Among the tidal wave of DVDs and Blu-rays sent to Cinema Retro every month by video labels requesting reviews are some very quirky titles, not all of which make it onto these pages or into our magazine's review section. That's because some are completely outside the mainstream of our reader's interests. For example, we shy away from most blood-splattered "dead teenage" movies unless they have a unique status among retro movie lovers. Additionally, we get inundated with erotic titles, some of which we do routinely cover primarily if they are also from the distant past. One exception to this is "The Clair Sinclair Show", released on the Cult Epics label. I'll freely admit I was baffled upon looking over the packaging of the screener DVD. A buxom, attractive young woman adorns that box and that's generally enough to at least temporarily get my interest. What intrigued me most, however, was the name of Bunny Yeager on the box and an indication that the DVD contained her final interview. First things first. Who the hell is Clair Sinclair? I confess I had not a clue. Turns out she came out of obscurity as an 18 year-old and in short order caught the eye of Hugh Hefner. Before she was in her twenties, she proved to be so popular in her Playboy photo layout that she earned the exalted status of Playmate of the Year. The DVD features a bizarre gimmick: Ms. Sinclair arrives at a studio where she is interviewed by....herself. Her doppleganger is dressed in a retro Bettie Page look (more about that later) and the two Claire's get along fabulously, as you might imagine. It's a blatant, self-serving tactic that is little more than a video calling card for Sinclair, who makes it clear that she hopes to maximize her moment in the spotlight. Claire assures Claire that she adores the by-gone era of traditional pin-up models, especially Bettie Page, who posed mischievously in some now classic images in the 1950s and 1960s. They were provocative in the day, with Page working with photographer Irving Klaw in scenarios that generally found her bound and gagged in photos that were often lesbian-themed. This was hot stuff back in the era of repressed sexuality but Ms. Page never indulged in anything hardcore or overtly distasteful. It's a standard that Claire Sinclair obviously follows.
Now on to the second question: who is Bunny Yeager? She was a groundbreaking female photographer who specialized in shooting female pin-up models, including Bettie Page. Yeager was pin-up material herself, a former model in the 1950s who was not adverse to posing for cheesecake photos. She was also known for her photographs of exotic locations and in 1967 published a well-received book titled "Camera in Jamaica", which included fascinating photos she took on the set of the first James Bond movie, "Dr. No" in 1962. Yeager appears in a segment of the DVD in which Claire Sinclair conducts a respectful and enlightening interview with her that explores her early days as an erotic photographer when such work for a woman was almost unheard of. Sinclair scores a coup but in a bittersweet way: this turns out to be the final interview Yeager gave, as she passed away shortly thereafter.
The DVD features Yeager conducting her last photographic session as she and her crew photograph Sinclair, who is in full Bettie Page mode, as she poses scantily clad and completely starkers. The director of the documentaries, credited as "Nico B", also had the good sense to keep the retro atmosphere going by filming some of the session in Super 8, which provides the welcome look of the old grindhouse film days. This is a low-budget production shot in conjunction with "The Erotica Channel", a web-based network that provides, well, video erotica. As with Yeager's vintage photos, the nudity depicted is never more than a bit naughty and actually looks downright wholesome by today's standards. As for Claire Sinclair, the former Playmate of the Year comes across as engaging, likable and possessing a "girl next door" quality even if virtually none of us ever had a girl next door who actually looked like her.
In her excellent analysis of the 1962 Elvis Presley film "Follow That Dream"- which is included in the limited edition Twilight Time Blu-ray release- film historian Julie Kirgo concisely but thoroughly explores the one aspect of The King's career that brought him more frustration than satisfaction: his stature as an international movie star. When Elvis first exploded on the international music scene in the 1950s, Hollywood came calling immediately. Presley, under the guidance of his Svengali-like manager Colonel Tom Parker, found himself starring in films that were primarily designed to promote his music but which afforded him intelligent story lines and the opportunity to showcase his considerable charms as a leading man. The word on Presley was that, given the proper nurturing from established screenwriters and directors, he could become an acclaimed actor in his own right. Then Uncle Sam intruded and Presley was drafted. Elvis' two-year stint in the U.S. Army became the stuff of pop culture legend. Without any fuss or any attempt to dodge the draft, he did his duty and was honorably discharged. When he re-entered civilian life, however, the Colonel had a different vision for his star's big screen career. Instead of holding out for roles that would have allowed Elvis to progress as an accomplished actor, the Colonel signed him to a long contract with legendary producer Hal Wallis, who agreed with the Colonel that the main objective would be to quickly crank out low budget flicks that would be highly profitable. If that offended Elvis' sensibilities, too bad. They pointed out that on the few occasions where Elvis had been allowed to play mature characters in intelligent films, the boxoffice receipts lagged behind his upbeat, teen-oriented musicals. Thus, the King found himself not in control of his own destiny, at least when it came to the silver screen. Before long, he was churning out indistinguishable lightweight fare that served as little more than an extended music videos to sell the accompanying soundtrack albums. The ploy worked, financially, at least, but left Elvis feeling frustrated and betrayed by the two mentors he had entrusted to guide him to a long, satisfying movie career.
One of Elvis' more accomplished and satisfying films was the aforementioned "Follow That Dream". The story was based on a humorous novel titled "Pioneer, Go Home!' by Richard Powell, who also authored the source novel for the fine 1959 Paul Newman film "The Young Philadelphians". It's an amusing, whimsical yarn that finds Elvis as Toby Kwimper, a hunky young man who is traveling through Florida with his father, known as Pop (Arthur O'Connell) and a comely teenage companion, Holly Jones (Anne Helm), who- for all intents and purposes- is his adopted sister. Also in tow are two young twin toddlers. Seems like Pop has a soft spot for caring for orphans and inviting them into his home. His motive, however, isn't entirely based on compassion. In the case of the twins, he has been getting child welfare payments from the state. Pop is adverse to doing an honest day's work and is systematically exploiting "The System" itself, figuring out how to maximize government handouts that are designed to help the genuinely poor. Pop and Toby are poor, alright- but it's by choice. They live a spartan, nomadic existence and learn to do without materialistic things. All the while, Pop prides himself on maintaining a staunch conservative political viewpoint- that big government is bad and corrupt and that everyone should fend for themselves. As Julie Kirgo points out in her liner notes, he is not unlike some hypocrites today who denounce all aspects of the government but seem to be first in line for any payouts when it comes to exploiting government programs. Pop's car breaks down on a patch of remote government land in central Florida. With the car immobile, Pop announces that the group will simply make this their home. Before long, he and Toby have constructed a ramshackle home complete with outhouse. When a local official tries to evict him, the wily Pop discovers that the precise land he is squatting on falls under an archaic law that allows him a loophole to claim it as his own. Much of the film is dedicated to Pop using his guile to outfox the city slickers who want him to move on. Meanwhile, he finds it beneficial to declare his one room shack a legal "community", which necessitates the appointment of a sheriff. Toby reluctantly accepts the job. The young man is more honest than his father but is naive in the ways of the world. Like the Clampetts of "The Beverly Hillbillies", Toby is more innocent than stupid and somehow finds a way to get the upper hand in every attempt made by others to undermine his family's homestead. Before long, he and Pop have built a successful fishing business that begins to thrive and deliver some legitimately-earned cash into their coffers.
British movie edition paperback tie-in.
The film is a bit off-kilter when it comes to explaining why Toby is so adverse to getting involved with girls. The explanation is shallow especially when one considers how hormones rage at that age. Joanna Moore is a social worker who attempts to seduce him but he turns her down. This sets in motion a major plot device in which she attempts to use loopholes in the law to take the twins away from the household unless they agree to leave the state. Meanwhile, "Sheriff" Toby has another problem: two big city gamblers (Simon Oakland and Jack Kruschen) have opened a adjoining all-night gambling den next to the Kwimper household. The two men pretend they want to be friends with the naive Toby, who they actually exploit to their benefit. The film climaxes in Toby taking on both the threat of the gamblers as well as the local officials, the latter in an amusing courtroom sequence.
"Follow That Dream" has Elvis croon a relatively light load of only five songs. They are of varying quality and, frankly are presented in ridiculous fashion. Elvis will be laying on the grass staring dreamily into the sky and when he begins singing, the sound of a band appears out of nowhere as he unconvincingly lip-synchs the lyrics. Nevertheless, the paucity of songs does allow Elvis to emote and he gives a fine, low-key and self-assured performance. He is helped by the fact that there are so many good character actors in the film and that the entire production is under the hand of an accomplished (if criminally underrated) director, Gordon Douglas. The screenplay is by another respected screen veteran, Charles Lederer.
Elvis sang five songs in the film but so hated the one titled "Sound Advice" that he refused to include it on the soundtrack album.
The film does end on a relatively uncomfortable note, with Toby and Holly becoming a romantic couple. They might not be blood relatives but they have been living in a brother/sister relationship, which gives this aspect of the story a bit of a disturbing aspect, much as similar relationship did in John Huston's "The Unforgiven" in which Audrey Hepburn seemed to have the hots for her adopted big brother Burt Lancaster. Still, "Follow That Dream" is one of Elvis' more impressive movies and illustrates the potential he would have had if he continued to be nurtured as an actor by seasoned professionals in the industry. What isn't explored in the Twilight Time liner notes are the specific missed opportunities. He had been offered a key role in "The Rainmaker" but the Colonel insisted that Elvis get top-billing in any motion picture- an absurdity considering this production wasn't a musical and top-lined two screen legends, Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn. Years later, Hal Wallis did consider him for the second male lead in his 1969 production of "True Grit" but the Colonel would have none of it because Elvis wouldn't get top billing over John Wayne. The part went to Glen Campbell and the film was internationally hailed as a classic western. Frustrated, Elvis finally put his foot down and did his own western, a production called "Charro!" that was inspired by the Italian westerns made famous by Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone. It wasn't half bad and Elvis acquitted himself well enough but by then his boxoffice appeal had dwindled. He would make only two more feature films, although he was the subject of two other acclaimed documentaries about his concert performances in the 1970s. The legendary performer had managed to salvage his musical career by ignoring the Colonel and getting back to basics with his sensational 1968 comeback TV special. Sadly, the same fate did not await him in the film industry and we are left to ponder what could have been.
The Twilight Time release of "Follow That Dream" is right up to the company's usual high standards. In addition to an illustrated collector's booklet, there is an isolated score track and an original trailer.
If you think extremist talk radio is a relatively new phenomenon, the release of the 1970 film WUSA on DVD by Olive Films shows just how far back the not-so-grand tradition goes. The notion of reaching out to the fringe elements of society is well-documented here, with Paul Newman as a down-and-out musician with some broadcasting experience who sells his soul by taking a job as a DJ on right wing extremist radio station WUSA in New Orleans. Newman knows he's being used as a pawn for white supremicist tycoon Pat Hingle, but willingly accepts the fame and fortune that he receives when his star begins to rise - despite personally despising the words he reads on the air. In between playing cornporn patriotic ballads, Newman's character, known as Rheinhardt, spouts incendiary rhetoric designed to empower racists who want to combat expansion of the welfare state. Along the way, he hooks up with sexy-as-hell Joanne Woodward, playing an equally down-and-out woman whose fortunes have declined so badly that she is rejected when she applies to be a stripper. If the film seems especially harsh on the right wing fringe, liberals aren't spared, either. Anthony Perkins plays a stereotypical do-gooder, a true believer that LBJ's war on poverty would result in the establishment of his Great Society. What he fails to realize is that he, too, is being used as a dupe by community leaders who are secretly being paid off by WUSA management. Thus, both the forces of right and left collaborate to ensure inertia among opportunities for the impoverished.
There is a reason why most home-grown Chinese films are set in ancient times.
In an enlightening article in the New York Times, screenwriter Nury Vittachi analyzes the current state of the film industry in communist China. His verdict? Not good. Despite decades of capitalist reforms that have resulted in new freedoms and the emergence of a middle class, Big Brother is still watching over the people and arts. Vittachi laments the fact that the arts commissions that oversee every film production made in China are still clinging to the ludicrous idea that citizens will believe they are living in a real-life Shangri-la if only they don't see disturbing story lines on screen. Thus, in order to get a film made with government approval, there can be no evidence of criminal activity among Chinese citizens, no prostitution, virtually no vice of any kind- and at all times government officials must be portrayed in a heroic light. Vittachi discusses the creative loopholes filmmakers try to employ in order to get around these Draconian rules. Click here to read.
On the ancestry.com web site, Connie Ray by-lines an article titled "6 Things You Didn't Know About Bonnie and Clyde". Trouble is, the only way you wouldn't know some of them is if you never saw the classic 1967 film which accurately presented this information. On the other hand, there are some interesting facts about the "real" vs. "reel" notorious couple that may surprise you- oh, and you probably know they didn't have the slightest resemblance to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Click here to read.
On January 7, HBO will begin broadcasting director Andre Singer's film "Night Will Fall". It's a documentary about a documentary- one that is as fascinating as it is relevant. The film traces the tortured history of a documentary about the liberation of concentration camps in WWII. The film was authorized by the Allies in the immediate aftermath of the war. A man named Sydney Bernstein was told to chronicle the horrors that the liberators encountered in freeing the survivors of Hitler's genocidal policies. The purpose was clearly to make a propaganda documentary that would prove that the average German citizen had been well aware of what atrocities had been carried out in their name. Bernstein and his crew dutifully carried out their orders, but they were given only a three month period to complete the film. The shocking footage had such an impact that the project went beyond what Bernstein had been ordered to do. He enlisted Alfred Hitchcock to help supervise the editing process. The footage is said to surpass anything seen to date in terms of the sheer inhumanity depicted. Bernstein and Hitchcock ran out of time before the project could be completed and Billy Wilder took over supervision of the project, delivering a shorter film that had less impact than Bernstein's. The entire bizarre affair is chronicled in "Night Will Fall", which includes never-before-seen footage from Bernstein's aborted cut of the film. For more - and to view the trailer- click here.
It was in 1987 that the "new" James Bond, Timothy Dalton, made his debut as 007 in "The Living Daylights". It was a troubled production to bring to the screen, given the fact that Pierce Brosnan had been signed to play the role of Bond only to be thwarted by a contractual clause relating to his NBC TV series "Remington Steele". Dalton was the fourth actor to play 007 on the big screen, if you don't count David Niven in the 1967 spoof version of "Casino Royale". He followed in the paths of Sean Connery, George Lazenby and Roger Moore. Dalton is generally credited for bringing Bond back to earth in terms of downplaying the overt comedy that had characterized the series since Connery's final Bond film for Eon Production, "Diamonds Are Forever" in 1971. The good folks at the MI6 web site provide a wealth of interesting trivia relating to all things "Daylights". Click here to read- and while you're at it, subscribe to their superb magazine.
that a nuclear attack is imminent as international tensions escalate past the
tipping point, James (voiced by John Mills) and Hilda (voiced by Peggy
Ashcroft) prepare for the worst. From
their nostalgic memories of the World War II Blitz, the elderly English
working-class husband and wife anticipate that “the worst” will be inconvenient
but survivable. Consulting the
government’s civil preparedness brochures, James constructs a lean-to shelter
inside their cottage and lays in a supply of tea, crackers, and tinned food. When the bomb falls, the lean-to protects the
couple from the immediate heat and concussion of the blast, but the house is in
a shambles, the power is out, the taps have gone dry, and the toilet doesn’t
work anymore. Gamely enduring, the
couple settles down to wait for “the powers that be” to bring relief that never
comes as the insidious effects of radiation sickness set in.
the Wind Blows,” an animated feature by Jimmy T. Murakami, faithfully
reproduces the deceptively simple visual look of the 1981 graphic novel by
Raymond Briggs on which it was based. As
the story progresses, the bright, cozy tones of the early scenes give way to
the darker, grayer shades of James and Hilda’s post-blast environment, and the
texture of the images becomes richer and grittier. The story is poignant and its quietly angry
message still resonates, even if we’ve swapped the Soviet bogeyman of the
movie’s Reagan-Thatcher era for a new array of heebie-jeebies on the 6 o‘clock
news. Remember, not so long ago,
Homeland Security reassured us that we had nothing to fear if terrorists were to
attack the U.S. with biological weapons: just stock up on dust masks and put
duct tape around the windows.
Time’s new Blu-ray release packages a windowboxed, 1.33:1 transfer of the movie
in 1080p hi-def with a wealth of supplementary materials, notably a making-of
featurette, a 2010 documentary about animator/director Murakami, an interview
with author Briggs, isolated music and effects tracks, audio commentary by
First Assistant Editor Joe Fordham and film historian Nick Redman, and a handsome
souvenir booklet by Julie Kirgo.The
Blu-ray, which is limited to 3,000 units, can be ordered HERE.
are back with their new album / CD ‘Sixty Minute Zoom’ (Cine 11). The London-based
trio have again drawn upon their influences of film composer Fabio Frizzi and
the legendary Italian soundtrack giants Goblin in order to produce this
creative and unique homage to the much-loved Giallo film genre. To date,
Zoltan’s journey has been an incredibly interesting ride and Sixty Minute Zoom
really does emerge as arguably their most polished piece of work. The album
reveals a perfect coherence between keyboardist Andy Thompson,
bassist/keyboardist/guitarist Matt Thompson and drummer Andrew Prestidge.
Block’ opens the album with a brooding, atmospheric pace, there’s also plenty
of haunting synths that flutter among the punchy sharpness of Prestidge’s
percussion. Zoltan provide a relevantly spooky and unsettling vibe through Side
One, especially with tracks such as ‘Table of Hours’. Whilst ‘The Ossuary’ is a
piece that begins with a sense of soothing electronic energy, don’t be fooled – as it switches direction
around the half way mark and instead pulls us into the realm of suspense and an
almost pulsating stalker theme. Zoltan cleverly keep you on your toes and guessing
throughout – it’s an almost stylised mystery tour which never allows the
listener to settle for a minute.
Two is devoted entirely to the epic ‘The Integral’ – a twenty-one minute synth
symphony which captures Zoltan’s slick sense of unity. The piece arguably emerges
as an Italian Giallo suite, a rich mixture of electro experimentation and
rhythmic beats - a powerful, threatening groove which could have effortlessly
graced any classic euro horror of the day.
have to admire Zoltan’s continued commitment to the Italian horror genre, an
area to which some may consider (rather unwisely) as a defunct soundtrack
category of the past. There is a genuine passion behind Zoltan’s work, an almost
unflinching desire to assure that the Giallo soundtrack keeps its head firmly above
the water – and who can blame them? It’s a release which will certainly appeal to
fans of cult Euro horror and exploitation fiends.
Cineploit have released Sixty minute zoom
in a number of formats including Vinyl LP, CD and several mixed options – check
it out here http://www.cineploit.com/
The new season of Cinema Retro (Season 11) is now upon us. Subscribers in the UK and Europe already have issue #31 in their hot little hands. We expect the new issue to arrive in our American offices by the first week of February. There was a two-week delay to due factors outside our control relating to shipping schedules in the UK over the holidays that resulted in a backlog of cargo shipments. Rest assured, the minute it arrives, it will be mailed out to our readers in America, Canada, South and Central America, Asia and Australia.
This issue is loaded with exciting articles including:
A tribute to the immortal Pam Grier, the "First Lady" of kick-ass cinema.
Revisiting "Bandolero!" starring Raquel Welch, Dean Martin and James Stewart
Exclusive interview with film preservationist Charles Cohen of the Cohen Film Collection.
Our "Film in Focus" is a lengthy article dedicated to that great 1970's film noir flick "Farewell My Lovely" with Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe- with exclusive insights from director Dick Richards.
Celebrating the life and career of director Ted Post ("Hang 'Em High", "The Harrad Experiment", "Magnum Force", "Beneath the Planet of the Apes")
"James Bond's Portugal"- some of the key locations then and now.
Reliving the wonders of VistaVision
"The New Avengers" at Pinewood Studios
Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as gay lovers in the forgotten gem "Staircase"
plus: "Bite the Bullet", Hammer star Olinka Berova, "Mark of the Devil", Raymond Benson's Ten Best Films of 1950, Joe Namath as "The Last Rebel", the "Gamma 1" sci-fi cult movies, latest DVD, film book and soundtrack reviews.
Most of our regular subscribers have already re-upped for the new season. If you still haven't done so, please CLICK HERE to renew or take out an initial subscription and ensure you don't miss a single issue. (Make sure you click on the section for Season 11, as Season 10 is also still available)
As usual, our sincere thanks to all of our loyal readers as we enter our 11th year of publication. The best is yet to come!
Clint Eastwood may not have snagged a Best Director Oscar nomination last week, but he's having the last laugh at the North American boxoffice. Until now, the highest weekend opening of an Eastwood film had been $29 million for "Gran Torino" in 2008. "Sniper" is projected to bring in $90 million this weekend. Warner Brothers described the film as a "cultural phenomenon" and industry analysts attribute the astonishing grosses to excellent word-of-mouth. Making the studio brass even more delighted is that Eastwood is from the old school of filmmakers: he works fast, efficiently and within a modest budget. "Sniper" cost only $60 million to make, ensuring that it will become a major financial success. Click here for more.
Japanese actor Ken
Takakura, iconic leading man in countless yakuza and action films, died at 83
of lymphoma on November 10 in Tokyo. He had long since achieved legendary
status in Japan with his portrayals of brooding samurai, gangsters and hit men.
The characters he portrayed were usually on the wrong side of the law but
adhered to a chivalric code of honor that, while not reflective of reality,
nevertheless struck a deep chord among Japanese filmgoers of the 1960s. Takakura
was most familiar to American audiences for his roles in The Yakuza (1975), directed by Sydney Pollack and co-starring
Robert Mitchum; Black Rain (1989),
with Michael Douglas; and Mr. Baseball
(1992), with Tom Selleck. In each of these he more than held his own against his
high-powered American co-stars.
Born Goichi Oda in Nakama,
Fukuoka, Takakura was witness to real-life yakuza street clashes during his formative
years, which may have informed his acting choices when he began to incarnate
yakuza in his movies. Ironically, he originally aspired to a managerial
position at Toei studios, but a spur-of-the-moment decision to attend an
audition led to his becoming an actor, with his first performance coming in
1956 in Lightning Karate Blow.
Takakura was a competent
if middling headliner in dozens of films over the next few years until his
performance in The Walls of Abashiri
Prison (1965) suddenly thrust him into the front ranks of Japanese leading
men. As one of two escaped prisoners handcuffed together and on the run in desolate,
snow-filled Hokkaido (an obvious homage to 1958’s The Defiant Ones), Takakura’s anti-hero persona finally resonated
with the public. The film was so successful that Toei eventually churned out 18
Abashiri pictures, all starring
Takakura. He simultaneously appeared in several other long-running series,
including nine Brutal Tales of Chivalry
films and 11 installments of Tales of Japanese
The thematic template in
these movies invariably skewed to a standard formula and audience expectations,
with Takakura playing an honorable yakuza, often just released from prison, who
found himself protecting weaker, innocent characters from the depredations of
dishonorable gangsters. If these films held few surprises on the narrative
level, they usually delivered potent depictions of violence, ill-fated love,
stoic machismo and a satisfyingly unhappy end for the hero. Such cinematic fare
was Takakura’s meal ticket throughout the decade.
However, as the 1960s made
way for the 1970s, a meaner, more cynical and considerably more violent style
of yakuza film took hold, spearheaded by director Kinji Fukasaku and budding action
superstar Bunta Sugawara. There was no longer room for the kind of honorable
gangsters Takakura portrayed in his trademark ninkyo, or chivalrous, yakuza pictures. But if he was no longer top
dog, the actor was still a big draw, his charisma supremely intact. While
Takakura still made action films—like the stunning Golgo 13 (1973), in which he played a badass hit man plying his
trade in Iran—he also starred in other types of roles, including an-convict
gone straight in the romantic drama The
Yellow Handkerchief (1977) and, in the latter part of his career, an aging
station manager in Railroad Man
"New Prison Walls of Abashiri".
Takakura made more than
200 films during his life. Among his essential titles are Wolves, Pigs and Men (1964), directed by the great Kinji Fukasaku; An Outlaw (1964); The Walls of Abashiri Prison (1965-1972); Brutal Tales of Chivalry (1965-1972); Tales of Japanese Chivalry (1964-1971); Theater of Life 1 and 2 (1968); Yakuza’s
Tale (1969); Golgo 13 (1973);
several of the Red Peony Gambler series
(1968-1972), starring genre icon Junko Fuji; and many more.
On and off screen, Takakura
upheld traditional Japanese values and masculinity in the face of Japan’s
increasing materialism and westernization. For that he was revered by his
countrymen across political, class and age spectrums. Humble and self-effacing,
Takakura possessed a shrewd insight into his box office popularity. In a 2013
interview he stated, “I think that the reason the general public
identified with the roles I played was that they were struck by my stance as a
man who unrelentingly stands up to absurd injustices. It wasn’t just that I was
just going off to a sword fight, but that my character was willing to sacrifice
himself in order to protect the people important to him.”
those interested in exploring Takakura’s filmography, the best place to start
is www.japanesesamuraidvd.com, which has more than 40 of his films for
sale, all of them subtitled and most of them remastered.)
DVD cover art for “The Accursed!” states that the story is “from the files of
the world’s most fabulous secret society: 1958’s sensational spy shocker!” The
movie has the look of a low budget thriller from Hammer studios and features
several alumni of that studio.
members of a German underground resistance group meet annually on the
anniversary of their leader’s death. Colonel Price, played by Donald Wolfit, became
their new leader during the war and years later receives a call from his
contact in Germany informing him that one of their members is a traitor and
responsible for their former leader’s death. The man making the call says he
wants to deliver the name of the traitor in person at Colonel Price’s home in
England where the resistance group is also gathered. The man arrives, but dies
after being stabbed before he reveals the name of the traitor.
Accursed!” features Wolfit, Robert Bray, Jane Griffiths, Anton Diffring and
Christopher Lee in a post-WWII suspense thriller that’s mostly armchair mystery,as
most of the movie takes place in one room of Colonel Price’s mansion. Among the
members of the resistance group are Vicky, played by Griffiths, Joseph, played
by Diffring and Doctor Neumann, played by Lee. Joseph is a pianist working on
his next concerto and was in love with Vicki.
after the murder, American intelligence officer Major Shane, played by Robert
Bray, arrives along with his British aid and proceeds to try and unravel the
mystery and uncover a traitor. It turns out he knows the members of the group
and it’s more than a coincidence that his car breaks down near the home of
movie moves at a brisk 74 minutes and the mystery is solved in a satisfactory
manner. The film, directed by Michael McCarthy, includes a fine score featuring
the piano solo “Prelude Without a Name” composed by Jackie Brown and played by
Dennis Wilson. Wolfit and the rest of the cast are entertaining and the
resolution is very enjoyable.
Accursed!” was completed in June 1956 and originally titled “The Traitor” when
released in the UK in March 1957. It didn’t receive an American release until
July 1958 via Allied Artists along with a title change. The title change is
curious because the original title better connects to the story while “The
Accursed!” reminds one more of a title for a horror movie.
are a few scratches and artifacts found throughout the movie and a couple
scenes go almost black, but overall this black and white movie looks pretty
good. “The Accursed!” is a burn to order DVD released as part of the WB Archive
Collection and there are no extras on the disc. The movie is presented in a
widescreen format preserving the original aspect ratio of the movie. This is a
good rainy day movie and a welcome addition for any fan of British murder
Grass Valley, California resident (Norman Eugene) Clint Walker
starred in the iconic television western Cheyennefrom 1955-1963. This was
the golden era of TV westerns, with dozens of similar shows airing around the
Like their big screen counterparts, TV
cowboys were usually handsome, brave, resourceful and of course good with a
gun. However, there was something a bit
different about the Cheyenne Bodie character as Walker portrayed him. He fit
the genre all right. A big, handsome man built like an oak tree (6’6”, 48-inch
chest, 32-inch waist), he rode easy in the saddle and looked better than almost
anybody in a Stetson and boots. Men who doubted his resolve always ended up
regretting it. Ladies looked his way. Still, despite never violating the
conventions of the formula, Walker somehow managed to make the sum of his
character add up to more than its parts.
Knowing perhaps from fan mail that young boys
comprised a large part of the Cheyenne
audience, the writers frequently stocked their scripts with gentle morals.
Often as not it was a lesson about tolerance of others, especially others
unlike ourselves. Oh sure, the bad guys
almost always ended-up dead in the end, as was to be expected. Cheyenne was in at least one obligatory fight
per episode, frequently letting his huge fists do his talkin’ for him. The producers more and more frequently showed
him bare-chested (the money shot for the growing number of females in the
Yet, none of this is really what most fans
of the show remember. What we remember is the man himself, his down-to-earth
persona and quiet sense of humor, his willingness to bend when necessary but
never sacrifice his core principles. And something more: the decency and
kindness with which he treated others, especially the down-and-out, the town
drunk or the old man who everybody poked fun at. Clint Walker in the role of
Cheyenne Bodie helped teach, if only in a small way, a generation of young
American males that being a man wasn’t just about being tough. It was also
about sticking to your word, lending a helping hand when needed, and practicing
that most ancient of all western codes: whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.
I recently spoke with James Drury about his old pal Clint
Walker. Drury played the title role in one of the most popular and
longest-running television westerns in history, The Virginian.
“I first met Clint on the set of Cheyenne,” Drury told me. “I did the show with him and we hit it off and
have been good friends ever since. That’s the way it worked sometimes. You’d walk
onto a set and meet somebody and you’d become friends for life. I don’t think I actually worked with Clint in
the acting field again until more recently when we did a Kung Fu: The Legend Continues episode with David Carradine. However,
we have worked in many other venues together. Within the last few years we’ve
attended a lot of film festivals. I
always try to sit next to Clint any time I can because I get the overflow from
his crowd. He draws more people at a film festival and autograph session than
just anybody. He usually has a line around the block. He has immense and well
I asked Drury about any parallels between
the character Clint Walker played on TV and the real man. “I believe Clint patterned the Cheyenne Bodie character
after his own personality,” he told me. “What you see is what you get with him.
He lets it (his personality) work for him every day of his life and people love
him for it. He’s a wonderful gentleman
and a wonderful human being, he really is. He’s always doing everything he can
to help everybody else. Whatever is going on, he’s there to help. I’m always
willing to talk about him because he is such a dear friend and gentleman.”
“You know it takes a lot of physical
strength to do a western,” Drury continued. “Both mental and physical strength to
do all the things you have to do on horseback and the other tasks. Westerns are make-believe but we actually had
to do the work as well. If we were pretending to be digging a cesspool, then we
were digging a cesspool. You had to get down there and do it, whatever it was.
Clint had done all sorts of physical labor
before becoming an actor and built up a tremendous amount of strength. Then he
got into the body building. He made his own weights out of cement. He put
cement in two five gallon cans and stuck a pipe in both ends and made a barbell.
I’m sure he could lift a D12 tractor if he felt like it. He’s got to be one of
the strongest men I ever met. Incidentally, someone told me just the other day
they had measured Clint’s draw with a six-gun and he was among the fastest
there was. I just heard that recently, though it doesn’t surprise me.”
I asked James Drury about the traditional
American values reflected in the Cheyenne
series as well as shows like TheVirginian and The Rifleman. “As my friend Richard Farnsworth used to say, that
early part of our (country’s) history was our Camelot. It’s the time we look back to when integrity,
honesty, loyalty and true friendship were qualities people went out of their
way to share and have because the conditions were so terribly difficult you had
to take care of your fellow man, and he had to take care of you. People had the
tendency to make friends and keep them. There’s a little saying from the Cowboy Way that goes, If it’s not true, don’t say it; if it’s not
yours, don’t take it; if it’s not right, don’t do it.”
Good words to live by and, according to
someone who has known him for over fifty years, fitting ones for Clint Walker,
both the actor and the man.
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release)
the recent BFI release of the BBC television series Out of the Unknown
comes this oddity; the only completely surviving episode of Out of This World,
a science fiction series produced in the early 1960s by independent television
channel ABC. The series was created by Irene Shubick and produced by Leonard
White, who would achieve lasting fame through his co-creating The Avengers.
Like other anthology shows before it such as Armchair Theatre, this was
conceived as an opportunity to present a variety of quality writing to
mainstream audiences. It was Shubick's belief that science fiction contained
some of the 'most original and philosophical ideas' in modern fiction.
Karloff was employed as the presenter for the show. By this time he was
seventy-five but was still regularly working in both the US and the UK despite
deteriorating health. He was no stranger to the anthology format, having
previously hosted the shows The Veil (1958) and Thriller
(1960-1962), the latter running to sixty-seven episodes. Out of This World
itself only ran to thirteen episodes, despite being a success at the time.
Irene Shubick was poached by the BBC where she was able to spend the next
several years working on her love for science fiction by producing the
aforementioned Out of the Unknown, that time not using a presenter.
due to budgetary constraints, it was common for television recordings to be
erased after broadcasts, so only one episode of Out of This World
remains, an adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Little Lost Robot. As with all
of Asimov's robotic tales, the story deals with the problems that arise when
the rules governing robot behaviour are tampered with. When an irritated
engineer tells a highly-sophisticated robot to, "Get lost!" this is
exactly what it does. Obeying every instruction, it proceeds to blend in with a
hanger full of identical robots. However, as this robot had its rule to not
allow harm to come to humans revoked, this poses something of a problem for
those in charge. Dr Susan Calvin, a robot psychologist, is called in to devise
a series of tests which will allow her to flush out the real lost robot in
order that the whole batch need not be destroyed. Despite the small sets and
slightly laughable robot costumes, it is an intriguing tale.
of other episodes have survived, and in attempt to be the most complete release
possible the BFI have included them here: an audio recording of Cold Equations,
starring Peter Wyngarde and Jane Asher, and an incomplete audio recording of
Imposter, an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story which would later become a
Hollywood movie in 2001. Also included is the shooting script for Dumb Martian,
adapted from John Wyndham, and a brand new audio commentary with the series
producer Leonard White. White, now aged 98, is on remarkable form and has an
excellent memory for his work in British television. Rounding out the DVD
package is a booklet containing a full history of Out of This World
including plot details for each episode.
Leonard White, photographed at age 95 at a UK "Avengers" event.
(Photo copyright Adrian Smith. All rights reserved.)
latest BFI release is the last in their current "Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and
Wonder" season and is a must for completists and genre fans, and
demonstrates that TV science fiction in the 1960s could be more than just
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
ON THE EVE OF THIS YEAR’S SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL,
PAST GRAND JURY
PRIZE NOMINEE, HOLY ROLLERS, STARRING
NOMINEE JESSE EISENBERG, MAKES ITS FREE VOD DEBUT EXCLUSIVELY ON SNAGFILMS
Beginning January 20th, this Ripped-from-the-Headlines Crime Drama,
Award-Winning Filmmaker Kevin Asch (Affluenza),
Co-Stars Justin Bartha
(The Hangover), Ari Graynor (TV’s “Bad Teacher”), Danny A. Abeckaser
(The Wolf of Wall Street), Q-Tip and
Hallie Kate Eisenberg (Paulie); it
Will Be Available to View Online
at SnagFilms.com, and All Supported Devices, Including Their Multi-Platform
NEW YORK, NY (January XX, 2015) – Inspired
by actual events in the late ‘90s in which Hasidic Jews were recruited as drug mules, HOLY ROLLERS was a
Gotham Award winner and Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize nominee in
2010. On the eve of Sundance 2015, the
crime drama, starring Oscar® nominee Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Now You See Me) makes its free VOD debut on
January 20, exclusively on SnagFilms, the
award-winning social video-viewing platform and 2014 Webby® nominee. It will be available to view online at SnagFilms.com, and all
supported devices, including their multi award-winning app.
HOLY ROLLERS, directed by award-winning indie filmmaker Kevin Asch (Affluenza),
mild-mannered Sam Gold (Eisenberg) is a young Rabbinical student from an
ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Borough Park, Brooklyn. Looking to make some
extra money, Sam and his best friend Leon (Jason Fuchs, Ice Age: Continental Drift) accept a job
from Leon’s brother Yosef (Justin Bartha, The Hangover) to retrieve a suitcase in Amsterdam and walk it
through customs in New York. Yosef has ties to an Israeli drug
cartel, the mysterious cargo turns out to be pure MDMA (ecstasy), and the
promise of easy cash lures Sam into becoming a smuggler and dealer. The film co-stars Ari Graynor (Celeste and Jesse Forever), Danny A.
Abeckaser (The Wolf of Wall Street),
Q-Tip (Cadillac Records), and Hallie
Kate Eisenberg (The Insider)
award-winning streaming video platform offers entertainment lovers an extensive
library of over 5,000 free movies, TV series and web originals on demand. The platform provides members the tools to
discover, watch and recommend a wide range of professional online video
content. The SnagFilms viewing
experience is available everywhere, enabling audiences to watch movies on the
web (including thousands of affiliate sites) as well as on sector-leading
applications that are available on mobile, set-top box and home entertainment
Inc., also owns Indiewire, the independent film industry’s leading news service
and blog network, twice named top entertainment site by the Webby Awards.
Founded by Ted Leonsis, SnagFilms, Inc. was
named as one of Red Herring’s 2013 Top-100 Technology Companies in North
America.Snagfilms.com was a Webby
finalist as 2014’s top entertainment site and a 2013 Webby Honoree. SnagFilms,
Inc. is headquartered in Washington, DC with offices in New York and Los Angeles.
For further information, visit snagfilms.com.
Bava's Demons, which was released on
Friday, May 30, 1986, is one of the most entertaining and unintentionally
hilarious horror films that I have ever experienced. Set upon an unsuspecting
public with an ad campaign similar to that of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978), the film was
distributed without a rating in selected markets and warned that no one under
17 would be admitted. It's interesting to note that although Demons is quite gory, most of the
violence is fantastic in nature and is fairly tame when compared to the horror
films of the last 10 to 15 years which have tended to be not only brutally
violent but also gratuitous to an unnecessary degree. While a good number of
audience members have a seemingly insatiable and unquenchable thirst for blood
and guts, I prefer horror films that spend more time on character, story, and
style. If gore is part of the equation, that's fine, but it doesn't really
interest me if it's the only point of the film. In Demons, the gore is there and it's messy, but it's not over the top
and is only used to accentuate the action.
Filmed during the summer of 1985 in then-West
Berlin, Germany and at a long-gone derelict theater in Italy, Demons is most definitely an ‘80’s film.
The hairstyles, the clothing, and the music pulsating on the soundtrack all
point to a time that took place 30 years ago. The film poses the question as to
what would happen if a group of randomly selected members of the public were
given the opportunity to see a sneak preview of an untitled film in a theater and
what would happen if they got stuck in that very theater with absolutely no way
of getting out. This is a tried-and-true horror film plot, but it's pulled off
extraordinarily well and has loads of quotable dialogue. Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) and Kathy (Paola
Cozzo) are friends who are presumably in high school or college and decide to
blow off class for the sneak preview. They've both been given complimentary
tickets by a strange man wearing a metal mask over his face. Along with a group of other people, they make
their way into the theater. The audience is comprised of a crazy cast of
characters, most notably: Ken (Karl Zinny) and George (Urbano Barberini) who
make sure that they sit next to Cheryl and Kathy; Frank and Ruth, a married
couple who provide comic relief; and the uproarious Tony (the inimitable Bobby
Rhodes), a snazzy pimp with his two whores Carmen (Fabiola Toldeo) and Rosemary
(Geretta Giancarlo), who he often yells at. Tony and his ladies provide some of
the funniest and most memorable dialogue in the film. While watching the movie
within the movie, strange things begin to happen in the audience. A
disease-like contagion breaks out and pretty soon the audience is fighting for
their lives, attempting to make their way out of the theater as the exits are
As if this motley crew wasn’t enough, a
group of outsiders driving around in a car comprised of one woman and three men
(two of whom are named Baby Pig and Ripper!) are a crazy lot who manage to make
their way inside the theater. An all-out war between the infected audience in
the form of demons and those who haven't been affected breaks out and threatens
all of human kind.
The release of Demons on DVD and Blu-ray has been a long time coming. Don May’s
excellent company, Synapse Films, has done a bang up job of re-furnishing the
film and making it look bright and clear, as opposed to the old VHS and
American laser disk pressings which were notoriously dark and full of contrast,
making it very difficult to interpret the on-screen action. The special edition Blu-ray came out months
ago, but for those of you interested in just the film, the DVD movie-only
release fits the bill. It sports not
only the original American mono audio, but also the much better sounding
European stereo mix. The dubbing is
entertainingly ludicrous and is done by different loopers on the respective
sound tracks. Claudio Simonetti provides
one of his best film scores which is interspersed with period music of the
The discs special features are as
widescreen transfer from original vault materials in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio,
featuring all-new color correction supervised by Synapse Films
both the “International English” stereo language soundtrack, as well as the
“U.S. Mono” English alternate dub soundtrack
U.S. theatrical trailer
English SDH subtitles provided for both English versions
Ian Ogilvy in his latest film, "We Still Kill the Old Way", now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Ian Ogilvy: Saints, Sorcerers and Secret Agents
Cinema Retro's Mark Mawston recently caught up with the legendary Ian Ogilvy to discuss projects past and present.
Mark Mawston: Ian, your film career began in the mid
60’s with The She Beast, directed by Michael Reeves. You had a great
relationship with him. How did that come about?
Ian Ogilvy: Well, when we were 15 years old we made
a couple of amateur movies together after we were introduced by a mutual friend
and we became great friends. I used to stay at his mother’s house with him in
Norfolk and over two years we made these two little amateur movies. I then lost
contact with him as I went off and did different things like attending drama
school and he went off and did lots of assistant director jobs and general “go-foring”
jobs in the movie industry. Then one day my English agent said “Have you heard
of a guy called Michael Reeves? He wants you to play the lead in his first
film!” So, as it turned out, he hadn’t forgotten me and I hadn’t forgotten him
and that’s how it came about.
MM: You seemed to be Reeves’ muse,
appearing in all three of his finished films (The She Beast, The Sorcerers and the
classic Witchfinder General). Through those films you worked with two of horror’s
greatest stars, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. What can you tell us about
IO: Well I wasn’t really his muse. The
thing about Michael was that he couldn’t really direct actors. He didn’t
understand what acting was all about so he left them pretty much alone. He only
liked to work with actors he knew and trusted. I simply became the actor he
trusted and that’s how we worked together. As for working with Boris, well he
was a complete delight, the most charming, courteous old man id ever met in my
life and quite funny, too. He always tried to do his best. Vincent on the other
hand, well its quite well known that he was an unhappy actor when doing this
film (Witchfinder General a.k.a The
Conqueror Worm) and really didn’t want to be there. He didn’t like Michael and
didn’t like the way he was being treated by Michael but still gave, I think,
one of his best ever performances in that movie. So Michael was right and he
was wrong. I didn’t have much to do with either of them bar meeting regarding
each film but other than that, didn’t really come across them. My knowledge of
Vincent specifically isn’t that great as I didn’t spend a lot of time working
with him. Our paths and parts ran parallel yet different, if you know what I
MM: Yes I believe the famous put down by
Reeves to Price;
Man, I have made over a hundred films, how many have you made”?
Reeves: “ Three good ones” cleared the air and led to, I agree, one of
Prices best performances.
After this you worked on Waterloo with
Christopher Plummer, Jack Hawkins and Orson Welles. Did you spend time with the
IO: Orson Welles spent one day on set and it
was miles away from where I was! His entire role was shot in one or two days,
filmed in Italy or somewhere. I didn’t get to meet Rod Steiger, either, as
there was no need to because they got all the French actors to come in and do
their stuff, then get the British actors in. There was no particular reason for
us to meet. Although I do wish I’d met Orson Welles. I don’t think anyone did!
MM: What was the overall experience working
on Waterloo, as it was so different in set-up and sheer scale?
IO: Well, the sheer scale was enormous. It was a vast project. It
couldn’t be done today, or if it was, it would all be CGI. We had over 25,000
extra’s which was The Red army, The Russian army. We were given whole
regiments. The Director Sergei Bondarchuk had made War and Peace a few years earlier, an 8 or 9 hour epic using
the same soldiers so they all knew about dressing up in uniforms (laughs). It
was a huge film, the biggest I’ve ever been involved with.
MM: You’ve starred in some of the most
beloved cult TV shows, such as The Avengers and Ripping Yarns. Did you prefer
TV and did it give you more scope as an actor?
IO: When people ask actors that they tend
to say it would be films for the money, TV for the regular bread and butter,
which is what you did the most in order to give yourself a decent living and the
theatre for the material, as the material is always better than TV or
film. I loved doing films but they
didn’t come around as often as TV shows. TV was a general staple in those days,
if not now, though things have changed . Back then , if you’d looked at TV from
6:00 PM in the evening until late at night when it stopped, TV would be
employing actors. Now it just seems to be quiz shows, cooking shows and so-called
reality shows. We, as young actors, had more opportunity than they do now. I
liked TV, as it gave me my daily bread.
MM: Were you approached by The Pythons for
IO: (laughs) I don’t know to be honest with
you! I think I may have gone and read for them or they knew me from before. I
hardly remember how I got that, but it was a joyous job.
MM: It was on again recently and holds up
wonderfully and your turn in it was especially good. Bar long running series
Upstairs Downstairs, you’re most recognized for your role as Simon Templer in
Return of The Saint. How did that come about? Did producer Bob Baker spot you?
IO: No, it was Bob’s wife who spotted me in
Upstairs Downstairs and said “Bob, if you ever do another Saint, that guy would
be good” which was odd really, as my character in that program was so weak, so effeminate,
that I was surprised she made the connection. Still, Bob trusted her judgment
and his agent called me and Bob took me to dinner and asked that- if he did get
a new series off the ground- would I be willing to do it? I said “Sure”, but I
forgot all about it for several years, as I didn’t hear anything back. Then in
the late 70’s, all of a sudden, it came back again and he managed to raise the
money, as he’d managed to get Lord Lew
Grade to back it. So it happened after talking about it all those years before.
Return of the Saint
MM: It shows your range as an actor, that
you can play a total fop and yet still be seen as an all action hero
Robert Stigwood ended the 1970s with three major musicals in a row, “Saturday Night Fever,” “Grease,”
and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band,” and then stumbled in 1980 with “Moment
by Moment,” a dumb romantic melodrama with Lily Tomlin and John Travolta.“The Fan” (1981) was expected to revive his
winning streak, headlining Lauren Bacall and James Garner in a suspense thriller
about a Broadway star (Bacall) stalked by the deranged title character, played
in fine creepy fashion by newcomer Michael Biehn.But “The Fan” also did mediocre box
office.Some observers believed the
timing was bad.Three real-life
tragedies involving stalkers were still uncomfortably fresh in peoples’ minds
-- the murders of John Lennon and actress/centerfold Dorothy Stratten, and the
attempted assassination of President Reagan.Other critics blamed the studio’s marketing of the production as a
“Bacall and Garner movie.”The two stars
drew an older fan base that perhaps expected a sedate show-biz suspense drama,
and instead were surprised and turned off by scenes of slasher violence and
co-billing with Bacall, Garner has hardly more than a walk-on role as Jake, the
ex-husband of Bacall’s character, Sally Rice. He doesn’t even show up in the denouement when Sally has her big
confrontation with knife-wielding Douglas Breen (Biehn) in an empty
theater. Garner’s absence from this key
scene must have confounded his followers. Surely Jake would pull a Jim Rockford and show up in the nick of time to
years on, viewers who come to “The Fan” by way of its new release as a Warner Archive Collection DVD may find it far
more interesting than moviegoers in 1981 did. This was director Edward Bianchi’s first feature film (he’s since gone
on to a prolific career directing TV dramas), and instead of investing the movie
with his own style, he clearly borrows from Brian de Palma for the stalker
scenes and from Bob Fosse for the backstage rehearsal scenes and Sally’s big
number for opening night. It isn’t that
Bianchi doesn’t borrow well, with the debt to de Palma underlined by the fact
that the movie is scored by de Palma’s resident composer, Pino Donaggio. It’s that the jarring slasher scenes seem to
belong to a different movie than the slinky, “All That Jazz”-flavored
song-and-dance routines. Adding to the
tutti-frutti mix, Bacall’s spotlight number, “Hearts, Not Diamonds,” sounds
like a Saturday Night Live parody of a 1981-era Marvin Hamlisch/Tim Rice show
tune. In fact, it actually is a
the 1981 audience may have been disappointed by this scrambled omelet of
over-the-top moments, it’s a lot more entertaining than the predictable,
star-driven suspense movies that followed later in the ‘80s, such as “Still of
the Night,” “Jagged Edge,” and “Suspect.” Younger viewers now may get a kick out of the movie’s vanished world of
land-line rotary phones, typewriters, and people smoking in hospital waiting
rooms. Pay attention and you’ll see
Griffin Dunne, Dana Delaney, and Dwight Schultz in minor roles. A scene of Douglas cruising a gay bar, with
unfortunate results for a young man he picks up, has chilling implications on a
symbolic level that would not have been apparent to audiences when the movie
opened in May 1981; the first reports of a real-life scourge stalking the gay
community, AIDS, had not yet surfaced.
The Warner Archive
Collection edition of “The Fan” is a manufactured-on-demand DVD. It has a scene-selection menu and English
captions for the hearing-impaired, but no other extras. The image is a little soft, which may be
unavoidable for older source material, and it’s only a drawback in the “Hearts,
Not Diamonds” number where a crisper image would add to the fun.
in American football has been a big issue during the last year. After former
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was videotaped knocking his girlfriend
unconscious in an elevator and other players were reportedly involved in
incidents of domestic abuse, the National Football League issued a Code of
Conduct for players. Violation of the code can result in a player being
suspended or kicked out of the sport altogether. In Great Britain, however, it’s
not the players who are guilty of off-the-field violence, it’s the fans.
“Football hooliganism” as it is known, is and has been a problem for years.
Nick Love’s 2008 film, “The Firm” tells a story set in the midst of this violent
those who don’t know, football hooliganism refers to the organized gangs of
young soccer fans, almost all young men, who meet one another when the mood
strikes them to have a go at bashing each other’s heads in. These organized groups,
sometimes consisting of 100 or 200 young men, are known as “firms.” According
to Nick Love’s film, however, football has little to do with the violent
encounters these groups instigate. In fact, there was not a single frame of
film shot at a soccer stadium during a game.
Firm” was originally a television play broadcast in the 1980’s and featured
Gary Oldman as Bex, the leader of one of the firms. Reviews indicate it was
told from Bex’s point of view. Love’s adaptation
keeps the time frame, but changes the point of view and makes it more of a
coming of age story. In this version, the viewpoint character is Dom, a boy in
his teens who still lives with his parents, and encounters Bex and immediately
succumbs to a kind of hero worship.
Anderson plays Bex in this version, and Calum MacNab is Dom. Both give very
good, very real performances. And the shifting point of view between the two
main characters provides an interesting contrast between the two characters’
lifestyles. By day Bex wears a suit and tie and sells real estate. At night, he
wears Adidas and bright-colored jogging suits. He hangs out at a local pub with
members of his “firm,” and sets strategy for the next coming fight.
on the other hand, lives in an “estate,” an ugly housing project. and works
with his father in a construction business. Dom’s parents are shown to be mindless
cogs in the lower class of society. A chance encounter in a pub brings Dom and Bex
together, and the younger boy is impressed with the older man’s ferocity and
ruthlessness. When he’s invited to join Bex’s firm he jumps at the chance. He
immediately goes out and begs for money from his dad to buy the kind of clothes
Bex wears. He leaves his former best friend in the dust, and begins using
hooligan slang, that his parents don’t understand.
it is this emulation of Bex that leads to the beginning of Dom’s disenchantment
with his idol. The turning point comes in a scene where Dom shows up at a firm
meeting wearing the same exact red jogging suit and shoes that Bex is wearing.
When the rest of the firm ridicules Dom for this faux pas Bex simply
shrugs his shoulders and lets them rag on him until they’ve had enough. When he
finally tells the others to leave him alone, you can see the disappointment in
the story progresses, Dom begins to see the man he thought was so cool is
actually some kind of psychotic, a man full of violent rage. He leads his firm
in several clashes with another group, the Setis, with the violence escalating
with each encounter. Dom watches as Bex’s lieutenants try to reason with him,
but to no avail. He seems determined to lead his gang and himself into suicidal
Firm” is an interesting film, and keeps you glued to the screen to see how it
finally turns out. And unlike so many films today, it’s about something real,
not spaceships and superheroes. I give Love credit for carrying on a long
tradition of realism in British films that dates back to the days of Tony
Richardson, John Osborne and Alan Sillitoe. Love is not as good a writer as any
of those three. This film contains none of the indicting dialogue of England’s so-called
“Angry Young Men” characters who were so prevalent in films of the 1960s.
tells his story visually. Dialogue is minimal and what there is of it can
barely be understood because of the characters’ heavy accents. It’s all surface
level action. That combined with the loud soundtrack full of music from the ‘80s
results in an accurate portrait of the England of Margaret Thatcher, but it
does not go very deep into what really motivates men like Bex and Dom.
it’s a film well worth watching. The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray
transfer is first rate. The disc contains extras, including the usual deleted
scenes and “making of” featurettes. Another on how the gang fights were
choreographed also was of interest. A booklet containing notes by Julie Kirgo i
also illuminating. The disc also has an isolated soundtrack score. All in all,
a nice package.
This release is limited to only 3,000 units. Click here to order.
(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 a major coup, Amazon Prime's video streaming service has signed Woody Allen to write and direct a full season of half-hour programming. The new series has not been titled nor has a concept even been finalized. Allen- presumably in jest- said that his lack of vision for the project may make Amazon regret its decision. That seems unlikely. Allen is one of the most prolific filmmakers in the world and has a track record that is unrivaled: he has released at least one major film every year since he made his directorial debut with "Take the Money and Run" in 1969. Allen is also arguably at the pinnacle of his career, with some of his recent films earning major awards and kudos from critics.
Amazon Prime is going toe-to-toe with Netflix in terms of dominating the video streaming business. Polls show that viewers are rapidly defecting from watching traditional TV broadcasts in favor of utilizing streaming, which allows them to watch what they want whenever they want on TVs and mobile devices. The signing of Allen gives a boost in prestige to Amazon. For more click here.
Warner Archive continues to serve film fans very well by remastering and
releasing a continual stream of little-known and under-appreciated movies from
their huge vault. Terror on a Train (1953) (titled Time Bomb for its UK release)
certainly fits the “little-known” category and once it's seen by more people I
think it will be quite well appreciated by fans of tight B cinema.
film takes place in England where a sharp-eyed police officer catches a man
skulking about a train yard at night. The fellow assaults the cop and runs off
leaving behind a bag with the components of a bomb. Quickly the police realize
that the escaped man must have planted a bomb on the munitions train he was
seen near. Looking over the train's schedule they surmise the bomb must be on a
timer and would probably be set to explode when the train reached the most
populous spot on its trip - the Royal Navy Yard in Portsmouth.
for a demolitions expert lead the authorities to Canadian national Peter
Lyncort (Glenn Ford) who was trained in World War II as a explosives defuser
and his help is enlisted even though he tells the government men he is not at
his best, as his wife Has just walked out on him minutes before! The railway authorities
divert the train onto a line in a residential area and the people nearby are
evacuated as Lyncort tries to find and disassemble the explosives hidden among
the dozens of large mines before the time bomb will explode. At the same time,
the cop who was assaulted by the saboteur is allowed to play a hunch that the
bomber might want to observe his handiwork. He goes to the train station in
Portsmouth in the hopes of spotting the man and possibly getting more
information out of him about the bomb's location. Will Lyncort succeed or will
all his marital problems be solved in a loud ka-boom?
is a short, sharp thriller that moves along very quickly and maintains interest
throughout its 72 minute runtime. Although the film has a pretty good score it
is used very sparingly until the end. The tension of the film is built through
good editing and direction (by Ted Tetzlaff) instead of musical stings and the
movie is the better for it. Many films are undercut by layering the score over
every scene but here the natural, ambient sounds of the hunt for both the bomb
and the saboteur are used to make things more realistic. It could be argued
that the martial discord story element is superfluous but I enjoyed the tension
it added to the ending as Mrs. Lyncort realizes that it is her husband that is
risking his life to defuse the explosives. The film was shot on location and
that adds verisimilitude to the proceedings as does the inclusion of several
nice eccentric characters who seem to mainstays of British cinema from this era.
Warner Archive DVD presents the film in its original aspect ratio looking and
sounding crisp and clean. The only extra offered is the trailer which might
best be skipped until the feature has been enjoyed so that spoilers are
Screenwriter and producer Brian Clemens has passed away at age 83 in his native England. Clemens wrote scripts for some of the most revered British television programs of the 1960s and 1970s including "Danger Man" (aka "Secret Agent"), "The Avengers", "The Persuaders", "The Professionals", "The Baron" and "The New Avengers". Clemens also produced or executive produced several of the aforementioned shows. He also contributed single episode scripts for other popular shows including "Highlander", "The Protectors" and "Remington Steele". Clemens wrote numerous scripts for "Father Dowling Mysteries" and three "Perry Mason" TV movies in the early 1990s. A prolific writer, he also wrote screenplays for feature films beginning in the 1950s. His credits include "Station Six Sahara", "The Corrupt Ones" (aka "The Peking Medallion"), "See No Evil", "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad", Disney's "The Watcher in the Woods", "Highlander II: The Quickening" and the Hammer horror film "Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter", which he also directed and produced. According to his son, Clemens was still actively involved in working on scripts when he passed away on Saturday. In 2010, he was honored by the Queen for his significant contributions to British broadcasting and drama. For more click here.
Sturges was a rare breed in Hollywood in the early 1940s—he was a
writer/director auteur who penned
original comedies and directed them himself. Perhaps Chaplin—and Keaton, to a
degree—were the only other filmmakers up to that point who did the same,
picture after picture. Sturges began as a screenwriter authoring some of
Hollywood’s better comedies of the late ‘30s; finally, he told Paramount he
would sell them his script for The Great
McGinty only if they allowed him to direct it. The studio bosses relented
when Sturges took a cut in salary to do both jobs. McGinty was a hit and went on to win a screenplay Oscar for
Sturges. Then, during the war years, Sturges enjoyed his remarkable run before
succumbing, in the later years of the decade, to the inevitable “falling out of
fashion” that so often occurs in Tinsel Town.
comedy is sophisticated, intelligent, and witty; but it’s also wacky, off the
wall, and spitfire fast. He specialized in screwball comedy—i.e., absurdly zany
love stories between two likable but eccentric characters—and The Palm Beach Story, released in 1942,
is a prime example. Following his masterpiece (but, at the time, misunderstood
and not well received financially) Sullivan’s
Travels, Palm Beach stars Joel
McCrea (“Tom”) and Claudette Colbert (“Gerri”—Tom and Gerri, get it?) as an
unhappily married couple who split up and ultimately get back together. Classic
screwball comedy structure. What makes the film different from other screwball
comedies is what happens in-between. And at the beginning.
the beginning. Over the main title credits, we see a series of strange clips
that appear to be taken from later in the picture—but they’re not. In fact,
they’re never really explained at all, which does cause some confusion with the
audience. This opening has been debated by film scholars ever since the movie’s
release. It’s actually exposition, but cut down to brief snippets of visuals,
edited to the tune of a rollicking William
Tell Overture. We see a maid frightened by an imposing figure—she faints. A
concerned priest is at the altar, looking at his watch. We see Colbert, tied up
and gagged in a closet. And then we see Colbert in a wedding dress, rushing to
get ready? Is she the same Colbert as before? After that we
discover McCrea in wedding garb rushing to get in a car—obviously late for the
ceremony. But in the car he changed into another
set of wedding clothes. The bridal Colbert runs by the maid, who screams
and faints again. The tied and gagged Colbert breaks out of her binds and kicks
her way out of the closet. The recovering maid sees her, screams, and faints. Then the parties rush to the chapel—where
McCrea and Colbert (which one?) get married. The caption reads: “And they lived
happily ever after... or did they?”
don’t really find out what was going on in the credits until the end of the
movie in a somewhat contrived but typically Sturges-style explanation of what’s
been going on in the picture. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that Colbert plays
twin sisters, but McCrea also plays
twin brothers. The two sisters are in love with one of the McCrea twins (not “Tom”),
and he is about to marry the one who is not named Gerri. However, Gerri has
tied up her sister and taken her place at the altar—but somehow “Tom” has taken
his brother’s place at the chapel—and Tom and Gerri—the wrong couple—get
married. At least that’s how I interpret
five years of marriage, Tom and Gerri are at each other’s throats (but they
really do love each other, they just don’t realize it yet). Gerri leaves for
Palm Beach and Tom follows her. Gerri begins a relationship with billionaire
Rudy Vallee, and Tom is snared by Vallee’s maneating sister, Mary Astor, and
then things really get complicated.
in Sturges’ standard stock company of character extras—William Demarest, Sig
Arno, Robert Dudley, Franklin Pangborn, Arthur Hoyt, Chester Conklin, Jimmy
Conlin, Robert Warwick, and several others (all faces you will recognize but
won’t know their names) and you’ve got one crazy oddball of a movie. And it’s
4K digital restoration looks gorgeous, as always (how does Criterion manage to get the best-looking presentations of
black and white classic films on Blu-ray?). There are two new video interviews
with (a) writer and film historian James Harvey about Sturges and his works,
and (b) comedian and actor Bill Hader, also about Sturges and the picture. A
WW2 propaganda film, written by Sturges for the State Department, Safeguarding Military Information, is
included (and features Sturges regular Eddie Bracken). A 1943 radio adaptation
by Screen Guild Theater is also included, plus the informative essay by critic
Stephanie Zacharek in the booklet.
too bad that Preston Sturges’ flame burnt out by the end of the forties—he was
a talent that was often miles ahead—and above—his peers. The Palm Beach Story, while perhaps not his best work, is certainly
indicative of the man’s genius.
The cruel loss of legendary cinematic figures continues into the new year with the death of Anita Ekberg in Italy at age 83. The precise cause of death is not known at this time but she had suffered from a long illness. Ekberg was Swedish by birth but was often mistaken as a native of Italy because of her close association with Fellini and his films. She was named Miss Sweden as a teenager and competed in the Miss Universe contest before her statuesque figure ensured a career in show business during an era when full-bosomed sex sirens were all the rage. Hollywood studios were particularly on the lookout for the next exotic European beauty and Ekberg filled the bill perfectly. She slogged through bit parts uncredited in major studio productions before landing a prominent role opposite John Wayne and Lauren Bacall in the 1955 hit "Blood Alley" (in which she played a Chinese woman!) This opened doors and she went on to appear in other Hollywood hits including "Back From Eternity", "War and Peace" and the Martin and Lewis smash "Artists and Models". She would reunite on screen with the comedy team for "Hollywood or Bust". She received above-the-title billing in the 1956 adventure film "Zarak" opposite Victor Mature for future James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli. However, it was the Fellini classic "La Dolce Vita" that made her a household name in 1960. In the film's most memorable sequence, she cavorts in the Trevi Fountain with Marcello Mastroianni while attired in a gown. Photos of the sequence remain an iconic part of film history. After "Vita", Ekberg's star burned brightly but briefly. She reunited with Fellini for a segment of the 1962 film "Boccaccio '70". She appeared opposite Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in the hit western spoof "4 For Texas" and opposite Tony Randall in "The Alphabet Murders". She had a starring role in the 1963 comedy "Call Me Bwana" with Bob Hope. The film was produced by Broccoli, now in partnership with Harry Saltzman. (It remained the only non-Bond film the men would produce during the years of their partnership). She also had a prominent role in the Jerry Lewis comedy "Way...Way...Out". By the late 1960s, however, her star had faded in English language cinema and she concentrated on starring in European productions that were often made on low budgets. Her last credited screen role was in "The Red Dwarf" in 1998.
Ekberg's love life was the stuff of dreams for the tabloid press. She had affairs with prominent male stars such as Yul Brynner and Frank Sinatra. She was married for three years to British actor Anthony Steel and was married for over a decade to American actor Rik Van Nutter, who is primarily known for playing CIA man Felix Leiter in the Broccoli-Saltzman James Bond blockbuster "Thunderball" in 1965. Supposedly, Broccoli, who was dining with Ekberg and Van Nutter, offered him the role over dinner on a whim. It was a James Bond film, "From Russia With Love", that played an important role in Ekberg's career, though-bizarrely- she never appeared in the movie, at least in the flesh. In a pivotal sequence, a Soviet agent is assassinated when he tries to climb out a window of an Istanbul apartment house, the wall of which is adorned with a giant promotion of Ekberg in "Call Me Bwana". The clever gimmick promoted the Broccoli-Saltzman comedy that was already in release.
Ekberg's later years were anything but glamorous. In her obituary, the New York Times reports that the childless actress spent her last days in a nursing home penniless and lonely. She did, however, have one last moment in the sun when she appeared in 2010 at an Italian film festival where a restored print of "La Dolce Vita" was being shown. For at least this brief moment, her glory days returned as she made a glamorous appearance that stole the show.
The final image of Arthur Penn’s “Night Moves”
certainly gets the movie pundits in a lather. The scene consists of Gene Hackman as private eye Harry Moseby, shot to
pieces but still trying to steer his motor boat to shore. Bleeding badly from his wounds, he’s unable
to reach the gears; he ends up setting the boat in a circling motion. From
above, we see Harry’s boat circling aimlessly in the Gulf Stream. This scene, which brings the film to a
finish, has been described as a metaphor for many things, including America’s
lost identity after the Watergate era, to Moseby’s own fruitless search for the
truth, to Penn’s own floundering career. To me, it always looks like the boat is going down a drain (or a
toilet). It’s the sort of ending that
leaves a viewer wondering if you’ve missed something, and leaves critics
tripping over their tongues trying to explain it. It’s a bummer, that’s for
But don’t let your aversion to despair prevent you from
watching “Night Moves”. I think it
actually trumps the self-conscious “Chinatown” as an example of neo-noir,
mostly because it doesn’t dress itself up in period garb; instead, it settles
into its own time period, 1975, with Moseby being as much a man of the ‘70s as
he is of the noir tradition. Moseby
isn’t above roughing a guy up for some information, and he certainly beds down
his share of women, but he also deals with such modern ‘70s elements as a
cheating wife, an estranged father, and his share of shattered dreams. Poor
Harry is not only a failed football player, but he’s even failing in his second
career, that of a private investigator. What actor from noir’s golden era could play Moseby? Bogart was too
self-assured. Alan Ladd was too much the tortured angel figure. Widmark? Maybe. Mitchum? Never. Hackman, raw-boned but
intelligent and slightly melancholy, was born to play Moseby. He’s just about in his prime here, on the
heels of those great performances in “The French Connection”, “The
Conversation”, and “Scarecrow”. As
Moseby, he’s the private eye as working class mug. He’s too good for the work
he’s in, but not too good to mingle with the people he’s investigating.
The screenplay, by Brit novelist turned Hollywood
writer Alan Sharp, borrows all of the right elements from the noir cannon: A
faded actress hires Moseby to locate her missing daughter, Delly. The search
brings Moseby to Florida where he finds Delly with her step-father Tom, a charter
pilot who seems to be part of a smuggling operation. It’s all a bit vague and confusing, but it’s
so beautifully played by Hackman and company that you won’t mind not getting it
all. When you get to the end, don’t try
to figure out what just happened, because the movie wasn’t designed to be
understood. Just absorb it and walk away.
The supporting cast is up to the challenge of keeping
up with Hackman, especially a young James Woods as a slippery mechanic who
knows more than he lets on, and a 17-year-old Melanie Griffith as the sinfully
attractive Delly (short for Delilah). John Crawford plays Tom as a blubbery
middle-aged doofus, but his climactic fight scene with Hackman is splendid, one
of the unsung fight scenes of the ‘70s, right up there with Ernest Borgnine
attacking Lee Marvin with a hammer in “Emperor of the North”. Jennifer Warren is Tom’s girlfriend Paula, a
slightly faded hippie chick whose resume includes such varied jobs as teaching,
stripping, and hooking. Warren is one of
those actresses who didn’t act in many movies, but looks familiar because she
did so much TV work. Either that, or it’s because she resembles that other
faded hippie chick, Susan Anspach.
Melanie Griffith as the wayward teenager.
The shoot took place during the second half of 1973 in
Los Angeles as well as at Sanibel and Captiva Islands in Florida. It was a
troubled production. Hackman, a sullen sort to begin with, was enduring some
personal problems; Sharp was unhappy
with the handling of his script, and later complained about Penn’s
“indecisiveness”; and Penn was in a dark mood due to the darkness of the material,
which he described as being about “a country gone boundless.” The director cut scenes that slowed the
action, assuming the audience could figure out what was happening. This is what gives the film its quick pace,
but may also add to the sense that we’re losing something. Penn also admitted that halfway through the
shoot he stopped caring so much about creating a detective story, and became
more interested in revealing Harry Moseby’s inner-self.
“We didn’t pay that much attention to plot,” Penn said
at the time of the movie’s premiere in 1975. “We thought that plot was not
going to be achievable, that there was never going to be way of saying ‘Ah-ha!’
in the last reel when you find out that so-and-so did so-and-so. And my only
excuse or explanation for that is that we’re part of a generation which knows
there are no solutions.”
Ironically, nine days after the release of “Night
Moves” came the release of “Jaws”, a movie that set records at the box office
and forever changed the way movies were made and distributed. Steven Spielberg’s shark may as well have
eaten every print of “Night Moves”, for the arrival of “Jaws” more or less
marked the end of contemplative stories like the one about Harry Moseby. There was nothing vague about the ending of
“Jaws”, that’s for sure. The good guys
killed the shark, and that was that. There were certainly no conversations as
you left the theater about whether the shark really died or not. The era of
introspective characters and vague endings was over. No solutions? Just blow it up, Jack.
In the years since “Night Moves” first hit theaters,
its supporters have praised it as an underappreciated gem, and I agree. There are some great lines here, like when
Moseby’s wife walks in as he’s watching a football game. She asks, “Whose
“Nobody,” he says. “One
team is just losing more slowly.”
Little nuggets like that one keep the movie afloat,
even as the story becomes harder to follow.
For fans of movies of the
1960s and ’70s, his name ranks up there with the stars who made the major
studio films of that era. Even though he didn’t actually “make” movies, his
work most definitely did. Best known as the artist behind the “classic” James
Bond posters, McGinnis worked for almost every publisher and major magazine for
decades, putting his distinctive stamp on a huge, well, body of work, which
is fully (and gloriously) represented in The
Art of Robert E. McGinnis, a lush 176-page hardback now on sale from Titan
Books. Since McGinnis is one of the most influential and iconic movie poster
artists of the 20th Century, Cinema Retro was pleased to see him
honored in this way.
The book starts with McGinnis’s
journeyman beginnings in the 1950s Cincinnati and New York advertising scenes,
where he toiled away on product ads like so many other young, hungry
illustrators. Most would flourish for a time, then fade into obscurity, but a
chance encounter in NYC with artist Mitchell Hooks (of Dr. No movie poster fame) led to paperback cover assignments that firmly
put McGinnis on the map. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, most book covers were
illustrated, and the cover directly impacted sales. The more lurid or
intriguing the art, the better the sales, and McGinnis’s racy (for those days)
cover art quickly brought him attention from publishers.
In 1961 McGinnis painted
his first movie art – Breakfast At
Tiffany’s – and that launched him into the illustration stratosphere for
the rest of the decade. He painted the key art for Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Casino Royale (1967 spoof), On Her
Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, Man With the
Golden Gun, and the book cover art on
Moonraker, helping guide the Bond series through major transformations as
different actors took on the lead role. McGinnis’s specialty was the human form
– he painted the heroic images of Bond and, of course, the sultry Bond Girls. The late Frank C. McCarthy handled certain
explosions and action art on some of the early Bond titles. The result was
marketing nirvana, dramatic, precedent-setting artwork that helped make Bond
the hottest movie property around.
McGinnis’ work was everywhere
– from huge billboards to newspaper ads, and, of course, on paperbacks in every
commuter’s briefcase. Curiously, his favorite art from his movie work is for The Odd Couple one-sheet, where he
perfectly captured the essence of neat-freak Felix and super-slob Oscar. Other
Hollywood works like Barbarella and Cotton Comes to Harlem are also
beautifully reproduced in the book, some with his original sketches, so the
reader can see the work evolve.
Each phase of McGinnis’s
long career is chronicled by writer Art Scott, who worked with the artist on
this definitive book. As you might expect, each chapter is profusely
illustrated with gorgeous full-color art – from hardboiled detective book
covers to bucolic landscapes for magazines like Reader’s Digest and Good
Housekeeping, even vivid historical scenes for National Geographic are here. McGinnis also illustrated for a
number of men’s magazines like True
and Cavalier, and his provocative
nudes left little to the imagination, but they also serve as even more proof of
his astonishing skill. These long-legged “McGinnis Women” looked like they
could get up and walk off the page – something I’m sure most Cavalier readers wished they would! The
artist himself chimes in throughout the book, offering up inside stories from
his long career. Thankfully, his creative output isn’t slowing down – just look
at page 95 where his stunning cover art for the 2011 limited edition of Stephen
King’s Joyland is reproduced. That
cover features a pale, yet alluring “McGinnis Woman” in a bikini and holding a
rifle. What could be more perfect?
Art of Robert E. McGinnis is one of those “must haves,” a book
any movie or fine art fan will want to pick up to look through again and again.
It perfectly captures McGinnis’s impressive work, curves, gun barrels and all.
With a list price of just $34.95, it’s a bargain when compared with the prices
McGinnis original art now fetches at auction.
Click this link to view very rare interview footage shot at Knotts Berry Farm where the premiere of the 1971 film "Big Jake" coincided with the dedication of the John Wayne Theatre. Wayne is on-hand with his co-stars Maureen O'Hara and Richard Boone and there is a lot of teasing and kibbitzing between them. Wayne showers O'Hara with praise about her beauty and O'Hara tells tales about the making of "The Quiet Man", wherein Wayne and director John Ford conspired to drag her through sheep dip. Wayne is heard speaking candidly, complaining about "this damned wig" he has to wear and putting in the prerequisite controversial political comment in extolling America as a haven for "free enterprise", while taking a dig at liberals. Apparently, Duke didn't consider that many of the studios that made his films and paid his salary were run by those dreaded liberals. Nevertheless, these were more civil times in certain ways and Wayne counted people on the political left and right as his close friends. As a bonus, Glen Campbell, Wayne's "True Grit" co-star, shows up to chat with Duke and Boone about the "Generation Gap". It's marvelous to see these true icons on screen together and talking candidly.
It only last one season, 1966-1967, but the hip TV series "T.H.E. Cat" starring Robert Loggia as a true international man of mystery really hit a nerve with fans. The show's short run hasn't diminished its legacy among fans who are demanding that the series be released on DVD and Blu-ray. Among them is Michael Shonk, who writes an appreciation of the show on the Mystery*File web site. Click here to read.
Taylor in the 1960 screen version of The Time Machine.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
If the year 2014 proved to be an exceptionally cruel one in terms of the number of legendary celebrities who passed away, the new year is off to an equally depressing start with the news that Rod Taylor has passed away at age 84. Taylor, who was two days away from his 85th birthday, died suddenly from a heart attack following a dinner party at his home. He was surrounded by friends and family when the end came. Taylor was a solid leading man who came to prominence in the late 1950s. Although Australian by birth, the ruggedly handsome Taylor could effectively play Brits, Irishmen and Americans with convincing ease. He first gained attention with supporting roles in high profile, big Hollywood studio productions in the late 1950s such as "Raintree County" and "Separate Tables". His breakthrough role came in 1960 when he received top billing in the acclaimed screen adaptation of H.G. Wells' classic science fiction novel "The Time Machine". Taylor was suddenly a hot property and an international star. He could play virtually any kind of role, from light comedy to portraying men of action. By the early 1960s, he was one of the most popular stars in the world. His film credits from this era include "The V.I.P.S", "The Caterered Affair", Disney's "101 Dalmations", Hitchcock's classic "The Birds", the popular sex farce "Sunday in New York", "Fate is the Hunter" and "36 Hours" (a rare appearance as a villain). He showed exceptional chemistry with Doris Day and played her leading man in two major hits over a two year period, "Do Not Disturb" and "The Glass Bottom Boat", a Bond-inspired spy spoof. His hot streak continued through the late 1960s with the tough-as-nails mercenary adventure "Dark of the Sun" (aka "The Mercenaries"), the star-studded soap opera "Hotel", the gritty western "Chuka", the espionage thriller "The High Commissioner" and the controversial private eye flick "Darker Than Amber". He also had a supporting role in Antonioni's legendary 1970 flop "Zabriskie Point". By the mid-1970s, however, the bottom seemed to drop out in terms of Taylor being offered good roles. He did co-star with John Wayne in the underrated western "The Train Robbers" in 1973 and that same year co-starred with Richard Harris in another western, "The Deadly Trackers". Taylor turned to television, starring in numerous series including "Bearcats", "The Oregon Trail" and "Outlaws". He also had a supporting role in the 1980s prime-time soaper "Falcon Crest". From that point on, Taylor seemed to voluntarily refrain from appearing in high profile productions, opting instead for supporting roles in rather obscure, non-Hollywood films. He rarely granted interviews and kept a low profile, though he did come out of self-imposed retirement to portray Winston Churchill in a cameo role in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" in 2009. Cinema Retro mourns the loss of yet another legendary Hollywood star.
(For Steve Saragossi's tribute to Rod Taylor's life and career, see Cinema Retro issue #19).
When one considers the films of the late, great French director Louis Malle, soul-searching dramas such as "Au Revoir, Les Enfants", "Lacombe, Lucien", "Pretty Baby" and "Murmur of the Heart" come to mind. Malle also had a whimsical side and was not adverse to inserting a good deal of wit and humor into some of his films such as the remarkable "My Dinner With Andre", which consists almost entirely of a conversation between two old friends presented in real time. Then there is Malle's masterpiece "Atlantic City", a witty and moving look at aging with dignity set within the world of petty criminals in the dilapidated New Jersey resort town. One genre you would not associate with Malle is action/adventure. Yet, in 1965, Malle improbably delved directly into that genre with "Viva, Maria!", an expensive production that top-lined two of France's most popular home-grown national treasures, Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau. The film is a weird entry in Malle's body of work but it is nonetheless a great deal of fun and Kino Lorber has, thankfully, just released a stunning transfer of the film on Blu-ray.
The film opens in Europe in 1907 where we find a little girl named Maria shamelessly exploited by her Irish terrorist father, who utilizes her innocent persona to help him carry out deadly attacks against the British government. It's a sordid relationship that extends over many years, as Maria comes of age but remains devoted to her father's cause. The pair's war against government oppression ultimately leads them to the fictitious Central American nation of San Miguel. Here, the duo wreaks havoc on the corrupt government, which is controlled by a brutal dictator named Rodriguez (Carlos Lopez Moctezuma). Eventually one of their plots goes wrong and the father is killed in a shootout with government forces. Maria (Bardot), now a stunning beauty in her twenties, makes a narrow escape and finds refuge inside the wagon of a traveling circus. Here, she holds one of the performers, also named Maria (Moreau), at gunpoint while she gorges herself on food and drink. Despite the hostage-taking scenario, the two women bond in friendship. Bardot Maria is unsophisticated but courageous and self-reliant. Moreau Maria recognizes her as a diamond in the rough and sees elements of her own personality in her. Both are single women trying to survive in a world dominated by men. Knowing that Bardot is wanted by the law and the subject of a nationwide manhunt, Moreau convinces the owners of the circus to bring her on board as a partner for Moreau in her dance act. They perform their relative benign act in wild barrooms in front of sex-starved men who shoot each other at the drop of a hat. When a minor wardrobe malfunction reveals more skin than anticipated, the audience goes wild. The two Marias decide to incorporate this accidental bit of bawdiness into their act. Before long, they become a sensation with their mild striptease act. The entire nation has heard about them, even if the majority of peasants will never get to see their act. The Marias prove to be lucrative for the circus and both women are content. Bardot Maria looks enviously on Moreau Maria's active love life as the traveling show attracts hunky guys in every town. Soon, the virginal Bardot decides to give men a try. She is instantly hooked and outdoes her mentor in the boudoir. (This is another unusual aspect of the film for its day: the notion of women enjoying fulfilling sex lives without any shame or guilt).
The blissful lives of the two Marias come to a crashing halt when the circus troupe is arrested by goons who work for Rodriguez after the women interfere with the ransacking of a village during which numerous innocent people are murdered and enslaved. The circus performers are imprisoned, presumably to await certain execution. While in jail, Maria Moreau meets a prominent revolutionary, Flores (George Hamilton, somewhat out of place in the proceedings.) Although tied to a cross and in terrible pain, he is not immune to Maria's charms- especially when she - shall we say- alleviates him from some of his stress. Before long, both Marias are influenced by Flores to join the revolution. They help the circus performers orchestrate an escape that is amusingly staged, as each performer utilizes his or her unique talents in order to overcome the guards. Before long, the two Marias are national icons for the peasant class, who mobilize an army behind them. The final act of this bizarre "western" finds the Marias boldly leading their new army into battle against the forces of Rodriguez.
"Viva Maria!" (the Blu-ray sleeve omits the exclamation point) is wacko concept grandly executed by Malle. Both Bardot and Moreau seem to be having a grand time playing out the proceedings and foreshadowing the Women's Lib movement by portraying kick-ass action heroes. In the latter stages of the film, Malle goes for comic book heroics and blatant cartoon-like scenarios, but it all works very well indeed. Some of the battle sequences take on an almost epic feel but never overshadow the unique wit and style of the basic story line. I was surprised at how impressed I was by this film and the Kino Lorber transfer is most welcome.
The original trailer is included as a bonus extra.
Vinegar Syndrome has released yet another retro erotica double feature on one DVD. Both flicks are from the big hair era of the 1980s and both features center on similar themes: a frustrated young woman whose workaholic lifestyle leaves virtually no time for their love life. "Purely Physical" (1982) is the more impressive feature, largely because it has some production values and a reasonably intelligent plot, coupled with relatively accomplished actors and actresses. Laura Lazare plays Kathy, a young, overworked college girl who needs extra income. She applies for and gets a job as the night clerk at a local motel. It doesn't take long for the outwardly prim and proper Kathy to observe that the place's primary source of income is as a "hot sheet" destination for people who want to carry out their sexual fantasies. She keeps a poker face even when confronted with the obvious intentions of her clients. There is a nervous young teenage boy who has barely cobbled together the $32 room fee in order to finally consummate his love for his cute girlfriend. There is a dorky, chunky guy who believes the hot number who picked him up in a bar really just wants to sit around the motel room and indulge in his passion for movie trivia. (She turns out to be a conniving hooker.) There is the frustrated traveling saleswoman (Juliet Anderson as "Aunt Peg", the original screen cougar) who finds she has no time for lovers so has to take sexual matters into her own hands. Finally, there is an exhausted businessman whose friend sends up two hookers to please him. He rejects their offer but when they inform him that they are actually lovers, he relents and let's them indulge. Predictably, his exhaustion fades pretty quickly and he gets in on the action. Then there's the attractive and wealthy young woman who want to indulge in her fantasies by renting a room and bringing in her two male tennis instructors. Faced with this sexual tidal wave on her doorstep every night, Kathy finally succumbs to make her own fantasies come true. "Purely Physical" was apparently filmed, at least in part, at a sizable motel, though one wonders if the owners who consented knew exactly what kind of movie was being made on their premises. The opening credits are actually rather impressive, with some good photography of Kathy bicycling through busy city streets. Lazare, who appeared in numerous porn films throughout the 1980s, overcomes the bad hairstyles of the day and gives a fairly accomplished performance. The film only disappoints on one level: the much-hinted-at match-up between Kathy and Aunt Peg never occurs, beyond some mild flirting. Still, "Purely Physical" is one of the better porn efforts of the era.
"Cathouse Fever" (1984), on the other hand, is a lazy "quickie" feature with Becky Savage as a young L.A. secretary whose work hours deprive her of any romantic relationships. She makes the bold decision to join a bordello in Las Vegas. Aside from some "B" roll footage of Vegas in the era, the rest of the film is shot in one-room settings with the exception of a few beach scenes in which Becky is seen walking on the beach. Once at the bordello, Kathy enthusiastically embraces her work, bedding and pleasing an oddball selection of guys, some of whom probably mirror the real life experience of hookers in that they are decidedly unattractive. The movie stresses comedy, with some slapstick sequences inserted into the action. The routine script includes the usual standard sequences involving lesbians and group sex but most of it plays out in mundane fashion.
Both features boast excellent transfers and include the original trailers.
Western movie lovers of a certain age often reminisce about the era in which going to big ticket films was a special experience. "Roadshow" presentations played in select big city movie houses for extended runs before the film was released to local theaters nationally. In some cases, films could play for months in roadshow engagements before people in small towns and suburbia could see a blockbuster flick in their local theater. This trend is all but dead today. Even the biggest hits have short theatrical runs, at least compared to the old days. That's because studios want to capitalize on the recent marketing campaigns by moving quickly to pay-per-view, home video and cable exploitation of a hit movie. However, in India- where passions for all things cinematic run deep- one particular film has been running consistently in a Mumbai cinema for twenty years. The simple love story titled "Dilwale Duhhania Le Jayenge" touched a nerve with Indian audiences. It centers on a young Indian woman who is living in London and is about to wed through a marriage arranged by her father. This is an old and revered Indian custom that is still widely adhered to even by the younger generation. Prior to the young woman moving to a village in India where she will wed and reside, she has a chance encounter with an attractive young man and they fall in love. What sets the film apart from most cinematic depictions of such dilemmas is that the young couple doesn't simply run off but, rather, try to convince the girl's father to rescind the agreement through which his daughter will marry. Such a notion is quite controversial in India and the situation depicted on screen has consistently spoken to audiences that identify with the young couple, as well as the girl's father. The film still often plays to sold-out audiences. For more (and to view the trailer) click here.
Shortly after his great success as the star of Death Wish in 1974, Charles Bronson started to go on automatic pilot in terms of striving to give impressive performances in his films. He was always enjoyable to watch but as one cheesy Death Wish sequel begat the next (and any number of even more inferior clones), Bronson became regarded as a living cartoon character who sleepwalked through his films in search of an easy pay check. There was a time, however, when he was taken seriously by critics as evidenced by this ad for the 1972 film adaptation of The Valachi Papers. The movie itself was middling in most respects, but Bronson won personal critical plaudits for his performance as the infamous Mafia member who ratted out on his bosses in return for government protection and immunity.
(The image is from the nostalgia blog His Name is Studd. The site features a treasure trove of vintage photos and film ads. Click here to access.)
Those delightfully perverted souls at Vinegar Syndrome have delved back into the well to resurrect another interesting artifact relating to retro erotica. "Prisoner of Paradise" has to be one of the most ambitious porn feature films ever made. Released in 1980, it actually had a fairly exotic location and a semi-respectable budget, at least compared to the grindhouse fare that was being churned out back in the day. The film is attributable to one Gail Palmer, who became a bit of sensation for her status as one of the few female directors of porn movies. Here, she is credited with co-directing the film with porn legend Bob Chinn. (It has since been alleged that, in fact, she only served as a front for her then-boyfriend, who was said to be the actual director of the films that bore her name.) "Prisoner of Paradise" presents a bizarre scenario that starts out as a straight adventure film. The ubiquitous porn presence, John Holmes (aka Long Johnny Wadd) stars as an American sailor in WWII. When we first see him, he's washed up on a tropical island. (Yes, the film seems to have actually been shot somewhere more exotic than a bedroom above an L.A. taco restaurant.) Seems Holmes' character, Joe Murrey, is the only survivor of a Japanese submarine attack on his vessel. The film actually plays out as a legitimate survival story for a while, with Holmes' Joe exploring the island, trying to build shelter and identify ways to hunt and find fresh water. In fact, the film moves at such a deliberate pace that it takes a full eleven minutes until the script allows Holmes to reveal his legendary appendage. This is done through the use of flashbacks. We see him interacting with the love of his life, a Chinese girl in an unnamed city, presumably in China. Prior to shipping out to sea, they have an emotional goodbye, as seen in a tastefully directed lovemaking sequence. Minutes later, however, a bombing raid occurs and the girl is killed, leaving Joe emotionally devastated. Now he is apparently the only inhabitant of this remote island and the memories of his love haunt him even further...that is until he comes across the shocking sight of two stunningly beautiful women bathing in a nearby waterfall. Joe follows them and makes an even more shocking discovery: they are part of a tiny Nazi/Japanese encampment. The women are Ilsa and Greta (played respectively by platinum-haired porn icon Seka and Sue Carol.) Turns out that they are Nazi soldiers who have been assigned to this secret outpost along with their commandant, Hans (screen credited as Heinz Mueller. Real name: Elmo Lavino!). Joe observes the goings-on at the camp, which consists only of a hut and small storage shack. The only other inhabitant is a Japanese guard (Jade Wong). The wacky premise is based on the fact that Germany and Japan were allies during the war, but the real reason seems to be a set-up for some inter-racial sexual romps.
Joe is startled to see two captive American nurses (Nicki Anderson and Brenda Vargo) taken at gun-point into the shack where they are sexually abused by the commandant and his two female adjutants, who conveniently turn out to be lesbian dominatrixes. Joe makes a daring attempt to rescue the nurses but they are captured by Suke, the Japanese guard. Brought before the commandant, the trio is subjected to both verbal and sexual abuse- well, at least the women are. Joe's "punishment" is having one of the nurses perform...er, let's call it oral surgery- on him. There are also the prerequisite lesbian sequences. The commandant is total nutcase who is so over-the-top that he makes Werner Klemperer's Col. Klink look like a model of comedic restraint. The commandant toasts pictures of Hitler, even as he condemns him for banishing him to this remote outpost. (Would he really rather have been on the Russian front than on a tropical island with sex-starved women?) Suke makes her predictable intentions known by performing more...er, oral surgery- on Joe, who is tied to a post. During the course of his confinement, he sees the kind of action you used to have to go to Plato's Retreat to experience, yet he is intent on breaking loose. The finale of the film finds Joe successfully freeing the nurses and killing his Axis enemies in a fiery explosion.
What sets "Prisoner of Paradise" apart from most of the porn drivel of this era is the better-than-average direction coupled with a relatively lavish budget. There are some impressive special effects in the finale and the directors even manage to squeeze in an original love song, which isn't as bad as those old lemons by Bread that used to chart in Billboard in the 70s. The battle sequences are shown in flashback and consist of genuine newsreel footage combined with footage from "Tora! Tora! Tora!".
They used to call James Brown "the hardest working man in show business." With all due respect to the Godfather of Soul, I don't think he could hold a candle compared to John Holmes, who was said to have gotten it on with literally thousands of women, all under hot kleig lights in front of a camera crew. "Prisoner of Paradise" at least offered him a change of scenery. The film is rather entertaining in its own bizarre way and the Vinegar Syndrome DVD is impressive. It boasts a fine transfer as well as the original trailer and a gallery of other retro porn coming attractions.
In viewing the first half hour of the 1970 British May/December romance Say Hello to Yesterday, I was sorely tempted to hit the "eject" button the DVD player and pass this title along to one of our other reviewers who might not have such an immediate disdain for the film. Why did I have such a visceral reaction? Because I could not recall a romantic film that featured such an irritating, annoying leading man, in this case played by Leonard Whiting. From the very opening sequence which introduces him as the somewhat estranged son from London who drops in, unannounced and uninvited, on his birthday to visit his working class mother and father. The reception he receives is a rather cool one. He accompanies his dad as the older man makes his daily trek to some rather Orwellian-looking dead end job in an industrial plant. At first, your tempted to to sympathize with this unnamed lad, given his father's constant criticisms about the way he is leading his life. The elder man accuses his son of being a shiftless grifter who can only enjoy the bright lights of the big city by mooching off of friends and acquaintances. The younger man dismisses the criticisms and remains so perpetually cheerful and jolly that you soon begin to resent him, too. The scenes depicting the young man's strained home life give way to his taking a commuter train back to London. On board is a forty-something, attractive woman (Jean Simmons), whose character also remains unnamed during the course of the story. (For the sake of convenience, I will very creatively refer to them as "the man" and "the woman"). A brief introduction to her home life makes it clear that she is a typical suburban housewife with a successful husband and a couple of kids. Outwardly, you can see she lives a comfortable life and doesn't want for materialistic things. However, her body language conveys the fact that she is not satisfied with her lot in life, as she coldly bids her husband goodbye. She's off to spend an entire day in London, ostensibly to go shopping and to have tea with her mother. Yet, the viewer can immediately sense that her real purpose is to temporarily escape her rather mundane daily routine.
On board the train, the man, who is in his about twenty years old, is chatting up an attractive girl his own age when he spots the woman sitting in a crowded passenger compartment, surrounded by stuffy businessmen. He is intrigued by the fact that she obviously wants to smoke but has been consigned to a non-smoking compartment. He is amused by the fact that she is trying to unobtrusively peel the "No Smoking" decal from the compartment window. He is also immediately infatuated by her, despite their age difference. (Who can blame him? She's Jean Simmons!) Soon, they meet cute but she isn't interested for good reason. The man comes across as an obnoxious case of arrested development, badgering everyone in the compartment with juvenile and cynical quips. She finds him slightly amusing, but when she discovers he is following in her footsteps around London shops, she becomes exasperated- especially when his flirting ritual includes causing an embarrassing commotion in a department store. Soon, she is running through the streets of London with the man in pursuit and a posse of good samaritans chasing him down, thinking he intends to harm the woman. In the end, he finally catches up with her and uses his charm to begin to win her over. By this point in the story, credibility goes out the window. The woman is obviously cultured and intelligent and it defies reason that she would put up such a grating would-be paramour simply because he's young and hunky. The man is the human equivalent of nails scraping on a blackboard. Yet, I persevered, if only because the performances by Seberg and Whiting were so engaging. A strange thing happened along the way: I became increasingly engrossed in the story and fate of the characters. Whiting is on hyper-ventilation mode most of the time but in the few sequences in which he talks calmly to the woman, he tells poignant and moving stories about his tragic past. Yet, she suspects- and so do we- that these may be tall tales, because it seems this modern Walter Mitty is also a compulsive liar. Nevertheless, his infatuation with the woman flatters her, even though she repeatedly attempts to escape his company. Yet, even buses and taxis won't deter him. (He catches up with the taxi and jumps on the running board in an act that is supposed to be charming but would strike most women as the action of a potential serial killer.)
The film was clearly inspired by David Lean's 1946 masterpiece Brief Encounter, in which two everyday people begin to fall in love after a chance meeting at a train station. The resemblance ends there, however, as the man in this story is a far cry from the sober, sane and classy character played by Trevor Howard in the Lean production. The plot consists of the woman alternately accepting the man's company, then trying to repel him. She is outraged when he secretly follows her to her mother's apartment and barges in to introduce herself. In an amusing plot twist, the mother (wonderfully played in a wry turn by Evelyn Laye) thinks the young man is her daughter's lover. She not only accepts this but encourages her daughter to carry on with secret liaisons with him, confessing to her astonished daughter that she, too, had enjoyed an affair decades ago. ("It was a long war", she says ruefully). Ultimately, the man and woman do decide to consummate their one-day affair, though by this time the woman is still of decidedly mixed emotions. She feels a sense of guilt. As with the straying married woman in The Bridges of Madison County, she recognizes that her husband is a good man and that the "crime" of being dull shouldn't justify a sexual affair with a man she has just met. In the film's best sequence, they gain access to rental flat and go through the always-awkward process human beings have to engage in when they bed a lover for the first time. This prolonged sequence is the heart of the movie and leads to emotional rollercoasters for both the man and the woman, as he tries to persuade her to leave her humdrum existence for the fun, yet insecure, life he would provide. By this time, I found myself completely engaged in the story line and caring about how matters would be resolved.
Director Alvin Rakoff is to be credited for the sensitive handling of this material. He also deserves high praise for shooting mostly on location, which provides some stunning views of London in 1970. Simmons and Whiting are both terrific and the latter can't be blamed for the fact that his character never really matures beyond the state of a "man-child". The film features a lush musical score by Riz Orolani and some chirpy pop love songs that make The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" seem cutting-edge. Nevertheless, the film does boast some superb cinematography by the late, great Geoffrey Unsworth and it's a rich looking production throughout.
Scorpion Entertainment has released a first-rate special edition DVD of this modest film that most retro movie lovers probably never even heard of. Film historian Tony Sloman does yeoman work on the commentary track with Rakoff, who is refreshingly candid about his criticisms of various aspects of the movie, including the title, which he disdains to this day. Rakoff tells some marvelous anecdotes that sometimes divert from the film at hand, but are nonetheless interesting. They involve frustrations that emerged when working with Bette Davis, who felt she didn't need any direction. He also recounts getting fired from films because of creative differences with the powers-that-be. He is nonetheless proud of Say Hello to Yesterday, though he admits to cringing at some of the man's over-the-top comedic antics. He rightly lavishes praise on Jean Simmons, pointing out that although "cougars" might be all the rage today, it was considered daring to present a love story in 1970 in which a young man is involved with an older woman. Rakoff says that Simmons was self-conscious because she felt she had "bad legs", thus she shows only a glimpse of them above her boots. He also bemoans the fact that Whiting should have had a very successful career in films, but it inexplicably petered out shortly after this movie was released. Rakoff also tells interesting stories about filming in London and points out a brief walk-by cameo done by Rod Steiger, much to Tony Sloman's amazement. Both men are rather astounded at how sparse the traffic and crowds were in the London of this era- a far cry from the teeming masses that populate the city today. The special edition also includes the original trailer.
Say Hello to Yesterday is in many ways a flawed film but it is nonetheless a highly engaging one. Recommended, especially if you are as enamored of retro British cinema as I am.
Donna Douglas, the former beauty queen who became an icon of 1960s TV, has passed away at age 82. Douglas started as a model in the 1950s and landed small roles in feature films before being cast as Elly May Clampett, the sexy but naive daughter of backwoods millionaire Jed Clampett on the smash hit TV series "The Beverly Hillbillies". The show was met with open disdain by CBS brass, who felt it was beneath the dignity of the network. However, viewers warmed to the Clampett clan immediately and the show became a smash hit that ran for nine seasons. It was still near the top of the ratings when it was canceled in a purge by network executives of its rural-themed hit shows in the early 1970s. Douglas' character was always relentlessly jovial and upbeat on the show and Elly May's penchant for bringing exotic animals onto the Clampett estate generated many laughs. Although she was type-cast, Douglas never complained. She went on to record gospel music, co-star with Elvis Presley and in her later years, attend autograph shows where she greeted her many fans. With her death, actor Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro, is the last living member of the cast of "The Beverly Hillbillies".-Lee Pfeiffer
Most "best of" or "worst of" lists are largely valueless because they only reflect the personal opinion of the writer. Nevertheless, they are fun to debate and we're as addicted to them as anyone else. One of the more annoying aspects of such lists, at least as it pertains to movies, is that many younger writers seem to have little frame of reference beyond the films that were released in their lifetimes. Thus, we end up seeing many dubious choices in their "ten best" lists, which might be stuffed with Will Smith or John Hughes movies. An exception is writer Christian Blauvelt who supplies his own list of his ten best movie sequels of all time for the BBC web site. The choices are well-thought out and he makes a cogent argument to include "Pursuit to Algiers", one of the largely unheralded Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes flicks. Way to go, Christian! Click here to read.
Charles Bronson was 55 at the time of “St Ives” (1976).
He was just a couple years past his star-making turn in “Death Wish”, and was
enjoying a surprising run of success. I
say surprising because Bronson had, after all, been little more than a craggy
second banana for most of his career. Now, inexplicably, he had box office
clout as a leading man. In fact, Bronson
reigned unchallenged for a few years as the most popular male actor in
international markets. Yes, even bigger than Eastwood, Newman, Reynolds,
Redford, or any other 1970s star you can name. Many of Bronson’s movies were partly financed by foreign investors, for
even if his movies didn’t score stateside, they still drew buckets of money in
Prague or Madrid. Some have suggested that his popularity on foreign screens
was due to how little he said in his movies (there was never much dubbing
required in a Bronson flick). I tend to think international audiences simply
liked what Bronson was selling: straight forward toughness. Because he was much older than his peers, he
didn’t play up the counter cultural smugness or cynicism. No, Bronson was a shear, undiluted
bad-ass. And that sells anywhere.
So what, I wonder, did the global movie goer think of
“St. Ives”? It was a change of pace for
old Charlie, for he talks more here than in “Mr. Majestyk,” “The Stone Killer”
and “Hard Times” combined. He’s also not
blowing his enemies away, or beating them senseless in an alley fight. Even the veins in his neck seem relatively
docile in this movie. He plays Raymond St. Ives, a former L.A. newspaper
columnist who lives in a fleabag hotel. He sleeps late, gambles what little
money he makes on football, and is supposedly working on a novel. We never see him writing, but every time
someone greets him they say, “Hey, how’s the novel going?” That’s how we
know. (The adverts for the movie also
showed Bronson smoking a pipe, yet he doesn’t smoke a pipe in the movie. Since
he spends a lot of time at a deli, a more accurate poster would have shown him
eating a pastrami sandwich.)
When he’s not being a lovable slacker, St. Ives
occasionally “helps” people, ala Travis McGee. The connections he made during his years as an ambulance chaser now
assist him when he needs help tracking down a shady character. When he’s hired by a wealthy old windbag to
retrieve some stolen documents, he soon finds himself knee deep in dead bodies,
and crooked cops. John Houseman plays
Abner Procane, the aforementioned windbag. Procane sits in his mansion, weeping
over old King Vidor movies, while a mysterious coterie of people bustles around
him, including a personal psychiatrist who massages his back. He’s mum about the contents of the documents,
but he’s willing to pay a lot of dough to get them back. Since St. Ives is not
close to finishing his novel, he takes the gig. As the movie’s tagline read: “He's clean. He's mean. He's the
The screenplay by Barry Beckerman was based on a novel
by Ross Thomas, and it tries hard to ape the old Raymond Chandler style.
Unfortunately, it’s neither tough enough to be “hard-boiled,” nor dark enough
to be “noir.” It’s simply the sort of convoluted “who done it” that was rampant
as the mid-1970s went nutty with detectives. Not only was every TV network saturated with investigators of every ilk,
but the big screen was hit with dozens of features, including “The Long
Goodbye” (1973), “Chinatown” (1974) remakes of “Farewell My Lovely” (1975), and
“The Big Sleep” (1978), plus lighter versions of the genre such as “The Late
Show” (1977) and “The Big Fix” (1978). “St. Ives” fits into the list somewhere,
if only because it was probably made to catch the wave created by
“Chinatown.” It’s not nearly as good,
but it has many fine moments and is more watchable than you might think.
First of all, the film looks great. Cinematographer
Lucian Ballard, who worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah,
finds the right tone for an LA where it’s always just past sundown, a low rent
LA of crowded diners, crappy motels, and garages where cars are outfitted with
armor plating. Also, J. Lee Thompson, a
versatile and underrated director (“Guns of Navarone” “Cape Fear”) moves the
story along at a brisk step. There’s a
great scene early on where Bronson is thrown down a freight elevator shaft and
has to scramble his way to safety before he’s crushed; it’s as intense as
anything Thompson directed in his long career.
The cast features a pleasing collection of journeymen
and fringe contenders, including the likes of Houseman, Maximillian Schell,
Elisha Cook Jr., Michael Lerner, Harris Yulan, Harry Guardino, Daniel J.
Travanti, and Dana Elcar. You’ll even see Jeff Goldbloom and Robert Englund as
hoodlums who learn that one shouldn’t mess with Charles Bronson, even when he’s
not in vigilante mode. Jacqueline Bisset
is here, too, for movies of this sort require a femme fatale. She doesn’t quite cut it – she’s too urbane -
but her wet t-shirt scene in “The Deep” was coming up soon and all would be
“St. Ives” loses steam during a second half mired in
car chases and dreary detective work. Lalo Shifrin’s scratchy guitar and bongo soundtrack fails, too, sounding
more appropriate for an episode of ‘Baretta’. There’s a decent shootout at the end, and a couple of twists that we
don’t see coming, but nothing in the film’s second half lives up to the promise
of the first, when Bronson was discovering bodies stuffed into dryers, and
Houseman was huffing and puffing like Sidney Greenstreet.
The movie flopped when it was originally released in
the late summer of 1976. Audiences and
critics alike couldn’t quite accept Bronson as a thinking, methodical
character. One newspaper headline
roared, “Is Bronson Going Soft?” Bronson
couldn’t win. His violent movies were criticized for playing to the rabble, but
when he tried to change, reviewers seemed indifferent, or in some cases,
downright disappointed. “Bronson,” wrote a Pittsfield MA critic, “should be
ashamed of himself.”
Bronson appeared in a few movies during this period
that seemed to be a conscious break from his usual fare. There was “Breakheart
Pass”, an interesting murder mystery set aboard a train in the 1800s, and a
comedy western called “From Noon Till Three.” But as usually happens when a well-known star tries something different,
these movies were a hard sell. LA critic
Charles Champlin called “St. Ives” “competent but uninspired,” and said that
Bronson, “continues to be a strong and attractive figure, even when he has as
little to do as stroll through this charade.”
Was Bronson disillusioned by the cold reception given
to “St. Ives”? If the movie had been a
success, would he have considered playing more characters like Ray St. Ives, a fellow described in The New York Times
as “….the kind of private-eye role that Humphrey Bogart used to do." I’d like to think that if this film had been
a success, Bronson might have continued to evolve as an actor, rather than
spending his later years grinding out the “Death Wish” sequels.
What I like best about “St. Ives” is that Bronson seems
to be having fun. And he’s not
half-bad. He was certainly not a
Neanderthal who couldn’t handle dialog. He speaks the one liners and wisecracks
with a surprising dryness, such as when some thugs rob him of 50 bucks and
complain that he doesn’t have more money on him. "It only took you five
minutes to get it," Bronson says. "That's $600 an hour..." Good
stuff. Bronson may not deliver it the way Richard Dreyfuss would have, but
Dreyfuss probably couldn’t climb out of an elevator shaft.
Still, there’s a
telling moment late in the movie when Bronson pulls a gun. His eyes turn black and the gun seems an
extension of his arm. While watching
this scene I was reminded of something I once read about Buffalo Bill Cody –
that his popularity was largely due to his looking better on horseback than any
other man. And Bronson, too, I could argue, simply looked better with a gun in
his hand than any other actor. And he
didn’t need the comically huge hardware of Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, either.
Bronson looked dangerous even with a small pistol. Perhaps it was inevitable that he would
resume making violent pictures and leave the more subtle characters
behind. But in “St. Ives”, he was compelling
without leaving the streets awash in blood. Bronson was better than anyone knew.
Ives” is available as part of the Warner Archives streaming service. Click here to access the site.
"St. Ives" and "Telefon" are available as a Bronson double feature DVD from Warner Home Video. Both titles contain original trailer and there is a vintage production featurette for "St. Ives". Click here to order from Amazon.
anyone with any knowledge of the history of film could tell you, Bruce Lee is
an icon of both the worlds of martial arts and action cinema. He was a dynamic
and exciting performer who seemed born to be on the big screen. His untimely
death -just as his career was poised to become bigger than any previous Asian
film actor- is only one element of his legendary status. Lee was an astonishing
onscreen presence whose athletic abilities and kinetic style made him the
center of attention whenever he was present. Until he was afforded the chance
to star in his own movies, his bit roles such as a violent thug in Marlowe (1969) showed how thrilling he was to watch. His role in the short-lived TV
series The Green Hornet cast him as the sidekick but it was Lee who provided
the most memorable element in every one of those twenty six episodes. Once
you've watched him onscreen his natural charisma is evident and it is no
surprise that pictures of him often adorn the same walls as other 'gone too
soon' icons as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Like those screen legends, Lee
died in his prime with much promise laid out for the future and- like them- his
loss will be felt by his fans forever.
Bruce Lee's short film legacy is mostly unseen these days by martial arts movie
fans. Other than his last completed film, Enter The Dragon (1973), his film
history seems to have disappeared from the minds of most action fans. It almost
as if Lee's contribution to martial arts cinema began and ended with that one
excellent movie. Luckily, the fine folks at Shout! Factory have produced a
fantastic, affordable Blu-Ray set that presents Lee's earlier films in nearly
perfect transfers- and they have even
included a few hours of extras to provide some context for modern viewers.
up is 1971's The Big Boss which in many ways is the standard template for an
entire sub-set of Chinese martial arts adventures. Lee plays Cheng, a young man
from the countryside who is traveling to a bigger village to get a job (a
common fate for males living in rural China). He intends to work hard and send
money back home to his mother, who has extracted from him a promise not to
utilize his considerable skills as a street fighter in the big city.. Cheng's
uncle gets him a job in the local ice making factory but in just a few days our
hero discovers that the business owner is using the industrial-sized blocks of
ice to transport heroin. Cheng confronts the boss's henchmen and things get
violent quickly- and become even worse when his his co-workers turn up murdered.
Soon Cheng's (almost) girlfriend is kidnapped for the depraved boss' lustful
attentions and it is time for wrongs to be righted in vengeful style.
Big Boss was a huge financial success worldwide and made Lee's stardom
concrete. In many ways it is typical of the type of action film being produced
at the time in Hong Kong. The story is set in contemporary times and used the
usual plotline of drug smuggling as the story's engine. There were at least a
few dozen similar movies made in the 1970s what sets this production apart is
the presence of Bruce Lee. His experience in American television and film is
evident in his careful and fairly nuanced performance. Indeed, his more natural
style often contrasts sharply with some of his co-stars as they mug their way
across the screen like thy were projecting to the cheap seats. Lee's amazing
physical skills are shown well here, too, even if I cringe at the silly
trampoline work used to enhance the fights. The stunts are impressive and the
action well choreographed with the only real complaint being that the film's
pace is often leisurely to the point of irritation. The film clocks in at
nearly two hours and could have been a good deal shorter.
up is 1972's Fist of Fury which is a period piece set in the early 1900's in
Shanghai with Lee playing Chen Zhen. In many ways this is very much a typical
martial arts film of the time with a plot seen often. Chen has returned to his
old school to marry his beloved but learns upon his arrival that his martial
arts master has died from what appears to have been natural causes. Chen is
incredibly upset and angry about this and doesn't believe his master's death
was natural. At the funeral students from a rival Japanese school insult Cheng even
going so far as too slap him repeatedly. Cheng refuses to disgrace his master's
funeral but he later goes to the rival school to challenge his harassers. In an
impressive display of ability, he defeats the entire Japanese school including
the master. This sets up an ongoing series of attacks and retaliations of
various kinds that culminates in much mayhem, death and vengeance leading to a
surprisingly downbeat ending. No one really wins in this terrible war.
a modern viewer it is interesting to see how strong a statement this film makes
about the horrors of racism. The war between these rival schools is based
mostly on ethnicity and is ginned up by wounded pride and the inability to let
old wounds heal. The emotions on display can feel over the top at times but
they seem to reflect the blind hatreds of these groups as rational thought is
ignored in the rush to inflict pain on rivals. Of course, this somewhat
depressing takeaway doesn't alter the fact that the action scenes are
incredible as a showcase for Lee, who demonstrates some amazing skills.. My
favorite fight scene in Fist of Fury has to be the excellent dojo battle wherein
Lee takes on an entire room of opponents and walks away unscathed. (The scene
is marred only by the distraction of flying dummies and bad wigs.)
The year 1972 saw Lee taking control of his
film career in a new way by writing and directing his next screen role. Way of
the Dragon was released in the United States as Return of the Dragon but no
matter what the title, it is a fascinating film. In Rome a Chinese restaurant
owner is having trouble with the local crime bosses. Help from home is
requested but when only one person appears in response to their plea, the
victims despair. Luckily for them this one person is Bruce Lee as Tang Lung.
Tang insists he is capable and even shows his open mindedness by stating that
any fighting style is good and can be incorporated into your own form. Soon the
mobsters are causing trouble, demanding payment and harassing the restaurant
owners in any way they can. After a missed opportunity because of a poorly
timed bathroom trip, Tang establishes his skills and warns the mafia bosses
that these people and their establishment are under his protection. Even though
a death threat on Tang is issued, he refuses to leave and ultimately is forced to take on his would-be
assassins. Seeing that the local killers are not up to the task, a Japanese and
an American martial arts experts are hired to finally take Tang out and it is
in these confrontations that the conflict will be resolved.
The year 2014 has proven to be one of the cruelest in terms of depriving us of notable people in the arts. The year's morbid streak has continued to the bitter end with the announcement of the death of noted character actor Edward Herrmann. The 71 year-old actor has passed away after a months-long battle with brain cancer. Herrmann, who was both an Emmy and Tony award winner, had worked steadily in films, TV and on stage since he first made his mark in the early 1970s. His feature film credits include "The Paper Chase", "Brass Target", "The Lost Boys", "The Great Gatsby", "The Purple Rose of Cairo", "Nixon" and "The Aviator". His TV credits include "Eleanor and Franklin", "The Practice" (for which he won an Emmy in a recurring role), "The Gilmore Girls", "The Good Wife", "How I Met Your Mother" and "M*A*S*H". For more on his life and career, click here.
rookie cop or soldier arrives at his first assignment and quickly finds they’re
in the middle of some serious trouble. This basic plot has been used more times
than any movie buff can count and crosses genres like westerns, war movies and cop
thrillers. “Pony Soldier” is an odd western in that the action takes place in
Canada and involves the Northwest Mounted Police.
1876 and Canadian Cree Indians cross the border into Montana to hunt buffalo,
but are mistaken for Sioux by the U.S. Cavalry and a battle ensues. Known as
long knives by the Cree because of their sabers, the Cavalry forces the Cree to
retreat. The leader of the Cree kidnaps two white settlers in order to trade
them for buffalo and safe passage to Canada.
Duncan MacDonald, played by the ever-youthful Tyrone Power, is briefed on the
problem and takes up the challenge to negotiate the freedom of the white
captives. He is joined by his half-native scout and side-kick Natayo Smith,
played by Thomas Gomez, in an effort to preserve the peace between the Cree,
the settlers, the Mounties and the U.S. Cavalry.
plays the diplomat cop very well and gains a reluctant friendship with the Cree
chief Standing Bear, played by Stuart Randall, while clashing with the Cree
soldier Konah (Cameron Mitchell), who seeks a confrontation with the U.S.
Cavalry across the border in Montana.
a mirage appears across the valley showing the ocean and a large ship,
MacDonald convinces the Cree of the futility of their efforts and they reluctantly
decide to consider his offer to free the white captives. It turns out one of
the captives is an outlaw, Jess Calhoun (Robert Horton), who is wanted
for murder by the Mounties. The woman captive is pretty Emerald Neeley (Penny Edwards), who has been chosen by Konah to be his bride.
Northwest Mounted Police seek to maintain the peace by returning their wards,
the Cree, back to their home in Canada. Power’s MacDonald is the perfect mix of
level-headed constable and diplomat. He even manages to befriend a Cree orphan
who wants to be his adopted son. While ever the diplomat, MacDonald is no pushover
and asserts himself with the Cree and in a final confrontation with the outlaw
Soldier” looks like a typical western of the era with a Cavalry battle, horse riding
stunts, shootouts and lush vistas while also presenting the native characters as
more than caricatures. Many, if not all, of the native supporting cast appear to
be Native Americans with Anthony Numkena, a Hopi Indian, a standout as
MacDonald’s adopted son, Comes Running.
movie is based on a Saturday Evening Post story by Garnett Weston and was
directed by Joseph M. Newman. Newman helmed the sci-fi classic “This Island
Earth,” the noir cult film “Dangerous Crossing,” Tarzan, the Ape Man” and
several episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”
this movie isn’t shot in the gritty adult western style made popular by John
Ford, Anthony Mann, George Stevens, John Sturges and Fred Zinnemann in the
1950s; it still manages to be entertaining as a sort of transition between the
standard western formula of old Hollywood and the modern westerns being made by
to IMDb, this movie is the film debut of Earl Holliman and features an
uncredited performance by Richard Boone. It also features narration at the end
of the movie by an uncredited Michael Rennie. The movie ends with MacDonald
completing his assignment followed by a contemporary tribute of the Royale
Canadian Mounted Police with Rennie extolling the virtues of their continuing
mission as peacekeepers.
The movie looks terrific and was filmed in Technicolor on location in the Coconino
National Forrest near Sedona, Arizona, and in California’s Red Rock Canyon. The
20th Century Fox production was released in December 1952 on the eve of
CinemaScope and it’s a shame this movie was not able to make use of the wide
Twilight Time Blu-ray release, which looks and sounds wonderful, is limited to 3,000
copies and can by ordered via Screen Archives. The score by Alex North is
offered as an isolated track on the disc and is the only extra. The release
also includes the usual booklet of images spread throughout an informative and
entertaining essay by Julie Kirgo. Fans of Tyrone Power and “north” westerns
will want to give this movie a view and possibly add a copy to their
Rainer with William Powell in The Great Ziegfeld, for which she won her first Oscar.
Luis Rainer, who won Oscars for "The Great Ziegfeld" and "The Good Earth", has died in London. She was 104 years old. Rainer was a German immigrant who came of age during the Weimar Republic in the post-WWI period. She witnessed the rise of Hitler and the increase in Nazi barbarism before she immigrated to America in 1935 where, improbably, she became a major star virtually overnight. For details of her incredible life and career, click here to read NY Times obituary.
fans can now officially rejoice! The Criterion Collection has produced a
fabulous Blu-ray edition of Sydney Pollack’s outstanding laugh riot, Tootsie, although one could safely say
the picture not only belongs to Pollack, but to Dustin Hoffman, the movie’s
star. It was his baby all the way, from its conception to its final,
brilliantly written, acted, and directed finish. The American Film Institute
voted Tootsie to be the Number 2 best
comedy of all time (after Some Like it
Hot, coincidentally another film in which men dress up as women!); whether
or not you agree with that ranking, you have to admit it is a virtual lesson in how to make a good, funny
story is already well-known: struggling middle-aged actor Michael Dorsey
(Hoffman) decides to dress up as a woman to audition for a soap opera, and he
gets the part; thus he has to continue the charade in order to keep his job.
Complications ensue when he falls in love with Julie (Jessica Lange), another
actor on the soap. The story only gets more “nutty” (as uncredited but
hilarious co-star Bill Murray calls it) from there.
what the movie is really about—repeated by several of the picture’s creators in
the several excellent extras on the disc—is how a man learns to become a better
man by being a woman. This is not a “feminist” film. It’s indeed a movie about
the sexes, but its message is for men on
how theyneed to get their act
together before they can successfully relate to women in a positive way.
the many displays of genius that Hoffman has brought us over the years, Tootsie is easily in the top handful. His
performance, nominated for an Oscar, is the crux of the film’s success—if he
hadn’t been believable, if the cross-dressing hadn’t been convincing, if he
hadn’t gone for the absolute truth of
the role, the picture would have fallen flat. Luckily, Hoffman IS Tootsie.
that’s not to downplay the strength of all the other actors—Lange (who did win an Oscar for Supporting
Actress), Teri Garr, Bill Murray, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, and even
director Pollack, who is fabulous as
Hoffman’s agent—are all great; I can’t imagine the movie with anyone else in
their respective roles.
Tootsie had a long and
difficult gestation period. As we learn from the documentary extras, Hoffman
and playwright Murray Schisgal had been working on a story about a
cross-dressing man who was a tennis pro, but they couldn’t get it to work. Then
they came across Don McGuire’s play about an actor who cross-dresses to get a part, so the rights were
purchased, they changed the protagonist’s profession, and voila—they had the workings of Tootsie.
Hal Ashby was originally set to direct and had begun shooting tests of Hoffman
in makeup, but the studio ultimately didn’t want him. Enter Sydney Pollack, who
brought in Larry Gelbart to bring more humanity and drama to the script. Then
Hoffman brought in Elaine May to work on the female roles (why May isn’t
credited for the screenplay along with the other three writers is a mystery).
The script took forever to get right,
but once it was to everyone’s satisfaction, the production went ahead. The
conflicts between Hoffman and Pollack are legendary, but in the end it was
Hoffman who wanted Pollack to play Michael Dorsey’s agent because the
characters’ relationship in the story reflected the real-life rapport between
actor and director.
new 4K digital restoration looks gorgeous,
but that’s what we expect from the Rolls-Royce of Blu-ray labels. The audio
commentary is by the late Pollack. Included are new interviews with Hoffman (in
an especially touching and revealing piece) and comedy writer Phil Rosenthal
(who tells us exactly why Tootsie is
a great comedy); a vintage interview between “Dorothy Michaels” and critic Gene
Shalit that was deleted from the film; a vintage “making of” documentary and a
longer, more detailed “making of” doc from 2007; deleted scenes; and screen and
wardrobe test shoots shot by Hal Ashby. The booklet contains an impressive essay
by critic Michael Sragow.
Tootsie is one of those
pictures that stands the test of time and gets funnier with subsequent
viewings. Get it now on Blu-ray—it’s a must for anyone who likes to smile.
This week, Amazon is cutting the price of the Universal Pictures 100th Anniversary limited edition Blu-ray and DVD sets. Save up to $220! Includes 25 classic films, a CD of film scores and a 72 page book.
Here's a golden oldie: a vintage public service announcement from the 1970s with Robert Vaughn warning us about the dangers of improperly inflated tires. When the Man From U.N.C.L.E. tells you to inflate those tires, you'd better inflate those tires!
First Run Features has released director Lucia Puenzo's acclaimed 2013 film "The German Doctor" on DVD. The movie is the highest profile Argentinian release in years and was honored at numerous international film festivals. Puenzo, who also wrote the screenplay, based on the film on her novel, which- in turn- is said to have been inspired by the real-life experiences of a family who interacted with the infamous Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele. During WWII, Mengele was known as "The Angel of Death" at Auschwitz. Here, he utilized his considerable medical skills for evil purposes, selecting who would live and die among the wretched masses who arrived daily at the death camp. Those who were spared were consigned to a living hell of torture and slave labor. The few children who were not put immediately to death were used as human guinea pigs in Mengele's bizarre and cruel medical experiments. He was obsessed with genetics in his goal of helping Hitler fulfill his ambition of creating a "Master Race". Mengele played a key role in attempting to manipulate pregnancies to ensure that only Aryan children would be born in nations under Nazi control. His bizarre theories have long been discredited by the mainstream medical establishment, particularly his obsession with twins. Mengele studied pairs of twin children through inhumane methods, often operating on them without any pain-killers. The few prisoners who interacted with him and managed to survive the war report that, for all his barbaric practices, Mengele had a calm, almost soothing demeanor that would often lull his victims into thinking he was a benign presence in the camp. He would pat children on the head and offer them candy, only to dispose of them like rubbish hours later. In the aftermath of the war and the chaos that ensued in Europe, Mengele managed to escape (along with many other Nazis) to South America. In his case, he found refuge in Argentina, where the corrupt government sheltered him, presumably in return for his "expertise" about how to fine-tune torture tactics.
It is against this backdrop- what we inherently know about Mengele- that Puenzo's story begins. It is 1960 and we see Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl), using the assumed name of Helmut Gregor, lost on a remote country road. He has a chance encounter with a young couple, Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and Enzo (Diego Peretti), who are traveling with their three children. Mengele befriends the family, who consent to having him follow them in his car along the desolate roadways. Along the way, Mengele charms each member of the family and he explains that he is a doctor en route to an institute where he will be working. Coincidentally, the institute is very close to the family's destination, which is a resort hotel that they have inherited. The couple intends to reopen the hotel and hope to make a financial success of it. Enzo, it appears, has not been successful in financially providing for his family. He fancies himself an inventor and his real passion is creating a unique doll that can marketed to little girls. He finds a sympathetic ear from Mengele, who reinforces his bond with the family by becoming their first tenant at the hotel. Eva is immediately smitten by the charming German doctor but he seems more interested in the couple's oldest daughter, Lilith (Florencia Bado). Although twelve years-old, she is very short and slight of build, giving the impression she is much younger. This results in terrible bullying at the local school, where there are children of German ex-pats who are particularly cliquish and cruel to Lilith. Both Eva and Lilith are charmed by Mengele, who professes to help them by offering to inject Lilith with hormone injections that will spur her growth. Enzo is adamantly against the idea, but Eva secretly gives the doctor permission to proceed. Before long, Lilith is experiencing strange medical complications. Simultaneously, Mengele discovers that Eva is pregnant with twins. This smorgasbord of potential medical experiments excites him and before long, he has convinced Eva to also undergo some of his quack medical treatments. He has also ingratiated himself with Enzo by finding a financial backer who will mass produce Enzo's dolls. (A sequence set in a doll factory is brilliantly staged and genuinely eerie, with row after row of hollow-eyed dolls evoking memories of a death camp.) However, when Enzo sees his wife and daughter suffering from mysterious illnesses, he begins to suspect that his new friend is really a villain. He is not alone. A local photographer (Elena Roger) is, in fact, an Israeli intelligence agent who also begins to believe that the seemingly benign and charming man of medicine may actually be one of the most wanted men in the world.
"The German Doctor" plays out at a slow, deliberate pace that is refreshing in a film industry defined by fast-editing and mindless action sequences. The script allows each character to be fully developed and the relationships between the key players becomes fascinating, as Mengele uses psychological methods to manipulate his next victims. The performances are uniformly extraordinary, with Brandemuhl particularly impressive. Although portraying one of the most notorious criminals in history, he deftly manages to make him charming and likable, both necessary ingredients if we are to understand why the family he has befriended can be so easily manipulated by him. The film is engrossing throughout and, even though we know through history how Mengele finally met his fate, it doesn't deprive director Puenzo from milking a considerable amount of suspense from the scenario.
The First Run Pictures DVD offers an excellent transfer but is frustratingly devoid of any bonus materials. It would be a worthwhile ambition for the label to eventually put out a special edition of this excellent film with a commentary track that helps viewers understand the historical context of what they are seeing.
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and in anticipation of the forthcoming big screen version of the classic television series, Cinema Retro will be offering periodic reviews of individual episodes of the show, which aired between September 1964 and January 1968. The episodes will be chosen at random and not presented in any specific order, thus offering analysis of telecasts from the four seasons. Reviews will be written by U.N.C.L.E. scholars and long-time devotees of the series.
By Lee Pfeiffer
"The Virtue Affair"
Air date: December 3, 1965
Director: Jud Taylor
Writer: Henry Slaser
Although most U.N.C.L.E fans tend to favor the series' premiere season (when it was telecast in B&W), I've always been partial to the second season, which began in September 1965. That's when I first experienced the show, through a ringing endorsement of my older brother, who said, "It's like a TV version of James Bond." For a nine year old boy who was enjoying the 007-inspired spy craze of the mid-1960s, that was all I had to hear. I quickly became hooked on the show and my enthusiasm for it has never diminished, although I hereby admit that my expertise relating to the series is not nearly on par with some of the writers who will be contributing reviews to future columns.
"The Virtue Affair" is a strong episode from the second season; one that fully illustrates the show's penchant for mixing thrills and humor. This time around, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) are dispatched to France by U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll) to thwart some goings-on involving the development of a secret missile system. The episode begins with Solo and Illya spotting a missile launch device being smuggled through the countryside by some mystery men. They follow the van in hopes of locating the ultimate destination for the device but they are, in essence, carjacked by a desperate old man who forces them at gunpoint to rescue him from some pursuers on motorbikes. The man turns out to be Raoul Dubois (Marcel Hillaire), one of the world's most acknowledged experts in missile guidance technology. He has Solo and Illya take him to the home of his daughter Albert (named after Einstein), who- in true U.N.C.L.E. style- turns out to be a stunning beauty played by Marla Powers. Turns out that Albert is also a recognized expert in her father's field of engineering. Raoul tells the agents that he had been duped into joining a missile technology program thinking it was being run by the French government. He found out too late that it was a private venture with nefarious purposes and that he and other engineers were being held captive and forced to develop the system that will allow a deadly missile to be launched. Before he can identify the mastermind behind the plan, two motorcycles crash through the living room door and their riders succeed in assassinating Raoul in front of the hapless Solo and Illya. (A refreshing aspect of the series is the occasionally inability of its protagonists to avoid making costly mistakes.) Waverly informs the men that the likely evil genius they are seeking is a man named Jacques Robespierre (Ronald Long), a rich eccentric who claims lineage to the legendary madman of the French Revolution. Waverly explains that Robespierre is a walking paradox: a committed pacifist who is eager to bring back an era of social graces even if he has to engage in genocide to do so. He once ran for the presidency of France on a platform of outlawing the sale of wine. Not surprisingly, Waverly says, he only garnered 84 votes in a nation that is fanatical in its love of the grape. Waverly suspects that Robespierre intends to achieve through violence what he could not achieve at the ballot box: a takeover of the French government and the establishment of an arch conservative regime that will use violence to enforce Robespierre's peculiar code of morality.
Solo and Albert arrange to get invitations to Robespierre's mansion but he sees through them immediately and they are imprisoned. Albert is given a choice: reveal the code that will enable the launch of a missile that will destroy the vineyard regions of France or witness Solo's execution. She relents and Robespierre keeps his word to spare their lives, although Solo ends up in a jail cell. Meanwhile, Illya gains access to the Robespierre estate grounds by posing as a hunter with a proficient use of a bow and arrow. (Actually an electronically enhanced bow and arrow system that ensures he gets a bullseye every time.) He has a chance encounter with a real expert bow and arrow hunter, Karl Vogler (Frank Marth, who played many secondary roles on the "classic 39" episodes of "The Honeymooners"). A highlight of the episode is the sporting competition between Vogler and Illya in which both men try to top each other in terms of marksmanship, though Illya is clearly cheating with his U.N.C.L.E.-enhanced arrow device. Vogler also recognizes Illya as an enemy agent (the villains in this episode are unusually efficient) and before long he becomes the stalked prey in a version of "The Most Dangerous Game", as Vogler and his fellow hunters track him through the woods. Illya, who is handcuffed behind his back, has only his wits and natural instincts to avoid what appears to be certain death. Once freed from his pursuers, Illya ends up at Robespierre's castle and gets possession of the guidance system just moments before it is to be utilized to launch the missile. In the most amusing sequence in the episode, he is mistaken for a famed engineer and is forced to give a lecture to real engineers about the workings of the system. It's genuinely amusing to see David McCallum get a rare chance to show off his comedic abilities, as he uses double talk to get the engineers to answer their own questions. Nevertheless, he is inevitably exposed as a fraud and is sentenced to Robespierre's idea of traditional justice: death by guillotine.
"The Virtue Affair" boasts some of the wittiest repartee between Solo and Illya, with both men making jokes at the other's expense, all thanks to the fine script by Henry Slesar. Ronald Long makes for one of the more memorable villains, an amusing Burl Ives-type who defends chivalry with a passion but thinks nothing of overseeing the senseless slaughter of thousands of innocent people. The episode is very ably directed by Jud Taylor, who sadly would not contribute to any more of the shows over the length of its run, and Robert Drasnin's score is particular effective. Unlike "I Spy", which filmed around the world, all of U.N.C.L.E.'s exotic locations consisted of stock footage- but that only adds to a retro TV lover's affection for the series.
EPISODE RATING: ***1/2 (out of four).
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