If you trust the biographical sketch included on his 1963
LP As Long as the Grass Shall Grow (Folkways
FN 2532, 1963), the folksinger Peter LaFarge hailed from Fountain, Colorado, a
farming and ranching town settled ten miles south of Colorado Springs.If you trust the memory of his own mother,
Peter LaFarge was actually born Oliver Albee LaFarge on April 30th,
1931, in New York City.The
singer-songwriter was the son of the notable anthropologist, author and
historian, Oliver LaFarge.The senior
LaFarge’s 1929 novel documenting life on a Navajo reservation, Laughing Boy, would earn him a Pulitzer
Prize in fiction in 1930.
Though separated early on from his biological father due
to his parent’s divorce in 1935, Peter remained his father’s son in his
studious devotion of America’s indigenous people.His mother, with whom Peter remained, remarried
in 1940 to Alexander Kane, a rancher in aforementioned Fountain, CO.Through his stepfather’s business, LaFarge fell
in love with horses and roping and rodeo life, eventually dropping out of high
school to try his hand at saddle bronc riding.Though he had become a cowboy in vocation - suffering numerous injuries
during his brief association with rodeo life - he remained more absorbed by his
birth father’s scholarship into the folklore, art, history, and customs of the
LaFarge was a restless spirit, tending to drift in and
out of things.He served on the U.S.S.
Boxer during the Korean War, sparred as an amateur pugilist, studied acting at
the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago, and wrote several (as of yet) un-produced
plays.Befriending the folksinger Cisco
Houston, an occasional singing partner of and best friend to Woody Guthrie,
LaFarge’s existing interest in folklore ignited his enthusiasm for the folksong
revival of the late 1950s.Upon his
arrival in Greenwich Village with an intention of inaugurating a career in folk
singing, the young LaFarge seemingly burnished his credentials by telling
everyone he was the descendant of the Narragansett Tribe of the Rhode Island-
based Algonquians.One of his stories
was that once the Narragansett’s had been “wiped out,” he found himself adopted
by “the Tewa Tribe of the Hopi Nation, whose reservation is near Santa
Fe.”This appears to have been the tale
he chose to settle on.He would write in
a 1963 issue of the seminal folk music magazine Sing Out!, “The Pima Indians, whose reservation is just outside of
Phoenix, Arizona, are cousins of my people, the Hopi Indians of the New Mexico
If LaFarge’s assertions of a direct ancestral lineage to
indigenous Americans are suspect - as most music historians now believe - the songwriter
was certainly not alone in such self-mythologizing.Another recent Village transplant from the
Midwest, Bob Dylan, was also telling friends and colleagues a similar fiction.Dylan, ten years LaFarge’s junior, famously suggested
to a doubtful Izzy Young of Greenwich Village’s venerable Folklore Center that
he was of Sioux Indian descent.To be
fair, even Johnny Cash – who is, of course, more or less the central figure in
Antonio D’Ambrosio’s moving 2015 documentary We’re
Still Here: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited, now available on DVD
courtesy of Kino-Lorber, was not above such mythologizing.In an infamous letter to Billboard (published August 22, 1964), Cash would describe himself
as “almost a half-breed Cherokee-Mohawk,” whatever that means.It’s therefore somewhat perplexing that,
regardless of the best intent and justice-seeking goodwill of all involved, D’Ambrosio’sfilm makes not even a passing mention
to all of these innocent subterfuges.
Does any of this really matter?I suppose not.What does matter is that LaFarge, whether a
full, half or non-fledged ancestor of indigenous Americans, wrote some of the
most poignant, bitter and insightful songs somberly documenting the Indians’
experience in the United States.LaFarge’s
intimate knowledge of Indian customs and folklore were, ultimately, far more schooled
and convincing than either Cash’s or Dylan’s more clumsy appropriations which
were easier to dismiss.While Cash and
Dylan would, of course, both go on to be deserved long-standing totems of the
music industry, LaFarge remained a mostly obscure figure, one very much on the
fringe of the popular music scene.LaFarge
would productively wax new no fewer than six albums between 1962 and 1965, but only
“Ira Hayes” and Other Ballads
(Columbia CL 17995/CS 8595) had been recorded for a major label with pop-music
market distribution.It sold
poorly.His following five albums were
waxed for Moses Asch’s more austere and cerebral Folkways Records, whose eclectic
catalog included everything from educational LPs, to anthropological studies, to
early jazz and blues recordings.LaFarge’s addition to the Folkway’s roster was something of a more
comfortable – if less royalty generating – fit for the artist.Asch, a supportive “fellow traveler” of
left-wing causes, judiciously used his record label to provide an open
microphone to such genuine folk music artists as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly,
Cisco Houston and Pete Seeger.It was a
defiant gesture as well as a pragmatic one.The political climate made most labels in the late 1940s and early 1950s
wary of recording rabble-rousers armed with guitars and 5-string banjos.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST OF THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
"THE SON-OF- A -BITCH
By Raymond Benson
well-known that when John Ford, who had worked with actor John Wayne on a
number of films prior to seeing him in Howard Hawks’ Red River, proclaimed that he didn’t know that “the son-of- a-
bitch could act!”
words were apt. Prior to the release of Red
River in 1948 (it was shot in 1946 but didn’t appear in theaters until
’48), Wayne had mostly played the likable, stalwart “John Wayne” character that
had first appeared in Ford’s Stagecoach (1939).
But in Red River, Wayne plays a role
that turned critical and public opinion of the actor’s thespian abilities. He
pulls off a remarkable feat—Wayne’s character, Thomas Dunson, is a first-class
S.O.B., a guy you really want someone to punch out throughout the movie; and
yet, Wayne manages to make him likable. He carries an audience through over two
hours of hardcore western, and he delivers one of his two or three best
performances. It doesn’t hurt that Wayne is ably supported by Montgomery Clift,
who plays Wayne’s adopted son. In many ways, it’s really Clift’s picture—he’s
the protagonist, and the story is seen through his eyes. But wait—maybe it’s
seen through Walter Brennan’s eyes in the original, rare theatrical cut,
released here in a glorious 2K digital restoration on Blu-ray.
fact, I had never seen the theatrical cut, the version preferred by director
Hawks. A longer cut, by about six minutes, was the one that was shown on
television and appeared on previous home video releases. The longer version was
actually intended as a preview for studio execs; it utilizes on-screen textual
transitions (as if the audience is reading from a book) and an extended final
confrontation between Wayne and Clift. The theatrical cut dispenses with the
textual transitions and instead substitutes sequences narrated by Walter
Brennan, who then, arguably, becomes the character through whose eyes we see
the story. Why this version, which originally played to audiences in 1948,
didn’t become the standard edition after that is a mystery; in actuality, Hawks
was quite right—the theatrical cut is the
better one, except for the trimmed final fight between the two leads. As Hawks tells Peter Bogdanovich in an audio
interview included as an extra in the Criterion Collection’s elaborate box set,
the best way to watch Red River is to
view the theatrical cut up until the last few minutes, and then change to the
preview cut at the point when Wayne marches through the heads of cattle to
confront Clift at the corral.
thing that is remarkable about Red River is
that it was Hawks’ first western. He would go on to make a handful more (good
ones, too!), and was known for making pictures in all genres, but the fact that
he went out of the gate with one of the greatest westerns of all time is truly
an achievement. Red River, without
question, is one of the five best
American films of the genre.
story is a fictional account of the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas
along the Chisholm Trail, the hardships the men overcome, and the battle of
wills between Wayne, the tyrannical leader and father, and Clift, the calmer,
perhaps smarter right-hand cowpoke and adopted son. Hawks manages to capture the
perilous trek with uncanny realism, assured composition and tempo, and drama.
Hawks once said that the key to a good film was “three good scenes and no bad
ones.” Well, Red River has far more
than three good scenes. The stampede sequence is nothing short of astounding.
went all out on this one. It’s a four-disk set—two Blu-rays and two DVDs
containing identical material. Both versions of the film are included, along
with a couple of interviews with Bogdanovich, who explains the difference
between the two cuts and presents his views on the picture. Critic Molly
Haskell talks about Hawks in a new video interview, and film scholar Lee Clark
Mitchell tells us all about the western genre in an interesting piece. There
are audio excerpts from interviews with Hawks and novelist Borden Chase, as
well as a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Red
River featuring Wayne, Joanne Dru, and Brennan. Besides the usual
essay-filled booklet, the box comes with Chase’s original novel, Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail, from
which the film was adapted.
Ridley Scott's Oscar-winning film "Gladiator" impressed critics and the public worldwide. However, as the BBC's Nicholas Barber reports, there were plans for a sequel despite the fact that the main character, played by Russell Crowe, is killed off in the original film. What to do? Well, that's where the fun begins as Barber unveils an almost unbelievable concept for a sequel that rivals "Highlander 2: The Quickening" in terms of audacity, compromising of characters and a very naked attempt to simply make a fast buck. Fortunately for all involved, this unwanted sequel never went into production. Click here to read.
One of the best WWII productions made while the conflict was on-going, "Destination Tokyo" is available on DVD through Warner Home Entertainment. The film was released in December, 1943 when the war was in full throttle. Cary Grant is well-cast and in top form as Capt. Cassidy of the U.S.S. Copperfin, a submarine that is being deployed on a top secret and highly dangerous mission to infiltrate Tokyo Bay in order to scope out key logistical data for the first planned bombing raid of the city by U.S. forces, historically known as the Doolittle Raid. The film's ample running time of 135 minutes allows the story to unfold in a leisurely manner and for supporting characters to be fully developed as distinct personalities. John Garfield is the co-star but he spends most of the time regaling his shipmates with tales (or perhaps tall tales) about his sexual conquests. Alan Hale provides additional comic relief as the vessel's cook and there are any number of other character actors who would go on to be mainstays in the film industry: John Forsythe, Tom Tully, Whit Bissell, Dane Clark and William Prince among them. The film marked an impressive directorial debut for Delmar Daves, who also co-wrote the script with Albert Maltz. Grant's Captain Cassidy is very much a populist officer, concerned about his men and well-acquainted with each one individually. Consequently, they'll do anything for him. That includes Garfield's character, who volunteers along with two other sailors to undertake a dangerous mission to leave the sub and use a rubber raft to land on Japanese soil where they can record vital statistics for the pending raid on Tokyo. In order to enter the bay, the Copperfin must deftly avoid mines and a submarine net, then escape detection while the volunteers spend the night on land recording their findings. Director Daves milks a good deal of suspense from this scenario, which of course delivers the pay-off war time audiences expected: a depiction of the actual Doolittle Raid, which is shown here as doing devastating damage to Tokyo. In reality, the raid only did minor damage to the city but the psychological effect on the Japanese population of having their seemingly invincible homeland penetrated scored a major coup for the U.S.
Some of the best scenes in "Destination Tokyo" don't involve violence. They explore the relationship between Capt. Cassidy and his men. In the most dramatic scene, a sailor suffers appendicitis. While fathoms below in the submarine, without an on-board surgeon, Cassidy must assist a pharmacist's mate in performing the life-saving operation with crude instruments. It's a tense and moving scene that was apparently based on a real-life incident. Although there are plenty of references to killing "Japs" as one might expect in a WWII era film, the screenplay also presents a more nuanced point-of-view with a discussion about how the Japanese people were hoodwinked by their militaristic leaders. It's an unusual instance of humanizing the enemy in a film that was made for propaganda purposes.
The DVD has a good transfer and contains the trailer and a 1934 musical comedy short "Gem of the Ocean" with French starlet Jeanne Aubert. There is also a Cary Grant trailer gallery beginning with "Bringing Up Baby" and culminating with "North by Northwest". Recommended.
MAN…AND LEGS, SHOULDERS, OTHER HAND, ETC.”
By Raymond Benson
Zierra’s fascinating documentary that premiered at Cannes in 2017 (and was released
theatrically in 2018) is about an unsung hero in the lore of legendary
filmmaker Stanley Kubrick—Leon Vitali, who describes himself not as an
“assistant,” but as a “filmworker.”
now 70 years old, began his career as an actor in the 1960s, appearing in
various British films and television programs. After being impressed with
Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, Vitali told a
friend, “I want to work for that guy.” He managed to get an audition for
Kubrick’s next picture, Barry Lyndon,
and landed the key role of Lord Bullingdon, the main antagonist of the film.
Vitali received much praise for his performance, but instead of continuing an
acting career, he made an extraordinary left turn. He asked Kubrick if he could
work behind the camera from then on.
grilled Vitali on his sincerity, and then he hired the actor as an additional
casting director for The Shining. Vitali’s
task was to go to America and find a little boy to play Danny in the classic
horror movie. (The young actor turned out to be Danny Lloyd, who, as an adult,
appears in Filmworker as a talking
the making of The Shining, Vitali
served as little Danny’s handler and guardian, and ultimately began to perform
more tasks for the demanding filmmaker. For the next twenty-plus years, Vitali
learned every aspect of the filmmaking business, especially the color
correction processes for film that led to his overseeing the restoration of Kubrick’s
pictures, and many other jobs. In short, he became an indispensable ally and
assistant. As one interviewee put it, Vitali became Kubrick’s “right-hand man,
along with the other hand, the legs, the shoulders, body…” (He also played the
mysterious, masked “Red Cloak” leader of the orgy sequence in Eyes Wide Shut.)
Filmworker takes the viewer
through Vitali’s years with Kubrick, commented upon by the likes of Ryan
O’Neal, Matthew Modine, Danny Lloyd, Lee Ermey, Marie Richardson, Stellan
Skarsgård, and others, plus film executives Julian
Senior, Brian Jamieson, the late Steve Southgate, and Vitali’s family. We learn
a lot about Kubrick’s process, as well as what kind of person he was. While it’s well-known that the filmmaker was a
perfectionist, few realize that he was a genuinely warm, soft-spoken,
Lorber’s new DVD comes with 5.1 Surround sound, the theatrical trailer, and a
supplement Q&A with Vitali and director Zierra.
Filmworker is a must for the
Stanley Kubrick fan, and, in general, for students and devotees of filmmaking.
This British trade magazine photo from 1970 show composer Roy Budd, who was then working on the score for the forthcoming crime film "Get Carter". Both the film and Budd's score would go on to become classics. Interesting to note that the film's working title was simply "Carter". Budd also scored many other films including many for producer Euan Lloyd, "Catlow", "Paper Tiger", "The Wild Geese", "The Sea Wolves" and "The Final Option" among them. Other film scores included "Soldier Blue", "Fear is the Key" and "The Stone Killer". He also wrote the theme for the British TV series "The Sandbaggers". Bud died in 1993 at only 46 years of age, but his work lives on. - Lee Pfeiffer
Despite having been a major star for decades and having a lead a life
of controversy and personal obstacles and challenges, it seems
surprising that there has never been a book about the films of Anthony
Perkins that examined his work in detail. That dilemma has finally been
resolved with the release of "More Than a Psycho: The Complete Films of
Anthony Perkins" by husband-and-wife writing team of Dawn and Jonathon
Dabell. The authors refreshingly concentrate on examining each of the
actor's individual feature films and TV productions in detail, offering
fascinating background information and astute evaluations of each title
from classics such as "Friendly Persuasion" and "Murder on the Orient
Express" to television fare such as "How Awful About Alan" There is a
biographical section, to be sure, that provides meaningful details on
Perkins' life and career but the primary emphasis is on the quality of
his individual films. In this regard the book resembles those marvelous
old Citadel Press "Films of..." titles that still adorn the bookshelves
and libraries of movie lovers worldwide. The book is also profusely
The Dabells succeed in their quest to prove that Perkins should be
judged by other achievements that just his signature role as Norman
Bates in "Psycho" but it's not without irony that the role that
stereotyped him to a degree was one he would return to many years later
to exploit in sequels based on Hitchcock's original premise. The book
makes it clear that, for the most part, Perkins' considerable talents
were generally under-utilized by the film industry. He would
occasionally land a supporting role in an "A" list feature film but more
of than not he top-lined a good deal of mediocre fare. Nevertheless, he
always gave it his best effort and this very worthy book pays homage to
his impressive achievements.
Here is an official announcement about the release of the book:
Perkins is best known for playing Norman Bates in Psycho. Its notoriety and success ensured he remained one of
filmdom’s most recognisable faces for the rest of his life… and beyond. Yet
there were those (Perkins included) who felt he never truly shook the screen
persona of the knife-wielding, mother-obsessed, cross-dressing psychopath, and
he was often labelled on the strength of his most notorious role – thus giving
a distorted view of a career which spanned four decades and almost sixty
More Than a Psycho: The Complete Films Of
Anthony Perkins, Dawn and Jonathon Dabell take a closer look at the actor’s
entire body of work. Their book provides cast and crew details, an extensive
image gallery, background information and considered critical analysis for
every title. Perkins was, they argue, more than just a prominent screen villain
– his talent and versatility went much further, his wider oeuvre encompassing
everything from romance to comedy, from war to westerns, from musicals to sci-fi.
a foreword by highly regarded film and pop culture historian Paul Talbot, this
is the essential guide to the career of Anthony Perkins.
commissioned cover by artist Paul Watts.
and edited by Darrell Buxton.
and crew information on every film, including films where Perkins was
screen-writer or director only.
balanced critical analysis of every film.
by Paul Talbot, author of Bronson’s Loose, Bronson’s Loose Again! And Mondo
written-about titles explored in never-before-seen detail.
first -and currently only - book devoted specifically to an examination of Anthony
Kino Lorber has released the 1992 British farce "Blame It on the Bellboy" on Blu-ray. The film is a fast-paced homage to old Hollywood screwball comedies that makes fine use of a very talented cast. Like all good farces, the script involves mistaken identities, extraordinary coincidences and an eclectic (and eccentric) collection of characters. The action takes place entirely in Venice where a nervous milquetoast, Melvyn Orton (Dudley Moore) is sent by a tyrannical boss to buy a villa. Simultaneously, a hit man with a similar name, Mike Lorton (Bryan Brown) arrives in the city to assassinate a local crime boss, Mr. Scarpa (Andreas Katsulas), who knows he has been marked for death but doesn't know the identity of his would-be killer. Scarpa and his men are determined to assassinate the assassin. Both Orton and Lorton are staying at the same hotel, so you can pretty much guess where this is going. Among the other guests is yet another man with a similar name, Maurice Horton (Richard Griffiths), the lord mayor of a small British city, who has told his wife Rosemary (Alison Steadman) that he is on a business trip to Boston. In fact, he has signed up with a tacky "dating service" that promises to arrange a meet-up with a woman who is also on holiday through the agency.She is Patricia Fulford (Penelope Wilton), a middle-aged lonely hearts who wants to find passion and love when she meets up with her mystery date. Meanwhile, local real estate agent Caroline Wright (Patsy Kensit) is awaiting a meeting with a prospective client to buy a white elephant of a villa on the Grand Canal so that she can collect an extravagant fee.
Through a mishap involving the hotel's inept bellboy (Bronson Pinchot), who delivers messages to the wrong rooms, there ensues a massive case of mistaken identities. Maurice thinks the sexy Caroline is his date, and a prostitute as well, whose "services" are part of his holiday package. Caroline thinks he is her client to buy the villa. Melvyn is mistaken by Scarpa as his assassin and is kidnapped and tortured. Meanwhile, the real assassin, Mike Lorton, is mistaken by Patricia as her mystery date. Adding to the zaniness is the unexpected arrival of Maurice's wife, who hopes to catch him in the act of cheating. What ensures is a wild, mind-spinning series of comedic events, all very deftly carried out at lightning speed by director Mark Herman, who makes the most of shooting on location amidst the eye-popping Venetian backgrounds. Herman, who also wrote the screenplay, ensures that this extraordinary mix of actors and characters never becomes too confusing for the viewer to follow, despite elaborate plot twists. There are chases on foot and by boat, people darting in and out of each other's bedrooms and it's all set to a jaunty score by Trevor Jones. "Blame It on the Bellboy" isn't a comedy classic but it's consistently funny with the impressive cast all in top form. Recommended, especially if you like a modern take on a Marx Brothers comedy. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has a very good transfer and includes a vintage video promotional trailer for the film as well as an assortment of other trailers for K/L releases.
Neil Simon, the Pulitzer and Tony Award winning playwright, has passed away at age 91. A Broadway legend, the Washington Post points out that he was considered the world's most popular playwright after Shakespeare, with his works adapted to international stage productions, TV series and motion pictures. Perhaps his signature pieces was "The Odd Couple", which was successful in all three mediums and is still widely-performed today. Simon wrote slice-of-life shows that usually centered on working class people, thus enabling a wide audience to identify with his characters and their humor. Click here for about his remarkable life and legacy.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, there
was a fear that gripped New York City. After 1977, the year of the Son of Sam
murders, the disastrous blackout, and the Bronx literally in flames later, the
cityscape and New York aura had drastically changed. The movie Death
Wish(1974) directed by Michael
Winner,made earlier, had caused quite a
stir reflecting the bleak and often paranoid reactions of citizens, and it
spawned several other films. Vigilante, produced and directed by
exploitation genre virtuoso, William Lustig, and written by Richard Vetere, was
perhaps arguably one of the leanest and no-holds-barred of this type of film.
Lustig and actor Joe Spinell had teamed up to make the lucrative but extremely
graphic and controversial horror/ serial killer film Maniac (1980). Vigilante
was Lustig’s follow up. Yet, Vigilante remains to be more aestheticized
with a raw prose of the street thanks to Vetere's work, and the grim urban
settings serving as a stark landscape, rather than relying on the raw
gratuitous gore of Lustig’s prior film.
caught up with Richard Vetere in July 2018, who was a former professor of screenwriting of
mine at Queens College in the late 1990s. I had seen the film on Netflix
recently and thought how underrated it was, and I wanted to contact Vetere to
find out his insight into writing such a gritty, visceral, and memorable film.
Vetere explains that Lustig approached him to write a “Blue Collar Death Wish”. One of the points Vetere
makes was how unapologetically politically incorrect the film is. It was on the top 20 highest grossing films of
1983, and it was an example of an innovative indie film, before indie
groundbreakers, Miramax, the Shooting Gallery and Tarantino were making waves
in the 1990s.
can easily be overlooked as an exploitation genre film, but offers the viewer
something more unique with the gritty performances especially by Forster,
dialogue thanks to Vetere, and cinematography that make it a stand out. I saw
the film when I was young and it made an impression. The political view is
obviously in --your -face about policing tactics and politicians not doing
enough for the public. We see this frustrated view in many of the films of the
era. Pre-Giuliani, pre-Disneyfication of New York was grim, but it had almost a
distinct street grit-aesthetic for filmmaking, such as in earlier films like The
French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971).
Vetere says what makes his film stand
out is that it is unapologetic for the action of the heroes in the movie. The
ending in which a judge is blown to bits was very controversial. He emphasizes
his own frustration at the growing apathy in the city by police and the public
alike. He also feels his film is one of the most realistic of the genre in
comparison to other films like Death Wish and Fighting Back. He
felt DeathWish had an ill-fitting sense of humor and the villains
were so over the top that they were not realistic. Vetere maintains that he was
going for “reality” untrammeled by Hollywood restriction or by a need for
self-justification as he felt Fighting Back had.
Richard Vetere's films that he wrote or
co-wrote include The Third Miracle
starring Ed Harris and produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by
Agnieszka Holland released by Sony Picture Classics, The Marriage Fool for CBS TV films starring Walter Matthau and
Carol Burnett, How to Go Out on a Date in
Queens starring Jason Alexander and the teleplay Hale the Hero! starring Elisabeth Shue for A&E.
What was happening politically at the time this film was made in the
early 1980s New York?
the late 1970s and early ‘80s New York City was a city on a major decline.There was no political will and no ability to
get anything done.Unlike today there wasn’t a single
neighborhood untouched by graffiti, street crime, vandalism and muggings.Prostitutes walked the streets, cars being
broken into -- all met with indifference by a somewhat over-taxed, somewhat
corrupt, somewhat bewildered police force.When you got on a subway you were basically taking your life into your
own hands since gangs roamed the subway with impunity.Just
stepping out of your house could be intimidating to the common citizen.You have to remember back then the police
only responded to a crime the concept
of attacking crime and preventing it was not put into effect. Also
the subway police and the street police were two different departments so if
someone committed a crime, they took refuge underground.So I would like to answer your question this
way – the average citizen was afraid and felt helpless.This made them apathetic to their own plight.As a young man this outraged me to such a
point that I wanted to take action.I
was angry at the indifference of the populace and of the authorities.From this anger and frustration came Vigilante.
The Museum of Modern Art is presenting a Vincent Price film festival every Monday afternoon between September 5-October 31. Refreshingly, the festival not only presents some of his horror classics but also a generous sampling of his non-horror titles as well, thus reminding us of what a diverse and consummate actor Price was. Click here for info.
The Hollywood Reporter provides a fascinating, if disturbing, story about the complex legal disputes regarding exactly who should control the rights for the character of Buck Rogers, who was transformed from comic strips to serials to a 1970s TV series. The plot is thickening with the intervention of a judge, bankruptcy proceedings and some very sticky legal challenges. Click here to read.
For decades, the historic Loew's Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey, has been undergoing a painstaking renovation by The Friends of the Loew's, a group of evolving volunteers who have transformed the dilapidated theater that was marked for destruction back to something akin to its original luster. They've had to overcome lawsuits, lack of funding and- because this is New Jersey- plenty of political intrigue. This video from The Star Ledger newspaper details the on-going efforts to make the restoration complete. For information about the Loew's click here.
Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic
and London Music Works, this comprehensive 6 CD collection features music from
the latest Sci-Fi blockbusters; from Ready Player One, Solo: A Star Wars Story,
and Blade Runner 2049, all the way back to 1950s classics The Day The Earth
Stood Still and Forbidden Planet.
This release brings together the best
selection of science fiction music spanning almost a century, through a
thorough overview of musical styles, themes and techniques. It spotlights music
from Hollywood heavyweights and classically trained legends (John Williams,
John Barry, Ennio Morricone and Bernard Hermann), electronic experimenters
(Bebe & Louis Barron, Vangelis) and jazz-influenced composers (Bill Conti,
Henry Mancini) to the new generation, who combine orchestral sounds with
electronics (David Arnold, Johann Johannsson, Ramin Djawadi, Steve Jablonsky,
Hanz Zimmer and Clint Mansell.)
100 Greatest Science Fiction Themes is
released in both physical and digital format on 31st August 2018.
Don Harper’s soundtrack to the 8-part Doctor
Who story The Invasion was made and transmitted in 1968 starring Patrick
Troughton as the second Doctor.
Featuring the Brigadier, UNIT, and the
Cybermen, this “modern Earth invasion” Doctor Who story was made into a hugely
influential series in 1968. Directed by Douglas Camfield, the music was
composed by Don Harper, the third Australian émigré composer (after Ron Grainer
and Dudley Simpson) to work on the programme.
Don Harper’s music for The Invasion may have
been influenced by John Barry’s score for The Ipcress File (1965). Don used the
cimbalom in the score, and the artist was most likely John Leach (who also
worked under the name Janos Lehar), who played on The Ipcress File, King Rat
and The Persuaders.
The instruments used included the organ,
cimbalom, percussion, clarinet (doubling clarinets in A and Bb, bass clarinet and
oboe), bass guitar, contra-bass clarinet and cor anglais. The percussion
consisted of bim bams and temple blocks, timps including piccolo timp and hand
timp, as well as cymbal and vibraphone. The organ was a Hammond M100 with
The score was augmented by the use of
electronic sounds created by Brian Hodgson of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
There was also “Muzak” by John Baker (referred to as such in the cue sheets for
episodes 1 and 2), which had its first outing in an Out of the Unknown episode.
For this 2018 Silva Screen album, Doctor Who
composer Mark Ayres have placed the previously used music together, followed by
additional unused cues and the electronic score.
Don Harper (1921 - 1999) was an Australian
film and TV composer, jazz violinist and big band conductor. He is best known
for his work on Doctor Who, World of Sport, Sexton Blake, Out of the Unknown
and Dawn of the Dead, as well as his work with Don Harper’s Sextet and Dave
Brubeck’s Quartet. After many years between England and Australia, Harper
returned to Australia in order to take up the position of Head of Jazz Studies
at the Wollongong University's School of Creative Arts, which he held until
1990. He died in 1999 aged 78.
Don Harper’s music has achieved cult status
and in 2005 MF DOOM and Danger Mouse, in their collaborative project
DangerDoom, sampled Don Harper's "Chamber Pop" and "Thoughtful
Popper". Elements of "Dark Earth" from the Dawn of the Dead
soundtrack were used on Gorilazz "Intro" from Demon Days, which was
also produced by Danger Mouse.
In a shock announcement, the James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson and star Daniel Craig have announced that Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle has exited the new, as yet untitled, 007 production. Much fanfare was attached to the original announcement that Boyle, who previously directed "Trainspotting" and "Slumdog Millionaire", would follow in the footsteps of another Oscar winning director, Sam Mendes, who had helmed the two previous blockbuster Bond films, "Skyfall" and "Spectre". The reason cited for Boyle's departure is the old show biz catch phrase: "creative differences". It is not known whether the screenwriter that Boyle brought on board, John Hodge, will stay with the production. Hodge has replaced longtime Bond movie scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who had already completed a screenplay that was shelved when Boyle and Hodge came aboard. Filming is set to begin in December at Pinewood Studios, London. The pressure will be on Eon Productions to find another director of stature to sign for the film on relatively short notice. The movie is scheduled for the usual high profile London premiere in late October 2019. For more click here.
MVD has released director Albert Pyun's 1997 thriller "Blast" as a Blu-ray edition. If you've never heard of the film, most of its cast members or director Pyun, you're not alone. But Pyun has a long-standing and enthusiastic fan base that credits him for being a pioneer in launching the cyborg sci-fi genre in the 1980s. His fans admire him for churning out independent films often under trying circumstances and very limited budgets. Despite having a few surprise hits at the boxoffice, Pyun has often been associated with films that were terminated or unreleased due to financing problems. Still, like the ultimate trooper, he continued to persevere and even today, while battling some significant health problems, Pyun remains determined to be a player in the indie film market. "Blast" enjoyed its "premiere" on home video, something that has apparently enhanced its reputation among enthusiasts for "direct to video" fare ("DTV" for those in the know...). While most movie lovers used to avoid DTV product on the assumption that it was deemed to be too bad to merit a theatrical marketing campaign, these fans enjoy making silk purses from sow's ears and claim that many underrated films have suffered the DTV syndrome. They are probably right, but "Blast" isn't one of them. The film was made when audiences were still obsessed with the blue collar working man hero generally played by the likes of Stallone, Willis, Van Damme and occasionally Schwarzenegger. The "grunt and punch" aspect of these heroes relegated them to limited dialogue, save for the precious "tag line" they will inevitably mutter in the course of the film in the hope that it will become the next "Make my day"-like catchphrase with the public.
"Blast" is set at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics games. The American women's swim team enters the pool area to practice even as the President of the United States and other world leaders arrive in the city for the opening of the games. Just as the women's swim team arrives, the complex is taken over by terrorists led by Omodo (Andrew Divoff) and his band of fanatical followers who have posed as workers for the Olympic organization. The terrified female swimmers under the guidance of their coach Diane Colton (Kimberly Warren) are verbally abused and one of the women is shot to death as a sign to the authorities that the terrorists mean business. Omodo is well-known to international authorities and is wanted by police throughout the world. Seems that Omodo's ego is bruised because his last two terrorist actions have fizzled even though they left behind a string of dead bodies. He is determined to regain his reputation by ensuring the Olympics operation is a success. (Apparently, when terrorists get together at their annual picnic, no one wants to be the butt of colleagues' jokes.) The terrorists quickly kill off any guards and begin operating the complex's security system, thus giving them views of any police attempts to enter the building, which they have made into a fortress by mining the entrances with bombs. Omodo's demands from the authorities must have been fairly mundane because minutes after he issued them, I forgot what they were. In any event, the only person in the complex left to combat the terrorists is Jack Bryant (Linden Ashby), a one-time Olympic star who has seen his life fall apart due to his own demons. He's now working in the building as a janitor. Omodo and his men can occasionally see him on the vast networks of security cameras but Bryant is a savvy guy and learns how to keep on the move and pick off the terrorists one-by-one. (Like most janitors, Bryant is also a world-class martial arts expert). For some melodramatic elements, we learn that Bryant and Diane had once been married but he lost her when his life went into a downward spiral. With the authorities virtually helpless, it's up to Bryant to thwart the terrorists...although he has a an ally in the Atlanta Police Department: Leo ((Rutger Hauer), a wheelchair-bound, eccentric detective who is an old nemesis of Omodo and who manages to provide Bryant with some helpful tips.
"Blast" is a storehouse of every action movie cliche from films of this era but it's not as bad as you might think. Director Pyun does the best he can to disguise the movie's limited budget (virtually all of it is shot in one location with a few exterior shots tossed in to break the monotony). Pyun keeps the action moving at a brisk clip and avoids at least a couple of anticipated cliches from coming to pass. However, the sheer monotony of seeing Bryant and the bad guys chase each other up and down very similar-looking hallways and staircases quickly grows wearying. The cast performs gamely, with Linden Ashby suitably hunky and capable of delivering the film's obligatory "tag line": "I'm coming to get you!!!!" Andrew Divoff brings some Bond villain-like qualities to his role but he's undermined by Pyun insisting that he imitate every vocal mannerism of Arnold Schwarzenegger imaginable. The gimmick proves to be distracting, though Divoff has a few standout moments. The musical score by Anthony Riparetti starts out well but becomes grating because it seems to consist of a constant repetition of the same few notes. The film is occasionally suspenseful and exciting but Pyun goes off the rails during the climax which sees a knock-down fight to the death between Bryant and Omodo that incorporates some ridiculous elements including a bomb explosion that is so poorly rendered that it looks like a frame from a Road Runner cartoon was utilized. Also puzzling are the brief appearances of Rutger Hauer as a potentially intriguing character but the role is drastically under-written.
MVD has released "Blast" as a nice-looking Blu-ray edition as part of their "Marquee Collection". The box art features a cringe-inducing rip-off of the main poster art for "Die Hard" including an exploding skyscraper, even though there are no skyscrapers in "Blast", exploding or otherwise. There is a bonus trailer gallery of other similarly-themed titles from MVD, although the trailer for Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Lionheart" looks like a poor VHS transfer.
NoHo 7 Theatre in Los Angeles will be presenting a Digital Cinema Package (DCP)
screening of John Glen’s 1989 James Bond outing Licence to Kill. The 133-minute film, which stars Timothy Dalton in
his second and final stint as 007, also features Cary Lowell, Robert Davi, Anthony
Zerbe, and Desmond Llewelyn. Director Glen also helmed For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy
(1983), A View to a Kill (1985), and The Living Daylights (1987).
Licence to Kill will be
screened on Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 7:30
PLEASE NOTE: At press time, Licence to Kill actor Robert Davi will
participate in a Q&A after the screening at the NoHo on Thursday, August
NoHo 7 Theatre is located at 5240
Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA. The phone number is (310) 478 – 3836.
if done willingly and poorly, generally does not go unnoticed and one cannot
help but see certain similarities in various works be it literature, art, or
cinema. In listening to the audio commentary with author Jonathan Rigby and director Alvin Rakoff on
the new, limited edition Blu-ray of 1980’s Death
Ship, a horror oddity about an abandoned old ship inhabited by the ghosts
of members of the Third Reich(!), a remark is made that the poster for 2002's Ghost Ship was remarkably similar to the poster art for Death Ship, and it’s true that the
similarities are uncanny. I can't help but wonder who came up with the idea for
the poster for Ghost Ship,
as Death Ship was well over twenty-five
years-old and seemed to be relegated to the land of forgotten cinema.
Captain Ashland (George
Kennedy) is at the helm of a cruise ship, about to turn over the reins to Captain Trevor Marshall (Richard Crenna) and he's
not happy about it. He seems perturbed by this changing of the guard,
commenting in no uncertain terms that his place as captain should be regarded
as more than something of a novelty to tourists. Unfortunately for him and his
guests, the unmanned and haunted titular ship that steers ahead, powered by the
blood of its most recent victims, is on a crash course to meet with his. Using
footage borrowed from Andrew L. Stone's The Last Voyage (1960) and Ronald Neame’s The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the two vessels collide and Ashland’s ship begins to fill with water and
quickly sinks (too bad The Concorde:
Airport ’79 didn't sink with it!)
Crenna, Nick Mancuso (who provided the bulk of the horrifying phone calls in
Bob Clark's 1974 film Black Christmas),
Sally Ann Howes of Dead of Night
(1945) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
(1968) and a few other characters manage to be the only survivors in a lifeboat
and make their way aboard the decrepit ship that put them in their predicament.
Once on board, they find the ship bereft of passengers and crew, and slowly
become victims of the supernatural games that ensue.
the plot unfolds, it becomes apparent that the ship in question was once used
as a Nazi torture chamber, as evidence of teeth, clothing and medical devices
start to turn up in explored rooms. The worst of these rooms houses a group of
cobweb-infested corpses, presumably the long-dead Jews whom the Nazis tortured.
One might wonder about the boundaries of bad taste pushed in a film that seems to
make light of one of humanity's most horrendous and egregious atrocities.
director employs some nifty scare tactics, such as a projector that runs
itself; a shower that turns blood red; and a crazed George Kennedy, apparently
possessed by the long-dead Nazis, going on a rampage. One must wonder why
distress signals are not sent, and why help is not forthcoming, given the radio
rules in place since the downing of the Titanic in 1912. However, this is a
B-movie shot in five weeks and done on a shoestring and asking too many
questions is not suggested. The ship in this film is supposed to be steering
itself with a life of its own, however one never really gets the feeling that
it’s actually alive, that it’s a merchant of evil like the house in Burnt Offerings (1976) or the hotel in The Shining (1980). The film ends the
way one assumes with will, but it’s not bad for what it is.
released on DVD in England in 2007, Death
Ship had at the time had been transferred from a print that was not perfect
and contained a few sporadic imperfections but was believed to be the best
surviving source material. That disc had included a disclaimer citing the film
lab that housed the original camera negative closed in the late 1980's and the
aforementioned resources were "lost" as a result. I would be curious
as to how this sort of thing happens as this is certainly not the first time it
has occurred, nor will it be the last. I'm always reading of an original
negative somehow getting "lost". Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell, the TV-movie that Crenna made the
year prior to Death Ship, was
released on DVD at roughly the same time and that movie looks like it was just
made yesterday. Honestly, Devil Dog’s
transfer could not be more beautiful. Yet a theatrical film's negative gets
"lost"? Insert quizzical expression here.
Here's a golden oldie from 1966: the Man from U.N.C.L.E. secret message pen ad by American Character toy company. It looks like the entire marketing campaign for the commercial cost about fifty cents, but in those days anything relating to a movie or TV spy was a sure-fire way to make a quick profit.
Connery in the blockbuster 1965 film version of "Thunderball".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
James Bond scholars and purists are well-versed in the muck and mire pertaining to Ian Fleming's ill-fated partnership with producer Kevin McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham. But for those who aren't as consumed with Bondian history, the BBC's Nicholas Barber summarizes the contrivances that occurred when the business relationship between the three men broke up, thus resulting in a high profile lawsuit against Fleming and complications pertaining to the screen rights to the film version of Fleming's novel "Thunderball". In the mid-1970s, McClory began to exercise his rights to remake the film and enlisted noted novelist Len Deighton, author of the Harry Palmer spy books and Sean Connery as screenwriters for a planned film titled "Warhead" (though Connery never committed to star in the film). When Eon Productions, the company that had made the traditional Bond films, decided to fight McClory in the courts, the project faded away. Connery would return as Bond in McClory's 1983 remake of "Thunderball" titled "Never Say Never Again", marking his last performance as 007. However, that film bore virtually no resemblance to the one that screenwriters Connery and Deighton had cooked up for "Warhead" involving a battle atop the Statue of Liberty. Click here to read.
Curly Howard is considered today to be an icon of American comedy thanks to the eternal popularity of The Three Stooges. However, as this mini-biography shows, Curly's real life dilemmas were anything but funny. He was stricken with numerous debilitating strokes while only in his forties and his final days found the comedy legend struggling unsuccessfully to recuperate and lead a normal life.
Glenn is a down on his luck American boxer who gets caught in the middle of a
blood feud between Japanese brothers in “The Challenge” available on Blu-ray
and DVD. Glenn’s character Rick accepts a job smuggling a valuable sword into Japan
and is quickly swept up in intrigue as rival brothers seek ownership of the
sword which was taken from Japan at the end of WWII. Hideo (Atsuo Nakamura) is
a powerful businessman and convinces Rick to train under his brother, Yoshida
(Toshiro Mifune). This close proximity should enable him to steal the sword in
Yoshida’s possession and deliver it to Hideo. This is not a civil family feud,
as a half dozen people are murdered within an hour of Rick’s arrival in Japan.
honors the traditional samurai traditions and runs a school for practitioners
of these teachings. Rick is a reluctant participant in the deadly feud and his
loyalties are challenged as he is attracted to Yoshida’s daughter, Akiko (Donna
Kei Ben), as well as to the traditional samurai philosophy and her father’s
cause. Rick is skeptical of the training, but goes through the standard ordeals
we’ve come to expect from this genre such as eating exotic foods including live
lobsters and octopi with tentacles slithering on plates. He’s also reduced to performing
seemingly mundane tasks like sweeping floors and cleaning up only to discover it
was a test of his commitment and resolve.
one point, Rick spends days buried up to his neck in a pit as ants and bugs
crawl on his face while being denied food and water. He complains throughout
the training, backing out and returning several times, and even steals the
sword at one point, only to return it and learning this too was a test. He
finally pledges his obedience to the samurai order under Yoshida and completes
his training. Sound familiar? Yes, but it’s all part of the central trope of
this genre and it works very well to further the story.
by John Frankenheimer, the film is exciting with plenty of action and the
climactic sword fight in the office complex is very well staged. While not
quite a martial arts movie, the film offers a veritable buffet of combat techniques
with fists, samurai swords, bow & arrows and knives. The location shooting
in Japan and the action scenes kept my interest and the film culminates in a
battle at Hideo’s office headquarters as Rick, Yoshida and Akiko sneak in and fight
their way to Hideo and the inevitable confrontation between him and Yoshida.
movie features familiar American television character actors Calvin Jung, Clyde
Kusatsu and Sab Shimono in supporting roles and was the first starring vehicle
for Glenn with a script by John Sayles and Richard Maxwell. Sayles was brought
to Japan to make changes to the story which was radically altered after Glenn
accepted the role. Disappointed, Glenn was persuaded by Mifune to take it in
stride and enjoy the experience. This was the final of three collaborations
between Frankenheimer and Jerry Goldsmith who provides a terrific score. Steven
Segal also worked as a technical advisor and stunt coordinator for the movie. I
enjoyed the movie a great deal and so should fans of action and martial arts
in July 1982 by CBS Theatrical Films, the movie was a modest success for
Frankenheimer and it has grown in status over the years with a solid fan base
due to broadcast television and home video release. The movie clocks in at 110
minutes with a great looking transfer and sound quality. Bonus features on the German
Blu-ray/DVD two disc set release by Explosive Media include the theatrical
trailer, TV trailers, a poster gallery and the cropped TV version on the DVD.
The set also includes a photo-filled 24-page booklet featuring poster art,
lobby cards and an essay by Andreas Volkert of All About Movies Bayreuth.
(Note: this region-free title is available through Amazon Germany. However, Explosive Media titles often surface through third party dealers on other Amazon and eBay sites.)
Hard to believe it's been 25 years since the big screen version of the classic TV series "The Fugitive" hit theaters and became a sensation, marking one of the best small-to-big screen adaptations ever. Writing in the Atlantic, Soraya Roberts reflects on what made the film so special and why today's action movies are largely lacking in the same qualities.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of
the release of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo
and Juliet. The movie was a sensation when it came out in 1968, spurring
ticket sales in the millions and becoming one of the top-grossing features of
the decade. One reason the film made so much money was due to the number of
people who returned for a second or even fifth viewing. It seemed audiences
just couldn’t get enough of the story about those two star-crossed adolescent
lovers from old Verona. The movie’s memorable music score, composed by Nino
Rota, also became a best seller. The album quickly went gold and was later
repackaged in a beautiful deluxe box set that included the entire movie
soundtrack, along with two handsomely produced companion booklets.
was something about the film, for all its shortcomings, that many found almost hypnotic.
I’ll fess up and admit I was one of these people. I didn’t actually see it
until the 1970s when it was still being trotted out in theaters in order to
squeeze out extra profits for the studio. I was a teenager at the time and was
more into flicks like Billy Jack and
the Bond films than stories about people who lived hundreds of years ago and
spoke in rhyming couplets. The only Shakespeare I had read was in class, the
substance of which I found nearly indigestible.I did know something about the movie since one my English teachers had
once played a portion of the soundtrack for us in class. However, apparently
not having much else to do that summer evening, I decided to take a stroll down
the street to our local movie palace and buy a ticket.
The first thing I noticed about the film was
how rich in color it was. From the very beginning, following the smoky prologue
spoken by Laurence Olivier, everything is drenched in bright primary colors.
Things got off to a rousing start with the scene of the bloody brawl in the Verona
marketplace between those two wild and crazy families, the Montagues and the
Capulets. (I hadn’t realized until then that it was possible to be a real badass
and still wear red and yellow striped tights with pointy soft leather shoes.) Soon
the cops arrive (the prince and his soldiers) to break up the fracas and issue
a stern warning to all those who would disturb the civil peace in the future. Immediately
following this we get our first look at Romeo (Leonard Whiting), a handsome
love-sick youth with a shaggy haircut. He talks dreamily of some girl he’s got
a crush on, but then comes to his senses at seeing one of the wounded being
carried away. Meanwhile, back at the Capulet palace, Juliet’s father (Paul Hardwick) is coyly negotiating the
marriage of his daughter to a young man named Count Paris (Roberto Bisacco). The first time we see
Juliet (Olivia Hussey) she’s running through the house like a kid at play.
All this is interspersed between scenes of
Juliet and her bawdy, fun-loving nurse (Pat Heywood) talking to the girl’s mother
Lady Capulet (Natasha Parry)
about marriage and things, immediately followed by a night scene of Romeo and
his friends on a soliquious pub crawl through the deserted streets of Verona.
Later that same evening Romeo and his mates crash the Capulet masquerade ball. The ball scene is among the highlights of the film. It is here
Zeffirellireally shows his stuff,
combining visual pageantry with an almost obsessive attention to detail.
Everything about this sequence is highly choreographed, from the beautifully
composed dance scenes (“the moresca!”) right down to the fastidious arrangement
of the candles and platters of fruit (Zeffirelli had studied art and architecture in his student days). Absolutely nothing is left to chance. In the hands of a less gifted
visual director, and Zeffirelli was nothing if he wasn’t visual, all of this might
have come off as too showy and distracting. However, here the effect is just
the opposite. The viewer almost feels as if he or she is present in the scene,
seductively pulled in as we are by the sensuous whirl of warm colors, voices
and melodious music. All of it lovingly captured by the gifted eye of cinematographer
Pasqualino De Santi who was awarded an Oscar for his efforts on the project.
Clearly, the ocular accoutrements of this particular production are as
essential to its success as the words of Shakespeare himself.
Real-life husband and wife Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland made numerous films together. Among them: "Breakout", a 1975 film that was shot quickly in order to capitalize on Bronson's soaring popularity with "Death Wish". The crime thriller was lambasted by critics but performed very well indeed at the boxoffice. Click here for review.
Twilight Time has released the 1965 action adventure film "Genghis Khan" as a limited edition (3,000) Blu-ray. The film was released almost ten years after Howard Hughes produced the notorious clinker "The Conqueror" starring John Wayne as the legendary Mongol leader. A decade later, producer Irving Allen ensured he did not make the mistake of laughably miscasting the leading man. Omar Sharif, then a red-hot up-and-coming star, was cast in the title role, and while an Egyptian actor might not seem to be an obvious choice, Sharif possessed an exotic international appeal that saw him convincingly play characters of many different ethnic backgrounds. Ironically, while Allen had successfully hired a leading man, his judgment did not extend to the key supporting roles. If you want to enjoy "Genghis Khan", there are many positive aspects to the film- but you will have to overlook some jaw-dropping casting errors. That feat is a bit like trying to calmly peruse a newspaper in your living room while ignoring the 800-pound gorilla who is sitting across from you, but more about that later.
The film opens with a brutal raid on the tribal home of the young Mongol Temujin and his family. The raid is led by a rival Mongol tribe headed by the merciless Jamuga (Stephen Boyd), who murders Temujin's father and enslaves the women of the tribe. The story then jumps ahead a number of years and we find Temujin (Omar Sharif) has now grown to manhood and is still a captive of Jamuga. He's forced to wear a giant wooden yoke around his neck as a reminder of his humiliation. Ultimately, Temujin escapes captivity with the help of holy man Geen (Michael Hordern) and a mute Mongol warrior named Sengal (Woody Strode.), much to the chagrin of the infuriated Jamuga. Temujin vows to bring the warring Mongol tribes together so that they can form an unstoppable army capable of conquering the known world. How he achieves this is never shown but before long we see he has indeed amassed a devoted army intent on uniting the remaining Mongol tribes, one of which is headed by Jamuga.One of Temujin's obsessions is to humiliate Jamuga, which he does by kidnapping his woman, Bortei (Francoise Dorleac), who he then makes his own wife. As played by the gorgeous but ill-fated Dorleac (she died in a car crash in 1967), Bortei sports a modern hair style and the latest trends in makeup. She's a Mongol by way of the emerging mod scene on Carnaby Street. Dorleac is miscast but at least her performance isn't embarrassing. The same cannot be said of some of her otherwise revered cast members.
Since the film is designed to entertain, not enlighten, we are presented with a truncated historical record of Temujin's conquests. In short order, he and his army become feared as they relentlessly conquer seemingly any land they want to occupy, either by having the inhabitants willingly accede to their demands or face defeat in battle. The script boils down these tumultuous events into a Cliff Notes adaptation of a Classics Illustrated comic book. Temujin next sets his sights on the legendary land of China, and are admitted entrance through the Great Wall. Here they are guided by Kam Ling, a wise man who serves as chief adviser to the Emperor. The role is played by James Mason and if you thought, as I did, that this great talent was incapable of presenting a bad performance, be prepared to be enlightened. Mason sports a sem- Fu Manchu mustache and seems to be foreshadowing those now cringe-inducing Chinese detectives that would be played by Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov. But wait! Mason's performance seems positively inspired compared to that of Robert Morley as the Emperor. Yes, that Robert Morley, the rotund and usually delightful British character actor who played every role in precisely the same manner. Thus, we have the Emperor of China depicted as a prissy, comical figure. (Presumably, Paul Lynde was not available for the role.) The miscasting of these two pivotal roles makes it difficult to concentrate on the otherwise compelling script by Clarke Reynolds and Beverly Cross. Fortunately, events move quickly. The Emperor treats Temujin and his army with great reverence and respect- and Temujin is even giving the honorary title of Genghis Khan ("Great Conqueror"). But Temujin correctly suspects that they are being held as captives in a gilded cage. Seems the Emperor realizes that Temujin suspects that the Chinese military is a paper tiger and that he would be tempted to gather an even bigger army and take the nation by force. In a creatively-staged scene, the Mongols use the Chinese fascination with fireworks as an elaborate method to affect a daring escape. Armed with the advanced military technology they have secured from China, the Mongols' ever-growing armies continue to sweep through kingdoms far and wide. Jamuga, who had been held captive by Temujin but managed to escape, refuses an offer to join Temujin's forces- and even insults him by implying that Temujin's young son had been fathered by him. This results in a "Mongol Duel" in which both men go mano-a-mano, with the surviving winner taking control of the armies. The sight of two sweaty, hunky shirtless men grappling with each does have an unintended and amusing homo-erotic aspect but the scene is quite suspenseful.
Watch the original U.S. TV spot for Milos Forman's superb (but underrated) 1981 drama "Ragtime", the adaptation of E.L. Doctprow's bestselling novel. The film brilliantly interweaves the sagas of disparate characters in a grand, lushly produced production that marked the final feature film appearance of James Cagney, who was lured out of retirement after twenty years. If you've never seen "Ragtime", make sure you do. (By the way, the DVD is out of print in America and has never been issued on Blu-ray. Are you listening, Paramount?)
"Lawrence of Arabia". "The Godfather". "Gone with the Wind". "Casablanca". Is it time for "Ant-Man and the Wasp" to also enjoy Oscar gold?
BY LEE PFEIFFER, Cinema Retro Editor-in- Chief
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has announced changes to its annual Oscars broadcast. The event will be confined to three hours and certain awards will not be seen live on the broadcast. Instead, they will be given out during commercial broadcasts then edited into a segment that will be shown later in the telecast. After all, who wants to see some science-obsessed geek get honored for inventing something that enhanced the film industry when, instead, we can all enjoy some innovative ads for erectile dysfunction? Additionally, in an admitted attempt to gin up ratings, AMPAS will introduce a new awards category for outstanding achievement in popular film. That's right, movie lovers...you might live to see the day when the producers of a "Transformers" movie stroll on stage to be honored in the manner in which the greatest filmmakers of all time were. In fact, "popular" movies have long been recipients of major nominations. Films such as "Jaws" , "Star Wars" and "The Towering Inferno" were nominated for Best Picture, while a little flick from 1997 named "Titanic" won the coveted award. Exactly how the Academy will distinguish which "popular film" releases should be relegated to the new category is not known. What if the "popular film" that is honored happens to also gain a Best Picture nomination- or will the categories be mutually exclusive? AMPAS isn't saying.
AMPAS has been grappling with sagging ratings for the Oscars for years. Unless there is a major blockbuster to liven up the proceedings, audiences tend to drift away from the broadcast. Not helping matters is that the Golden Age of great Hollywood stars is also long over. That isn't anyone's fault but the lack of legends on any given broadcast only serves to diminish the special quality of the evening, as does the fact that there are now so many movie awards shows that ol' Oscar is struggling to remain relevant. The producers of the show are undermining the very people the ceremony was designed to honor. This is nothing new. AMPAS decided years ago that it was too boring to broadcast honorary awards to older people in the industry, thus these have now been consigned to a couple of snippets from an earlier ceremony. Ditto with the geniuses who are honored with technical awards. Under the current scenario, Charles Chaplin's acceptance of an honorary Oscar in 1972 (one of the great moments in Hollywood history) would now be deemed unworthy of being telecast. Instead, the broadcast has morphed into a quasi-comedy special hosted by late night hosts who replicate inane (and often embarrassing) extended skits that seem to drone on forever. It's the height of irony that there is plenty of time to allocate to such nonsense but it comes at the expense of the true artists who are supposed to be the focus of the show. As we point out every year in our review of the ceremony, even the tastefully creative tribute to talents who passed away in the last year has become contentious. Rather than simply extend the segment for a few additional minutes to include more qualified artists, the truncated tribute now not only excludes legendary personalities but even famed artists who were once nominated for an Oscar.
The reaction in the industry over these proposed changes has been universally negative, leading us to think this is the worst marketing "improvement" plan since the introduction of New Coke in the 1080s. Hopefully, the backlash with cause those who make the decisions at AMPAS to rethink their position- otherwise we're likely to soon see the creation of the Steven Seagal Lifetime Achievement Award.
sharks give you the willies?Does the
sight of a 12-foot Great White on the Discovery Channel make your heart skip
some beats?Then imagine a 75-foot super
shark, looking like a freight train with gills! Meet the villain of the new
Warner Bros. sci-fi thriller, The Meg
starring Jason Statham and Chinese star, Li Bingbing.
story concerns a Chinese-American exploration team penetrating the deepest
reaches of the Pacific, cut off beneath a thermal layer.The operation’s backer, a snarky billionaire
played by Rainn Wilson (TV’s The Office)
is hoping to exploit the sea bottom’s mineral wealth. Unfortunately this
untouched region is inhabited by a Megalodon, a gigantic prehistoric shark that
makes “Bruce” (the shark from Jaws)
look like a sardine.It can bend
submarines and implode research pods with ease… but it meets its match in a “washed
up but still heroic” rescue diver played by Jason Statham.
by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure)
and made with (lots of) Chinese money, there is an obvious Chinese influence
running throughout - with Chinese talent in key roles and the climax unfolding at
an exotic Chinese beach resort.(There,
several scenes such as a frantic mother searching for her child during the shark’s
attack, or the giant shark dragging swimming platforms like flotsam are truly
reminiscent of Jaws.)
the movie drags on the surface, it picks up speed underwater and the visual
effects of the enormous shark trashing whatever technology mankind throws at it
are superb.While Statham turns in his
usual rugged performance (and at 51, his physique remains a work of art), Li
Bingbing is lovely but a bit wooden. The dialogue tells us they’re inching
towards romance but their interaction has an odd formality, with nary a kiss to
be seen. Instead it falls to her
precocious daughter (the wonderful Sophia Cai) to tell Statham, “My mom likes
you.” As if an action movie icon like
Statham needs a romantic assist from an 8 year-old!
be fair, any shark movie made after 1975 will always be compared to the mother
of all summer tentpoles, Jaws, and
while The Meg does provide some
thrills, it’s not better… it’s just bigger. But maybe for the “global audience”
this movie is going after, that might be enough.
The Meg opens nationwide on
August 10th from Warner Bros.
Does this screen grab show an innocuous image of an unidentified extra in "Jaws"- or does it depict a young woman who would be murdered shortly thereafter?
In the summer of 1974 Steven Spielberg was filming his soon-to-be legendary blockbuster "Jaws" on Martha's Vineyard. One hundred miles away in Provincetown, Mass, a badly decomposed and mutilated body of a woman was discovered near a beach area. Police have doggedly tried to solve the crime ever since and the victim has become known as "The Lady in the Dunes". Enter writer Joe Hillstrom King, who writes novels under the nom-de-plume of Joe Hill. King, the eldest song of legendary horror writer Stephen King, became intrigued by the case after reading about it in a book about amateur sleuths attempting to solve cold cases. Shortly thereafter, King happened to attend a retro movie screening of "Jaws". At the 54 minute and 2 second mark, there is a scene in the film showing masses of tourists arriving at the fictitious town of Amity (in reality Martha's Vineyard). King immediately took note of a fleeting glimpse of a female extra who appears at this precise moment in the film. The blink-and-you'll-miss-it flash haunted him because he felt the extra bore a remarkable resemblance to police artist's conceptions of the murder victim. King recently revisited his theory, which was not dismissed by the police out of hand, on a podcast he hosts relating to the movie "Jaws". King doesn't claim he knows that the film extra and murder victim are one-and-the-same but he is still sufficiently intrigued to find out for sure. Someone out there knows who the woman in the film is...perhaps a Cinema Retro reader can shed light on the mystery?
EVE GOLDBERG looks back on a "can't miss" film production that fell short of expectations:
Blues could have been a hit.It could have been a game-changer.It could have become a classic.Starring Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as expatriate jazz musicians,
this 1961 movie was filmed in Paris, directed by Martin Ritt (Hud, Norma
Rae,) and written by Walter Bernstein (The
Front).All the ingredients for a
compelling, top-notch entertainment were in place.
But the movie misses.Despite strong performances, a fascinating
milieu, meaty subject matter, gorgeous cinematography, several unforgettable
set pieces, and a score by Duke Ellington, the whole is distinctly less than
the sum of its parts.
So, what went wrong?
The problem is the
script.How the script falters, and why, is perhaps the most intriguing aspect
of the film.
Blues is based on a 1957 same-titled novel by Harold
Flender.The book tells the story of
Eddie Cook, an African American jazz musician living and working in Paris in
The author draws on the
historical reality that throughout much of the 20th century, many
African American artists, writers, and musicians emigrated to Paris, where they
found the personal and creative freedom denied them back home.James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Josephine
Baker, Sidney Bechet, Lester Young, and Bud Powell all found refuge from racism
in the City of Light.In addition, jazz
musicians discovered that their artistry was more highly valued and appreciated
in Europe than in the United States.Miles Davis said that his time living and working in Paris was
life-altering.“It changed the way I
looked at things forever.Paris was
where I noticed that not all white people were prejudiced.”
The novel Paris Blues re-creates this vibrant
world of smoky clubs, outdoor cafes, and a creative community where the
“mixing” of everyone is the norm.In
terms of plot, saxophonist Eddie falls for an African American school teacher,
Connie, who is touring Europe with a group of educators.Eddie is torn between going back to the
racist United States with Connie or forgoing their love and staying in Paris
where he feels respected as a man and musician.
In a comedic sub-plot,
Connie’s 60-year-old white roommate, Lillian, and Eddie’s middle-aged Jewish
band mate, Benny, are thrown together for a booze-filled night on the town,
during which Lillian experiences the wild side of Paris and begins to question
her uptight, chaste lifestyle.
Some of the chapters are
written from Eddie’s point of view, others from Connie’s, so we get a nuanced
and in-depth look into both individuals.The author successfully creates a set of appealing characters with
complex emotions and conflicts.While
the novel goes flaccid in the last third — its themes have been exhausted and
now it’s a forced slog to the end of a thin plot — just the fact that a 1957
novel by a white American writer features two fully-developed black
protagonists who are dealing with important, real-life issues, is an
achievement in itself.
Then, somewhere between page
and screen, things happened.
First and most significant,
in the film version of Paris Blues,
Eddie and Connie, the book’s central characters, are relegated to the
B-story.They now take a backseat to a
pair of white folks.
In the film, Benny, who in
the book is Eddie’s middle-aged, paunchy, Jewish sidekick, has been transformed
into hunky trombonist, Paul “Ram Bowen” Newman.Ram is handsome, sexy, charming, and brooding.He yearns to be a serious composer, but fears
he may not have the chops.He is the
undisputed leader of the band and the central character of the movie, with
saxophonist Eddie now playing the lesser role of “best friend.”
In a parallel revision,
Connie’s old-maid roommate Lillian is converted into a young, attractive,
divorced mother who is amazingly uninhibited when it comes to sex.She is played by Paul Newman’s real-life
wife, Joanne Woodward.
Near the beginning of the
film, we get a taste of what this movie might have been.Ram is at the train station, waiting to greet
the famous jazz trumpeter, Wild Man Moore (played with gusto by Louis
Armstrong).While at the station, Ram
accidentally meets Connie (Diahann Carroll).He flirts with Connie who tells him she’s waiting for her traveling
“Is your girlfriend as pretty as you are?”
(pause)“She’s a white girl.”
“Might be hard to find.All you white
girls look alike.”
Connie shoots Ram a “Huh?”
look.She’s clearly taken aback that
this white guy is flirting with her….and what does he mean by that strange
comment?The audience, and Connie, know
that we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Although there is no
interracial romance among the main characters in the original novel, the
filmmakers seem to be flirting with creating one in the movie.But apparently, the powers that be in
Hollywood decided America wasn’t ready for an on-screen interracial romance —
that moment would come several years later with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? — so Ram predictably pairs off with
white Lillian, as Eddie and Connie fall in love.
Poitier later stated, “Cold
feet maneuvered to have it twisted around — lining up the colored guy with the
name Sergio Martino will strike a chord with anyone who has even a passing
interest in Italian exploitation pictures of the 70s and 80s. Once seen, who
can forget The Great Alligator or The Island of Fishmen – both of which are
favourites of this writer in their showcasing of Barbara Bach at her most
radiant – or premium Suzy Kendall giallo Torso, or for that matter once ‘video
nasty’ and Ursula Andress headliner The Mountain of the Cannibal God? Marking Martino’s
second giallo, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (o.t. La coda della scorpione),
was released in 1971, sandwiched between a couple of his most highly regarded
titles, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and All the Colours of the Dark. Scorpion’s
Tail isn’t quite on a par with either of those, but it’s still a respectable
entry in the sub-genre.
her husband is killed in a plane accident on a business trip to Greece, his
unfaithful wife (Evelyn Stewart) is informed she’s beneficiary to a $1 million
inheritance, with the one caveat that she has to travel to Athens to finalise
her claim. However, there are a number of people intent on getting their hands
on the not insubstantial sum, and at least one of them will remorselessly
resort to murder to do so. A turn of events results in the arrival of an
insurance investigator (George Hilton), who hooks up with a reporter (Anita
Strindberg) to check out some irregularities, and they inadvertently set
themselves up as targets for the killer.
enjoyable enough, if not particularly remarkable giallo then, touting a
convoluted plot loaded with sufficient a measure of misdirection to keep things
unpredictable. Opening in a very clean looking London and moving on to various
Greek locales, the travelogue location work certainly functions in the film’s
favour, lending it production value that eclipses the slightly ponderous
narrative of the screenplay (a collaborative affair from Eduardo Manzanos,
Ernesto Gastaldi and Sauro Scavolini). Most of – if not quite all – the
standard giallo trappings come into play, primarily there are a number of
graphic murders perpetrated by a fedora-wearing, razor-wielding maniac attired
in black (who’s not averse to donning a scuba wetsuit when the moment is
propitious). Some of them are pretty nasty too, including a startling– if not
particularly realistic – moment of eye-violence (squeamish viewers be warned!).
However, there’s a conspicuous dearth of nudity, in fact it’s about as coy as
they come that department; of course, nudity is seldom (if ever) pertinent, but
it’s standard enough a constituent within this sub-genre as to be noticeable
when it’s missing. The showdown on a forebodingly rocky stretch of desolate
Grecian coastline is fantastic, combining vertiginous camera angles and
suspenseful POV to maximum dramatic effect.
up a strong cast – which includes Alberto De Mendoza, Ida Galli (aka Evelyn
Stewart), Janine Reynaud and Luigi Pistilli – are George Hilton and Anita
Strindberg. Hilton also starred for Martino in the aforementioned pair, The
Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and All the Colours of the Dark. His rugged good
looks found him top billing in a slew of spaghetti westerns – he was a one-spin
Sartana – as well as a run of crime and gialli pictures such as The Case of the
Bloody Iris, My Dear Killer and The Two Faces of Fear... though 1965’s spoof
Bond caper Due mafiosi contro Goldginger (in which he played Agente 007) can
probably be safely disregarded! He’s on top form here and rubs along well with
the very lovely Anita Strindberg. This writer first became aware of her in Who
Saw Her Die?, in which she appeared alongside George Lazenby and Adolfo Celi.
She didn’t enjoy as prodigious a career as Hilton, but she did score a lead
role in Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key for Martino, as well
as featuring in such renowned fare as Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and Women in
Cell Block 7. Her performance in Scorpion’s Tail is among her finest and there’s
no denying that the scene she spends clad in a sheer, clingy wet shirt affords the
audience a prurient bonus treat.
Flashback: 1972. Dustin Hoffman drops by the set to visit director Bob Fosse and star Liza Minnelli, who were filming "Cabaret". Hoffman would star in Fosse's next film, "Lenny", the biopic of Lenny Bruce.
Michael Coate of The Digital Bits web site has once again done yeoman work by rounding up a panel of James Bond scholars (including Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer) to reflect on the 45th anniversary of Roger Moore's first James Bond film, "Live and Let Die".
Born in 1896, as a teenager Barbara La
Marr, then Reatha Watson, lead something of an adventurous life. Her father
worked in the newspaper business, and the family moved home constantly, almost
inevitably contributing towards the turbulence and seeming inability to settle
down that plagued her life. At the age of sixteen, now living in California,
her elder sister and her husband kidnapped Reatha, causing a minor scandal,
with some accounts stating that Reatha had helped plot the kidnaping herself in
a desire to flee her oppressive parents. Reatha was already an incredibly
luminous and attractive young woman, and she was regularly spotted in the
nightclubs of Los Angeles dancing, drinking, and generally behaving in such a
way that soon brought the wrong kind of attention. For her own protection a
court declared that she was “too beautiful” to be on her own in the city and
was ordered to leave Los Angeles.
This did nothing to assuage her
ambitions however, and she attempted to turn this publicity into a Hollywood
career. Having had stage experience as a child, she appeared as an extra in
several films within the still developing Hollywood studio system. Being
somewhat disappointed by her perceived lack of success, she went on to develop
a career as a dancer, and performed in nightclubs around the country, attracting
men wherever she went, until the strain on her health proved too great and she
headed back home to California. Reatha Watson was incessantly creative and
decided to try her hand as a writer. Her first attempt at a novel found its way
into the right hands, and in 1920 the Fox Film Corporation produced The Mother of His Children (Edward J. Le
Saint), the success of which lead to her becoming a staff writer for Fox.
Aware of the negative publicity
attached to Reatha Watson, it was around this time that she changed her name to
Barbara La Marr, and she was overjoyed to back in Hollywood, even if it was on
the other side of the camera. However, that state of affairs did not last long,
and she was soon invited to screen test and began appearing in small roles again.
Her friendships with A-list stars soon lead to bigger roles, and within just
three years she was playing major roles in The
Three Musketeers (1921, Fred Niblo) alongside Douglas Fairbanks, in The Prisoner of Zenda (1922, Rex Ingram)
with her good friend Ramon Novarro, and in Hollywood satire Souls for Sale (1923, Rupert Hughes),
the cast-list of which reads like a Who’s
Who of the silent era. La Marr often found herself cast as a ‘vamp,’ a Hollywood
type popular in the pre-code films, and as such she was often dressed in
amazing jewelled costumes and over-the-top headwear whilst tempting men to
their fate, often being punished for such licentiousness by the end of the
film. Despite being kind, overly generous and unselfish towards everyone she
knew in her real life, this Hollywood ‘vamp’ image began to follow her wherever
she went, and the Hollywood gossip press loved to tell tales of her somewhat
scandalous personal life, the truth of which is laid out in this meticulously
researched biography by Sherri Snyder.
of the unsung heroines of the 20th Century—her fame as a Hollywood
star notwithstanding—is actress and inventor
Hedy Lamarr. Few have known about her extraordinary proclivity to invent stuff,
and even less are aware that she came up with a patent (in collaboration with a
musical composer, no less) during World War II for a communications system that
was later adopted and is still used today.
Bombshell: The Hedy
a wonderful documentary on the woman’s life and career, deliberately emphasizes
that Lamarr’s scientific knowledge and technical imagination takes precedence
over her Hollywood legacy. And while Lamarr appears to have maintained an
upbeat attitude throughout the decades, the motion picture reveals that her
struggles were many. Lamarr was troubled, misunderstood, and too many times
ignored for her efforts beyond being a “pretty face.”
she was indeed. Lamarr was one of those Hollywood beauties who turned heads and
dropped jaws. She was talented, too—a competent leading lady with on-screen
charisma and a chemistry with (most) of her co-stars. Unfortunately, the
Hollywood moguls, namely Louis B. Mayer at MGM, refused to cast her out of the
pigeon-holed slot of “glamour girl.” Only after she broke away from the studio
and took better control of the kinds of roles she played did she begin to
display a wider range. Perhaps her most well-received role was that of Delilah
in Samson and Delilah (1949), for
which she campaigned in person to director Cecil B. DeMille. “I am Delilah,” she told him. He believed
who was from Austria, had made a controversial picture there in 1933 entitled Ecstasy, in which she frolicked about in
the nude. A love scene focused on her face, which portrayed, well, an orgasm. Looking
at these clips today, they all seem tame; but then—they were extremely potent. This “scandal” followed her to
Hollywood and seemed to forever taint her career in a hypocritical business
that exploited young starlets all the time. Nevertheless, she persevered and
made a name for herself, becoming one of Tinsel Town’s biggest stars of the
significant, Bombshell contends, is
that Lamarr should have been more appreciated for her brainpower. In the early
days of the war, prior to the U.S. involvement, Lamarr teamed up with
avant-garde composer George Antheil to come up with a way for battleships to communicate with torpedoes and guide
them to their targets. The system was called “frequency hopping,” and was based
on the way player piano rolls were constructed. If radio signals to a torpedo
jumped around in frequency, the Germans would be unable to block the
transmissions. The couple received a patent for the idea. Unfortunately, the
Navy poo-pooed the notion and shelved it. It was discovered later, after the
patent had expired, that the system was indeed developed and put into use.
Lamarr and Antheil never profited from their invention, but apparently the
system became the basis for much of today’s communications technology in GPS
Alexandra Dean assembles a fascinating portrait of Lamarr in a lean 88-minute
feature that relies on vintage footage, film clips, and interviews with family
members (Lamarr had a tumultuous love life—she was married six times),
filmmakers and film people (Mel Brooks, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Osborne,
Diane Kruger, Gillian Jacobs), and the scientific community. Dean doesn’t pull
punches when it comes to some of Lamarr’s more problematic history—her
studio-inflicted addiction to drugs, an arrest, the abandonment of an adopted
child, and her rejection of her Jewish past. Mostly, though, the film is a
celebration of a remarkable woman with an astonishing sense of self, curiosity,
Lorber’s 1920x1080p Blu-ray looks marvelous, and the vintage film clips are
especially sharp and clear. The soundtrack is 5.1 Surround with optional
English SDH subtitles. Special Features include an interview with director
Dean, outtakes of interviews with Brooks, Jacobs, and Osborne, and trailers.
anyone interested in Hollywood and/or World War II history, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story provides
worthwhile, revelatory viewing.
With the advent of the #MeToo movement, movie lovers are re-evaluating their opinions regarding older films, some of them indisputable classics. Case in point: "Manhattan", Woody Allen's 1979 romcom that sits high on the Woodman's list of significant cinematic achievements. The film's reputation survived Allen's own messy breakup with Mia Farrow and his subsequent marriage to her adopted daughter in the 1990s. However, in light of much greater sensitivities in the post-Weinstein era, some viewers may now find a key plot line in the episodic comedy to be cringe-worthy: Allen's character, a 42 year-old writer in a romantic relationship with a 17 year-old high school student. In real life, there would be moral and ethical consequences pertaining to the clearly sexual relationship that is depicted in the film but at the time of the movie's release critics and audiences were seemingly unconcerned. Writing in the New York Times, Steven Kurutz ponders "How do you solve a problem like "Manhattan?" and examines why some fans of the film are now finding it hard to enjoy its many merits. (Click here to read.) The article raises a larger issue: are we to ignore the artistic merits of cinematic classics because societal norms have changed- or do we still value them but view the films in the context of the times in which they were made?
The James Bond films may represent the longest-running movie series produced by the same company, but ol' 007 doesn't hold a candle to the longevity of Sherlock Holmes as a big screen hero. Holmes has been a cinematic staple since the silent era and though his popularity has soared and waned over the decades, he has remained a presence in popular culture throughout the world. In recent years, younger people have embraced Holmes as a hero thanks to hip, updated interpretations of the character on television and the big screen. However, there were long periods in which Holmes had disappeared from motion pictures. The films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were enormously popular from their first appearance in 1939 through their final cinematic adventure in 1946. Holmes and Watson would not re-emerge on the big screen again until Hammer Films produced the first color Holmes movie, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in 1959. The plan was to launch a Holmes series for the studio starring Peter Cushing and Andre Morrell. Although the film is very well regarded today, it was not a financial success and the series never materialized. The next major studio release of a Holmes adventure was "A Study in Terror", which has been released on Blu-ray by Mill Creek. The movie starred John Neville as Holmes and Donald Houston as Watson- and both of them performed admirably in the handsomely-mounted 1965 production. The concept of Holmes facing off against Jack the Ripper has been done numerous times to date both in literature and on the screen, but "A Study in Terror" was the first Holmes property to exploit the duel-of-wits between the fictional detective and the real-life serial killer.
"A Study in Terror" has the look and feel of a Hammer Studios film of the period and one expects Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee to pop up somewhere along the line, but we must console ourselves with a very fine cast of character actors, each of whom is used well thanks to the intelligently-written screenplay by Donald and Derek Ford and the assured direction of James Hill, who would go on to direct "Born Free". Among the standout appearances: John Fraser, Barbara Windsor, Adrienne Corri, Anthony Quayle as a seemingly devoted surgeon who might just be the killer, Georgia Brown as a beer hall singer, Peter Carsten as a shady pub owner, Robert Morley as Mycroft Holmes- and keep an eye out for young Judi Dench. Frank Finlay appears as Inspector Lestrade, but his role is frustratingly underwritten. The film has a lush production design that masks the fact that virtually all of it is shot in the studio, with the exception of some exteriors of stately mansions, and the score by John Scott is appropriately atmospheric. The story opens with the horrendous murders of prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London, a seedy place in the Victorian era where pollution was often so bad that one could barely see across the street, a factor that aided Jack the Ripper in escaping justice for his crimes. When police can't solve the string of murders, Holmes and Watson take up the cause and, as one might expect, the list of suspects includes a number of red herrings. This was the first Holmes movie to benefit from the new-found screen liberties. Thus, there is a blatant sexual element that would have been unthinkable a decade before. In addition to plenty of heaving bosoms and boisterous bar girls, there is also more violence and gruesome elements than had ever been seen previously in a Holmes feature film. It also features Holmes and Watson demonstrating their prowess with fisticuffs. As with most Holmes mysteries, the fewer details divulged, the better the element of surprise for viewers. Suffice it to say that the story moves at a brisk pace and that Neville and Watson both give spirited performances that should have led to sequels. Alas, "A Study in Terror" was not a boxoffice hit. The lack of marquee names along with a preposterous marketing campaign that emulated the "Batman" TV series (referring to Holmes as "The Original Caped Crusader!") seemed to ensure that the film would not be a popular success. However, that doesn't dilute its many qualities. The Mill Creek Blu-ray has an excellent transfer that does justice to the rich color schemes and fine set designs. Unfortunately, there are no bonus extras. Do we recommend it? The answer should be elementary: of course.
The early-to-mid 1970s was the heyday of grungy cop thrillers. Films exploring the seamier side of police work arguably got its biggest boost from the 1968 release of "Bullitt", which dared to show cops intertwined with ethically-challenged politicians in their common quest for career advancement. With the release of "The French Connection" and "Dirty Harry" in 1971, the genre kicked into high gear. In these films, the anti-hero disregards constitutional protections to take the law into his own hands. With America reeling from soaring crime rates, audiences cheered on these dubious symbols of our justice system. It's safe to say that watching these films from today's standpoint, one might have a different reaction to the tactics used by Popeye Doyle and Harry Callahan. However, there were more nuanced looks at modern urban police departments in films that explored corruption without the benefit of an superhuman anti-hero. Sidney Lumet's "Serpico" certainly exemplifies this type of film, with the protagonist being an every day cop who suffers terribly for calling out the blatantly criminal acts being committed by his peers. Similarly, a lesser-known film dealing the same subject matter- "Report to the Commissioner"- took a cynical look at the NYPD and found a nest of bribery, payoffs and other illegal methods used by many cops. This was not just some left-wing fantasy. The experience of Frank Serpico and fellow whistle-blower cop David Durk had blown the lid off massive corruption in the NYPD. The result was the formation of the Knapp Commission which uncovered widespread graft in the department and instituted radical changes to clean up the NYPD. A number of criminal indictments were handed down. "Report to the Commissioner" was released in 1975, well after the Knapp Commission had released its findings but during a period when faith in the NYPD remained weak among the citizens, who were shocked at the level of corruption unveiled in the Knapp probe. Adding to the public paranoia was the recent Watergate scandal. The film went into production shortly after President Nixon resigned in disgrace just two years after being re-elected in the biggest landslide in American history.
The story centers on the experiences of rookie undercover cop Bo Lockley (Michael Moriarty), who from the get-go seems too naive and sensitive to fit in with the hard-boiled detectives he's been assigned to work with. They cruelly subject him to hazing and never stop mocking him for looking like a hippie, even though he's not supposed to look like a cop since he works undercover. Lockley is shown the ropes around the Times Square district by fellow officer "Crunch" Blackstone (Yaphet Kotto), a hard-bitten veteran who strolls through the grimy neighborhood like a king, routinely abusing its denizens by words and physical actions. Lockley is appalled but Crunch warns him that survival in this part of the city depends on being feared, not being admired. The script introduces a parallel story line in which a young female undercover cop, Patty Butler (Susan Blakely) comes up with a dangerous plan to bring down local crime kingpin "Stick" Henderson (Tony King), who has evaded being arrested despite being the area's most feared pimp and drug dealer. Patty requests permission to pose a teenage runaway, seduce Stick and ultimately become his "old lady" with the intent of being able to witness his day-to-day operations and gather enough evidence to arrest him. The plan obviously violates departmental regulations but both Patty and her two superiors are eager for the promotions that would result from bringing Stick to justice so they approve her plan. Patty makes good on reeling in Stick and before long she's shacking up with him. Lockley, doggedly trying to find and rescue her on the assumption she is a runaway in distress, manages to trace her to Stick's apartment where the two men engage in a gun battle. Patty is tragically killed in the incident, and Lockley pursues Stick in a wild foot chase that includes Times Square before culminating in the men encountering each other inside an elevator in Saks Fifth Avenue. This is the most suspenseful sequence in the film. The police shut the power off, stranding Lockley and his prey in a sweltering, confined space with both men pointing guns at each other. Over time, they engage in a conversation in which Stick tries to persuade Lockley that they are both doomed because if they are allowed to live, their stories will bring disgrace to higher-ups in the NYPD. The conspiracy aspects of the script reflect the mood of the era. Nobody in the film is a traditional good guy except Lockley and he's treated like a fish-out-of-water.
"Report to the Commissioner" succeeds in presenting a gritty, realistic view of New York City during its decline in an era when crime was soaring, the streets were dirty and the future looked grim. Anyone visiting Gotham today would surely pronounce the city's turn-around as a miracle but there is no doubt that New York went through some difficult years and these were reflected in the movies of the era. However, the film is flawed in some key areas. Director Milton Katselas, who was revered as a playwright and academic more than a filmmaker (he directed only a handful of movies), is saddled with an erratic script by old pros Ernest Tidyman and Abby Mann, based on a novel by James Mills. The story isn't told in a linear fashion and instead jumps back and forth from present to past and vice-versa, making for an occasionally confusing experience for the viewer. Consequently, while some scenes are highly engaging, the film never gels satisfactorily as a whole. Not helping matters is the performance of Michael Moriarty as Lockley. We know he is supposed to be a naive rookie but at times Moriarty plays the part like he just stepped off a turnip truck and is seeing New York for the first time. His wide-eyed innocence often strains credibility. More convincing is Yaphet Kotto, who commands the screen in every scene in which he appears. Sadly, he vanishes from the middle section of the film, much to its detriment. Tony King is excellent as "Stick" and young Bob Balaban excels as a double-amputee who acts as a police informant. The scene in which he uses his crude, wooden wheeled "dolly" to hitch a ride on a speeding car makes for a thrilling experience. However, certain other cast members over-act and dilute the impact of their scenes. Even the great Elmer Bernstein's score seems unusually mediocre.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a very fine transfer that captures the glitter and the gutters of New York during this period. The Blu-ray includes the original theatrical trailer.
Although we've seen the individual theatrical trailers for the 1966 "Man from U.N.C.L.E." feature films "To Trap a Spy" and "The Spy with My Face", we had never seen this rarity: a 60-second U.S. TV spot presenting them in the double-feature format in which most fans saw them theatrically. Amusingly, the footage crediting David McCallum (who the narrator refers to as "David McCullum") was inexplicably lifted from another "Man from U.N.C.L.E" feature film, "One Spy Too Many" and shows villain David Sheiner in the same footage! The U.N.C.L.E. feature films were simply two-part episodes that had been telecast on TV, then converted into highly profitable movies, occasionally with some re-editing and extra footage added that was deemed a bit too steamy for network broadcasts.
A lost screenplay written by Stanley Kubrick and and novelist Calder Willingham in 1956 has been discovered by writer Nathan Abrams, who was researching his book about the making of Kubrick's final film "Eyes Wide Shut". According to Abrams, the script was based on "Burning Secret", a 1913 novella by Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. Kubrick and Willingham had adapted it to contemporary American society. The script dealt with a then- controversial subject matter: a 30 year old man befriends a pre-teen boy with the intent of using him for access to his married mother in the hopes of becoming her lover. The screenplay has been described as the "inverse of "Lolita" in which a man feigns interest in a mother in order to gain access to her young daughter. (Kubrick made a film version of "Lolita" in 1962). The "Burning Secret" project came about at a time when Kubrick was just starting to direct films for major studios. He had not yet developed an acclaimed reputation, nor did he have any clout with studios. "Burning Secret' was under consideration by MGM but the film never came to fruition, possibly because of the sensitivity of the subject matter in 1956. Indeed, Kubrick had to make major alterations to "Lolitia" years later in order to keep certain sexual elements subdued. For more click here.
MacMurray was brilliant in Billy Wilder's 1960 classic The Apartment, playing the philandering married boss of Shirley MacLaine.
For the baby boomer generation, Fred MacMurray was primarily known as the affable widowed dad on My Three Sons and the star of numerous Walt Disney films. However, as Movie Morlocks writer Greg Ferrara points out, MacMurray once excelled at playing charismatic creeps, giving brilliant performances in films such as Double Indemnity, The Caine Mutiny and The Apartment. Click here to appreciate the dark side of MacMurray's talents.
year 1989 brought us such Oscar-winning pictures as Driving Miss Daisy, Born on
the Fourth of July, Dead Poets
Society, and, of course, the blockbuster Batman. One picture, though, always stood out for me and was my personal
favorite of the year—Steven Soderbergh’s remarkable feature film debut, Sex, Lies, and Videotape. The Academy
nominated it only for Original Screenplay. The Cannes Film Festival, however,
awarded it the Palme d’Or and the
Best Actor honor for James Spader. The movie put Soderbergh on the map,
establishing him as an innovative, provocative filmmaker who was unafraid to
take on challenging subjects.
Criterion Collection has produced a new, restored 4K digital transfer and a new
5.1 surround mix (from the original sound elements), supervised by Soderbergh.
The results, in the director’s own words that appear in an on-screen comment on
the restoration, are such that one should “throw away” all previous home video
(DVD, Blu-Ray) versions of the film—this is the definitive edition.
for only a little over a million dollars, the story is really a chamber drama
of sorts that focuses on four characters. There is Ann (wonderfully played by
Andie MacDowell), a sexually uptight and frigid housewife married to John
(Peter Gallagher), a successful, go-getter lawyer who happens to be a lying
philanderer. He’s having an affair with Ann’s precocious and definitely not sexually uptight sister, Cynthia (Laura
San Giacomo), who works as a bartender. Enter Graham, an old college friend of
John’s, who has returned to town after nine years—and he is one strange dude.
James Spader delivers a nuanced, sensitive, but assuredly slightly perversely
skewed performance—one that pretty much defined the kinds of roles he would
play for years to come. Like Ann, he, too, is sexually inhibited due to
something that happened with his college girlfriend.
days the only way Graham “gets off” is by videotaping various female
acquaintances and interviewing them about their sex lives—and then viewing them
when he’s alone.
Ann suspects her husband is betraying her, she finds Graham oddly fascinating
and they become friends until she discovers Graham’s “habit.” This proclivity
is not a problem for Cynthia, though—she happily makes a video for Graham.
things turn out for the quartet of characters plays out like therapy. In fact,
Ann is seeing a therapist throughout the picture. Soderbergh has subtly
structured and presented the story such that, in many ways, we, the audience,
are the therapists observing the characters as they reveal their secrets.
1989, the material was shocking. Without any nudity or explicit sex scenes, Sex, Lies, and Videotape manages to be
extremely visceral, voyeuristic, and, yes, sexy. It explores how the most
intimate desires of human beings might seem kinky or perverse to some, and yet
be perfectly normal for others. The way the “therapy” of the film addresses
these hang-ups in the final moments is revelatory. Soderbergh may have never
written or directed a more perfect picture.
new transfer looks and sounds remarkable. An audio commentary from 1998,
featuring Soderbergh and filmmaker Neil LaBute, accompanies the film.
supplements are up to Criterion’s usual high standards. There’s a new
introduction to the film by Soderbergh, along with vintage interviews with the
writer/director from 1992 and 1990. A new documentary on the making of the
film, featuring actors MacDowell, Gallagher, and San Giacomo, is especially
informative and insightful. James Spader makes an appearance in a vintage 1989
appearance on the Today Show. There’s
a deleted scene with commentary by Soderbergh. A new conversation between sound
editor/re-recording mixer Larry Blake and composer Cliff Martinez explores the
challenges of the location shoot in Baton Rouge. Finally, Blake takes us on a
journey through the evolution of sound restorations. The booklet features an
essay by critic Amy Taubin and excerpts from Soderbergh’s 1990 book about the
Sex, Lies, and
still relevant and powerful. The picture reveals a young filmmaker who is
exploding with talent, and four brave actors who dig deeply within to reveal
all. It’s a masterpiece of independent filmmaking. Pick it up.
Like Marlon Brando, director John Huston was often considered to be a has-been during much of the 1960s into the early 1970s. He worked steadily, but- like Brando- it was assumed his glory days were behind him simply because most of his films during this period didn't generate sparks at the boxoffice. (The success of his 1975 film The Man Who Would Be King would temporarily restore his luster.) His acting career got a boost from his great performance in Chinatown, but even some of his directorial flops look far better today than they did at the time of their theatrical release. One major disappointment, artistically as well as financially, was the seemingly sure-fire hit The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, made in 1972 and starring Paul Newman fairly fresh from his triumph in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The movie is a whimsical tale that is nevertheless loaded with violence and gallows humor (literally). The story is (very) loosely based on the real Roy Bean, an outlaw who became a self-appointed judge who called himself the "only law West of the Pecos" at a time when parts of Texas were a no-man's land of thieves, murderers and swindlers. Bean became known as a hard-ass judge who dispensed lethal justice. In reality, he only sentenced two men to be hanged and one managed to escape. Nevertheless, his colorful background provides screenwriter John Milius with plenty of imaginative fodder for fictitious encounters and incidents. We first meet Bean when he ambles into a remote outpost where he is robbed and beaten mercilessly by the denizens. He returns shortly thereafter and single-handed kills them all, thus instantly making him a local legend among the peasants who live in the area. Bean becomes obsessed with studying the law and showing mercy on the poorest elements of society. He even takes a lover, a young Hispanic woman (Victoria Principal, in her screen debut). Bean appoints himself as a "judge" despite not having any legal authority to do so. He enlists a group of slovenly "deputies" to dispense justice in his courtroom, which is the bar in which he was robbed. Before long, Bean is holding kangaroo trials and routinely lynching anyone who incurs his wrath. Despite this, he gains a reputation for being fair and defending the defenseless. He adopts a bear and the movie presents some amusing sequences of Bean and his friends interacting with this over-sized "pet". The film traces his experiences over a period of years as the remote outpost becomes a bustling town. Bean is gradually sidelined as a force of influence. The death of his young wife during the birth of their daughter depresses him further and he rides off into oblivion. Twenty years later he returns to find that oil has been discovered on his property and that the corrupt mayor (Roddy McDowall) is using legally questionable methods to displace Bean's 20 year old daughter (Jacqueline Bisset) so he can control the oil on her land. Bean's reappearance causes a sensation as he rounds up his motley, aging group of former deputies to help his daughter fight for her rights. A fairly spectacular battle climaxes the film.
Bean offers many pleasures, not the least of which is a terrific supporting cast that includes cameos by Anthony Perkins, Tab Hunter (surprisingly good in an off-beat role), Anthony Zerbe, Stacy Keach (wonderful as a crazed, albino gunslinger), Ava Gardner as the legendary Lily Langtree, the object of Bean's romantic obsession even though he never meets her, and John Huston himself in an amusing appearance as Grizzly Adams. There are also plenty of familiar faces in the supporting cast including Ned Beatty, Bill McKinney (reunited from Deliverance with happier results) Richard Farnsworth and stuntmen Dean Smith and Neil Summers. The attempt to capitalize on the success of Butch Cassidy is fairly apparent, as evidenced by a fairly sappy love song and romantic montage that is obviously meant to emulate the famed Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head sequence from the former film. Nevertheless, Bean is a consistently enjoyable, rousing Western that probably plays much better today, when we can realize just how special acting ensembles like this truly are. Maurice Jarre's fine score adds immeasurably to the the enjoyment of the experience.
The Warner Archive has released the film as fine-looking Blu-ray. The only bonus extra is the amusing original trailer.
Cinema Retro contributor David Dorward found this interesting photo of young Steve McQueen and his wife posing with his Ferrari Lusso. The license plate number reads 007! We think this may be just a coincidence that one of real-life coolest guys on the planet had a license plate pertaining to the one of the coolest fictional characters, as the Bond phenomenon hadn't totally kicked in yet...unless McQueen was so smitten by the Ian Fleming novels and the release of Dr. No on screen that he was inspired to request "007". Either way, it makes for a fascinating photo.
Paramount has issued a 10-DVD collection of Jerry Lewis films, all but one of which pertain to his solo career. ("The Stooge" co-stars Dean Martin). The set is packed with 90 minutes of bonus materials including trailers, commentaries by Lewis and rare archival films and materials. Here is the official press release:
Paramount Home Entertainment has issued a repackaged DVD set containing ten Jerry Lewis feature films. Here is the official press release:
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Relive some of the greatest
film moments from comedy legend and Hollywood icon Jerry Lewis with the
new JERRY LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION, arriving on DVD June 12, 2018 from
Paramount Home Media Distribution. Celebrated for his remarkable range of
characters, outlandish antics, and uninhibited physicality, Jerry Lewis’ work
continues to delight audiences around the world and inspire new generations of
Featuring 10 of Lewis’ most beloved comedies, the JERRY
LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION is headlined by 1963’s enduring classic The
Nutty Professor, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this year.
Considered by many to be Lewis’ finest and most memorable film, The Nutty
Professor was included on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100
funniest American films of all time and was selected for preservation in the
U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004.
The 10-DVD set includes the following:
Stooge (1951)—Features one of Lewis’ earliest pairings
with Dean Martin as a musical-comedy duo
Delicate Delinquent (1956)—A “teenage terror” is recruited
for the Police Academy
Bellboy (1960)—Lewis plays a friendly but clumsy bellboy in
this slapstick classic
take on the classic Cinderella story
Errand Boy (1961)—Paramount enlists a bumbling Lewis to spy on
their productions in this hilarious film studio comedy
Ladies Man (1961)—A girl-shy man finds work in a women-only
hotel with uproarious results
Nutty Professor (1963)—A socially awkward professor
invents a serum that turns him into the handsome but obnoxious Buddy Love
Disorderly Orderly (1964)—Lewis wreaks havoc in a private
Patsy (1964)—Lewis directs and stars as a novice
recruited to replace a big-time comedian
Family Jewels (1965)—Lewis directs and plays seven
distinct roles in this family inheritance farce
The mania for adapting non-musical TV shows and movies as musical productions on Broadway continues with the news that the 1960s sitcom "Green Acres" will be brought to the Great White Way with more tunes than just composer Vic Mizzy's classic theme song, which seemingly every American of a certain age can still sing to perfection. The show was a major hit back in the day and starred Eddie Albert as a New York attorney who became fed up with the congestion and stress of living in Manhattan. He relocates to a small town called Hooterville where the naive city slicker finds that the farm he has purchased is a dilapidated mess. Much of the fun centered on his gorgeous but not-so-bright wife played by Eva Gabor, who longs to return to the big city. Both she and her husband toil on the farm while still clad in the same attire they wore on Park Avenue. The show, which is still shown in re-runs, was created by Paul Henning, the mastermind behind two similar sitcoms, "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Petticoat Junction". Cast members from each show would turn up as the same characters across the three series. In watching the series today, I've been impressed at just how funny it still is, thanks to the wonderful performances of Albert and Gabor as well as the many great character actors who were regulars on the series: Alvy Moore, Pat Buttram, Tom Lester, Frank Cady among them. The fish-out-of-water premise for a comedy extends back long before "Green Acres". Cary Grant tried to adjust to country living in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" and Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert did the same in "The Egg and I". In later years, Tom Hanks starred in the similarly-themed "The Money Pit". Whether contemporary audiences who don't even remember "Green Acres" will find its gentle style of humor entertaining is the big question. Let's just hope that keep that opening theme song.
was arguably the success of A Fistful of Dollars that really set the ball
rolling on the slew of shameless spaghetti western rip-offs and cash-ins that
proliferated throughout the 1960s, as film-makers jostled to get a taste of the
sauce and chow down on a cut of the rewards from what quickly became a very
profitable arena in which to be operating.
rode into town a little later than popular gunslingers such as Sabata, Django
and Ringo, but he made enough of an impression to warrant a number of official
sequels – and several unofficial ones too. Just five legitimate Sartana films
were lensed, with Gianni Garko (billed as John Garko) headlining in four of
them and George Hilton just one. Cucumber cool antihero Sartana was notably
more dapper than most of his mud-spattered box office rivals, a real snappy
dresser in fact; with his black cape lined in red silk, sharp matching cravat
and crisp white shirt, he cut a fine figure riding through desolate wasteland,
deck of cards in one hand, natty miniature four-shooter in the other, always
ready to spit out a death sentence when the moment was called for. In the first
film he even retrieved a musical pocket watch from a corpse and proceeded to
use its tinkly chime to taunt his nemesis.
fabulously contrived titles of the five films belied a series of enjoyable
enough but not exactly top-tier western actioners. Dripping with all the
requisite tropes of the genre, and occasionally sprinkling a few unexpected
condiments into the pot, they’re perfectly watchable fare, but it’s unlikely many
would favour any of them over a Sabata instalment or, indeed, an Eastwood
classic. If, for this writer, there’s any problem at all with the Sartana
series – and it’s one that prevents them from residing up there among the
genre’s finest – it’s that in every instance a plot suited at best to the
50-minute TV episode format was, out of necessity, stretched to feature length,
the resultant slightness of narrative rendering them all far too leisurely
five official Sartana films have now been issued on Blu-ray by Arrow Video in
an impressive collectors’ box set. Accompanied by an illustrated book, each
film is individually packaged and boasts reversible sleeve art, and the entire collection
is housed in an attractive slipcase.
series kickstarter was 1968’s If you meet Sartana pray for your eath (O.T.
Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte), directed by Frank Kramer, a.k.a.
Gianfranco Parolini. (Note: in Italian film titles, only the first word is
capitalised.) Among the most enjoyable of the quintet, the plot concerns a pair
of dodgy bankers who hire a group of Mexicans to steal a strongbox filled with
gold, subsequently allowing them to claim on the insurance. In fact, the
precious cargo has been substituted with rocks, the valuable contents having
already been squirrelled away in a coffin. Following the heist, the Mexicans
are quickly eliminated to wipe out any evidence of the scam. It’s up to Sartana
to uncover the truth and retrieve the gold. Any anticipation engendered by the
opening credit “with the special participation of Klaus Kinsky” (sic) is
swiftly quelled; it’s anything but special, for the A-class actor – who
possessed one of cinema’s most expressive faces (and intimidating grimaces!) –
is relegated to sideline status for much of the action. At least any
disappointment on that score is appeased by the presence of a satisfyingly
formidable bad guy in the shape of wild-eyed, buttercup-chewing William Berger
as Lasky, who, when he’s not gleefully massacring bandits with his hand-cranked
Gatling gun, proves to be a single-shot marksman, planting bullets
centre-forehead in more unfortunates than it’s possible to keep tally of. An
ace cardsharp, Sartana makes a fast enemy of Lasky when he cleans him out at the
poker table. Despite the paucity of plot, director Kramer manages to sustain
interest, layering in double and triple crosses as Sartana gently manipulates
the wrong-doers into turning on each other. There’s a stab at comic relief too
in the form of Franco Pesce as the town’s undertaker, but for this writer his
theatrical gurning and cartoonish mannerisms eclipse the intended amiable
quirkiness to become distractingly irksome.
2K restoration from the original film materials displays a fair amount of
grain, but aside from one brief moment of picture damage at the outset and a
slightly protracted patch of vertical scratching further along, the print is in
very respectable shape. The film can be viewed in either an English dub or its
original Italian with newly translated English subtitles. Supplements comprise
a commentary from film historian (and Cinema Retro contributor) Mike Siegel, an
interview with director Kramer, a helpful guide to the characters in the
Sartana universe, and a gallery of artwork and stills.
year later, in 1969, I am Sartana, your angel of death (O.T. Sono Sartana, il
vostro becchino) was unleashed. In this one our man (Garko again) appears to
have been involved in a bank robbery and finds himself at the top of the most
wanted list, with a $10,000 dead or alive price on his head. He didn’t do it,
of course, so has to hunt down the real perpetrator to clear his name, whilst
evading bounty hunters hot on his trail and intent on bagging the reward. It’s
a decent enough follow-up from director Giuliano Carnimeo (credited as Anthony
Ascott), which showcases another fine Garko performance (with Sartana now
displaying a knack for sleight of hand card tricks) and the return of Klaus
Kinski (spelt with the “I” this time) in a meatier, albeit less threatening
role, that of a gambler-cum-bounty hunter with the best character name of
anyone in the entire run of Sartana pictures: Hot Dead. Unfortunately, Franco
Pesce (uncredited this time) is also back, now promoted to town mayor,
fortuitously only briefly on screen but every bit as annoying. The story
unfolds at a sedate price, but Ascott and cinematographer Giovanni Bergamini
keep things percolating with some stylish set-ups, the camera lurching sideways
whenever bodies spin and hit the dust. One brief scene stands out for this
writer, if not for the right reason; when Sartana dodges a spray of bullets
from a trio of pursuing gunmen by zigzagging left and right, any sense of
suspense is undermined by spurred memories of the amusing Peter Falk/Alan Arkin
‘serpentine’ sequence in 1979’s The In-Laws!
had access to the original camera negative for this one and the 2K restoration
is very nice indeed. Again sound options are English and Italian. Extras
comprise a commentary from historian and filmmakers C Courtney Joyner and Henry
Peake, interviews with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and stuntman Sal Borgese,
plus a gallery of European poster art and German lobby cards.
The Orlebar Brown Company has released a super cool, officially licensed line of retro-based James Bond swimwear for men. The imaginatively-designed, high quality bathing trunks are available in four designs: "Dr. No", "Thunderball", "You Only Live Twice" and "Live and Let Die" and each designs features graphics from original 007 posters and promotional photos. The items are part of the company's "Bulldog" brand, so-named because of the sentimental connection between "M" and her ceramic bulldog that plays a role in the plots of "Skyfall" and "Spectre". The price of the swimwear might require the budget of Goldfinger himself with the trunks carrying a $395/ 245 GBP retail price. However, we are assured that each item has an official James Bond label sewn inside and comes with a limited edition, waterproof custom storage bag (illustrated above) for those blokes who regularly find themselves having to dispense with their trunks on short notice. We'll go out on limb and presume that the deadly spear gun, infra-red underwater camera and mini atomic bomb tow sled are not included with the swim trunks.