakespeare a bit
boring, amusingly illustrated in a number of vox-pops from the streets of New
The film features an impressive cast,
including performances from and interviews with Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin,
John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl
Jones, Winona Ryder, Kevin Kline, and a host of other recognisable faces; therefore,
the fly-on-the-wall documentary aspects are often the most gripping. There are some genuinely heated moments of
round-table rehearsals, revealing in terms of talent, dedication and
understanding of actors of their own art. Notable, amongst others, are Penelope Allen (Herself / Queen Elizabeth),
expressing sheer passionate outrage in a clear understanding of her character's
complexities and Alec Baldwin (Himself / Duke of Clarence) who seems drop
effortlessly and convincingly into inhabiting his character in a most understated
manner one moment, and the next making jokes between takes about being paid in
donuts. Pacino has clearly made a
directorial decision to rely on close-ups and screen actors in efforts to avoid
stagey British theatrical traditions, allowing actors to quietly and intimately
inhabit their characters, creating a more uniquely American approach to
Nonetheless, Pacino's sheer intensity and
commitment to the process of this do lead to some truly ridiculous actorly
moments here, worthy of a Christopher Guest-style parody. For example, Pacino's plan for casting is simply
to get a bunch of (famous) actors in a room with copies of the play, let people
randomly start reading out whatever parts they feel drawn to, with his intent
that "the role and the actor will merge... and hopefully the casting will
get done by itself, one way or another. Cut immediately to: room full of extremely confused actors arguing about
who's reading what part. In another
behind-the-scenes moment, Pacino's co-director attempts to explain iambic
pentameter to him; pontificating that it is "like an anteater, very high
in the back and short front legs...", leaving a bewildered Pacino
shrugging to camera. In fact, Pacino
seems unafraid to portray himself as perhaps not the most astute or perceptive
amongst his peers, admittedly finding the play "very confusing" and
full of "fancy words", expressing wide-eyed awe at Kevin Spacey's
clear understanding of the play: "You're a pretty smart guy".
The constant cutting of the film between
behind the scenes rehearsal and documentary exposition with more filmic dramatised
scenes of the play does not help with clarity for the viewer, however. The
point isn't always clear, and some of Shakespeare's text, in scenes taken out
of context at least, is not always easy to follow, plus it becomes increasingly
unclear what type of film Pacino is trying to make here. At times, it seems a lighthearted parody film
about attitudes toward Shakespeare; Kevin Kline tells a story of his earliest
memories of Richard III, having attended the play with his girlfriend: "we
made out in the back row and left in the intermission." At other times this is a documentary about American
actors struggling to understand Shakespearian motives; John Gielgud, upon being
asked why Americans find this difficult, replies, without irony: "Perhaps
they don't go to picture galleries and read books as much as we do." It becomes even less clear with what purpose
the film-within-the-film (of the cast in re-enacting Richard III in full period
costume and setting) is being made, particularly as it is filmed using the same
close-up documentary-style roving camerawork as for behind-the-scenes sections;
there is no clear visual distinction for the audience as to whether this is
rehearsal, play or final film.
With regards to the disc itself, the screener
DVD copy available at time of review had no menu screen, artwork or extras, so
it is difficult to comment on the finished article, although a recently added
commentary would be a fascinating and welcome addition. The transfer itself could have been better
also; the overall volume level seemed very quiet in comparison to most discs,
and the contrast in terms of both colour and shadows was a little washed out
This film is a bold attempt to grapple with a
number of issues, whilst trying to do justice to the play itself, perhaps
trying to do too many different things. It is a shame that the film increasingly focuses on dramatised film-within-a-film
scenes when it is the behind-the-scenes documentary struggle that really
provides the most fascinating aspects here. In fact, in true Shakespearian fashion, the wisest and most
heartbreaking words of the entire film come from the mouth of a homeless,
toothless, beggar interviewed ad-hoc in the streets of New York: "...if we
think words are things, and we have no feelings in our words...it doesn't mean
anything. But if we felt what we said,
we'd say less and mean more. [wanders
away from camera to a passerby] Spare some change?"
a recurring theme in Woody Allen’s work over the past twenty years—“the heart
wants what the heart wants.” The writer/director (and, now, only occasionally
an actor) has lately tackled this topic with varying results. You have to hand
it to him, though—the guy has consistently made more or less a movie a year
since 1969. There have to be a few clinkers in there—even Hitchcock had some.
Luckily for us, though, Café Society is a pretty good entry in Allen’s canon—not
one of the masterpieces of yesteryear, but it’s probably the best thing he’s
done since the excellent award-winning Midnight
Café Society is a period piece that takes place mostly in
Hollywood in the 1930s, and therein lies much of its charm—the production
design and costumes, along with Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, immediately
provides eye candy that looks fabulous in high definition. Fans of American
cinema history will find a lot to admire in the picture’s references to old
story is familiar territory. Jesse Eisenberg is the Woody-surrogate this time
around, playing New Yorker Bobby, who goes to L.A. to get a job at the studio
run by his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell). There, he meets a secretary, Veronica
(Kristen Stewart), and falls in love. Little does he know that she is involved
with Uncle Phil. Another woman named Veronica (Blake Lively) enters the tale a
little later, when Bobby is back in New York. In short, Café Society is a love story that
spans several years with a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-meets-another
girl, boy-runs-into-first-girl-again plot structure.
are laughs, to be sure, but overall the film projects a bittersweet,
melancholic mood that is disarming for a Woody Allen film. Is the ending a
happy one? That’s not a guarantee; in this case what the heart wants may not be
what’s best for the heart.
performances are of high caliber, especially those of Stewart and Lively. The
former creates a deeply conflicted character in Veronica 1, while the latter
lights up the screen as Veronica 2. Parker Posey is always a welcome addition,
and Corey Stoll, as Bobby’s mobster brother, is hilarious.
a solid 3-out-of-4 stars Woody Allen flick. The one thing that definitely could
have been deleted was the voice-over narration (delivered by Woody himself),
which is unnecessary and, at times, annoying.
with most home video releases of the director’s pictures, the Lionsgate Blu-ray
(packaged with a DVD and digital copy) comes with little in the way of
supplements. In this case, there’s only two-minutes of “red carpet footage” and
a trailer—but the feature film is a little gem.
The first two people in my life who
taught me to think deeply about social and political issues and argue cogently
and passionately for what I believed in were my late father David and Norman
94-year-old entertainment icon is the subject of a terrific American Masters
documentary: Norman Lear- Just Another Version of You, which premieres nationwide Tuesday,
October 25, 9-10:30 p.m. on PBS.
Speaking from his home in Los Angeles about both the documentary and his
masterful 2014 autobiography, Even This I Get to Experience, he still has an energy level
that would put people a quarter of his age to shame.
“People think when you’re over 90 you’ve
changed. It’s everyone else who’s
changed. Suddenly I’m extremely wise,” Lear says. Charming and reflective, he explains why he
wears the white hat that has become his favorite article of clothing and his
He has never lost
his childlike view of the world. “I’ve
never been in any situation, no matter how tragic, where I didn’t see the humor
in it. Human beings are all foolish-
that knits us all together.”
When asked what the secret to creating
loving and enduring characters and family on television, he said: “My bumper sticker just outside on my car
reads “just another version of you.” I think the question is best answered by
that deepest of philosophies- I truly believe that as humans sharing our human
commonalities we are versions of one another despite our ethnicities, our skin
colors, or the country we may have been born in.”
“It seems to me when I look at the LGBT
issue and see how far it has moved, whether socially, legally, or politically, and
then I look at divisions in between races and I haven’t seen the same movement. Maybe that’s the next big movement, that the
race movement leaps forward the way the LGBT movement has.”
Lear and the late Maya Angelou shared a
concern that America was losing touch with its humanity. A national icon for hope, when asked whether
he was more worried about the American people 40 years ago or now, he said: “I’d
like to be the touchstone for hope that Trump is for lack of hope. He is gathering all of those people who are
suffering as a result of the fact that we have little if not a long way to go,
making for a culture where everyone has equal opportunity, and he is helping
those that do not enjoy equal opportunity that villains are keeping them from getting
and he is the hero.”
“Donald Trump is the middle finger of the
American right hand- they do not have leadership in any direction. If you look at the auto industry, there is
the airbag problem, in pharmaceuticals, the EpiPens, if you’re looking at
banking it’s Wells Fargo, and if you’re looking at politics, it’s Donald
Trump. It’s a very difficult place to be
if you’re broke and out of a job or you have a good job and two kids in school
and can no longer afford to live where you’re living.”
Connecticut, Lear learned to love America through the eyes of his immigrant
Jewish grandfather. “At nine, I was forced to become an adult,” he said when
his father went to jail. “But that kid
remained inside me for the rest of my life.”
A World War II
hero, he started writing during the early days of television, for Dean Martin
and Jerry Lewis, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Frank Sinatra.
was part of the transitional generation from American Jews to Jewish
Americans. Proud, fiercely loyal and
carrying a sense of purpose and cultural and religious commitment to justice
that permeated their work.
In the 1970s, Lear singlehandedly
changed television with All in the Family, which became a platform for social discussion and reform. Norman Lear revolutionized the sitcom, taking the
American family from the
antiseptic and idealized to the contentious and
dysfunctional. He was the first to hold
up the mirror and share social issues through the sitcom format. Until Lear, mainstream television did
not carry Vietnam protests.
Living in London,
his partner, Bud Yorkin sent him a tape of a show called Till Death do us
Part. “The father was conservative; the
son was progressive. I went with that
relationship and never lived to regret it.”
That show became
All in the Family, which starred Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker, the bigoted
patriarch of a Queens New York working class family, who was constantly at odds
with his college student son-in-law, Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner), whom he referred
to as “Meathead” for his progressive views. The first show began with a disclaimer: “The program you are about to
see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our
frailties, prejudices and concerns. By
making them a source of laughter, we hope to show- in a mature fashion- just
how absurd they are.”
became a megahit. It was the top-rated show on American television, and
the winner of four consecutive Emmy Awards as Outstanding Comedy Series. All in the Family was not only one of
the most successful sitcoms in history, it was also one of the most important
and influential series ever to air, ushering in a new era
in American television characterized by programs that did not shy away from
addressing controversial or socially relevant subject matters and created an
intelligent discourse, couched against a comedic and satirical backdrop.
Stivic spoke for me,” Lear said. Like
Archie, he didn’t know a lot about what could be done about the country’s
problems, the nitty gritty of the scholarly work that led to his opinions. He had those opinions reflexively. I am the same way. I think of myself as a bleeding heart
conservative. I think the most conservative
thing in America is to be devoted to The First Amendment, to The Bill of
Rights, to the notion that we are all created equal under the law, and we must
find a way to ensure equal justice. I
think that’s an extremely conservative point of view. The bleeding heart part is because I don’t
know enough to know how to correct it and I vote for the people who seem to be
closer to how to correct it and to making good on those promises. The problem
is that the people who do the best job at pretending that they back those
documents are the Right. But it isn’t in
actuality as the culture progresses.”
“As for the career that followed,” he
said, “while the decision to cast Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapelton, Rob Reiner
and Sally Struthers was my own, the four-way chemistry that resulted in each
player drawing comic strength from the other characters, at the same time
brilliantly playing against them to deepen the humor in every direction, was a
gift that I can only take credit for nourishing and using well.”
Archie Bunker and his family was followed by Maude, The Jeffersons, Good
Times, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, as well as Fernwood Tonight, a talk show parody
dedicated to battling bigotry and social issues through art, and Mary Hartman,
Mary Hartman, a parody of soap operas. In
the 1970s, most of America was laughing and thinking because of Norman Lear.
follows him around through recent and 40-year-old clips, discussing political
and social issues, and his battles with censors and censorship, which at the
time was called “program practices.” It also shows his influence on now famous
individuals, who have kept Lear’s activist flame burning bright.
He reflected on a few of his many
friendships, including Carl Reiner, with whom I was able to agree from own
experience: “Carl Reiner, a friend for some 60 years now is one of a kind. If no matter how good you may have a reason
to feel, if you aren’t feeling a little bit better for being with him, I would
call for a physician right away.”
“You raised me,” Jon Stewart said to him. “Where I think I learned how to process
complex thoughts, issues that I cared about, through the lens of comedy, was
watching Norman Lear shows.”
Carl Reiner and Norman Lear at book party for producer David V. Picker, Los Angeles, 2013. (Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved).
“What could make me prouder,” Lear replies.
“”Good Times” was for white people,” Russell
Simmons said. “The Jeffersons” was for
black people. It was aspirational,
angry. George Jefferson taught me how to
walk- with confidence.”
With appearances ranging from Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Mel Brooks,
and Amy Poehler, and directed by Heidi Ewing
and Rachel Grady and Executive Produced by American Masters’
Michael Kantor, the film offers a unique insight into a “Gadol Hador,” a giant of his generation and those to
Lear retired from television to devote
his life to activism. He created “People
for the American Way.” Fighting for
civil rights resulted in death threats. He also bought an original copy of The Declaration of Independence and
toured it around the country. “All men
are created equal [with the right] to life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness- The Declaration of Independence. The tour celebrated the founding fathers who pledged “their lives,
fortunes, and sacred honor” to make good on these words… But ironically, and
God Bless America, the last time I witnessed a reference to sacred honor was in
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.”
“He had such a
responsibility to make sure kids saw it and knew what that meant,” said George
Clooney. When asked about what advice he
would give to students who are embarking on artistic careers, especially
comedy, Lear said: “Go with your
gut. Deliver on your intention and go
with it- it’s golden.”
Cinema Retro Contributor Eddy Friedfeld
is the co-author of Caesar’s Hours with Sid Caesar and teaches film and
television classes at Yale and NYU
Film noir was still a valid Hollywood
commodity in 1951, and director Nicholas Ray was one the style’s star
practitioners. He had begun his career with the classic They Live by Night, and just the previous year he had brought us In a Lonely Place (see Cinema Retro’s
review here). On Dangerous Ground, which stars Ida Lupino (who reportedly
directed some scenes when Ray was ill) and Robert Ryan, is a fair
representation of the movement—it’s not bad, but it’s not particularly great,
it comes across as two different movies. The first forty minutes or so are deep
in film noir territory—it has an urban
setting, a cynical and violent protagonist (Ryan, as a police detective in the
city), night scenes, hard-boiled dialogue, harshly contrasting black and white
photography (by George E. Diskant), and sultry dames. Then, the story shifts
“up north” to snow-covered landscapes and mountains, a bright sky, and a completely
different plot than the one we started off with. Ryan, after chasing after
mobsters in the city, is sent upstate to help out with a murder investigation
in a rural area (which also doesn’t make sense, jurisdiction-wise). There he
meets a lovely blind woman (Lupino) and abruptly softens his tough guy act. His
affection for her affects the way he treats her younger, mentally challenged brother,
who of course is the killer. At this point the movie doesn’t know if it wants
to be a crime thriller or a love story.
performances are fine, although Ward Bond as the father of the slain victim is
ridiculously over-the-top. The direction is competent, and the cinematography
is striking. The problem is the script by A. I. Bezzerides—it’s weak enough to
sink the entire picture. Fortunately, the film is saved by another member of
the production team—the inimitable Bernard Herrmann. He provides the exciting score, and fans will immediately recognize motifs that
sound as if they could be practice riffs for his music in Vertigo and, especially, North by Northwest. Bernie’s work makes On Dangerous Ground completely worthwhile
and a lot of fun to watch.
restoration and transfer of the Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray disk looks
darned good. The images are sharp and clear, and the blacks and whites are
vivid—the snow sequences are notably gorgeous. The movie comes with a commentary
by film historian Glenn Erickson. The theatrical trailer is the only
of film noir should consider picking
up this release—and Bernard Herrmann enthusiasts should grab it without
thinking about it.
Fat City, released in 1972,
was something of a “rebound” film for beloved director John Huston, whose
previous two films had been flops. Based upon the 1969 novel by Leonard Gardner
(who also wrote the screenplay), Fat City
follows Stacy Keach as Billy Tully, a small time boxer who never made it big
who is living in squalor. When Billy makes a rare return visit to the gym, he
meets Ernie (Jeff Bridges, hot off of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Last Picture Show). Billy sees some
potential in the teenager’s boxing ability and suggests he go see his old
manager, Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto—the future “Coach” on Cheers). Ernie does as told, and soon finds himself under Ruben’s
optimistic wing, while Billy’s life further deteriorates when he begins an
affair with an alcoholic wreck named Oma (Susan Tyrell, who would herself
secure a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this film). At the same time
that Ernie begins his fighting career, he too runs into trouble when he
impregnates his virginal girlfriend and soon leaves the world of boxing behind.
When Ernie and Billy reunite on a work crew in the San Joaquin Valley, both
become inspired to get back into the ring and return to Ruben. However, for
those assuming Bridges and Keach inevitably come to blows in some sort of
bloody boxing ring climax, they don’t. This is because Fat City isn’t so much a “boxing movie” as it is a character
portrait of Kecah’s sad-sack loser who just can’t seem to help himself out of
the bottle and other bad choices. Things seem to be on the up for Billy in the
third act when he finally shakes off his alcoholic lover Oma and wins his
“comeback” fight. Billy self-destructs soon after though when he doesn’t get as
big of a cut from the fight as he hoped for from Rudy (who has already given
Billy plenty of money in advances). Billy soon goes running back to Oma, now
back with her husband, and after her he crawls right back into the bottle.
Billy ends the film just as he had begun it, and though we don’t know his
future, it looks to be subpar as he shares a cup of coffee with Ernie.
character pieces like this are fairly common today, back in 1972 Fat City was something of a trailblazer.
And though things end on an ambiguous if not totally sour note for the film’s
protagonist, for director John Huston Fat
City was indeed a successful comeback as it was both a critical darling and
a financial success. Once again the famous director was back in high demand. As
to those who no doubt puzzle over the film’s title, which is never spoken in
the film itself, author Leonard Gardner told Time in 1969, “Lots of people have asked me about the title of my
book. It's part of Negro slang. When you say you want to go to Fat City, it
means you want the good life. I got the idea for the title after seeing a
photograph of a tenement in an exhibit in San Francisco. 'Fat City' was
scrawled in chalk on a wall. The title is ironic: Fat City is a crazy goal no
one is ever going to reach.”
in summary, those hoping for an inspiring sports movie might be disappointed,
but for those that love downbeat realistic character studies, Fat City is a real winner. The Twilight
Time Blu-ray comes with the film’s theatrical trailer, an isolated score track,
an audio commentary with film historians Lou Dobbs and Nick Redman, and also
some wonderful liner notes written by Julie Kirgo. This is a limited edition of 3,000 units.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Time Life:
Bob Hope, the greatest entertainer of the 20th century, was
above all a patriotic American dedicated to our troops around the world. His
star-studded USO Christmas shows brought a taste of home to servicemen and
women scattered thousands of miles from their families. Bob rang in the
Christmas season with the biggest stars in Hollywood along with major figures
from the worlds of sports and music, and cracked jokes with his celebrity pals
and presidents alike. At home or abroad, his specials proved that laughter was
the best medicine.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES 6-DVD set features 13 specials from Bob’s career,
spanning five decades with dozens of celebrity guests. Highlights include:
Bob’s first studio comedy special “in living color” with
guests Jack Benny, Bing Crosby and Janet Leigh
The Bob Hope Chevy Show with the entire cast of I Love
Lucy—Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley, plus James
Cagney and Diana Dors
A hilarious spoof of Star Wars and other sketches with Tony
Bennett, Perry Como, James Garner, Mark Hamill, Dean Martin, Olivia
Newton-John, Barbra Streisand, Tuesday Weld, The Muppets and more stars
The murder-mystery parody Joys (A Comedy Whodunit) with
nearly fifty guest stars including Charo, Milton Berle, Dean Martin, Don
Rickles, George Gobel, Alan King, Don Knotts, Groucho Marx, Vincent Price andFreddie
The best of the bloopers from 30 years of Bob’s shows with George
Burns, Sammy Davis Jr., Angie Dickinson, Phyllis Diller, Burt Reynolds,
DonRickles, Brooke Shields, Elizabeth Taylor, Mr. T, John Wayne and
Bob’s 1967 USO tour to 22 bases around Vietnam, Thailand and
the South Pacific in 15 days with special guest Raquel Welch
Highlights from over 25 years of specials in Bob Hope’s
World of Comedy and the celebration Highlights of a Quarter Century of Bob Hope
A look at Bob’s personal relationships with American
presidents including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy,
and Harry S. Truman
Bob Hope’s 90th birthday celebration featuring tributes by Johnny
Carson, George Burns and many more!
EXCLUSIVE BONUS: Plus, the DVD set contains the
exclusive bonus feature Shanks for the Memory about the world of golf according
to Bob Hope, which includes historic clips of Bob with Bing Crosby,
presidents and pros on courses around the world, and special appearances by Pres.
Gerald Ford, pro golfers Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and
Trotted out towards the tail end of the early 1980s slice-'em-and-dice-'em
heyday, The Initiation is a competent
if unremarkable entry to the subgenre, notable if anything for its 'name'
casting – Psycho's Vera Miles, Clu
Gulager from long-running TV western The
Virginian – and an early performance by Daphne Zuniga; despite the fact she
receives an "introducing" credit on the opening titles, the actress
had actually appeared in an earlier slasher feature, 1982's The Dorm That Dripped Blood.
College student Kelly Fairchild (Zuniga) has been suffering
from nightmares, possibly manifested by a repressed childhood memory in which
her affluent parents (Miles and Gulager) were attacked in their home by an
intruder. Submitting herself to experimental dream therapy under the college's
psychology lecturer (James Read), Kelly is also one among a group of sorority
pledges who, as part of their initiation into Delta Rho Chi, have been tasked
with breaking into the shopping mall owned by her father’s company. She and her
friends subsequently find themselves locked in for the night, unaware that
they’re in the company of a shadowy prowler who's just stopped off in the
sports department to pick up some handy hunting goods...
Former actor Larry Stewart was an episodic television
director when he took up the reins on 1984's The Initiation and it represents his only theatrical feature. One
can see why. The pacing is painfully pedestrian, in fact aside from the
enigmatic flashback/dream sequences – which, since they’re swiftly shelved once
the stalkin’ ’n’ slashin’ kicks into gear- are clearly in situ to lay the
foundations for some dark familial revelations come the finale – the first hour
is notable only for its dearth of engaging incident. At least when the killing
begins the pace picks up a little, yet although the bursts of violence are
convincingly staged – which is more than can be said for some of those in a
number of The Initiation's genre
siblings – Stewart and screenwriter Charles Pratt, Jr fail to muster up anything
particularly imaginative; this is strictly paint-by-numbers stuff. Even the
twist ending – which despite some heavy handed attempts at audience
misdirection at least manages to remain fairly unpredictable – falls shy of unique.
Coming to the party so late in the day, The
Initiation needed something – anything
– to make it stand out; sadly it just comes up wanting.
Still, the movie looks
good, the multi-floor shopping mall location lending it a goodly measure of
production value, and the strong cast alone makes it worth a visit, especially
Vera Miles, who'd just recently revived her Psycho
heroine Lila Crane in a 23-years-later sequel. Daphne Zuniga is excellent too
and manages to eschew the script’s nudity demands, the decoration in that
respect befalling former model and future soap star Hunter Tylo. James Reid is
also entertaining as the college lecturer sidelining in unauthorised therapy; I
must admit though, whenever I see the actor I can't help but think of him as that
dodgy dentist in TV movie Columbo: Uneasy
Lies the Crown.
In summation, where seasoned slasher aficionados are
unlikely to find anything here they’ve not seen a dozen times before, as
undemanding booze'n'popcorn terrors go The
Initiation makes for an adequate enough time-passer.
Released on DVD in the UK by Arrow back in 2013, the company
has reissued the film in a newly restored Region A/B dual format Blu-Ray/DVD
package. There's a moderate level of grain present throughout the feature and
the hi-def image occasionally serves to accentuate poorly focussed shots. The
mono soundtrack is nice and clean. Extra features comprise a chatty commentary
from podcast team The Hysteria Continues, a short piece of footage from a frat
party sequence (omitted from the restoration due to the loss of the original
soundtrack) and a trailer. Additionally there are interviews with writer
Charles Pratt, Jr and supporting cast members Christopher Bradley and Joy
Jones; sadly, though perhaps to be expected, there’s no input from stars Miles
or Gulager, whilst disappointingly Zuniga is also conspicuous in her absence. Reversible
sleeve artwork and a limited edition collectors' booklet spruce up the deal.
of the more fascinating aspects of the Spanish horror film is that the
country’s most famous exports were produced during the near forty year
dictatorial regime of Falangist leader Generalissimo
Francisco Franco. In interviews
conducted following the passing of the repressive dictator in 1975, actor Paul Naschy
(the so-called “Lon Chaney of Spanish horror”) often expressed bemusement regarding
the restrictions imposed by Spanish censors on his films. Naschy’s horror films were (arguably, I
suppose) of either very modest or completely non-political in their design - if
not their subtext.
Naschy (aka Jacinto Molina Alvarez) was greatly influenced by the celebrated
cycle of gothic horror and mystery films produced by Universal Studios in the
1930s and 1940s. The primary difference
between these monochrome films and those Naschy would lens beginning 1968 is
unmistakable: most of his films,
including the colorful Count Dracula’s
Great Love (1971), owed more to the more contemporary themes and style of
Britain’s Hammer Studios. Spanish
implementation of less discreet on-screen sexuality and a seemingly limitless
supply of blood plasma packets pushed even Hammer’s edgiest offerings to the tame,
more modest borders of exploitation cinema.
the horror films released in this otherwise repressive environment were neither
produced under the tightest of restriction nor designed in an effort to avoid
offending the sensibilities of right-wing prudes. As anyone who has ever enjoyed a Paul Naschy
or Jess Franco film can attest, Spanish horror offerings of the 1960s and 1970s
are suffused with gory imagery, eroticism, savagery, envelope-pushing scenarios…
and generous dollops of female nudity.
most censorship boards, the Spaniards didn’t seem terribly concerned with flashpoints
involving on-screen immoralities or scenes of sickening violence. Their primary concern was simply that film characters
demonstrating unwholesome peccadilloes or otherwise satanic non-Christian traits
not be identified as being of wholesome Spanish heritage. So a werewolf bearing the Eastern-European the
Slavic surname of Daninsky was permitted, as were godless Hungarian vampires
and Prussian hunchbacks. Those in the Spanish
film industry were more than happy to ring international box-office cash
registers with their appropriations; the atheistic commies of Eastern Europe were
welcome to the authorship of the malevolent creatures spawned from their
Aguirre’s Count Dracula’s Great Love
(original title El Gran Amor Del Conde
Dracula) was Paul Naschy’s only on screen appearance as Brom Stoker’s
legendary vampire Count Dracula. The
actor would in his long career assume the roles of practically every vanguard monster
of the “classic horror” pantheon. In a
lengthy series of Spanish-European co-productions, Naschy would don the makeup
and costumes of vampires, mummies, hunchbacks, werewolves… he even tackled the dual
role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Well
regarded by filmmakers and contemporaries as a hard-working, earnest
actor-writer-director, he was also remembered as a humble, modest man. His greatest pride was when horror fans
whispered his name with the same reverence reserved for the greatest icons of
the genre: Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, and
opens, more or less, as nearly every other Dracula film. Following a violent breakdown of the
horse-carriage somewhere near Hungary’s mountainous Borgo Pass, a group of five
travelers - one gentleman and four buxom beauties - seek temporary help at the
supposedly derelict sanitarium of Dr. Kargos. The good doctor is nowhere to be found – at least, not yet – but the
castle’s new tenant, the soft-spoken, candelabra carrying Dr. Wendell Marlow
(Paul Naschy) soon answers the door of what’s rumored to be the ancestral home
of the Vlad (“The Impaler”) Tepes, the bloody historical Prince of Wallachia.
first sight Marlowe is no cruel Vlad Tepes. Naschy’s Marlowe is a supposed Austrian
aristocrat and an apparent softie: he’s a thoughtful and gracious sort,
self-effacing, and unrelentingly polite. In fact, when the stranded travelers are brought into the anteroom,
they’re not only immediately welcomed with courtesy but offered accommodation and
meals for the week. This is necessary,
he explains, as there are no hotels in the area; he owns no transportation modes
and his forthcoming order of supplies are seven days away.
four blond girls at first don’t seem terribly grateful for the Dr.’s generous
hospitality. One whispers a complaint almost
immediately, moaning her displeasure that the castle is a dreary, gloomy sort
of a place. If director Aguirre wanted
to convey a palatial sense of doom and menace to match that description, he was
clearly let down by his art department. The castle interiors are generally bright and immaculately clean save
for the odd cobweb or two drooping forlornly from lighting fixtures. The castle’s cellar, where the delivery of a
wooden crate of human-length proportion arrives at the film’s beginning, is a
bit more atmospheric: here we find the
stony labyrinth passageways, the moss covered walls, the rat-infested rooms we
of the stranded travelers finds the genial Dr. Marlowe a physically attractive
specimen. That said, she’s reminded by a
friend that her tastes in men are her own. The friend prefers a man “slimmer and taller.” (Naschy was hardly a cadaverous Count, a muscular
man of stocky build and approximately only 5’ 8” in height). With little alternative the girls choose to
make themselves at home, now resigned to their unplanned stay at the castle. By day two they’re making the most of it and immodestly
sunning their naked bodies in the estate’s opaque pool. Though the castle grounds are in disrepair
and in serious need of some landscaping, they discover the wooded acreage is nonetheless
conducive to long negligee-garbed walks in the moonlight.
a scary thought, indeed, to think that it has been twenty-nine years since I
first saw Dario Argento’s fifth giallo
feature film which I had read about two years earlier in the pages of a back
issue of Fangoria Magazine.The word giallo is the Italian word for the color
yellow, and has found new life in describing a subgenre of the Italian horror
film that refers to a who-done-it involving a killer who conceals their identity
by wearing a large coat, a wide-brimmed hat, unisex footwear and gloves, their
face always obscured or hidden completely.Very often we see the killer only in synecdoche.These stories all originated in the form of
pulp novellas which sported yellow covers, hence the use of the term giallo.
the word giallo is always spelled one
way, the correct spelling of the film’s title, Tenebrae, has always been up for debate. One is never sure if it is Tenebre or Tenebrae. In reality, Tenebrae is the Latin word for shadows and darkness and also
refers to a Christian religious service which I personally have never been
privy to. Nevertheless, in regards to
the spelling of the title of Mr. Argento’s film, either one is much better than
the horrendous and Americanized Unsane,
which even trimmed the film’s running time down to 91 minutes. Considering that Unsane played on 42nd Street in New York City, a place
where horror films, sci-fi outings, and future cult movies were dumped and
rarely ever given advertising space in newspapers, the audiences were probably
comprised of folks either too wasted or asleep to care what they were watching,
so cutting out extraneous blood and gore seems silly in retrospect.
Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is a popular novelist whose new book, Tenebrae, has just been released. He flies from New York to Rome for a press
junket arranged by his agent Bullmer (John Saxon in a strangely comedic turn)
and his publicist Anne (Daria Nicolodi whose voice is dubbed by, of all people,
Theresa Russell!). He plays nice with journalist/feminist
friend Tilde (Mirella D’Angelo), who labels Neal’s work as misogynistic, and finds
himself interrogated by an overly adoring talk show host/fan (John Steiner),
and ends up being stalked by a crazed killer who adores his work. In the thick of it, he has an affair with
Anne, nearly has a tryst with a woman young enough to be his daughter, and does
his best to help the police detectives who are working his case. Throughout all of this mayhem, Mr. Argento’s
camera is heavily engaged in the action, whether it represents the killer
trying to find a hiding place through a subjective POV shot, or just decides to
do an incredible sweep from one side of Tilde’s apartment, over the roof, and
on to the other side. This virtuoso
camerawork was accomplished by using the Louma Crane and was operated by the
late cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, who also shot Suspiria for Mr. Argento.
Tenebrae’splot is interesting
enough to keep the audience guessing until the final frame. Anyone who is even remotely familiar with
horror films and Mr. Argento’s work in particular will be able to figure out
the killer’s identity. This truth should
not prevent one from their enjoyment of viewing the film, however. Watching Tenebrae
again nearly made me want to cry because it reminded me of why Mr. Argento is
my favorite horror film director. Between 1974 and 1987 he directed six consecutive films that were not
only wildly entertaining but also incredibly imaginative and visually arresting. They are vast improvements over the narrative
dullness (albeit cinematically striking) of Four
Flies on Grey Velvet and The Cat
O’Nine Tails, although his debut film, The
Bird with the Crystal Plumage, was terrific. Deep
Red, Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebrae, Phenomena and Opera are six of the most stylish and
compulsively watchable movies that I have ever seen. Mr. Argento’s output following Opera has been uneven at best, with Sleepless and Do You Like Hitchcock? being the few standouts.
Tenebraeis one of Mr.
Argento’s best written, acted, and most tightly constructed films. It’s also one of his most violent and bloody
works. Like the tongue lashing that Peter
Neal receives at the hands of ill-fated Tilde, Mr. Argento received harsh
criticism upon the film’s release regarding not only the subject matter, but
the manner in which the female characters are horrifically dispatched. When you compare Tenebrae to some of the contemporary horror films, the sort of
torture porn that has become prevalent in the genre of late, Tenebrae seems fairly time in
comparison. For some people, it’s a
toss-up between this and Deep Red, as
to which is his best film. Tenebrae had its genesis when Mr.
Argento and his partner Daria Nicolodi were promoting Suspiria in Los Angeles in 1977 wherein a fan was stalking the
director, and left him a note telling him that he wanted to kill him. Check, please!
Tenebrae has some great extras and they are
all-new Synapse Films supervised color correction and restoration of a 1080p
scan from original uncut negative elements, presented in the original aspect
ratio of 1.85:1. The film looks
terrific. I was lucky enough to see a
screening of the film in a beautiful 35mm print imported from Norway through
Exhumed Films in February 2008, and this Blu-ray looks better than that.
English and Italian language options with newly-translated English subtitle
tracks for both.
commentary track featuring film critic and Argento scholar, Maitland McDonagh. This is a terrific commentary as Mrs.
McDonagh proves herself to be highly authoritative on the subject of this
film. Considering that she wrote the
first book I ever recall seeing on Dario Argento in 1991, this should come as
no surprise. Unfortunately, the
commentary that originally appeared on the Anchor Bay DVD with Dario Argento,
Claudio Simonetti and Lori Cursi has not been ported over, so hang on to that
DVD because that is a worthy commentary as well.
high-definition 1080p English sequence insert shots, playable within the film
via seamless branching [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]
in-depth documentary Yellow Fever: The
Rise and Fall of the Giallo by High Rising Productions, chronicling the
giallo film genre from its beginnings as early 20th century crime fiction, to
its later influences on the modern slasher film genre. [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY
DISC]. This is a terrific documentary
which features interviews with Dario Argento, Maitland McDonagh, Mikel Koven,
Ruggero Deodato, Kim Newman, Umberto Lenzi, Dardano Sachetti, Richard Stanley,
Shelagh Rowan-Legg, Alan Jones, and Luigi Cozzi to name a few. The giallo
genre is attributed to the writings of Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace, P.D.
James, and Arthur Conan Doyle and is a great addition to this edition.
UNSANE (U.S. version of TENEBRAE) end credits sequence [SPECIAL FEATURE
EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]
opening credits sequence [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]
SHADOW theatrical trailer [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]
as a burn-to-order DVD from the Universal Vault Series, some may be quick to add
that they should have kept “The Conqueror” in the vault. The movie is notorious
for being one of the worst movies in Hollywood history. Much has been written
about how terrible this movie is so I’m going to avoid jumping on that
bandwagon. After all, calling this movie bad is like calling out water for
movie is also a part of a conspiracy theory of sorts because many of the cast
and crew died from cancer and some have connected those cancer deaths to the
location filming in St. George Utah which was the stand-in for the Gobi Desert.
St. George is downwind from where the above ground nuclear testing occurred in
Nevada. Indeed, many involved with this movie did succumb to cancer including lifetime
smoker John Wayne who also denied any connection between his cancer and the St.
George location filming.
CinemaScope widescreen image for “The Conqueror” looks terrific and has an
appropriately grand score by Victor Young. The movie stars John Wayne and Susan
Hayward and features some of the best character actors of the era including
Pedro Armendariz, Agnes Morehead, Thomas Gomez, William Conrad and Lee Van
Cleef. If only the movie was the western it tries so hard to be rather than a 13th
century historical epic taking place in Central Asia.
nobody was more surprised than former actor and director of “The Conqueror”
Dick Powel when the Duke insisted on playing the lead. When asked by reporters
during production how Wayne looked as Genghis Kahn, Powell replied, “Murderous.
Just murderous.” I’d say murderous for the viewer too. While there’s a lot of
ethnicity in the cast (Native American Indians from a local reservation were
hired as extras to portray the Mongolian hordes in the movie) it’s hard to
believe that they couldn’t cast a single Asian actor in this movie.
movie pulled in a healthy profit world-wide for RKO at the time of its initial
release in 1956, but it was critically panned and is difficult to watch. “The
Conqueror” was a personal favorite of the movie’s eccentric producer Howard
Hughes who owned RKO at the time and pulled the movie from theatrical and TV distribution.
Apparently Hughes watched the movie over and over again, but it was not seen by
mortal men again until1974 after the rights reverted to Paramount. This was the
final movie that Hughes personally produced and some may say it would have been
better if he had destroyed the negatives and all copies of the movie.
Conqueror” was previously released by Universal in 2006 as part of the, “An
American Icon: John Wayne 5 Movie Collection” DVD set. That release included
the trailer, subtitles and chapters. This burn to order release appears to be produced
from the same source material because it looks and sounds identical, but includes
no extras and the movie starts up immediately after loading. “The Conqueror” is
a rare turkey for the Duke as most of his post “Stagecoach” output is very
watchable. It’s a must see for die-hard fans of the Duke and when hosting movie
nights where you want guests to leave early.
Joe Dante (1984’s Gremlins) and Allan Arkush (1979’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School) cut their teeth in Hollywood putting
together trailers for Roger Corman films in the early 1970s and got the idea to
make their own film by piecing together stock footage from other Corman pics
and shooting a story around the clips. Armed with $55,000 from Mr. Corman, Hollywood
Boulevard is the result. Released in
1976 on a smattering of screens, Hollywood
Boulevard is a charming and entertaining send-up of Hollywood filmmaking
which stars the incomparable (and sadly, the late) Candice Rialson as Candy Wednesday, a fresh-off-the-bus
naïve blonde who, at the ripe old age of twenty-four, wants to be an actress
and walks straight into the office of agent Walter Paisley (Dick Miller). His advice to just go out and walk the
streets and be seen is taken quite literally, and she finds herself suckered
into the middle of a bank robbery while assuming that it’s a movie being shot
(that old gag!). It takes Candy some
time to see through the bank robber’s real intent, but amazingly it does not
seem to faze or dissuade her from getting into showbiz. Eventually she manages to hook up with a
ragtag group of performers who work for Miracle Pictures – their motto is “If
it’s a good movie, it’s a miracle!” They
are making a film called Machete Maidens
of Mora Tau II, which is directed by a campy and pretentious director named
Erich Von Leppe (Paul Bartel) who orders around his leading lady (Mary Woronov).
Unfortunately for her, she is replacing
an actress who died on the set while Machete
Maidens was being shot! Could the
same fate befall her? Candy, now doing
stunts for Miracle Pictures, catches the attention of Patrick (Jeffrey Kramer
of Jaws), a writer, and they begin a
passionate affair while making films. A
series of misadventures follows when the crew goes to the Philippines to shoot.
There is a hilarious bit where Candy, Walter, and Patrick view their finished
product at the old Gilmore Drive-In in Los Angeles. Candy eventually becomes a
glamourous film star and Patrick a successful screenwriter.
Hollywood Boulevard was shot in August 1975 in Los Angeles
over a period of ten days(!) and is a film clearly love sonnet to the industry. There are street shots of Grauman’s Chinese
Theater (Ovidio G. Assonitis and Robert Barrett’s Beyond the Door is on the marquee!), while another theatre boasts Jaws and Dog Day Afternoon. Can you
imagine that there was a time in this country when you could go a theatre and these two films would be playing at the
same time? Try finding any theatre
nowadays boasting films half the
caliber of these two titles. The Pussycat
Theater offers Fred Donaldson’s Sometime
Sweet Susan to those adventurous enough to head through the doors (Martin
Scorsese’s Taxi Driver was being
filmed during the same time in New York City and Susan is on a marquee in that film, too). The film is loaded with silly action that the
low budget would allow and ADR-looped lines abound.
Releasing has done a wonderful job of transferring Hollywood Boulevard. With
the exception of two brief streaks down the left side of the frame early on the
transfer, the 2K scan of the film’s inter-positive is a revelation, easily the
best the film has ever looked. There are
some nice extras on this edition, which is limited to 1,500 copies: the
feature-length commentary with directors Joe Dante and Allan Arkush and producer
Jon Davison has been ported over from the 2001 DVD release. Even if you are not a fan of the film (how
can you not be?!), the commentary is worth the price of the Blu-ray alone as it
has a terrific insight into the manner in which low budget filmmaking at New
World Pictures was done in the 1970s. Director Dante is very engaging and hilarious to listen to, recalling
with amazing swiftness which films the scenes were culled from, and funny
anecdotes about the scenes and how and when they were shot.
are also a handful of brand new on-screen interviews with:
Joe Dante (15:26) He quite correctly
points out that despite the fact that more movies are available for viewing now
than ever before, younger audiences don’t know about these films (foreign and
the like) because they haven’t been exposed to them.
Allan Arkush and Jon Davison (15:23) are
very funny to listen to, discussing how they came to direct and produce
respectively Hollywood Boulevard and
how they met Jeffrey Kramer and came to cast him.
Mary Woronov (11:18) speaks zealously
about her time working for New World Pictures.
Roger Corman (7:00) reiterates how
little money it took to make the film and how much he genuinely loves it.
Kramer (13:16) gets a decent amount of screen time here, reminiscing about his
early days in the film industry, and tells a very funning anecdote about the
premiere of his TV series Struck by
Lightning in which he co-starred with Jack Elam. I liked this show which debuted on Wednesday,
September 19, 1979, but I was also ten years-old, and after a total of three
episodes it was cancelled due to low ratings.
Drake (3:30) was the assistant cameraman and talks about the perils of shooting
up near the Hollywood sign.
Blu-ray also contains the original theatrical trailer and an edition of Dante’s popular Trailers From Hell.
would have loved to have seen a tribute to the late actress Candice Rialson,
who passed away in 2006 at the age of 54 from liver disease. She appeared in
Raphael Nussbaum’s controversial exploitation/social commentary film Pets in 1973, the 1974 movie-of-the-week
The Girl on the Late, Late Show and a
series of three exploitation films, Candy
Stripe Nurses, Mama’s Dirty Girls,
and Summer School Teachers, all in
1974. She was a real trouper and is
spoken of highly by Jeffrey Kramer as a kind and funny person. She is deserving of her own documentary.
Machete Maidens of Mora Tau II is a film that I really want to see,
and it would have been wonderful if it was actually made (a la Machete (2010) being born from Grindhouse (2007).
Hollywood Boulevard again suddenly
made me think of David Lynch’s Mulholland
Drive (2001), with Naomi Watts’s wide-eyed Betty leaving the parking lot of
LAX to “make it in the movies”. Candice
Rialson was a wonderful film personality and truly deserved to go on and enjoy
success in the Dream Factory.
(Note: this title appears to have sold out quickly though some dealers on eBay are offering it.)
The following news items were reported in Film Daily during the week of October 21, 1963
Stephen Boyd in "The Fall of the Roman Empire"
Paul Lazarus Jr., executive vice president of Samuel Bronston Productions, is lining up tours to the Bronston Studio in Spain for exhibitors who have expressed interest in (and booking) Fall of the Roman Empire. The trips, on which theater men will be on their own, especially for transportation, are expected to start shortly after mid-November.
Steve McQueen in "the Great Escape" (Like we really had to tell you!)
United Artists' The Great Escape rolled up $205,915 in the second week of its Golden Showcase run at 21 theaters in the greater New York area.
Arthur Kennedy, Victory Jory, Sal Mineo, George O'Brien, and Dolores Del Rio have been signed for key roles in Cheyenne Autumn Warner Bros. film which John Ford is directing.
Britain's Shirley Eaton will fill the sole femme part in MGM's Rhino in production in South Africa.
Executive Council of British Film Producers Association will support the move by the Association of Independent Cinemas to reduce the admittance of teenagers to "A" pictures from 16 to 14. Films classified as "A" by the censor are forbidden to children under 16 unless accompanied by an adult. Films tagged "X" are forbidden to those 16 and under while "U" films are for the entire family.
How the West Was Won has passed the 500,000 admission mark at the Warner Hollywood Cinerama Theatre, where the MGM production has grossed more than $1,000,000 since its opening October 21...Ticket orders are being taken into December and the engagement will continue indefinitely.
Swedish poster for "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"
Stanley Kramer and many of the stars of his It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World will appear on The Jerry Lewis Show, ABC-TV
November 2, the night before the UA Cinerama comedy has its
international press preview at The New Cinerama Theatre in Hollywood.
Sony will present Martin Scorsese's 1976 classic "Taxi Driver" in U.S. theaters on October 16 and 19th. The screening will include new interviews with Scorsese, producer Michael Phillips, screenwriter Paul Schrader, actors Robert DeNiro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel. For tickets and more info click here.
This Friday, October 14, the historic Redford Theatre in Detroit will present a rare big screen showing of director Robert Wise's 1963 horror classic "The Haunting" starring Richard Johnson, Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn and Lois Maxwell. See it at your own risk! For tickets, which are only $5, click here.
brilliance in Hollywood comes in very modest packages. Who would have thought
that a string of horror films made on shoestring budgets, with no star power,
and little attention from the studio, would become classics in style and
what happened when, in 1942, producer Val Lewton was put in charge of a
division at RKO Radio Pictures with the directive to make a series of ridiculously inexpensive movies intended to be competition for Universal’s successful
franchise of monster flicks. Lewton—a former novelist and poet—had previously worked
for MGM and, in particular, David O. Selznick, before being hired by RKO. He
brought this experience along with his literary background to the table when he
was told he could do anything he wanted as long as the budget for each film did
not exceed $150,000.
there wasn’t enough budget for special visual effects, elaborate monster
makeup, or any of the other trappings for which Universal was known. Lewton had
to tap into the imaginations of his audience members and find ways to suggest that what was on the screen was
truly frightening. To do so, he put
together an inventive creative team—director Jacques Tourneur, writer DeWitt
Bodean, cinematographer Nicholas Musucara, and editor Mark Robson—to make the
first iconic entry under the producer’s watch.
result? Cat People, directed by Jacques Tourneur,was so successful
that it put RKO, which had been struggling after the financial failures of
Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, back on the
map. Box-office aside, the motion picture manages to be atmospheric, eerie, and
psychologically disturbing without a single monster appearance. Everything
frightening about it is all in the mind. Cat
People unnerves viewers through the use of light and shadow, sound, and the
mere suggestion of menace.
story concerns Irena, an Eastern European woman in New York (exotically played
by Simone Simon), who has a mysterious past and family tree. It seems she
descended from a cult of Serbians who practiced witchcraft—and they had the
ability (or curse?) of turning into panthers when sexually aroused. During the
course of the story, Irena—as well as the men around her— must come to grips
with who she really is. Okay, it’s a love story... sort of.
sexuality at the heart of Cat People had
to be played with a good deal of subtlety due to the Production Code, but it’s
there. Much of the film’s power comes from the primal, sensual heat within the
subtext of the visual poetry on display. Not only does the movie burn with
suggestive tension, its German expressionistic beauty is seductive. The style is what gives Cat People its claws.
new 2K digital restoration, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack, certainly
shows off the look of the film, and it appears better than ever. The black and
white imagery is appropriately grainy and the contrasts are sharp. There’s an
audio commentary from 2005 featuring film historian Gregory Mank, including
excerpts from an audio interview with Simone Simon.
the supplements is a new interview with cinematographer John Bailey, who was DP
of Paul Schrader’s more explicit 1982 remake of Cat People—this is a highlight, as Bailey compares the two pictures
and talks about the work of his predecessor Musucara. Additionally, Jacques
Tourneur is interviewed in a 1977 French television program. Most impressive is
the inclusion of a feature-length documentary from TCM, narrated by Martin
Scorsese, about the life and work of Val Lewton. The movie trailer and an essay
in the booklet by critic Geoffrey O’Brien round out the extras.
stylish, and mesmerizing, Cat People was
the beginning of a remarkable four-year run of interesting, intelligent horror
movies made by dedicated craftsmen who not only wanted to entertain an audience
but also to create art. Let’s hope that The Criterion Collection presents more
of the works of Val Lewton, but for now, Cat
People is just in time for Halloween!
has been written and said about director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s
ten-hour mini-series originally broadcast on Polish television in 1988. The
late Stanley Kubrick, who rarely commented on other filmmakers’ works, wrote in
a foreword to the published screenplays of Dekalog
that Kieślowski and his co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz
had dramatized their ideas with “dazzling skill.” Many critics have called Dekalog one of the greatest television
mini-series ever made.
Dekalog has been previously released
on home video, The Criterion Collection has seen fit to present on DVD and
Blu-ray a new, restored 4K digital transfer that has also been recently playing
in select art house cinemas around the U.S. Even though all but two episodes
are in an analog television aspect ratio (4:3), there is no question that this
is cinematic material. Kieślowski’s mise-en-scene is subtle and beckons to
be seen on the big screen—or a large high definition TV. The clarity of the new
Criterion release does wonders for Dekalog,
and as a result the package is one of the hallmarks of the company’s
Dekalog is loosely based on
the Ten Commandments. No, it’s not a Biblical drama. Each episode is a modern (i.e.,
the late 1980s, when the films were made) take on how the Ten Commandments
relate—or not—to the contemporary world. The stories are set in and around a
single apartment block in Warsaw, Poland, and mostly involve various tenants.
Each episode is a separate tale, and yet characters from one part might appear
in the background of another, illustrating that the “chapters” are connected.
For example, a little girl who is at the focus of Dekalog: Seven can be seen playing outside a window in Dekalog: Nine. An old man who collects
stamps is a minor character in Dekalog:
Eight, and his two grown sons are the protagonists of Dekalog: Ten.
who died too young (of heart failure) in 1996, apparently liked story cycles.
Another of his acclaimed works is the Three
Colors Trilogy (Blue; White; Red) from 1993 and 1994—interconnected but
separate tales obliquely meditating on the meanings behind the colors of the
French flag. Dekalog does the same
thing with the Ten Commandments. Kieślowski and Piesiewicz
wrote ten little dramas that have as starting points the Biblical moral tenets,
but they are not handled literally. For example, in Dekalog: One, a man keeps his beloved computer in a prominent spot
in his living room, but his reliance on what the computer tells him with its
calculations eventually has tragic results. This is Kieślowski’s
ironic way of commenting on the
commandment “thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
that’s the key to Dekalog—every
episode is flush with irony. The episode dealing with “thou shalt not kill” is
more about the capital punishment faced by the protagonist of the tale than it
is the murder he committed that landed him on death row. The episode concerning
“honor thy parents” concerns a young woman who has incestuous thoughts for the
man she always thought was her father—but who, it turns out, is not. Sometimes
a single episode relates to two—or even three—commandments, and there are cases
in which one commandment is the subject of two or more chapters.
is provocative, challenging stuff.
Dekalog stars some of the
most talented Polish actors of the day—many of whom none of us outside the Iron
Curtain knew at the time. And that’s another thing—one must keep in mind that Dekalog was made while Poland was still
a Communist country. While this has some bearing on the stories, the underlying
truths of the piece are still quite universal.
the cycle features nine different cinematographers (Three and Nine were shot
by the same DP). There is indeed a different look to each episode—and yet Kieślowski
managed to keep them all consistent in style to create a whole. The cumulative
effect of the ten pieces—in content and visual craft—is what ultimately makes Dekalog such a powerful, meaningful work
of the episodes, Five and Six, were expanded to feature length
(and were shot in widescreen) to become A
Short Film About Killing and A Short
Film About Love, and were released theatrically, also in 1988. The longer
pictures add more depth to the original TV versions. In the case of A Short Film About Love, the ending is
remarkably different. Fortunately, Criterion has included these two feature
films in the set along with the ten original one-hour episodes and trailers.
entire extra disk is devoted to hours of supplements. Most welcome are archival
interviews with Kieślowski, taken from 1987, 1990, and 1995. A
very informative and illustrative new interview with film studies professor and
author Annette Insdorf is a highlight of the set. Other archival and new
material includes interviews with thirteen cast members, Piesiewicz, three
cinematographers, editor Ewa Smal, and Kieślowski confidante
Hanna Krall. The thick booklet contains an essay and capsules on the films by
cinema scholar Paul Coates, along with excerpts from the book Kieślowski
Criterion Collection has always been known for producing boxed sets of
outstanding quality. Dekalog is one
of their crown jewels.
I recently wrote in relation to a review of "The Big Show" that circus movies have gone the way of the Model T. You can add to that another genre of film that used to be a Hollywood staple- the safari movies in which the hero was a great white hunter. Changing social attitudes make it unlikely we'd ever again cheer some rock-jawed leading man as he unloads some hi caliber bullets into a grazing elephant or a lazing hippo. The last word on such films was Clint Eastwood's woefully underrated (and woefully under-seen) 1990 film "White Hunter, Black Heart", which was loosely based on the hunting obsessions of director John Huston during production of "The African Queen". Nevertheless, jungle-themed adventures are still the stuff of cinematic thrills in the minds of retro movie lovers. One of the best is "Rampage", a 1963 opus directed by Phil Karlson and based on a novel by actor/screenwriter Alan Caillou. Robert Mitchum stars as Harry Stanton, known in zoological circles as the world's most eminent tracker of wild game. The Wilhelm Zoo in Germany makes him a proposition: they will finance his trip to Malaysia to track down and capture the Enchantress, a legendary one-of-a-kind animal that is said to be half-leopard and half-tiger. Part of the deal is that Harry must also return with two tigers. Harry is told he will be traveling with Otto Abbot (Jack Hawkins), an internationally famed hunter of exotic prey. Harry is invited to meet Otto at his opulent home which is unsurprisingly decorated with trophies of his more notable expeditions into the wild. However, Harry's eye goes immediately to Abbot's girlfriend Anna (Elsa Martinelli), an exotic beauty many years younger than Otto. It's clear that Abbot takes great pride in his relationship with Anna and he enjoys seeing Harry looking at her with pangs of desire. It turns out that Anna was a young girl of fourteen who had no family and who was facing a harsh life on the streets. Harry "adopted" her, presumably for humanitarian reasons but, in fact, he was grooming her to be his lover. Out of gratitude for the opulent life Abbot has afforded her, she has complied even though it is clear she would rather have a relationship with another man. It only takes a moment for she and Harry to lock eyes before both of them realize they are drawn to each other.
At first the journey to Malaysia goes well enough. While Harry personally loathes the killing of exotic animals, he respects Abbot for his achievements. However, en route to their destination, it becomes clear to Abbot that Harry and Anna are becoming increasingly flirtatious. He even tells her that she has his permission to have a fling with Harry as long as it's a short-term affair and she continues to regard him as her "real" lover. However, Harry and Anna aren't interested in a quickie sexual thrill...both of them want to build a relationship. Things become more tense when they arrive in Malaysia and begin hunting the tigers and the Enchantress. Abbot attempts to kill a a charging rhino and finds it takes him two shots to do so, which apparently is a no-no in the world of big game hunting. The failure to bag the rhino with one shot becomes a metaphor for Harry's diminishing virility. To prove he still has what it takes, he foolishly attempts to capture the Enchantress in a cave and ends up being badly mauled. It falls to Harry to capture the beast. By the time the group is back in Germany, tensions are raw. Both Harry and Anna admit that they did make love and Anna tells Abbot that, while she respects him, she has never loved him. Driven to madness at the thought of losing Anna, Abbot lures Harry into the storage room where the Enchantress is locked in a cage. He frees the animal with the expectation that it will kill Harry but, instead the beast leaps from the train and hides somewhere in Berlin. With an all-out hunt on for the dangerous animal, the film predictably finds Harry, Abbot and Anna facing off against each other as well as the Enchantress.
"Rampage" is certainly dated. It's the kind of movie where the two male antagonists-to-be dress in tuxedos for their initial meeting and drink cocktails while the leading lady saunters about the house in a lavish gown. However, the movie was ahead of its time in terms of addressing the issue of animal conservation. The film makes a poignant plea through Mitchum's character to stop the wholesale annihilation of entire species. In that respect, the film joins only two others from this era that spring into mind that were similarly-themed: John Huston's "The Roots of Heaven" (1958) and Ivan Tors' "Rhino!" (1964). Despite intelligent direction by Phil Karlson and a compelling screenplay, the movie exists to showcase its three glamorous stars. Mitchum is solid as the thinking man's tough guy, Hawkins is old world elegance and superficial charm and Martinelli has the kind of traditional sex siren persona that is all but invisible in today's film industry. The movie also benefits from some exotic locations (apparently filmed in Hawaii, not Africa) and an impressive score by Elmer Bernstein (even if the title track sounds like a combination of Monty Norman's theme for "Call Me Bwana" combined with "The Banana Boat Song".) There's even an appearance by Sabu as a guide for the hunting expedition. The movie is unusually frank for its day in its treatment of sex. Mitchum and Martinelli practically undress each other with their eyes and this aspect lends increasing tension to the inevitable mano a mano showdown between rivals Mitchum and Hawkins. "Rampage" is largely off the radar screens of retro movie lovers but that's all the more reason why the DVD release through the Warner Archive is highly recommended. (Note: the DVD contains no extras but is region-free.)
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THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH CRAIG'S COMMENTS ABOUT THE BOURNE FILMS.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Last evening Daniel Craig took to the stage for a 90 minute interview as part of the New Yorker Festival, sponsored by the legendary magazine. The interview took place at New York's School Visual Arts. Craig, who is not known to be enamored of engaging in interviews, was clearly in a feisty and humorous mood and attributed his presence at the event as a sign of his long-standing respect for the New Yorker magazine. The wide-ranging discussion covered a multitude of topics with the predominant subject unsurprisingly being James Bond. Craig was sporting a bleached blonde crew cut for a forthcoming role that made him bare a resemblance to the legendary Bond villain Red Grant, played memorably by Robert Shaw in "From Russia With Love". He was dressed casually in jeans, sneakers and a leather jacket and walked on stage with host, writer Nicholas Schmidle, without any formal introduction. Craig displayed considerable humor but did pepper his comments with some liberal use of profanity. Here are some highlights of the interview:
Craig said that rumors that he has been offered $150 million for the next two James Bond films are completely untrue. "I haven't been offered any money", he said. Craig noted that the next Bond film isn't even under discussion at this time. He said that after having spent a full year filming "Spectre", everyone involved feels they need a break from the series for a while. Craig did acknowledge controversial comments he made to the press last year in which he said he would rather slash his wrists than play 007 again. Although he didn't formally apologize for the comments, he clearly seemed to regret saying them. He admitted he was in a foul mood at the time because the ordeal of filming "Spectre" had left him emotionally drained and physically injured after having suffered accidents in the course of production. He did not rule playing Bond again in or out but did say that if he were not to play the role again "I would miss it terribly" and said he considered it "the best job in the world". When asked what specific perk he likes the most about playing the role, he wryly noted that he has an Aston Martin stashed in a garage in upstate New York- a direct benefit of playing Bond.
Craig said that throughout his life he has always enjoyed seeing Bond films but had never read Ian Fleming's novels. He never dreamed he would be asked to play the part of 007. When producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson told him he was their choice to play Bond in the 2006 reboot of the franchise, "Casino Royale", Craig almost dismissed the offer out of hand. He said he felt he was all wrong for the role and took a full year to give the producers his answer, after having consulted with family. He said he reluctantly agreed to take on the part with the proviso that it was understood he would not attempt to play the role like Bond actors who came before him. He was effusive in his praise of his immediate predecessor, Pierce Brosnan, but told the producers that he would not be successful in playing Bond in the lighthearted manner that succeeded with Brosnan. He demanded to see a finished script and to have input in defining the character of Bond in his own persona. Craig was surprised when his demands were met and was highly impressed by the finished script. He said he appreciated the producers' willingness to allow him to make creative suggestions regarding the films he has appeared in.
(Photos copyright Tom Stroud. All rights reserved)
Craig spoke highly of his colleagues with whom he works on the Bond films. He was especially generous in his praise of producer Barbara Broccoli, who is producing his forthcoming New York production of "Othello" in which he will play Iago. Craig said that, while he had heard of Barbara Broccoli before being approached for the Bond role, he assumed she was a woman in her seventies. When he finally met her face-to-face he was astonished that she was decades younger. He praised Broccoli and his other colleagues on the Bond series as the epitome of professionalism.
Asked about the current political situation in the United States, Craig said he was a solidly supporting Hillary Clinton. While not mentioning Donald Trump by name, he did say that he thought a country should not be run like a business, as Trump has professed. Craig said that companies only care about the bottom line and making a profit while the first priority of a nation should be to provide help and compassion for its least-fortunate citizens. His comments got rousing applause. (The scandal of Trump's sexually-charged comments on the 2005 video was unfolding during the interview and Craig may well have been unaware of the developments.)
Craig acknowledged that his second Bond film, "Quantum Of Solace", had a rushed production schedule and suffered from script deficiencies due to a writer's strike. He said the script had to be fine-tuned without the benefit of the screenwriters and that even he ended up writing material, stressing that he did not consider himself qualified to do so. Still he defended the film saying there were still some "fantastic" elements to it.
Regarding his private life, Craig denied tabloid reports that he is "prickly" to deal with. He said that he understood that by playing Bond his life would never be the same and that he would be the subject of intense media attention. He did say, however, that to whatever extent possible, he tries to stay out of the press. He scoffed at the notion that he is anything like Bond in real-life, saying that he is neither a bon vivant or a tough guy. He laughingly said that the public should never confuse him with his on-screen alter-ego. Asked if he had any advice for his possible successor in the role, Craig said that actors should not try to emulate their predecessors and bring their own style and conviction to the part. He said the most challenging aspect of filming a Bond movie was the sheer amount of time it takes to shoot it- a full year. He said he misses his family and New York when filming. He also said that not much time elapses between the end of shooting and the release of the film- perhaps six months. Thus it is important to work out the movie in great detail before filming begins because the schedule doesn't allow much time for making changes after production has wrapped.
Craig cringed when a clip was shown of him in his feature film debut in director John G. Avildsen's little-seen 1992 prison drama "The Power of One". He needn't have been embarrassed as the clip showed Craig giving a powerful performance as a brutal and abusive prison guard. He said he had not seen the film since it was originally released.
Asked about criticism from Paul Greengrass, director of the Bourne spy films, that he wouldn't want to direct a Bond film because they were outdated, Craig responded that no one associated with Bond would want him to and that "He should be so lucky" to be asked. This evoked laughter and applause from the audience. Craig, who made his comments seemingly in jest, did say he has yet to see a Bourne movie, but looks forward to getting around to it in the future.
Asked about long-time criticisms that the character of James Bond was sexist, Craig commented on a clip from "Spectre" in which Bond seduces a character played by Monica Bellucci and pointed out that charges of sexism against Bond were misguided because such scenes are meant to be viewed with a degree of camp.
(Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved)
Craig said that since he was a young boy he wanted to be an actor. He used to fantasize about being on the big screen. He said one of the films that inspired him most was Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner", which was a bomb when it first opened. He said he recalled watching it in awe in a mostly empty theater and being mesmerized by the film. He recalled that this particular movie was one of the ones that most inspired him to pursue an acting career.
In terms of future projects Craig acknowledged that he will star in an co-produce a two-season television production of author Jonathan Franzen's best-selling novel "Purity" for Showtime. Craig said he wife got him hooked on the book and he immediately called producer Scott Rudin, who owned the screen rights to make a deal to film the story. Craig said that he feels T.V. is the proper medium for the adaptation because he does not want to have to cut down on the essential elements of the story in order to squeeze them into a feature film's running time. His goal is to ensure that virtually every important element of the book is brought to the screen. He also said that he will play a small supporting role in the forthcoming film "Kings" with Halle Berry, which apparently deals with the aftermath of the L.A. riots that took place in Los Angeles in 1992 following the Rodney King verdict.
Craig verified internet rumors that he was indeed in the latest "Star Wars" movie, playing an anonymous Storm Trooper. Craig indicated he is a big "Star Wars" fan and when the "Spectre" filming coincided with filming of "Star Wars" at Pinewood Studios, he couldn't resist asking director J.J. Abrams if he could appear in a tiny, uncredited role. Not surprisingly, his wish was granted.
(Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved)
As the evening approached the last half hour, Craig took questions from audience members. This is always a bit dodgy since eccentrics and kooks seem to be drawn to an open microphone the way moths are attracted to a flame. Refreshingly, most of those who participated asked intelligent questions though there was at least one of the requisite hams who droned on with some self-serving comments, as if the audience wanted to hear about him. Craig handled them all- the good, the bad and ugly- with graciousness, respect and humor. At evening's end, the packed house gave him a rousing ovation. Craig said that, contrary to what one may think of the man who plays James Bond, he goes to sleep early and said he was up beyond his bedtime. With that, he bid everyone goodnight. For more click here.
Remember the days when you would wear a baggy
raincoat, visit your local independent theater and abuse your genital region
while watching “naughty” films? Maybe the younger “internet porn” readers don’t
(I actually don’t either. I just remember hearing about it while OD’ing on VHS
porn in the 80s), but I know some of you older perverts know what I’m talking
about. You see, during the 1960s and early 70s, you could hit your local
grindhouse theater and see films that are now classified as sexploitation.
These low-budget independent features contained plenty of nudity, but showed
very little in the way of actual onscreen sex, giving them the nickname
“soft-core.” Until hardcore classics like 1972’s Deep Throat and Behind the
Green Door as well as 1973’s The
Devil in Miss Jones arrived on the scene rendering the tamer stuff almost
obsolete, these soft-core flicks (which were also frequently viewed by couples)
were all the rage. And now, the nice folks at Vinegar Syndrome have unearthed
three of them for you to relive or to discover for the very first time.
In the first feature, Marsha, The Erotic Housewife, a young woman (soft-core queen Marsha
Jordan also from Count Yorga, Vampire)
whose businessman husband (Mark Edwards) is cheating on her, decides to teach
him a lesson by fulfilling her sexual fantasies with other men. The second
feature, titled For Single Swingers Only,
tells the tale of Gracie (Ann Myers) who moves into an apartment complex for
swingers, but gets much more than she bargained for. Last, but not least, Her Odd Tastes once again stars Marsha
Jordan, this time as a woman who goes from having an incestuous relationship
with her sister to becoming a door-to-door vibrator saleswoman. She eventually
kills a man in self-defense before being hired by a book publisher to research
sexual pleasure and pain. The insatiable woman travels the world, visiting Hong
Kong, Africa and the Middle East in order to satisfy her strange sexual
All three films (which were directed by Don
Davis) may contain washed-out colors and plenty of pops, scratches, jump cuts
and lines; not to mention drab-looking locations, but hey, no one buying a
ticket to see these movies was interested in things like cinematography or
production value. They paid to see some skin and there’s plenty of nudity on
display here. There’s also a lot of kissing and groping (in lieu of everything
else) as well as a bunch of unintentional laughs thanks to silly dialogue, stiff
acting and quite a few so-bad-it’s-good moments. Highlights include a hilarious
“Marsha” theme song, a woman with a very thick Swedish accent, a satanic orgy
where one guy wears a silly-looking goat head mask and, finally, death while
boinking on an electrified chair.
On the downside, the three movies, although
each one only running a little over an hour, all move along at a somewhat slow
pace. Still, I enjoyed them allfor
what they are. (I found Her Odd Tastes to
be the better paced and most entertaining of the three).
The three filmshave all been released on one dual layer DVD by Vinegar Syndrome.
The disc is region free and the movies are presented in their original 1.33:1
aspect ratio. The aforementioned pops, scratches, jump cuts and lines (which us
grindhouse cinema junkies adore) never detract from the story, and the images,
although far from Blu-ray quality, are more than watchable and pretty much what
you would expect something from this genre to look like. There are no special
features, but the DVD sleeve and disc both contain the original poster art for
all three films; my favorite tag line being “In Throbbing Color.” If you’re a
fan of soft-core sex flicks or are just curious to see what they were all about,
I recommend giving this retro drive-in collectiona look.
The British Film Institute will present a big screen film festival dedicated to director John Carpenter at their Southbank theater in London. Some of the films will include special introductions by critic Mark Kermode. A highlight will be a new digital restoration of "Halloween". Other films to be screened include "Dark Star", "Prince of Darkness", "Christine", "Escape From New York", "The Thing", "Starman", "The Fog", "Assault on Precinct 13", "Big Trouble in Little China" and "In the Mouth of Madness". The festival runs from 17 October through 28 November. For details click here.
Felix Leiter, the CIA agent who assisted James Bond in both novels and on screen, is finally getting into the spotlight on his own via a new series of comic book adventures authorized by the Ian Fleming estate. The comics will be written by James Robinson with artwork by Aaron Campbell, both of whom have impressive credentials in the industry. The series will be published by Dynamite. Based on the preliminary artwork, this ain't your grandad's version of Felix Leiter. In the Bond films he tends to be as dapper and sophisticated as 007 himself but the comics will present Leiter as a freelance investigator who looks more "Miami Vice" than "Casino Royale". According to the publicity, Leiter will still be involved in the world of espionage. Bond fans have long griped about the character of Leiter not being used to his fullest potential on screen. Not helping matters has been the problem of inconsistency over the decades with a variety of actors taking on the role. Each played Leiter in an entirely different manner and bore no physical resemblance to the other actors. Only two actors have played the role more than once: David Hedison (in "Live and Let Die" and "Licence to Kill" and, more recently, Jeffrey Wright in "Casino Royale" and "Quantum Of Solace"). In the literary world, Leiter lost a leg to a shark in the novel "Live and Let Die"- a scene that was dramatized in the 1989 Bond flick "Licence to Kill". Leiter did not appear in any Bond movie again until the series was re-imagined with Daniel Craig in 2006 with "Casino Royale". When Wright took over the role, no reference was made to the shark incident. The character debuted on screen in the very first Bond movie, "Dr. No" in 1962. He was played by Jack Lord, who would go on to star in "Hawaii Five-0" on television. For more click here
Ted Kotcheff’s “Billy Two Hats” (1974) is one of those
off-beat kind of movies they made back in the mid-Seventies when studios still
believed in small, realistic films that focused on character more than shoot-outs,
believable story lines more than special effects and solid performances by seasoned
actors who knew their craft more than flashy histrionics by shiny boys and
girls who just stepped off the front pages of the supermarket tabloids. It’s not
a great film by any means. It’s slow, and a bit heavy handed in getting across the
themes contained in Alan Sharp’s (“Osterman Weekend,” “Ulzana’s Raid”) script,
but it’s worth watching, if only so you can say you’ve seen the only “Kosher
Western” ever made.
57-year-old Gregory Peck, speaking with a thick Scottish
accent, stars as Arch Deans, a bank robber on the run with his young Kiowa half-breed
sidekick Billy (Desi Arnaz Jr). Jack Warden is Henry Gifford, the sheriff who’s
tracking them down. Gifford is a man with no love for outlaws or Indians or
much else for that matter. He captures Billy early in the story and tells him
that he looks on him as the lowest of the low. He’s also a cynic. When they
ride out into the desert he tells Billy to stop looking for his compadre to
come to his rescue. Deans is half way to Mexico, he says, already spending the
measly $400 they stole from the bank. But out in the desert, Kotcheff gives us
a shot of Deans up in the hills watching them.
Gifford stops for the night at a general store/saloon out
in the middle of nowhere run by an old friend—an ex-buffalo hunter by the name
of Copeland (David Huddleston), who has settled down with an Apache woman. Copeland
shares Gifford’s views on Native Americans, even though he lives with one. He
tells Gifford he and his “wife” had a son but, says, he “made her give him to
In the morning, Deans comes down from the hills and rescues
Billy, wounding Gifford in the shoulder. While Copeland patches him up, Gifford
asks Deans why he came back for Billy and Deans just shrugs and says: “He’s my
partner.” After the outlaws have ridden some distance away, Gifford reminds
Copeland of his old buffalo gun hanging on the wall of the saloon. Copeland
takes it down, loads and sights it carefully, and shoots Deans’ horse out from
under him at a distance of over half a mile or more away. Deans suffers a
broken leg as a result and the fugitives double up on the remaining horse and
It takes Gifford a few days before he’s well enough to
ride. While he’s recuperating there’s the obligatory scene where Copeland and
Gifford remember the days when they could stand in one spot all day and watch
the same herd of buffalo pass from morning to night. But Gifford also tells
Copeland he just can’t figure why Deans came back for the boy. He was in the
clear. It just doesn’t make sense to him that anyone would do that, especially
for a “breed.” “I’m a reasonable man,” he says. “It’s important to me that
things make sense.”
Meanwhile Billy has made a travois (an “Indian
perambulator,” Gifford calls it) for Deans and they try to get through the
mountains to Mexico, but in a canyon they run into a handful of Apaches. They manage
to scare them off without any loss or injury, but you know they’ll be back.
Their next stop is a small cabin inhabited by a settler
named Spencer (John Pearce) and his bought- from-St.-Louis- for-$100-wife
Esther (Sian Barbara Allen). Esther stutters and Spencer slaps her in the face whenever
she gets stuck on a word. “It shakes up her brain box,” he explains. Spencer
has a wagon and after some haggling agrees to drive Deans for $100 to a town
two days away where they have a doctor.
That night Deans and Billy sleep out in the barn and
Deans suddenly recalls how Gifford asked him why he came back for him. He tells
Billy he didn’t rightly know. But he asks Billy if he ever read the Bible. “Well,
there’s a bit in it,” he says, “from the Book of Ecclesiastes, that says `Two
are better than one because they have good reward for their labor. And if they
fall, the one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him that is alone when he
falleth, for he hath not another to help him up. And if one shall prevail
against him, two shall withstand him.’”
“Billy Two Hats” is essentially a movie about loneliness,
loyalty, hatred and the need for relationships, all good ingredients for what
could have been a gripping drama of alienation and a search for meaning in a
meaningless world. But Kotcheff (“First Blood,” and “Weekend at Bernie’s”)
seems to lack the depth and sensitivity to bring out the themes and emotions
contained in Sharp’s screenplay. The film’s pace is slow and the tone so muted
that a lot of scenes fail to convey any convincing emotion.
Peck’s performance as Deans is solid and his Scottish
accent seems authentic—one of the many off-beat touches of the movie. Warden as
Gifford is as effective as ever at making his character look lived-in and
Huddleston provides good backup for him. Arnaz isn’t called on to do much, and frankly
his love scenes with Sian Barbara Allen are handled rather clumsily and are too
perfunctory to have much dramatic effect.
Despite these limitations, “Billy Two Hats” is worthy of
your attention, at least as a breather from today’s super violent comic book
movies and a reminder that they once made movies, even westerns, for grown-ups.
By the way, while it may look like the American
Southwest, “Billy Two Hats” was actually filmed in the Negev Desert in southern
Israel. Kotcheff explains in an interview included on the Blu-Ray disc that for
financial reasons they could not make the movie in the U.S. and both he and
producer Norman Jewison thought the Spanish locations used in Spaghetti
westerns had been overused. Jewison was filming “Jesus Christ Superstar” in
Israel at the time and suggested he film it there. Thus, Kotcheff says, was the
first “Kosher Western” born.
Kino Lorber has released
“Billy Two Hats” on An impressive 1920x1080p Blu-Ray that presents all the
desolate beauty of the location captured on film by cinematographer Brian West.
An interview with Kotcheff and three trailers for this film and two other
Gregory Peck movies are the extras.
John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
In “Blackmail,” (1939), Edward G. Robinson plays John
Ingram, an expert at putting out oil well fires with explosives. He’s got a
wife, Helen (Ruth Hussey) a son, Hank (Bobs Watson), and a sidekick named Moose
(Guinn “Big Boy Williams). After one of his jobs, the newspapers snap his photo
and put him on the front page. His success affords him the opportunity to buy
his first oil well. But a short time after his picture appears in the papers an
obsequious stranger, William Ramey (Gene Lockhart), shows up at the house
begging for food. He turns out to be someone from Ingram’s past, who know that
the oil man is actually a wanted fugitive who escaped from a southern chain
gang nine years ago.
To keep Ramey quiet, Ingram gives him a job, but it
doesn’t take long before Ramey keeps upping the ante. He finally tells Ingram
he knows he’s innocent of the robbery charge he was sent to the chain gang for,
because he was the one who stole the money. In a scheme that only a dumb hero
in an MGM potboiler would fall for, Ingram exchanges ownership of the well for
a signed confession. Ramey, of course is too smart for Ingram, and in the end
Ingram not only does not get the confession, he also loses the well and is
taken in by police for questioning. Next
thing you know, it’s back to the chain gang.
“Blackmail,” was released by MGM seven years after
Warners’ “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain
Gang,” (1932) starring Paul Muni. Rather than focusing on social injustice and
the deplorable conditions of Southern chain gangs, as the Warners film did,
“Blackmail” uses all that as background for what is basically a melodrama. It
was probably a smart move to go that way, since there was no way MGM, or anyone
else, could have turned out a better socially conscious chain gang movie than
the Paul Muni film.
The chain gang scenes in “Blackmail” are not bad, with
director H.C. Potter and his writers (David Hertz and William Ludwig), focusing
less on the social inequities and more on how Ingram intends to honor his
promise to his wife not to try and escape again by not letting anything that
happens on the chain gang get to him. But after learning that Ramey is planning
to sell the well, and his family is now living in near-poverty, he begins to
crack. Not only that, the sadistic guard, who he escaped from nine years ago,
is still there with his bull whip, adding to his misery. He finally makes a
break with help from his good buddy, Moose, and heads back home for a showdown
“Blackmail,” is an entertaining movie. Not every film has
to have “redeeming social value,” but it’s just too bad MGM couldn’t have come
up with a more believable plot. There are too many scenes where the characters
do things that strain credulity, especially when the film reaches its climax.
One of the problems is that Edward G, on loan to Metro,
was miscast. We’re used to him in his gangster roles—the tough guy who always comes
out on top. He gives a good performance as Ingram, but this tricky bit of
casting-against-type undermined the basic story line. As Ramey keeps squeezing him, you keep
expecting Ingram to pull a gun out of his coat and tell him: “Say, what do you
think I am? Some kind of sap? Got any last wishes?” But instead he falls hook
line and sinker for Ramey’s machinations.
Lockhart is another bit of unusual casting. Normally the
kind-hearted, sympathetic guy, as Ramey, he plays a groveling, totally
despicable snake. Those distractions wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the
plot and its unlikely twists, didn’t require so much suspension of disbelief. The
story, as contrived as it is, move along at high speed, and Ingram’s problems pile
up one after another for 81 fast minutes to the point where it seems he’ll
never resolve them. You won’t be tempted to hit the stop button on your remote
control until you reach the final frame, even though the denouement may leave
you scratching your head.
The Warner Archive has released “Blackmail” on DVD.
Picture and sound quality are very good. The only extra on the disc is the
original theatrical trailer. If you’re an Edward G. Robinson fan, or just like
chain gang movies, you’ll probably want to add this obscure title to your
John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
a film has been previously issued on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, a Criterion upgrade
is still always welcome because you’ll get stuff that further enhances the
viewing experience. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen were once notoriously
camera-shy regarding interviews or “making of” documentaries of their work—but
Criterion has managed to coax them into participating—and it’s a treat.
Blood Simple was the debut feature
from the Coen Brothers, and it’s the second release by the Criterion Collection
of the siblings’ work (Inside Llewyn
Davis appeared in early 2016). Simple
premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 1984, had an acclaimed showing at the
New York Film Festival later that same year, and then was picked up for
theatrical distribution in early 1985. Although it was made on a shoestring
budget (about $1.5 million after post-production), Blood Simple exhibited trademark stylistic and thematic elements
that would appear in all of the Coen Brothers’ pictures—flashy cinematography, dark
humor, literary influences, intelligent plotting, existentialism, and engaging
stories made for smart audiences about stupid people.
recall viewing the film in New York on its initial release and becoming very
excited about it. I already couldn’t wait for the next feature from the
brothers. I saw something so fresh and original—even though it had obvious nods
to B-movie horror flicks and neo-noir crime thrillers—that I immediately
anointed in my head the Coen Brothers as “the next big thing.” And that they
extensive supplements on the Criterion disk—worth the price of admission—detail
the production from the genesis in the siblings’ heads to the ultimate,
long-awaited release. From the very beginning, they envisioned actor M. Emmet
Walsh as Visser, the sleazy private detective, even though the brothers had
never met him. The script grew out of this concept—and luckily, Walsh accepted
the meager offer to appear in the film, even though nearly everyone on the
production had never made a feature film before. The money was raised through friends and other investors, the
casting of the other roles was done in New York, and the picture was made in
and around Austin, Texas because they didn’t have to use union crews there. “In
Texas—down here, you’re on your own,” Visser says in a voice-over at the
beginning of the story. The Coens were indeed “on their own” when they made Blood Simple.
the Coens had wanted Holly Hunter in the lead role—they had seen her in a play
in New York. She was unavailable, so she recommended her friend Frances
McDormand, who got the lead part of Abby. It was her first film, too. John Getz
was cast as her chump lover, Ray, and experienced actor Dan Hedaya came in as Marty,
the cuckolded husband. While McDormand is absolutely wonderful in the film, it
is indeed Walsh who owns it. If the actor was going to place only one of his
many movie appearances in a time capsule of his career, Blood Simple should be it.
Sonnenfeld, who had a little experience shooting documentaries, was hired as
Director of Photography—so he was essentially a newbie as well. Even the
composer of the score, Carter Burwell, had never done a film before. It was something
of a miracle that Blood Simple turned
out so remarkably good. Nearly all the personages involved would work together
again on future pictures (and McDormand and Joel Coen would fall in love and
you’ve never seen it—the film is a must. The story starts off in a
has left her husband, Marty, and is shacking up with Ray. Marty hires detective
Visser at first to get evidence of the affair—and then Marty contracts the guy
to kill the couple. Visser fakes the murders so he can still take the money, and
then things go really wrong from
it to say that the nearly fifteen-minute segment of Ray attempting to murder
Marty—illustrating to audiences how truly difficult it is to kill someone—is
feature is a new restored 4K digital transfer, approved by Sonnenfeld and the
Coens, with a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The image is
gorgeous, clear, and vividly colorful. The masterful sound mixing by Skip
Lievsay is also showcased in this Blu-ray edition. Supplements include outstanding
and fascinating new interviews with the Coens, McDormand, Walsh, Burwell, and
Lievsay about the making of the film, all told with humor and behind-the-scenes
stories that will convince you that working on a Coen Brothers set is the ideal
way to make a movie. For example, at one point we learn that in order to make a
puny, burning dumpster look bigger, the Coens hired little people to play the
men throwing garbage into it. By shooting from a distance, the actors appeared
to be normal-size, and the dumpster looked huge.
most valuable extra on the disk is the “conversation” between the Coens and
Sonnenfeld about the film’s look as they comment on selected scenes while
simultaneously using Telestrator video illustrations. This 75-minute piece is a
master class in filmmaking. Three trailers are also on the disk, including the
initial “investor trailer” that was shot early on during the fund-raising
process. An essay by novelist and critic Nathaniel Rich adorns the booklet.
shocking, and funny, Blood Simple represents
the Coen Brothers at their best—and they were only getting started! The new Criterion release is a 5-star gem. Let’s hope the
company continues to explore the rest of the Coens’ oeuvre!
it really be 25 years since the release of The
Commitments? An acclaimed hit with audiences and critics alike when first
seen, it quickly grew in stature into something of a modern classic and has
remained perennially popular ever since. It has also inspired touring bands, a
major stage production and a few million sub-standard karaoke renditions of the
iconic Mustang Sally (and other
ditties) in pubs up and down the land.
Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) dreams of being a band manager, and places an ad
in the local paper – “Have you got soul? If so the world’s hardest working band
is looking for you.” Various losers, opportunists and drop-outs turn up at his
door to audition, but bit by bit he manages to put together an inexperienced
band comprising ten members: men, women, backing singers, guitarists,
saxophonists, a drummer and an unlikely lead vocalist in the shape of slobbish
Deco (Andrew Strong). Their specialty is soul music and, with Jimmy’s undimmed
enthusiasm driving them (“say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud”)
they begin rehearsing for their debut gig. The name of the band: The
run amok among the band members, but despite their off-stage bickering they
prove surprisingly terrific on-stage.
Around Dublin their reputation grows and they find themselves on the verge of
greatness, receiving glowing reviews in the local press and growing
word-of-mouth hype. On the night of their biggest gig, saxophonist Joey ‘The Lips’
Fagan (Johnny Murphy) assures the band he has arranged for soul and R&B
legend Wilson Pickett to join them on-stage after performing his sell-out gig
in Dublin. By this point, the bands’ internal politics are at breaking point.
Can they keep their tempers at bay long enough to hit the big-time, or will
this show mark the final curtain for The Commitments?
Alan Parker does a wonderful job, creating a hilarious view of working class
Dublin. He doesn’t shy away from the bleaker, grittier elements, showing
rundown shacks used as shops in the middle of a ramshackle housing estate,
drunken pub brawls, foul-mouthed street altercations, dreary living conditions,
garbage piled high, and people bickering about sex and music through their
unremittingly glum, booze-drenched days. There is nothing glamorous about the
film: it is a feel-good movie in some
ways, but there is equally a feel-bad vibe running beneath it all at the same
band is thrown together from an advert in a local paper, with potential talents
auditioning in Jimmy’s cluttered front room, or even out on the street, while
he watches from an armchair or even from the bath-tub with his shower cap on.
Parker’s characters use words like ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ as regularly as they use
basic determiners and nouns, yet he somehow invests them with love and warmth
and makes them people worth rooting for. Over his career, Parker worked on a
number of successful musicals including Bugsy
Malone (1976), Fame (1980) and Evita (1996). Critics have drawn parallels
between The Commitments and Fame, citing this as an Irish
counterpart. Although Parker is a great director, it is surprising to note he
only has 19 directing credits to his name. With him, it’s all about quality not
quantity: he has proven himself a brilliant director across numerous genres
with films such as Midnight Express
(1978), Shoot The Moon (1982), Mississippi Burning (1988), Angela’s Ashes (1999) and The Life of David Gale (2003). Parker
shows up briefly in a Hitchcock-style cameo as a producer at Eejit Records, the
label which shows interest in signing the band.
to believe it’s been five years since America’s worst environmental disaster,
the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which claimed 11 lives and allowed 50,000
barrels of oil per day to spew from
the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico for 87 heartbreaking days until the well was
finally capped. Since then the world has
moved on and the event remains relevant only for those who lived through
it. Director Peter Berg’s riveting new
film “Deepwater Horizon”, should snap people back to attention.
Horizon” is told through the eyes of blue-collar worker, Chief Electrician Mike Williams, played by Mark Wahlberg,
who leaves his loving wife (Kate Hudson) and arrives on the massive rig, 41
miles off the Louisiana coast. Costing $500,000 a day to run, the rig is weeks
behind schedule – which means a team of BP managers led by a creepy John
Malkovitch is breathing down the crew’s thick necks. In fact, they’ve just cut short some important
safety inspections to save time. When
seasoned rig manager Mr. Jimmy,
wonderfully played by Kurt Russell, demands a pressure test, the results are
troubling… and then all hell breaks loose! Flammable gas leaks from the well and the failsafe mechanisms –
including slicing through the main drilling pipe – fail and the rig explodes. From then on it’s a white-knuckle fight for
good as the actors are, and Wahlberg is at his best playing a workin’ man, the
real stars of “Deepwater Horizon” are
the visual effects. The film takes you
5000 feet below the surface to spot the beginnings of trouble – tiny gas
pockets leaking out, then inside the
well as the toxic gas races up, turning the rig into a raging fireball. To recreate the maritime disaster, the
filmmakers built one of the largest sets ever constructed – using over 3.2
million pounds of steel. Real life oil
workers (including Mike Williams) acted as technical advisers to give it all an
authentic look and feel right down to the control panels. The set even features a working helipad, used
onscreen. (Shades of “You Only Live
the movie shows the sheer terror facing the crew, it also spotlights true acts
of bravery as Wahlberg’s character rescues their beloved crew chief, Mr. Jimmy
from the burning bowels of the rig. When
he and the platform’s young Dynamic Positioning Operator (sort of like a pilot)
played by Gina Rodriguez find themselves trapped, with seemingly no way out, he
gets her to take a (real) leap of faith into the burning waters far below.
illuminating is the film’s ending crawl where we see the faces of the 11 lost
crewmembers and learn the fates of the survivors - several quit the oil
industry for good and the BP managers got off with a legal smack on the wrist
(although the company was forced to pay a massive $20 billionin fines.) “Deepwater Horizon” is a stark and thrilling
example of what happens when human greed and hubris meet Mother Nature.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Nebraska ~ Film historian Bruce Crawford has
announced the film to be presented at his 39th Tribute to Classic Films will be
the 1980 romance masterpiece ”Somewhere
in Time.” The film will be screened on Friday, November 4th, 2016 at
7pm at the beautiful Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge Street, Omaha,
Nebraska. Special guest will be legendary film and TV icon, actress Jane
Seymour, who co-starred with the late Christopher Reeve.
considered one of the great romance films of all time, the film has become a
cult classic with a world-wide following. The location of Grand Hotel on
Mackinac Island, Michigan has attained a status few hotels could have ever
imagined, as it is the setting for this masterful and moving story of lost
at the event, Ms.Seymour will have a meet and greet, book signing and art sale.
Ms. Seymour is widely acclaimed for her unique artistic style and her books
have touched many with her inspiring Open Hearts message.
for the event can be purchased at the customer service counters of all
Omaha-area Hy Vee food stores and go on sale Wednesday, October 5th, 2016. Proceeds will benefit the Nebraska
Criterion Collection has issued a Blu-ray upgrade to a previous winning DVD
release—Carol Reed’s World War II suspense adventure, Night Train to Munich. It’s a terrific example of the fine cinema
Britain was managing to produce even while at war. Released there in August of 1940, the country
was already in the conflict, although the Blitz had not yet occurred. (The picture was released in the U.S. in
December 1940, smack dab in the middle of
more striking is its resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938) in tone, setting, and even characters.
Marketing pushes at the time suggested that Night
Train to Munich was a “sequel” to Vanishes,
which was an extremely popular movie on both sides of the Atlantic. Night Train is not a sequel, though—it’s
more of a remake.
at the studio must have thought they needed “another movie like Lady Vanishes” so writers Sidney Gilliat
and Frank Launder, who were responsible for the previous screenplay, were
secured to pen the new one. Both pictures have plots that involve spies, double
agents and Nazis, and a major portion of the stories takes place on a passenger
train. To sell the “sequel” concept even more to the public, popular actress Margaret
Lockwood, the star of Vanishes, was
cast as the lead, this time opposite a young Rex Harrison instead of Michael
Redgrave. Most curious, though, is the inclusion of two characters (and the actors who played them) from Vanishes—the duo of the very British,
comical, possibly gay men known as Charters and Caldicott (played by Basil
Radford and Naunton Wayne). The couple was such a hit the first time around,
the two fellows had to be passengers on board Night Train, too. There has
been much discussion about Charters and Caldicott’s sexual orientation since
their several appearances in these and a few other films of the late thirties
and early forties. Are they gay? There are certainly several humorous “clues” in these
two first titles to suggest it. Since something like that couldn’t be blatantly
talked about in those days, it was best for the audience to simply find it
funny that two men are traveling together (again, on a train?) and possibly
using the same bed (in Vanishes).
Night Train, Lockwood plays the
daughter of a Czech scientist who is the MacGuffin of the story—both the Allies
and the Nazis want him. When father and daughter are captured and held in
Berlin, Harrison, a British agent whose cover is to perform and sell sheet
music in an English seaside town, is sent to Germany to free and bring them back
to the U.K. He impersonates a Nazi major in order to get “inside,” and his
impromptu escape plan involves the boarding of a train traveling from Berlin to
Munich (with fellow passengers Charters and Caldicott willing to help!). In the
meantime, a Nazi captain played by Paul Henreid (here credited as Paul von
Henreid—before he moved to Hollywood to be in Casablanca) is dedicated to keeping the scientist and his daughter
under the thumb of the Reich. Never mind that both Harrison and Henreid are
both in love with Lockwood.
pretty far-fetched, doesn’t it? Forget it—this is a fast-paced,
intelligently-written, well-acted, and suspenseful adventure film. Mixed in
with all the excitement is light humor, in the tradition of Hitchcock’s
picture, thus providing viewers with an entertaining ride. Reed, who would go
on to make other classic British thrillers such as Odd Man Out and The Third Man,
handles the material with panache and style—just as Hitchcock did—but with a
more personal, friendlier touch.
new disk comes with a restored, high-definition digital transfer, with an
uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The image is remarkably clear and sharp, a
testament to the outstanding job Criterion does in presenting vintage cinema.
Supplements include a fascinating 2010 conversation between film scholars Peter
Evans and Bruce Babington about the director, writers, and the socio-political
climate at the time the picture was made, and an essay in the booklet by film
critic Philip Kemp.
“All aboard!” and take another ride on the thriller-adventure train. It doesn’t
matter if you don’t know The Lady
Vanishes—Night Train to Munich stands
on its own as top notch filmmaking. Better yet, get them both and make it a
Director John Mackenzie's powerful
and captivating 1972 kitchen sink drama Made
has been given the opportunity to find a new audience via a tasty UK Blu-Ray
release from Network Distributing.
Valerie Marshall (Carol
White) is a single mother eking out a meagre living as a London telephone
exchange operator whilst simultaneously caring for her
multiple-sclerosis-stricken mother (Margery Mason). Seemingly destined never to
find true happiness and weary of the inapposite attentions of would-be suitors,
Valerie agrees to assist priest and family friend Father Dyson (John Castle) in
chaperoning a bunch of underprivileged youths on a day trip to the seaside.
There she meets folk singer Mike Preston (Roy Harper), whose outwardly relaxed
approach to life just might pave her way to salvation.
A slightly ponderous and largely
dispiriting snapshot of early 1970s lower class Britain, I'll openly confess
that when I first saw Made I was
convinced it would leave me cold. And after its grim beginnings I smugly
concluded that I was right. Yet gradually, in forging an array of richly drawn
characterisations and harrowing narrative turns, director Mackenzie and writer
Howard Barker slyly reeled me far enough in to their sorrowful tale that by the
time curtain fall loomed I was aching for Valerie to find happiness.
So pitch perfect are the
performances of everyone involved that the film’s warts and all tactic – which
certainly doesn't pull any punches when it comes to subjects such as the
indignities of hospitalisation and the darker face of football fanaticism – varnishes
the proceedings with a distinct documentary vibe. Nowhere is this feeling more
alive than during a powerful scene in which Valerie receives a visit from a policeman;
asking to be allowed in before he imparts his awful news, and diplomatically
turning to close the door on the camera (and, by extension, us the audience), the
officer leaves us outside to shamefully eavesdrop on Valerie's torment, whilst a
lingering shot of the closed door is intercut with a succession of fleeting
images that serve to compound the heartbreak.
One can't help but feel empathic
towards Valerie as it becomes apparent that all the men in her life care about
her only to the point of satisfying their own agendas. Her milquetoast manager
at work, Mahdav (Sam Dastor), sees her solely as a sex object. Father Dyson
clearly has romantic designs on her, but his controlling nature (subtle at the
outset, less so later) eventually drives her into unexpected arms. Even
the genial Mike – who despite initial doubts as to his intentions, appears to be
wholly sincere in his feelings for Valerie – ultimately undermines his
credibility by ruthlessly exploiting the traumas in her life in the lyrics to
one of his songs.
Carol White had a fairly
varied career where screen roles were concerned, yet due to films like Poor Cow, Dulcima and Some Call it
Loving, I uncharitably tend to associate her with gloomy dramas. But as
gloomy dramas go, in this one she’s superb and I’d probably cite poor,
life-battered Valerie as representing one of her finest film performances. As
Mike, singer/songwriter Roy Harper (who composed several of the musical numbers
especially for the film) is also exceptionally good. From the moment we first
encounter him – being interviewed on Brighton seafront by legendary music
presenter "Whispering" Bob Harris – he oozes charisma and it's easy
to see why Valerie would be drawn to him. But for me the real standout is
sad-eyed Margery Mason as Valerie's ailing mother. One scene in particular, in
which she tries to console Valerie following a dreadful turn of events, is
truly heartbreaking. (As an aside, noting that Mason lived to the ripe age of
100 whereas White passed away prematurely at just 48 certainly gives one pause to
ponder the big old lottery of life.)
receipt of Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-Ray edition of Mardi Rustam’s “Evils of
the Night” (1985), I was reminded of a tired cliché drilled into my head as a
child: Don’t judge a book by its cover. The cover art, designed by Terry Levine,
a friend of Rustam’s, invokes the stereotypical “sex-crazed teens trapped in a
world of terror” vibe that horror movies of the 1980s were notorious for. However,
I held out hope as I prepared to view the disc but this hope was quickly lost
when “Exploitation TV” appeared on my screen, followed by the silhouette of a
busty woman. Despite this, I still thought: Could this be one of those “so bad
they’re good” cult classics that fans love to revisit? After all, the film
featured such well-known and respectable actors as John Carradine, Julie
Newmar, and Tina Louise, as well as fan favorites Neville Brand and Aldo Ray.
However, since these actors had only about fifteen minutes of screen time combined, we’re mostly left with a
troupe of young actors and actresses whose inexperience is not only
demonstrated on screen but also with their non-existent IMDB filmographies. Now,
after seeing the film, I am relatively certain that Carradine, Newmar, and
Louise, were very happy to be minimally involved in this mess passed off as a horror
film’s plotting is unclear and slow moving, with the first half hour of the
movie dedicated solely to embarrassingly non-erotic sex scenes included solely to
titillate the young (and male) audience of the time (Within the first fifteen
minutes, I had closed my laptop twice
in pure disgust). Even if you can make it past the first half hour of pure soft-core
pornography (actress Amber Lynn, who plays Joyce, was a fairly well-known star
in many adult films), you’re still left with a story that is underdeveloped and/or
pretty much defies logical explanation. It’s difficult to even identify the
main character(s) well into the film, as the multiple story threads go nowhere. Which group of teenagers will prevail over
the aliens and their minions, the grease monkey lackeys? More importantly, who cares? At the one hour
mark, I had to reread the back of the disc’s case to remind myself what was
going on, since none of the villains actually announced intentions for the
kidnapped teens. Although it was the intention (I think) of the filmmaker to
tell the story of vampire aliens requiring teen blood to remain youthful, we’re
left only with excessive sex-scenes and hard-to-follow ludicrous “scientific”
discussions between aliens. In an
interview included as a bonus on the disc, Rustam says that he considered “Evils
of the Night” as a horror remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951). He wishes.
would say Rustam hit a triple with “Evils of the Night.” His film is combines
bad writing, acting, and direction. However, according to the filmmaker at
least, the movie did well financially and he himself was mostly happy with the
finished product. (To be fair, “Evils of
the Night” was the first film he’d directed). In an interview recorded eight
years following the film’s release, Rustam said, “I believe it is still a good
movie for its period. I might go see again this month.” I agree with Rustam that
the film is a product of its time. Although I doubt a film such as this could
possibly break into today’s market, its “ample nudity and moments of splattery
gore” do mark it as a true horror film of the 1980s. However, unlike director Rustam,
it’s doubtful I will revisit this film within the month— if ever again.
Cinema Retro readers no doubt remember Michael Crichton’s classic sci-fi thriller Westworld. Who can forget the chilling spectacle of Yul
Brynner – sans face – stalking a hapless Richard Benjamin? When I heard HBO was “rebooting” Westworld, I was skeptical. The word “Why?” kept coming to mind. The original was so good, why go
happy to say I was dead wrong. By
expanding Michael Crichton’s original vision, the producers were able to open
up new storylines and vastly enhance the earlier concept. While the 1973 film was epic, it was limited
by the visual effects available at the time. Now every modern tool in the VFX toolbox can be used and the results are
intoxicating, drawing the viewer into
Westworld’s latex embrace.
overall setup is still the same – a high-end resort modeled after the Old West
where guests can indulge in every fantasy and no matter how much mayhem they
cause, they can’t ever get hurt. So far… Overseen by Executive Producer J.J. Abrams (sharing
those duties with Jerry Weintraub, Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy and Brian Burk),
the series’ attention to detail is meticulous. The show’s use of Monument Valley’s stunning
vistas (put to such good use by John Ford many decades ago) really gives it a
scope well beyond typical cable. The
town of “Sweetwater”, the hub of the
action, has an authentic look and feel as good as anything seen on Deadwood and the gunfights – of which
there are many – would do Clint Eastwood proud.
Nolan (who also directed the pilot) and Lisa Joy’s writing is crisp, seamlessly
blending layer upon layer of narrative. HBO’s casting is flawless: Anthony Hopkins as the resort’s Creator
Director is quietly menacing as he rewrites the resort’s “storyline” for mysterious
reasons. Instead of Yul Brynner, Ed
Harris is the relentless gunslinger in black. Not a robot, but a frequent guest who is on a quest to discover all
the resort’s hidden secrets, whether management wants him to or not. To say
he stays “in character” would be an understatement. When another guest begins to gush about how
his (real life) foundation saved his sister’s life, Harris threatens to slit
his throat, snarling, “I’m on vacation!” Thandie Newton is conniving yet vulnerable as the local brothel owner
who begins to have doubts as to who or what she is… and special note has to be made of Evan
Rachel Wood, a stunning actress who made her name in HBO’s Mildred Pierce and True Blood
and in a string of indie films. Here she
plays an innocent farm girl “host” (artificial human), available to be ravaged
or romanced, depending on the guest. Gradually she realizes she’s part of something much bigger and
her AI awakening is a major story arc. Louis
Herthum, playing her homespun rancher dad, is nothing short of terrific –
alternating from folksy charm to an eerie mechanical persona as he’s examined
by Hopkins and his head programmer, played by a brooding Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale). Rounding out the regulars is the great
looking James Mardsen as a stoic young gunslinger.
in production, a casting notice asking extras to be prepared to perform nude
went viral, causing an uproar. There IS
nudity in Westworld, but it’s fleeting
and in each instance, totally germane to the story. Not a gratuitous shower scene in sight.
HBO has plans for 10 episodes of Westworld,
but hopefully that’s just the beginning. With a reimagining like this, there is plenty more to explore. And
then maybe they’ll visit Romanworld or Medievalworld…
Olive Films has released a Blu-ray edition of the little-remembered and rarely seen 1979 film "The Outsider", a powerful drama directed by Tony Luraschi , who seemingly had a bright career but who, instead seems to have fallen into obscurity. This seems to be one of only two films he was ever credited with. The reasons for this remain unclear, given the fact that "The Outsider" is a powerful film that has retained its bite over the decades. One can only wonder why a work of such passion could not have inspired its director to continue to direct movies, although perhaps fate prevented him from doing so. (If any readers has any information to share about this, please let us know.) The film is set in Northern Ireland during the height of "The Troubles", that seemingly endless period of time when nation was torn apart by state of virtual civil was. The IRA routinely battled British forces on the streets of major cities, turning urban centers into virtual war zones at times. There were also loyalist paramilitary groups that did not want independence for Northern Ireland and who wanted to stay loyal to the crown. The end result was a series of bombings, gun battles and kidnappings that ultimately took thousands of lives and left the civilian population in grave danger. The Good Friday peace agreement, brokered by Prime Minister Tony Blair with enthusiastic backing of President Bill Clinton, finally brought about an end to most of the violence but this didn't take place until 1998 and until then, the bloody legacy of Irish fighting Irish forever seared the nation's history.
In "The Outsider", Craig Wasson plays Michael Flaherty, a disillusioned Vietnam War veteran of Irish descent who grew up under the spell of his grandfather (Sterling Hayden), who continues to relate stories about his glory days serving in the IRA and carrying out dangerous missions against the British. Michael decides to make his grandfather proud by leaving the family home in Detroit to join up with the IRA. He manages to make the proper contacts and when he gets to Ireland, he is promptly met by members of an IRA group located in the Catholic dominated Republic of Ireland. Here his new comrades greet him politely but warily and with good reason: traitors are not uncommon in the movement and there is suspicion Michael might be a British plant. Finally convinced he is sincere, they move him from safe house to safe house, much to his frustration. Michael is eager to see action against the British but all he gets are delays. After griping that he feels he is wasting his time, the IRA commander sends him and another agent on a mission that requires them to cross the border into Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and the geographical area where most of the acts of violence are carried out in the quest to have both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland reunited as one country, independent of British rule. When Michael arrives in Belfast, he finds the city resembling a war zone with bombed-out buildings and an occupying force of machine gun-carrying British forces on seemingly every corner. While he awaits his orders for the mission, he meets and strikes up a romantic relationship with Siobahn (Patricia Quinn), a firebrand of a young woman who hates the British for killing her younger brother. Although she is not officially with the IRA, she is trusted by them and provides cover for their actions. As Michael impatiently awaits making himself useful, a cruel deception is under way. The local IRA commander has come to the conclusion that Michael could be more valuable dead than alive. He theorizes that if the IRA murders him and frames the British, the result will outrage Irish American sympathizers in the USA who would then increase their monetary donations to the group. Simultaneously, the local British commander (Geoffrey Palmer) has had Michael under surveillance and has also concluded that he could be quite valuable dead- especially if the blame could be placed on his IRA comrades. Meanwhile, Michael is oblivious to all this and is finally given orders to proceed on a mission- but it's one that is intended to be his last. The film ends with a shocking revelation relating to Michael's family that sets up an emotional last scene.
"The Outsider" is a highly accomplished work and is superbly directed by the aforementioned Tony Luraschi. It's a pity that, for whatever reason, he never chose or perhaps had the opportunity to continue making films. The movie is also outstanding in terms of casting with even minor roles played so convincingly that at times you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a documentary. The story does manage to deftly tip-toe through the tulips when it comes to passing judgment on the political implications of the events depicted. Both the British military and the IRA members are presented in an unflattering light. How you react to the film probably depends on your personal view of the politics involved. After all, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. If there is a criticism of the film, it's related to the script, which is unrelentingly downbeat. Surely even IRA members managed to have a laugh and a joke occasionally in a pub but in "The Outsider", everyone is downbeat, depressed and paranoid. Still, the Olive Films Blu-ray is most welcome and very highly recommended. There is only one disappointment: the presentation is bare bones. With a film associated with this much controversy, there should have been a commentary track with scholars who can discuss Ireland's infamous "Troubles" so that the script can be discussed in context. Highly Recommended.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment:
Horror fans are sure to rejoice when a terrifying trio of
Stephen King’s screen adaptations -- “Salem’s Lot,” “Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye”
and “Stephen King’s It” (a best-seller on DVD and one of King’s most popular TV
miniseries) – debuts with all-new 2016 high definition masters on Blu-ray™ from
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, just in time for a haunting Halloween on
The three films based on the best-selling author’s novels
and short stories are among his most popular and feature a variety of film and
TV stars, including Drew Barrymore, Tim Curry, James Mason, Richard Masur,
Annette O’Toole, John Ritter, David Soul, Richard Thomas and James Woods, among
others. Each title will be available to own on Blu-ray for $14.97 SRP.
Stephen King is the author of more than 50 books, all of
them worldwide bestsellers. In addition to these new Blu-ray titles, some of
his most noted works include Carrie, The Shining, Pet Sematary, The Dead Zone,
Misery, The Green Mile, The Stand, and The Shawshank Redemption. Recent work
includes End of Watch, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Finders Keepers, Mr. Mercedes,
Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome. King’s books have been translated into 33
different languages and have been published in over 35 different countries. The
recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts and the
2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished
Contribution to American Letters, King lives in Maine and Florida with his
wife, novelist Tabitha King.1 The author’s 11.22.63, produced by
J.J. Abrams and starring James Franco, is currently
available on Blu-ray™ from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
About the Films:
“Salem’s Lot” (1979)
Sinister events bring together a writer (David Soul)
fascinated with an old hilltop house; a suave antiques dealer (James Mason)
whose expertise goes beyond bric-a-brac; and the dealer’s mysterious,
pale-skinned “partner” (Reggie Nalder) in “Salem’s Lot” -- a blood-curdling
shocker based on King’s novel and directed by Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist).
• All-new Feature-Length Audio Commentary by Director Tobe
A wandering supernatural feline’s adventures provide the
linking story for “Stephen King‘s Cat's Eye” -- a dead-on ‘thrillogy’ scripted by King and directed
by Lewis Teague (Cujo). The staff at Quitters Inc. promises to help nicotine
fiend Dick Morrison (James Woods) kick the habit. Next, a luckless gambler
(Robert Hays) is forced into a bet involving a stroll around a building – on
the five-inch ledge encircling the 30th floor. Finally, our wayfarer kitty
rescues a schoolgirl (Drew Barrymore) from a vile, doll-sized troll.
• Feature-Length Commentary by Director Lewis Teague
October 1957: "It" awakens and the small town of
Darry, Maine will never be the same. Stephen King brings to life every childhood
fear and phobia as seven children face an unthinkable horror which appears in
various forms, including “Pennywise” (Tim Curry), a clown who lives, hunts and
kills from the towns sewers. Years later, the surviving adults who are brave
enough return to stop the new killing spree, this time for good.
• Commentary by Director Tommy Lee Wallace and Actors Dennis
Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter and Richard Thomas
Herschell Gordon Lewis, whose blood-drenched, over-the-top horror films built a loyal cult audience, has passed away at age 87. Lewis never achieved mainstream recognition but apparently took satisfaction that his bizarre, low-budget films had resonated with their intended audiences. Lewis, a former teacher, became involved in show business by producing and directing commercials, as well as voicing some of them. In 1963 he wrote and directed "Blood Feast", a horror flick on a tiny budget. The film became popular with the "so-bad-its-good" crowd and benefited from a creative marketing campaign. Over the decades, Lewis would continue to market his films to a growing fan base and found a particularly receptive audience in the rural drive-in markets that responded to his humorous approach to horror and sexploitation films. Among his productions: "Scum of the Earth", "Two Thousand Maniacs", "Monster-a-Go-Go", "Something Red" and "The Gruesome Twosome".
Here's a real find on YouTube: color behind-the-scenes footage from the 1962 D-Day classic "The Longest Day". It's a hodgepodge of disjointed silent clips showing wounded British soldiers, a glider and Ken Annakin directing Peter Lawford and Richard Todd in the battle for a bridge.
Many a director and/or star of hardcore porn movies has fantasized about establishing a career in mainstream cinema. Many have tried but few have achieved this goal. Among those who aspired to greater heights was Carlos Tobalina, who had established himself as one of the more innovative and stylish directors of porn flicks in the 1980s. Tobalina's micro-budget productions attempted to go beyond the low demands of the "raincoats-across-the-lap" crowd. Tobalina would attempt to present more fully fleshed-out story lines and occasionally succeeded in getting credible performances from his cast members. His films were relatively high budget at the time due to extensive location shoots. He was also an aspiring actor and would appear in small roles in his own films. By 1985, Tobalina felt the time was right to make his move into mainstream fare. The VHS revolution was now in full swing and suddenly consumers could watch porn in the privacy of their own homes without having to slip into a local X-rated theater in the hopes of not being recognized by friends and neighbors. Soon, porn movies would mostly be shot directly for the home video market, resulting in even lower production standards and films that could be shot in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. The home video revolution would virtually ensure the death knell of grind house movie theaters that specialized in hardcore flicks. Perhaps Tabolina saw the writing on the wall when he went full throttle with his most ambitious project, a crime thriller titled "Flesh and Bullets". In reality, the movie had an earlier incarnation, "The Wife Contract". Both versions were unacknowledged remakes of Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Strangers on a Train" which presented the delicious concept of a man who encounters an eccentric fellow traveler in a private car on a commuter train. The two men in Hitchcock's film pass the time of day by debating whether a perfect crime could be committed. They agree that if the murderer had no prior connection to the victim, it could. The men both lay out a playful scenario in which they each name a person they would like the other man to kill in a morbid pact. One of the men clearly believes it was all a sick joke-until the person he named as his intended victim turns up dead and his "friend" from the train now expects him to commit murder as his part of the pact. Tobalina's film presents a different scenario based on the same concept. Roy (Glenn McKay) is a distraught man who is going through the strains of providing alimony and child support for his ex-wife Dolores (Cydney Hill) and their young daughter Gina (Gina Tobalina, you-know-who's real life daughter). Jeff (Mick Morrow) is also in dire straits trying to pay alimony to his ex, Gail (Susan Silvers). The two men have a chance meeting in a Las Vegas bar and form a pact to kill each other's spouse. Both of them have some experience with death. Roy has seen action in Vietnam and Jeff confides he once murdered two gay wrestlers who raped him (they are rather insensitively listed in the final credits as "Homo Wrestlers"!). To ensure that they each carry out their part of the pact, they agree that if either of them fails to do so, he will be marked for death by the other man.
Mai Lin is among the adult film stars who make cameos in the film.
Tobalina had a fool-proof scenario on which to base his film...after all, Hitchcock had ironed out most of the kinks. The screenplay, also written by Tobalina, follows the efforts of Roy and Jeff to ingratiate themselves to the other man's wife. In doing so, they both unexpectedly fall in love with the woman they have promised to kill. Yet, if they don't carry out the murder, they will be marked for death themselves. Tabolina does the best he can with his limited resources but although he may have had more talent than the average porn director, the crudeness of his techniques and clunky production values make it clear that the movie was shot by an amateur. Tobalina tries to paper over this fact with a few distractions by casting some porn actresses in small legit roles in order to use their names in the promotional materials, but their core fans will be disappointed because this is one Tobalina production that has a bare minimum of sex and nudity. Tobalina also goes with the old misleading trick of getting some veteran actors involved in the film. Thus, we see "special performances" by Yvonne De Carlo, Cesar Romero, Aldo Ray and Cornel Wilde, mostly in blink-and-you'll miss them roles that were inserted to simply give the film a bit of Hollywood glam. (Cult actor Robert Z'Dar also appears). Tabolina also had to shoot some of the film on the fly as certain locations obviously required permits he couldn't or wouldn't obtain. There are also some miscued sound effects that prove to be distracting. The performances range from laughably bad to adequate, with even old pros Wilde and Ray looking like they were filmed in a first read through of the script. (Sadly, this proved to be Wilde's final film appearance. He looks suitably embarrassed and even had to suffer the indignity of having his name misspelled in the final credits!) Leading man Glenn McKay is very much of the beefy, hirsute hunks who were all the rage in the era of "Magnum P.I." His co-star Mick Morrow, however, suffers the distraction of having one of the most unbecoming hair styles ever seen on film, thus making him look like a cross between a Medieval page boy and Farrah Fawcett. Not surprisingly, neither McKay or Morrow has any other on-screen appearance in their credits. The film is not without its enjoyable elements, however. The plot is consistently engrossing and you tend to give special dispensation to all involved for working with a tiny budget and low-end production values. Where Tabolina, the screenwriter, blows it is in the final sequence which could have been dramatically effective. However, he wimps out and goes the way of a happy ending that makes the viewer feel cheated.
The Vinegar Syndrome release, which has salvaged the film from obscurity, is first rate. The transfer looks terrific and there is the welcome inclusion of Tobalina's original cut of the film, "The Wife Contract". Granted, they have had to resort to using a grainy Dutch VHS copy as the master, but the language is in English and it does provide an interesting look of how Tabolina drastically recut the movie for its final version. An original trailer, hosted by Cesar Romero and playing up the genuine stars, is also included though if the film ever did manage to find some play dates in theaters, they must have been few and far between. It's hard to recommend "Flesh and Bullets" as mainstream entertainment but, as a retro curiosity of a director's bold but failed attempt to break into the mainstream, it is certainly worth a look.
It took Sean Connery years to successfully cast aside the shadow of James Bond and establish himself as a diverse actor. Connery had made some fine non-Bond films even during the peak of 007 mania - The Hill, Woman of Straw, A Fine Madness and Marnie. Each of these worthy efforts afforded Connery a role that was significantly different than that of Bond but, much to his frustration, all of them were box-office disappointments, although he did have the satisfaction of seeing The Hill win international acclaim. When Connery left the Bond series in 1968, he made some more fine films. The Western Shalako was an international box-office success, as was The Anderson Tapes, which cast him as a charismatic crook. Yet, Martin Ritt's The Molly Maguires, an ambitious film about exploited coal miners, failed to click with audiences, as did The Red Tent, which afforded Connery top-billing even though he only had a supporting role. Connery returned to the Bond fold in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever and then quit the part once again. He gave one of the finest performances of his career in Sidney Lumet's micro-budget drama The Offence, but it played in only a few art houses before slipping into oblivion. John Boorman's Zardoz, which has attracted a cult following today, was a critical and box-office flop at the time of its release, as was a minor Connery thriller The Terrorists (aka Ransom). But Connery was not about to be counted out. He scored with Murder on the Orient Express, The Wind and the Lion, Robin and Marian, The Great Train Robbery and, most significantly, The Man Who Would Be King. All were critical successes even if they were not blockbusters. Connery also played a key role in the WWII epic A Bridge Too Far, a fine and underrated film. Soon thereafter, however, his choice of film projects became erratic. Although the films Cuba, Wrong is Right and Outland all under-performed at the box-office, they at least afforded him the opportunity to work with acclaimed directors Richard Lester, Richard Brooks and Peter Hyams, respectively. But the cheesy disaster flick Meteor could only be attributed to the desire to make a fast buck.
As Connery matured as a man and actor he still would take on films with limited commercial appeal if he felt the project was artistically rewarding. This was the case with the 1982 film Five Days One Summer which proved to be the final cinematic work of Oscar-winning director Fred Zinnemann, who had made such classics as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. Zinnemann had scored a late career triumph in 1977 with Julia but hadn't made a film since. The movie was an odd choice for both men since the story was small in scale and seemed to have no hope of attracting mainstream audiences. Five Days is very much an art house movie that was nevertheless given wide release based solely on Connery's presence as the leading man. Predictably, it had a quick playoff to largely empty theaters but perhaps more surprisingly, the critics who had lauded Zinnemann with praise for Julia now accused him of making a film that was too small in scope for a collaborative project with Sean Connery. Zinnemann was seventy-four years old when he made the movie and perhaps he felt he had paid his dues to the big studios over the decades. Now in the twilight of his years he might have simply wanted to make a very personal film that appealed to him, if not everyone else. The script is based on a 1929 short story, Maiden Maiden by Kay Boyle. The film was shot under this title before the decision was made to change it to the equally ambiguous Five Days One Summer. In fact, Maiden Maiden was a more intriguing title because it has a dual reference. The first is the the female protagonist of the story and the second is to The Maiden, an imposing mountain in the Swiss Alps where some dramatic events occur. The story concerns the taboo relationship between Kate (Betsy Brantley), an attractive young woman in her mid-twenties and her uncle Douglas (Sean Connery), a successful doctor in his fifties. Since she was a little girl Kate has had an uncontrollable crush on Douglas and as she grew older, came to resent his wife Sarah (Jennifer Hilary). Director Zinnemann zig-zags back and forth in time to show how a schoolgirl crush developed into a forbidden sexual relationship that finds Kate excluding any other potential lover in favor of Douglas. She alternates between joy and depression, the latter mood hitting her whenever she dwells on the fact that she can never be in anything but a secret relationship with the man she loves. Even if Douglas were to get a divorce, the incestuous love affair could never be made public.
The main part of the film concerns Douglas and Kate pulling off a risky holiday trip that will allow them to spend time together in a remote lodge in the Swiss Alps where they can indulge in their mutual passion for hiking and climbing. To avoid any suspicions, she poses as Douglas's wife in a May/December romance. At first she is as giddy as a schoolgirl because she can finally share a bed with Douglas and they can openly express affection for each other. Things get complicated, however, when their hiking guide turns out to be Johann (Lambert Wilson), a handsome young man who is Kate's age. From minute one he awakens long suppressed sexual desires in her for someone other than Douglas, who immediately perceives the unspoken attraction between the two. The trio enjoy a cordial and professional relationship as the hike and take in the scenic wonders around them. However, Johann becomes more forthright when he learns that Kate isn't married to Douglas (though she does not confide he is her uncle). Johann is outraged and tries to convince her to leave him, telling her that she is in a dead-end love affair with a married man that can't end well. Meanwhile, on a dangerous hike with Douglas, Johann also confronts him while they are atop the summit of the Maiden (not the most opportune place to have an argument with each other.) Douglas maintains that he is not using Kate and really loves her. Meanwhile, she has made up her mind to leave Douglas and marry Johann. Before she can give Douglas a "Dear John" letter, word comes that there has been a disaster on the mountain and that one of the men in her life has been killed in an avalanche. In the final scene, she sees a distant figure emerging from the snowy mountain landscape, staggering towards her and a group of rescuers. Is it her lover or her would-be lover? Either way, the result will affect her life in a dramatic way forever.
"Five Days One Summer" has been likened to the German "mountain romances" that were enormously popular in pre-WWII Germany. These films were known to have skimpy plots but magnificent scenery. If critics were kind to any aspect of the movie, it was Giussepe Rotunno's impressive cinematographer. Most reviewers wondered what it was about this modest story that appealed to Fred Zinnemann, who worked infrequently but generally made "important" movies. Despite the low-key nature of the scenario that unfolds on-screen, there is much to like about the film. The performances are first-rate with newcomers Brantley and Wilson making both faring well in their first major roles in a feature film. (Ironically, Wilson screen-tested for the role of James Bond in "Octopussy" when it seemed doubtful that Roger Moore would return to the 007 franchise.) Connery dominates the film, however, with an excellent performance playing a complex character who at times is sympathetic and at other times somewhat of a villain. He's all superficial charm but he cruelly risks destroying his niece's own life by using her as a bed mate. There's no doubt he loves her, but it's clear he isn't about to endanger his marriage to be closer to her. When she finally expresses her frustration and threatens to leave him for Johann, he reacts violently and slaps her. Equally complex is the character of Kate. We're left to speculate as to just why her obsession with Douglas has presumably led to the exclusion of any other men in her life. In this respect, the script is either lacking or intriguing, depending upon the views of individuals in the audience. The only easily definable character is that of Johann. He's a young man of simple means who has no interest in the world outside of the immediate domain in which he was raised. When he is smitten by Kate, his goal isn't to share her life experiences but rather, to incorporate her into his own world. In this respect, Kate's choices of lovers have one thing in common: they both want her to submit to their ideas about what is in her best interests. Douglas has clearly deluded himself into believing that his relationship with Kate is not harmful to her. Johann offers her a more independent, traditional life but still makes it clear that if she marries him, she would have to be content to live in a beautiful but remote mountain region. The end of the tale finds Kate finally exerting her own will and finding a determination to pursue her own destiny.
"Five Days One Summer" is barely remembered, let alone discussed, in evaluations of Sean Connery and Fred Zinnemann's careers. However that shouldn't negate its many merits. I liked the film far more today than I did upon its initial release. The Warner Archive has released the film on DVD. The transfer is a bit problematic. Some of the sequences in the lush mountain areas do justice to the magnificent cinematography but certain other scenes have excessive grain. Additionally, interiors are over-saturated to the point that characters who are seen in dimly lit rooms are sometimes reduced to shadowy blobs. The film is a prime candidate for a Blu-ray, remastered edition. The only bonus extra is the original trailer. It is a region-free release.
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McFarland has released a major book about the life and career of the brilliant but eccentric actor Klaus Kinski. Edited by Matthew Edwards, the book features essays that cover Kinski's work in indisputable classics as well as his appearances in "B" level cult movies.
Here is the official press release:
With more than 130 films and a career spanning four
decades, Klaus Kinski (1926-1991) was one of the most controversial actors of
his generation. Known for his wild tantrums on set and his legendary
collaborations with auteur Werner Herzog--Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu
the Vampyre (1979)--Kinski's intense performances made him the darling of
European arthouse and exploitation/horror cinema. A genius in front of the
camera, he was capable of lighting up the most risible films. Yet behind his
public persona lurked a depraved man who took his art to the darkest extremes.
This first ever collection of essays focusing on Kinski examines his work in
exploitation and art house films and spaghetti westerns, along with his
performances in such cult classics as Doctor Zhivago (1965), Crawlspace(1986), Venus
in Furs (1965), The Great Silence (1968), Android (1982)
and his only directorial credit, Paganini(1989). More than 50 reviews of
Kinski's films are included, along with exclusive interviews with filmmakers
and actors who worked with him.
Rowan & Littlefield Publishing has released a major biography of film director Henry Hathaway. The book, by Harold N. Pomainville, is chock full of fascinating insights into a director who never quite got the acclaim he deserved. The volume will be of special interest to Western fans, given the extensive coverage afforded Hathaway's North to Alaska, 5 Card Stud, Nevada Smith, How the West Was Won, The Sons of Katie Elder, Circus World, Legend of the Lost and John Wayne's Oscar-winning classic, True Grit. Hathaway, like his contemporaries John Ford and Howard Hawks, could be a gruff, no-nonsense character who demanded perfectionism from his cast and crew. While the films he made never quite reached Fordian or Hawksian levels of acclaim, they have stood the test of time. Author Harold N. Pomainville has provided an exhaustive and highly readable account of a master filmmaker. - Lee Pfeiffer
Here is the official press release:
For the casual film fan, Henry Hathaway is not a household
name. But in a career that spanned five decades, Hathaway directed an
impressive number of films and guided many actors and actresses to some their
most acclaimed performances. He also helped launch the Hollywood careers of
numerous actors such as Randolph Scott, Lee Marvin, Karl Malden, and Charles
Bronson. His work on Niagara established Marilyn Monroe as a major
star. Hathaway also guided John Wayne to his Academy Award-winning performance
in the original version of True Grit.
In Henry Hathaway: The Lives of a Hollywood Director, Harold N.
Pomainville looks at the life and work of this Hollywood maverick. The author
charts Hathaway’s career from his first low budget Western in the early 1930s
through his last film in 1974. In between, he focuses his attention of the
films that brought the director acclaim, including The Lives of Bengal
Lancer (1935)—for which Hathaway received an Oscar nomination—noir
thrillersThe House on 92nd Street and Kiss of Death, and his
documentary-like production of Call Northside 777 with Jimmy Stewart.
In this book, the author captures Hathaway’s extroverted personality and keen
intellect. He befriended some of the best known celebrities of his generation and
was known for his loyalty, generosity, and integrity. He was also notorious in
Hollywood for his powerful ego, explosive temper, and his dictatorial style on
the set. Henry Hathaway: The Lives of a Hollywood Director is a
must-read for anyone interested in the enduring work of this unheralded, but
no-less-noteworthy, master of American cinema.
Vinegar Syndrome has done it again. They’ve
unearthed another rare, almost forgotten 70s flick for our viewing pleasure and
I couldn’t be happier. This time it’s the wholly mistitled, but extremely
interesting 1972 whodunit, Night of the
Directed by Joy N. Houck, Jr. (Night of Bloody Horror, Creature from Black
Lake), Night of the Strangler begins
when a pregnant, young woman (Susan McCullough) returns home to New Orleans and
breaks the news to her racist brother, Dan (James Ralston from What’s Love Got to Do with It), that the
father of her child is black. Dan flips out, begins beating her and even
threatens to kill both her and her boyfriend before being stopped by younger
brother Vance (The Monkees’Mickey
Dolenz). Not long after, the sister’s boyfriend is killed by a sniper (Patrick
Wright from Revenge of the Cheerleaders).
This horrible act sets off a chain of gruesome murders that has homicide
lieutenant De Vivo (Michael Anthony) baffled. Can the clueless lawman find the
murderer before he kills again and again and again?
Although the title would have you believe
that you are about to watch a horror movie, Night
of the Strangler is more of a mystery thriller influenced by awful,
real-life events such as the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King; not
to mention the Vietnam War. The title makes no sense as there are no strangulations
in the entire film. There are shootings, stabbings, drowning; even death by
snakebite and poisonous arrows, but absolutely no strangling. So, is the movie
any good? I very much enjoyed it. Filmed in New Orleans, this well-done,
low-budget feature will definitely keep you guessing. I wouldn’t go so far as
to say that it’s a lost classic, but it’s a pretty engaging, solidly written and
directed movie with decent characterizations, which also benefits from some
wonderful performances. To begin with, Mickey Dolenz is terrific as the
understanding and peaceful younger brother. Dolenz comes off as extremely
likeable and even a little humorous in spots. Up next, James Ralston gives a
fun, over-the-top performance as the racist and almost sociopathic Dan. Ralston
gives it everything he’s got and he really makes you hate this character. Also,
Michael Anthony is pleasant and convincing in his role as Lt. De Vivo and
there’s a nicely balanced performance by Chuck Patterson (The Five Heartbeats) as a benevolent priest.
Night of the
been released on DVD (for the very first time) by Vinegar Syndrome. The disc is
region free and the movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
There are no special features. The film print itself (which has been scanned
and restored in 2K from The American Genre Film Archive’s 35mm theatrical
print) is mostly filled with excellent-looking, extremely clear images, but
does contain a few scratchy/grainy moments. This, however, does not detract
from the viewing experience one bit. As a matter of fact, it seems appropriate
being that this flick is really a nice piece of retro grindhouse cinema. If,
like me, you’re an obscure cinema enthusiast; especially from the 1970s, I
recommend taking a look at Night of the
Universal has released "Counterpoint", the 1967 film that Charlton Heston fans have long sought on DVD. The WWII drama requires a bit of historical context before getting into the main plot. By December 1944, the Third Reich was crumbling rapidly. Allied forces were on the doorstep of Germany itself and victory was assumed to be only a matter of weeks away. However, Adolf Hitler had an ace up his sleeve. On December 16 he unleashed a massive secret reserve of tank forces in a surprise attack on Americans in Belgium. The Yanks were caught completely off guard as Panzers raced toward their goal of recapturing the port city of Antwerp. Hitler knew that if he succeeded in taking possession of this strategic city he could prolong the war indefinitely. Because German forces had to move at a lightning pace before Americans could regroup, they were given grim orders from the high command to execute prisoners because they could not spare the resources to imprison and care for them. This resulted in the infamous Malmedy Massacre in which dozens of American POW's were shot dead by German troops. (Bill O'Reilly of Fox News is responsible for bungling history and causing outrage for claiming in 2006 on his TV show that it was helpless German troops who were slaughtered by Americans- a "fact" still believed by many who heard the segment.) What is true is that Americans retaliated with identical orders and there were instances of German who were shot dead after surrendering. Ultimately, Hitler's bold gamble, which became known as The Battle of the Bulge, failed. After strong initial success, due largely to the fact that the U.S. air corps was grounded due to poor weather, the tide turned. The weather improved and the Americans had mastery of the skies. They took a devastating toll on the Panzer corps, which itself was starved for fuel. Ultimately, the entire strategy was deemed one of the worst military blunders in history. Hitler had expended his last reserves that could have been used to defend Germany. Defeat followed and within six months, Hitler would commit suicide and his "Thousand Year Reich" would have lasted less than a decade.
It is against this intriguing backdrop that the plot of "Counterpoint" (which was filmed under the title "Battle Horns") takes place. The film opens immediately before the German counter-offensive. With victory in sight, complacent Americans feel comfortable inviting USO troupes into Belgium to entertain the G.Is. Among them is a world famous symphonic orchestra led by its larger-than-life conductor Lionel Evans (Charlton Heston). The maestro is conducting a concert in the ruins of bombed out palace when a sudden German bombardment throws everything into chaos. As American troops rush to gather arms, the 70 member orchestra attempts to flee in a bus. They are captured within minutes and taken to an ancient cathedral that serves as the command HQ of German General Schiller (Maximillian Schell). His second-in-command, Col. Arndt (Anton Diffring) has already been executing American prisoners and intends to do the same with the members of the orchestra, despite Evans' protests that they are civilians. Before the execution can take place, their lives are spared by Schiller, who has an appreciation for classical music and who admires Evans, having seen him conduct before the war. Schiller proposes a deal to Evans: he will spare everyone's life if he agrees to stage a private concert for Schiller. Evans, a headstrong, arrogant man, refuses. He suspects that Schiller will kill the musicians anyway and does not want to give him the satisfaction of having them perform for him. A battle of wills begins between two equally stubborn men. Complicating matters for Evans is the fact that two American soldiers are masquerading as members of the orchestra. Then there is the additional complication of Evans' relationship with cellist Anabelle Rice (Kathryn Hays). The two were once lovers but Annabelle left Evans to marry Victor Rice (Leslie Nielsen), who is Evans' assistant conductor. Evans is still carrying a torch for her and when the troupe is imprisoned in a dank basement within the cathedral, old tensions between the two arise once more. Schiller first tries to woo Evans by treating everyone humanely and ensuring they are comfortable and well-fed. However, he makes it clear that time is running out, as he must join forces at the front line. Ultimately, Evans relents due to pleas from his orchestra members who are on the verge of panic. However, he cautions that they will be killed as soon as the concert ends. He is correct, as Schiller has agreed to turn the orchestra over to Col. Arndt, who has already had a mass grave dug in anticipation of the executions. Evans buys as much time as possible by telling Schiller the troupe needs extensive rehearsals. During this period, he helps the two G.I.'s attempt to escape. He also secures access to a pistol and devises a plan in which the orchestra will resist their executioners and attempt to escape in the bus as soon as Schiller's concert has ended. They will be aided by a small group of Belgian partisans who will launch a diversionary attack.
"Counterpoint" represented only one in a list of films in which Charlton Heston played characters who were arrogant, conceited and often self-absorbed. (i.e "The War Lord", "Khartoum", "Planet of the Apes", "Number One", "The Hawaiians" ). As Evans he selfishly risks the lives of dozens of people rather than to lose face in his psychological war of wills with Schiller. Refreshingly, when the final shoot-out takes place, Evans doesn't transform into a typical Heston action hero and it's amusing to watch the future president of the NRA have to be coached in how to use a hand gun. The film was shot on the cheap, as so many Universal productions were during this era. Literally every frame was filmed on the studio back lot, but because of the claustrophobic nature of the script, the overall impact isn't diminished by the penny-pinching. Heston gives a powerful performance as one of the more flawed characters he has played and he is quite convincing in scenes in which he conducts the orchestra. He is matched by Maximillan Schell, who is all superficial charm and charisma. Kathryn Hays is quite good as the woman caught between two lovers and Leslie Nielsen reminds us that he was once a good dramatic actor before going the "Naked Gun" route late in his career. Ralph Nelson directs the intelligent screenplay and milks a good deal of tension from certain scenarios and an additional pleasure is hearing classical music played so brilliantly. "Counterpoint" may not be a classic but the offbeat nature of the story, combined with the talents of an inspired cast, make it a winner.
The Universal DVD is as bare bones as usual with nary a single bonus feature but the transfer is excellent.
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With so few quality roles afforded to actors of a certain age bracket, I looked forward to viewing "Grandma", the 2015 independent film that won very favorable reviews for Lily Tomlin in the title role. Indeed, Tomlin received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress and the film was named one of the ten best independent movies of the year by the prestigious National Board of Review. Thus, I approached the film, which was written and directed by Paul Weitz, with a positive attitude and optimistic expectations. That mood lasted about three minutes into the movie when we are introduced to Elle (Tomlin), an older but still very independent woman who was a firebrand in her day. She received a bit of fame for her provocative poetry but in recent decades hasn't written anything of merit. In fact, she hasn't written anything at all for the last four years. The first we see of Elle, she is cruelly breaking up her relationship with her decades-younger lesbian lover, Olivia (Judy Greer) and informs her to leave her keys to their apartment and get out. Elle doesn't say specifically when she is intent on breaking the younger woman's heart but when Olive reluctantly leaves, Elle breaks down crying. Did she act like a villain in order to do what she felt was best for Olive in the long run? Presumably so, but as we follow Elle around in the course of one long day, it becomes apparent that this off-the-wall counterculture type does indeed possess a mean temper that can flare up at a moment's notice and over the slightest perceived provocation. Elle gets plenty provoked, too, when her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) turns up on her doorstep to ask for $600 so she can get an abortion later that afternoon. She's too afraid to tell her own mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), a single mother who is a successful business executive with little time for anyone but her colleagues. We learn that Lily gave birth to Judy after becoming pregnant through a artificial insemination. Judy was raised by Elle and the love of her life, Vi, who now been dead for a number of years, a tragedy that Elle has never fully recovered from. One might think that the sight of her own granddaughter in desperate straits might solicit some sympathy from Elle, but instead she tosses out obscene insults to the young girl. But don't feel too sorry for Sage...she's got a foul mouth of her own. Thus, our introduction to the two main protagonists of the story is through a stream of vile obscenities and insults. I realized early on that I still had an entire movie to spend with these less-than-lovable characters. Indeed, things only go downhill from there...and fast.
Screenwriter Weitz practically twists himself into a pretzel to rationalize some very irrational behavior on the part of Elle and Sage. For starters, although Elle seems to be living comfortably in a fairy nice apartment, she informs Sage that her entire net worth is only about $40. The fact that a woman in her seventies who is living in L.A. would be worth only $40 is ludicrous to the point of distraction. The script provides an explanation: Elle was tired of being in debt for medical bills relating to Vi's care so she used every penny of savings to pay off that debt. Uh-huh. When Sage asks the obvious question- doesn't she have credit cards- Elle explains that she cut them up as a symbolic act and turned the shredded cards into a decorative piece of art. Uh-huh. Elle nevertheless agrees to assist her granddaughter in raising the required cash. They pile into her ancient, mechanically-challenged automobile and set off to visit Sage's boyfriend who promised to get the money for the abortion. They find him to be a self-centered, uncaring cynic. So Grandma does what grandmas do best- she slams the boyfriend in the crotch, causing him much pain and also inspiring this writer to once again make a plea to script writers: the "shot in the crotch" joke was funny just once. It was way back in 1969 when Paul Newman kicked Ted Cassidy where it hurts in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". Ever since then, it's been a cheap mechanism to get an even cheaper laugh. Please retire this tired device. Next stop on the Elle/Sage road trip to through Hell is a visit to a free clinic where destitute young women can get abortions. Sounds sensible. However, when they arrive at the location they discover the clinic has closed or moved and has been replaced by a boutique coffee shop. Neither Elle or Sage has enough smarts to take the obvious course of action: simply Google "women's clinics" on Sage's cell phone to find out where they alternately get the procedure done. Instead, they decide to patronize the coffee shop where Elle lets loose with a loud stream of obscenities. When the owner politely asks them to leave, Elle goes into a tirade of more obscenities. Presumably this is to further establish her anti-Establishment credentials and endear her to the audience. ("Hey, Granny's still got it!") The attempt fails, however, for the simple reason that no sane person would enjoy sitting in a coffee shop listening to some ex-hippie blather filthy language. Elle and Sage next visit one of Elle's friends who had expressed an interest in buying some presumably rare first edition books that Elle hopes will cover the cost of Sage's abortion. When the woman offers her only $50, Elle goes into another tirade of obscenities- despite the fact that Sage had researched the value of the books and informed her they were almost worthless.
The film goes into a new direction when, out of desperation, Elle decides to visit her ex-husband Karl (Sam Elliott) in the hopes of getting some cash. They haven't seen each other in many years and since they've been divorced Sam has been through several marriages. At first their reunion is civil but when Karl agrees to give the money, there is a caveat: he wants some fast sex. Elle refuses and a Pandora's Box of old resentments spills out into the open, with Karl still angry that his wife turned out to be unfaithful- and a lesbian, to boot. Elle finally shames him into parting with the money but when he learns it's for an abortion, he relents on moral grounds, which in the eyes of screenwriter Weitz immediately makes him a villainous character. (Even if you're politically and socially liberal, the heavy-handed propaganda messages contained in the script will probably make you roll your eyes.) Ultimately, Elle and Sage reluctantly visit Sage's mother Judy at her place of business. It's a sterile environment and we see that, as an executive, she has the reputation of a female Captain Bligh. She and Elle have been estranged for quite some time and Judy is non-too-happy to learn her daughter needs an abortion. Like Elle and Sage, Judy peppers her sentences with obscenities, thus indicating that the acorns don't fall far from the tree in this family. Ultimately, everyone ends up at the abortion clinic but not before screenwriter Weitz can insert another political dig: Elle encounters a young mother and her adorable looking little daughter outside the clinic where the mom is protesting abortions. When Elle tries to make nice with the little girl, she receives a black eye. It might strike one as being tasteless to use a small child to make a political statement but everyone in Grandma is vile and vulgar, so why should the toddlers be any different? In the last fifteen minutes or so, the problems are resolved and Elle makes up with Olivia. It's the only section of the film in which the characters are given anything close to admirable human emotions but it's too little too late.
Grandma is an offensive film and I say that as someone who routinely reviews vintage X-rated fare for this web site. The difference is that outright pornography isn't pretentious but Grandma certainly is. Paul Weitz can be commended for inspiring his actors to give excellent performances but the value of the production pretty much ends there. I have never met anyone like the people in this film and if I did, I certainly wouldn't want to be in their company for one minute longer than I had to. Why, then, would a viewer want to spend the running time of this film (a mercifully brief 79 minutes) digesting a barrage of filthy language spouted by unsympathetic characters? Even Sage, a young girl facing a great trauma, comes across as a vile ingrate, making demands more than asking for help. Lily Tomlin still has what it takes to carry a film. To her credit, she doesn't "glam" up her character but still has plenty of charisma. She's a consummate actress and her performance here is admirable. It's just a pity that its contained within a miserable movie about miserable people who treat each other in a miserable fashion.
The Sony Blu-ray contains an audio commentary track with the principals, a cookie-cutter "making of" featurette in which everyone extols the virtues of the people they worked with, a Q&A video from a screening of the film with Tomlin and Elliot and an original trailer.
The year was 1970 and John Wayne was riding tall in the
saddle- both on screen and off. The Duke had recently been awarded his only
Oscar, winning the prestigious honor for his triumphant performance in the 1969
film adaptation of the best-selling novel "True Grit". His first move following
his Oscar win was “Chisum”, a dramatic and exciting Western based on
the Lincoln County Cattle War of 1878 in New Mexico in the days before the territory
gained statehood. Wayne plays the titular character, a legendary cattleman who built an empire that stretched for many miles and employed a significant number of the local population. Chisum was the "big dog" in New Mexico but his power was threatened when businessman Lawrence Murphy began encroaching on his business interests. Ironically the trouble started, not over cattle, but over the control of dry goods. Murphy and his partner James Dolan had a government contract that allowed them a virtual monopoly on selling goods and beef in the area. When a rival general store opened, Chisum backed it and set in motion the events that led to the five-day war which escalated after Chisum found out that Murphy had been responsible for the theft of some of his cattle. The events are played out in "Chisum" and they include some larger-than-life characters including Billy the Kid (Geoffrey Deuel) and Pat Garrett (Glenn Corbett), who were on friendly terms when they worked for Chisum. Years later, Garrett would be the lawman who hunted down and killed Billy. Although there is a good deal of artistic license taken in terms of historical events, screenwriter Andrew J. Fenady has most of the basic facts straight- and why not? The real-life drama was every bit as compelling as any work of fiction.
Wayne wanted a strong film for his Oscar follow-up and "Chisum" fit the bill. It reunited him with frequent collaborator, director Andrew V. McLaglen and included a stock company of actors who were old personal friends including Bruce Cabot, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Ron Soble, Christopher George and Ed Faulkner. It also marked a reunion of sorts for Wayne with his co-stars from the 1949 film "Sands of Iwo Jima" which included Agar, Forrest Tucker and Richard Jaeckel. Wayne also gave small roles to Christopher and John Mitchum, the son and brother of his old pal Robert Mitchum. The film is exceptionally well cast with Tucker in especially fine form as Lawrence Murphy. It took an actor with considerable screen presence to stand up to John Wayne and seem credible and Tucker fits the bill perfectly. Their antagonism starts out as personal insults but as Murphy buys off the local sheriff, William Brady (Bruce Cabot) and orchestrates the killing of competitor Henry Tunstall (Patric Knowles), events escalate rapidly. Billy the Kid takes matters into his own hands and murders Sheriff Brady in revenge for the killing of Tunstall, who was a father figure to him. Tensions rise and the film climaxes with a terrific sequence that starts as a massive shoot-out in a general store and finishes up with Chisum personally leading a stampede of cattle down the main street and engaging in a knock-down fist fight to the death with Murphy.
"Chisum" is intelligently scripted and represents one of the finest accomplishments of both Wayne and Andrew V. McLaglen. Shot in Mexico, it also features superb cinematography by the legendary William Clothier, who bookends the film with dramatic images of Chisum sitting astride his horse, enjoying a size-appropriate cigar while proudly overlooking his massive spread of land from atop a hill. Wayne is outstandingly good in one of his finest screen performances but the supporting cast is also excellent with nary a weak note. There are so many interesting characters and historical facts involved in the story that you wish there was another half hour of running time to do justice to the events depicted. Among the film’s fans was President Richard Nixon who said that, while he didn’t see many movies, he very much enjoyed “Chisum” very much and thought that Wayne was a “fine actor”. He went on to give an extended "review" of the film and said that it represented how law and order is the backbone of American democracy and nowhere is that depicted better than in the Western film. The movie enjoyed strong reviews and was a major hit for Warner Brothers.
Warner Home Entertainment has released a special edition of "Chisum" on Blu-ray and the transfer is gorgeous. The extra bonus features from the DVD edition have been ported over including a commentary track from director McLaglen who provides fascinating first-hand accounts about the making of the movie (though he does erroneously state this was his third collaboration with Wayne. In fact it was his fourth following "McLintock!", "Hellfighters" and "The Undefeated".) The Blu-ray also features an excellent vintage "making of" documentary that puts the film into historical perspective. There is also an original trailer. In all, an impressive Blu-ray release of one of the best Westerns of its era.
American ex-Presidents occupy a unique place in society. They represent the smallest, most elite club on earth. Each of the living ex-Presidents has known the bizarre ritual that results from transforming from the most powerful person on earth to someone with absolutely no legal powers in the amount of time it takes the new President to swear to the oath of allegiance. An incumbent President in a deeply divided nation can consider themselves to be successful if poll numbers show they left office with an approval rate of the mid-40s or higher. However, the best way a President can make poll ratings soar is to simply leave office. Traditionally the American people, and the world at large, views ex-Presidents from a saner, more nuanced viewpoint and inevitably their reputations improve with time, largely because they are mostly seen doing good deeds and raising money for charities. The ex-Presidents club has also seen some unexpected friendships develop due to the fact that only someone who has served in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Oval Office can possibly relate to what his peers have gone through. Thus we saw President George H.W. Bush form a close bond with President Bill Clinton despite the fact that it was Clinton who deprived Bush of a second term. Word has it that the two men have almost a father/son relationship. Consequently, Clinton and President George W. Bush are said to enjoy a very cordial relationship. When Clinton was in office he served as the unlikely vessel that afforded President Richard M. Nixon a degree of public redemption by calling upon him for advice relating to foreign policy. President Gerald Ford also formed a very close friendship with the man who defeated him, President Jimmy Carter. The two traveled the lecture circuit in a quixotic attempt to convince Americans not to demonize people simply because they disagreed with their political beliefs. Yes, we tend to love our Presidents- as long as there is an "Ex" prefix before that designation. However, it's doubtful many would love ex-Presidents Russell P. Kramer and Matt Douglas, the protagonists of the 1996 political comedy "My Fellow Americans". Directed and co-written by Peter Segal, the film takes a promising premise that ends up being more fun in theory than it is in execution.
The film opens with Kramer (Jack Lemmon) and his successor-in-office Douglas (James Garner) being summoned to the White House to participate in an event to be presided over by incumbent President Haney (Dan Aykroyd). Neither man wants to be there, as they both detest Haney (who was Kramer's Vice-President)- but not more than they detest each other. En route to the conference, they insult each other constantly using language that would embarrass a Marine drill instructor. Both of the men have their annoying eccentricities. Douglas is a skirt-chasing womanizer (remember Bill Clinton was in office when the film was released) and Kramer is a penny-pinching tightwad who tarnishes his reputation by whoring himself for big bucks by making a speech a in front of Japanese executives (President Ronald Reagan had been lambasted for doing the same thing when he left the White House.) When they arrive at their destination, the real plot device kicks in. Turns out Haney is corrupt and details of a kickback scheme with a defense contractor are about to be unraveled by a snooping reporter. Haney and his equally corrupt staff get to work to concoct a scheme whereby Kramer will be framed as the real culprit and Douglas will be the top suspect in the murder of the defense contractor. Things go awry, however, when Kramer and Douglas manage to escape and go on the lam. They nearly die in a helicopter crash before being stranded in rural America with sinister "Men in Black" types hunting them down. Almost penniless and virtually helpless without their servants and security force, the two men become like a pensioner political version of Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones". They need each other to survive but can barely tolerate the other man's presence. The scenario is wide open for some great possibilities but director and co-writer Segal can't quite capitalize on the opportunities. Given the fact that the entire story premise is absurd, Segal manages to ratchet up even more absurdities until the film feels enough like a comic book that I expected the Marvel name to appear in the credits. By foot and car, the Presidents wander through the American heartland like modern Woody Guthries. Along the way they encounter an Elvis Presley impersonator, a former sexual conquest of Douglas (who doesn't believe it's really him), endless chases by Haney's Gestapo-like assassins and high speed car chases. They predictably learn a life lesson about the nobility of everyday Americans and the struggles they endure. The whole improbable mess comes to a climax back at the White House where, for reasons far too laborious to relate here, the ex-Presidents end up being chased on horseback in an attempt to reveal the truth about Haney, who is in the process of honoring members of the Dutch Resistance (!)
"My Fellow Americans" does have some pleasurable aspects and moments. Lemmon excels in playing "Odd Couple"- like scenarios largely because he starred in the film version of "The Odd Couple". The film would have been more enjoyable if he had his usual co-star Walter Matthau with him but it is fun to see Lemmon and Garner square off against each other. There are also a few funny one-liners and modestly amusing scenarios including a surprising revelation at the end but Peter Segal's leaden direction ensures that no scene lives up to its potential. There are a number of good character actors in supporting roles ranging from Lauren Bacall (largely wasted), Wilford Brimley and, most amusingly, John Heard as Haney's handsome but dumb-as-an-ox VP (a not-so-subtle jibe at the legacy of Dan Quayle in the days before Sarah Palin would emerge to take the mantle.) One of the problems with the script is that it is so intent on not offending anyone's political sensibilities that the obsession with being "middle of the road" becomes annoying and pretentious. Thus, there is no bite to the jokes. For every knock against the GOP there is an equivalent knock against the Democrats. For example, in one scene the hitch-hiking ex Presidents are picked up by a destitute family who live in their car. We make sure we learn how both parties adversely affected their lives. The point of the scene is to show the Presidents humbled by these simple but honest people, but the film presents these noble characters as kind hearted idiots who believe Mount Rushmore is a natural rock formation. As I've written before, Hollywood screenwriters always believe that if they want to show an honest patriot, it has to be in the guise of a Gomer Pyle-type, unsophisticated idiot from rural America. It's the ultimate back-handed compliment. The other cliche readily apparent in the script is that all the dapper, educated and sophisticated characters tend to be crooks, schemers and murderers. Isn't just possible that a "real American" can also be sophisticated, patriotic and educated? Such are the predictable aspects of this lumbering comedy. I will say that the film is quite interesting in an unintentional way. Although released only twenty years ago, it's shocking to see how primitive technology was. No one seems to have a personal computer and there isn't a single cell phone seen anywhere, illustrating just how rapidly these devices came about and changed people's lives.
"My Fellow Americans" isn't some disaster and one hates to be a Grumpy Old Man about any film featuring Jack Lemmon and James Garner (who gets to replicate his jump from a speeding train from "The Great Escape" in this film). It certainly has some moments that afford minor laughs but the movie would have been better off delving completely into the Theatre of the Absurd in the manner of the "Naked Gun" and "Airplane" movies.
The Warner Archive has released the film in widescreen format for the first time. Previously, it was only available in pan-and-scan. Extras include the original trailer and a mildly amusing selection of bloopers that mostly focus on Lemmon cracking up on the set.
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Some actresses' performances can be much admired while others you virtually devour. I devour any performance by Bette Davis, who often elevated even middling films to something akin to high art. Such a case is evident in her cult classic Dead Ringer, a 1964 thriller that allowed Davis to give a tour de force performance in a dual role. The film itself has a hokey concept, that of two estranged identical twin sisters who are reunited with deadly consequences. Yet, Davis' former leading man and Now, Voyager co-star Paul Henreid directs this otherwise minor screen effort with great style, affording Davis one of her best late career performances. As Edith, Davis is seen as a down-and-out owner of a skid row bar who is facing financial ruin. She is reunited with her rich sister Margaret at the funeral of Margaret's husband. The two have not been on speaking terms ever since the self-absorbed Margaret stole Edith's rich lover and seduced him into marrying her. Invited to Margaret's mansion, the sister's bitter rivalry gains new momentum. Edith ultimately concocts an audacious scheme whereby she will murder Margaret and then switch identities with her, in the process masking the slaying as a suicide. As absurd as the premise may sound, director Henreid and Davis bring enough gravitas and tension to these scenes that the plot plays out quite credibly. Predictably, Edith - now posing as Margaret- encounters a minefield of challenging situations. Although she looks and sounds exactly like her deceased sister, the two women had vastly different personalities and habits. Part of the fun is watching Edith having to constantly improvise to escape exposure by suspicious housekeepers, servants and old friends of Margaret. The boiling point comes when she is "reunited" with Tony (Peter Lawford), an ambitious social climber who had been Margaret's lover and boy toy. Tony is anxious to resume their love affair. Edith/Margaret is clearly delighted to inherit her sister's handsome lover, but soon realizes that she can only bluff so far before being found out. Adding to her woes is the investigation led by her own former boyfriend, a police detective (Karl Malden) who is the antithesis of Tony: he sincerely loved Edith and wanted to marry her. The irony, of course, is that his investigation of the suicide has him in constant contact with Edith, though he believes he is dealing with Margaret.
Dead Ringer is consistently entertaining throughout and the glorious black and white cinematography and Andre Previn's Bernard Herrmann-like score only add to the pleasure of watching this quaint thriller unfold. The performances are all excellent but no one can hope to match the site of Bette Davis slapping around Bette Davis. The Warner Home Video Blu-ray release of the film features a new featurette about the making of the movie and interview with film historian Boz Hadleigh, who also provides a commentary track along with Charles Busch. Hadleigh provides some great anecdotes about the film and gives the movie and its participants the respect they deserve. There is also a vintage production short about the mansion house where much of the movie was shot. It's quite interesting to see rare behind the scenes footage of Henreid at work with cast and crew.
The movie is a grand showcase for one of Hollywood's most legendary actresses- and the Blu-ray presents Ms. Davis at her very best.
Freddie Francis had a long and prosperous career in the cinema, learning many areas of filmmaking by cutting his teeth as a stills photographer, clapper boy, camera loader and focus puller; he also worked on training films while in the army.Garnering enough experience led him to become a camera operator on films as diverse as The Tales of Hoffman (a favorite of George Romero’s and Martin Scorsese’s), Twice Upon a Time, and Beat the Devil.He also worked as a cinematographer on The Innocents, Night Must Fall, The Elephant Man, and Dune, while scoring two Oscars for shooting Sons and Lovers and Glory.In the midst of this, he managed to find time to direct more than his share of thrillers in the 1960’s and 1970’s, chief among them The Brain, Paranoiac, Nightmare, The Evil of Frankenstein, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, Trog, Tales from the Crypt, and The Creeping Flesh.Most genre fans grew up seeing these films on late-night television or on weekend broadcasts, and they all have appeared on home video in a variety of different formats.
One of Mr. Francis’ most elusive titles is the bizarre, black comedy Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly, released Stateside simply as Girly in 1970.Now available on an all-region NTSC DVD by the fine Scorpion Releasing, which has also brought us Sweet William, Cheerleaders Wild Weekend, Say Hello to Yesterday, and The Last Grenade to name a few, Girly, Based upon Maisie Mosco’s stage play Happy Family, is an obscure and fairly macabre tale of a brother and sister (Howard Trevor and Vanessa Howard) who suffer from a form of arrested development at the hands of their crazed mother (Ursula Howells) and equally batty nanny (Pat Heywood) who treat the twenty-somethings as if they were still toddlers.Mumsy and Nanny refer to Sonny and Girly (who both wear school uniforms that they clearly are too old to be wearing) as their "darling loves" and smother them with creepy affection.They play in schoolyards and zoos, looking for “new friends” and rope them into their staged games by kidnapping them and taking them back to their enormous house (in reality the Oakley Court Hotel in Windsor, England) to incorporate them into their day for fun.Among these “new friends” are men they refer to as “soldier” and “number five” who are both held prisoner.An unfortunate couple (Michael Bryant and Imogen Hassall) is fooled by their childish charms and the woman meets her untimely demise through an “accident” that Girly blames on the man. The poor guy ends up at their house with his girlfriend’s body dumped in a chest.In order to stay alive, he’s forced to be polite and made to ask, “Please may I have some bread, Mumsy?” and “Please, may I be excused?” prior to using the water closet which is outfitted with an artificial toilet that houses a jack-in-the-box.Any attempt to flee the premises is met with stern warnings of being “sent to the angels” should such further actions occur. Michael Haneke more than likely took a cue from this film when he made both versions of his film Funny Games which were far more gruesome and tragic.
MGM has released the 1969 film The File of the Golden Goose on DVD. Yul Brynner top-lines the crime thriller that plays more like an espionage movie. Brynner portrays American Treasury agent Peter Novak, who is sent to London to infiltrate and bust a major ring that specializes in spreading counterfeit U.S. currency. Novak is assigned a young Scotland Yard detective, Arthur Thompson (a very effective Edward Woodward) and the two men enact a scenario where they are ultimately taken in as part of the gang by mobster front man George Leeds (always-reliable character actor Walter Gotell). The film is unremarkable on most levels, but the script is intelligently written and there is some genuine suspense when Novak begins to suspect that Thompson is adapting to the mobster lifestyle for real. Brynner makes for one of the most inimitable leading men of his era, constantly bringing a sense of dignity and gravitas to what otherwise might be considered to be a B movie. There is also a very wry performance by Charles Gray, playing an out-of-the-closet queen who dabbles in counterfeit bills in between hosting orgies. The film was helmed by actor/director Sam Wanamaker, who makes the most of the extensive London locations. However, the movie's climactic shootout sequence involving a helicopter is a bit of a dud and suffers from poor editing. Nevertheless, any Brynner film deserves attention and The File of the Golden Goose is a more than satisfying thriller.
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Warner Brothers dug deep into their vaults to compile
this nostalgic and electrifying collection of vintage musical shorts featuring
some of the greatest names in entertainment history. The short films in this
six-disc set feature performances and appearances by Eddy Duchin, Harry Reser
and His Eskimos, Jimmy Dorsey, Ozzie Nelson, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, and
others, plus "Ramblin' Round Radio Row" films from 1932-35, and much
more. 11 hrs. total. Standard; Soundtrack: English.
(This is a region-free DVD release)
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Aug. 1, 2016 — For
Immediate Release — The Golden Age of Musicals features 17
fabulous, classic films from the genre’s peak era, spanning two
decades from 1937 to 1957, in a five-disc DVD collector’s set, available
Aug. 9 from Film Chest Media Group.
The emergence of sound technology sparked a natural expansion,
taking the musical genre from the stage to the big screen. Multiple camera
angles, the ability to shoot at various locations and the use of lavish
background scenery that would be impractical in a theater allowed filmed
productions to outshine live performances.
Interest in musicals increased dramatically in the
mid-1930s when director Busby Berkeley (Take Me Out to the Ball
Game, The Gang’s All Here, For Me and My Gal) began to enhance
traditional dance routines with his unique style. His creative numbers
would typically begin on stage, then gradually transcend
the limitations of theatrical space by filming from above, capturing
dancers forming kaleidoscope-esque patterns.
As the motion picture industry grew with the development
of special effects, increased quality of film technology and the introduction
of color, the musical genre experienced sustained popularity for decades.
The Golden Age of Musicals boasts more than 25
hours of song, dance and comedy that will dazzle and entertain, from slapstick
to romance to over-the-top opulence. Featuring the best films and biggest stars
of the era, including Fred Astaire in Second Chorus, Danny
Kaye in The Inspector General, Bing Crosby and Bob
Hope in Road to Bali, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in At
War With the Army, Judy Garland in Till the Clouds Roll By and many more, The
Golden Age of Musicals is a must-have collector’s set for fans
new and old!
The Golden Age of Musicals is presented in full screen with
an aspect ratio of 4 x 3 and original sound.
In his review of "Jack of Diamonds", New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther dismissed it as "strictly low-grade "Topkapi". He only missed the mark in one respect: I would argue that it is more low-grade "To Catch a Thief". The 1967 crime caper stars George Hamilton as handsome and inanimate as a mannequin found in the window of a posh 5th Avenue department store. At least no one can ever accuse him of putting the "ham" in "Hamilton". Hamilton plays Jeff Hill, the world's most notorious cat burglar. When we first see him, he's using a rope and pulley to enter the penthouse apartment of Zsa Zsa Gabor (!), who plays herself. While old Zsa is sleeping, Hill manages to abscond with her valuable jewels- but, ever the gentleman, he leaves her a message telling her how much he enjoys her films (which means Hill has immaculate taste in jewels but not-so-great taste when it comes to the cinema.) Ms. Gabor is one of several real-life celebs who play themselves in the film. The others are Carroll Baker and Lili Palmer, each of who are victimized by the elegant, gentlemanly thief. The cameos are a pretty transparent gimmick to add a little more glamour to the production, which was produced by a West German film company and released theatrically in the USA by MGM.
Hill lives a Hefner-like lifestyle in a lavish mansion replete with all the trappings including a gymnasium complete with a trapeze which he uses to stay in shape so he can utilize his signature style of entering high buildings using the tactics of a human fly. We soon learn he has a mentor who goes by the name of "Ace" (Joseph Cotten), as he was once the world's greatest jewel thief and was known as "The Ace of Diamonds". He still acts as a wise sage for Hill, advising him on the dos and don'ts of certain potential capers. Hill soon finds that he has a competitor for some of the same jewels. Turns out it is a female cat burglar, Olga (Marie Laforet), who has her own mentor, Nicolai (Maurice Evans), a dapper dandy who also was once a famed jewel thief. Nicolai has concocted a plan for the ultimate theft and wants Olga and Hill to join forces to carry it out with he and Ace acting as advisers. This gives Hill plenty of time to make time with his new sexy partner but there is virtually no chemistry between Hamilton and Laforet, partly because her character is largely window dressing and is not fleshed out in the slightest in terms of being given a background. Nicolai's plan requires stealing some famed jewels from a seemingly impenetrable museum but just to learn their precise location it will require the cat burglars to break into a safe located in the headquarters of the Paris police. Achieving this daring goal, the foursome then turn to the main event: the robbery of the jewels. They are racing against time against an international police organization (presumably based on INTERPOL) that is doggedly trying to track them down and stop future robberies. The organization's point man is Von Schenk (Wolfgang Preiss), a charismatic German who pursues them with the zeal of Inspector Javert.
"Jack of Diamonds" is yet another film from the Sixties that looked anemic in its day but probably plays better now. The film tries to present some glamorous European locales but much of it is achieved through the over-used stock footage that MGM had in its vaults at the time. (A scene supposedly shot atop the Pan Am building in New York features what may be the worst rear screen projection effect I've ever seen.) Still, the offbeat feel of the film is somewhat enjoyable and the script allows a Bondian air in which the pursuer and the pursued match wits while enjoying each other's company and sharing fine cigars. George Hamilton makes for a strikingly handsome leading man even if he's a bit short in the charisma department. The real fun is watching old pros Cotten, Evans and Preiss trade barbs and witticisms. It's the kind of dialogue that is rare in contemporary thrillers. The caper aspects of the production are carried out adequately by director (and former actor) Don Taylor and if the entire enterprise stacks up as "Hitchcock Lite", it's an enjoyable romp throughout with nary a dull moment and a bizarre but infectious score by Bob Harris and Peter Thomas (bizarre because it is the only time you will ever seen a filmed ski chase that combines jazz music and yodeling.)
The Warner Archive has released the film as a region-free DVD title. There are some inconsistencies with the color quality but overall it's an acceptable print, though I suspect it may not be presented in its original aspect ratio. This version seems to be matted but I could be wrong. The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE