One of the most popular and enduring sitcoms of its era, "McHale's Navy" ran from 1962-1966. The premise centered on Lt. Commander Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine), a PT boat skipper stationed in the South Pacific (later transferred to Italy) during WWII along with a motley but lovable crew of swabbies. McHale and his men are unconventional, to say the least, and routinely disregard basic military discipline. They are so unruly that they have been relegated to their own tiny island, which suits them just fine. Here they brew booze, entertain young women and run about dressed in party attire. They also manage to "adopt" a genial Japanese prisoner-of-war, Fuji (Yoshio Yoda), who manages to stay hidden despite indulging in all the excesses of McHale and his crew. McHale's antics are to the chagrin of their superior officer, Capt. Binghamton (Joe Flynn), who is constantly devising schemes to catch McHale and his men in a major infraction and have them court martialed. Inevitably, just in the nick of time McHale and his crew distinguish themselves in some sort of military action that brings them praise from the top brass instead of ending their careers.
The series proved to be so popular that is spawned two feature films that have now been released as a double-feature DVD by Shout! Factory. "McHale's Navy" was certainly not the first TV series to have a cross-over to the big screen. In the 1950s Walt Disney edited together several episodes of his immensely popular "Davy Crockett" series starring Fess Parker and released them as the feature film "Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier". During the 1960s and 1970s, the same process was used to release previously-seen TV episodes as feature films, though many were seen only in European markets. These included "Mission Impossible Vs. The Mob", "Mission: Monte Carlo" (based on "The Persuaders") and most notably, eight entire feature films derived from two-part episodes of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.". "McHale's Navy" was a more ambitious venture because, like the big screen versions of "Batman" and "The Munsters" ("Munsters Go Home!"), it at least consisted of entirely new material shot specifically for the theatrical version. The real thrill for fans of such shows was the ability to see their favorites on the big screen in color during an era in which precious few homes boasted color TVs.
The plot of the first film is reed-thin. McHale crew member Gruber (Carl Ballantine) tries to raise funds for an orphanage by devising a massive betting scheme predicated on the outcome of a horse race in Australia that has already been completed. However, the bettors won't legitimately know the results of that race until the newspaper is delivered by mail drop a week after the race's conclusion. Thus a large number of servicemen converge on McHale's island to engage in the betting. The trouble is that almost everyone is betting on the favorite: Silver Spot. When the newspaper arrives, Gruber discovers to his horror that Silver Spot has indeed won- and now the pot isn't big enough to pay off the bettors. McHale and Gruber stall for time and buy a week during which they must come up with the money to pay off the bettors. McHale and his men sail their PT 73 to New Calendonia where McHale reunites with a former lover, Margot (Jean Willes), a local saloon owner who he hopes will lend him the funds. She agrees to do so but only for a steep price: he must consent to marry her. Meanwhile, McHale's bumbling executive officer, Ensign Parker (Tim Conway) attempts to rescue a local French beauty, Andrea (Claudine Longet) from a bothersome local wolf, a rich businessman, Le Clerc (an unrecognizable George Kennedy). He earns her respect and his wrath but he also accidentally launches a depth charge that destroys one of the docks owned by Le Clerc. Now McHale and his men must come up with money for damages or risk being imprisoned. In a plot device that is as improbable even by sitcom standards, it turns out the valuable Silver Spot has gone missing and the crew of the PT 73 just happens upon him on a remote island. They attempt to win the money they need by disguising the horse and running him in another race under another name. The "Day at the Races"-like scenario falls apart, exposing the crew's deceitful tactic- but when McHale and his men thwart a Japanese submarine attack, all is forgiven and they are rewarded with enough cash to pay off all their debts. The film provides some pleasant entertainment and manages- ever so slightly- to spice things up compared to the TV series. (It's clear that McHale and Margot enjoy a pretty steamy past.) Also, the ever-virginal Ensign Parker finds himself uncomfortably close to Andrea as she tries to change out of wet clothing. Much of the fun derives from watching the great Joe Flynn and Tim Conway interact with impeccable comedic timing. The direction by Edward J. Montagne is well-paced. Montagne, who also produced the TV series, was an underrated talent, having helmed and/or produced the terrific Don Knotts feature films of the era including the cult classic "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken".
Edward Montagne was also in the director's chair for "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force", released in 1965 on the heels of the first film's success. This time, however, Ernest Borgnine is nowhere to be seen. Borgnine told this writer years ago that he never got a clear explanation for why the film was made without him but said that theater owners leveled criticism at him, thinking he refused to be in it. In fact, Borgnine said he was flabbergasted that he had never been asked to appear in the movie. There were probably two motives for by-passing him. The first was money. By eliminating the highest paid cast member, Universal could keep production values low. Second, the studio might have wanted to give unrestrained screen time to the antics of Joe Flynn and Tim Conway, who were becoming an enormously popular duo through the TV series. In any event, Borgnine's absence is initially glaring but the as the film gets underway it turns out this sequel is superior to the original. The plot is more ambitious and the antics of Conway and Flynn are unrestrained. This film also affords McHale's crew- which consists of some wonderful character actors like Billy Sands, Gavin MacLeod and Carl Ballantine- to appear as something more than mere window dressing. This time around the plot revolves around a case of mistaken identity. Cutting through the clutter, it boils down to Ensign Parker first being mistaken for defecting Soviet officer and being arrested by KGB agents (one of whom is played by Len Lesser, who went on to appear as Uncle Leo in the "Seinfeld" series). Parker bumbles his way out of that but then becomes mistaken for a high profile Army officer (Ted Bessell), who has a reputation for being quite the lady's man. A lot of the fun revolves around the hapless, innocent Parker becoming a chick magnet for the likes of willing young women played by Susan Silo and Jean Hale, among others. Since the Army Air Corps officer Parker is impersonating is also a master pilot, he is forced to act as navigator aboard a bomber. Through a convoluted series of events, Binghamton ends up aboard the plane with him and the two wreak havoc before tumbling out of the plane on a jeep that is suspended from the cargo hull by a parachute. Flynn and Conway are like a modern version of Laurel and Hardy and I must admit that, despite the sheer predictability of their routine, I ended up chuckling out loud at numerous points. Meanwhile, McHale's crew gets some screen time when they switch uniforms with Russian sailors in order to sneak off PT 73 and go into town to get drunk. This, of course, turns out to have disastrous unforeseen consequences. The film also benefits from some other familiar character actors of the era including Henry Beckman, Tom Tully and Willis Bouchey, all of whom are marvelous to watch. Both films also feature the deft comedic turns by series regular Bob Hastings as Binghamton's ever-present aide and boot-licker, Lt. Elroy Carpenter, whose devotion to his unappreciative boss borders on the homo erotic. (I'm convinced the Mr. Burns/ Smithers relationship in "The Simpsons" is directly based on the Binghamton/Carpenter characters in "McHale's Navy"). As with the previous film, this one is a bit more mature in terms of sexual content, though it remains firmly in the category of family entertainment. The women's sexual aggressiveness would never have made it in the TV series (Jean Hale's character in particular makes it clear she can't wait to bed the legendary Romeo that Parker is impersonating). In another scene, Parker and Binghamton uncover a shipment of brassieres and both of them are clueless as to what they are.
Both of the Shout! Factory transfers are completely pristine and make for a highly enjoyable afternoon of "McHale" bing-watching. Unfortunately, there are no bonus extras.
In the course of a 1977 interview with Hollywood
correspondent Vernon Scott, American-International’s very own Samuel J. Arkoff,
the studio’s notorious penny-pinching producer, admitted to his mostly fiscal interest
in the horror film genre. “We got into
horror pictures [in 1955] when we discovered that without a big budget and
major stars our films were [relegated to] second features,” Arkoff reminisced. “I decided to make two pictures of the same
type and release them on the same bill… So we sent out The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues and The Day the World Ended as a pair and they cleaned up.”
Years later Arkoff would more completely
delineate his eminently prudent and successful marketing strategy to film
historian Tom Weaver. This insightful interview
with the irascible producer was included in Weaver’s seminal tome Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror
Heroes: the Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews (McFarland,
1999). In essence, Arkoff revealed that,
as an independent, the box office receipts from the earliest films released
through the American Releasing Corporation (the original name of the company
that would morph into American-International Pictures), had been relatively
As nationwide theater chains were still mostly
controlled by the major studios when Arkoff first opened shop, his A.R.C.
features were only booked by cinema-owners as flat-fee rentals of nominal cost.
The films were also, more fatefully, consigned to the lower-half of a double
bill program; this was unfair as such second-bill status did not allow independents
to take a percentage of the total gross of a twin-bill. In the years following
a 1948 court-ordered anti-trust injunction against the major studios, Arkoff
began to deliver his own twin packaged films to theater owners. Such independent double-bills ensured that all
profit percentages would rightfully funnel into the pockets of the producers.
It almost goes without saying that The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues was a
purely exploitative title; an obvious attempt to capitalize on the name-recognition
coattails of several successful science-fiction films of the era. The chosen title instantly invoked allusions
to Universal-International’s Creature
from the Black Lagoon (1954), Ray Harryhausen’s visual effects vehicle The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953),
and Disney’s Academy Award winning 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea (1954). The
latter two films would, at the very least, get their measurements right… but
more on this later.
If there was any film that I never imagined
would enjoy a Blu-Ray release, it’s the non-acclaimed and universally scorned The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues. Having done so, one has to respect
Kino-Lorber’s self-aware decision to include Joe Dante’s (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins) disparaging remarks concerning the
film’s dubious merit. There’s no
over-the-top self-serving ballyhoo present here, folks. Dante concludes his brief “Trailers from
Hell” supplement with these cautionary words: “I hardly know anybody who’s made
it all the way through The Phantom from
10,000 Leagues.” If nothing else, Dante’s
from-the-heart appraisal of the film’s dubious virtues proves he’s no
revisionist. He’s also not alone in his opinion;
amongst devotees of 1950s sci-fi, The
Phantom from 10,000 Leagues has a long established reputation as a talky,
turgidly paced snooze-fest disguised as a monster movie.
Nonetheless, there’s a fascinating back story
to all this. In 1962 Dante, then merely
one more disgruntled sixteen-year old horror movie fan, would fire off a letter
off to Forrest J. Ackerman, editor-emeritus of the influential 1960s/1970s
magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. In the course of his entertaining rant to the
editor, Dante suggested fifty films that, in his opinion, accounted for the
“worst horror films ever made.” The amused
Ackerman must have agreed with many of the youngster’s findings. He would later infamously assign Dante’s
“feeble fifty” to “the eternal fames of the brimstone pit” of horror-movie
history. The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues registered as “vapid” entry no. 38 on
Dante’s list, though it must be said this calculation was alphabetical rather
than meritorious in placement. To the
young letter-writers’ surprise, Ackerman chose to run his musings in the
magazine under the title “Dante’s Inferno,” an opinionated ten-page diatribe
that would cause no shortage of consternation amongst fans and the filmmakers
whose favorite films and/or contributions to celluloid history had been
commitment to Pam Grier and her Blaxploitation films of the seventies continues
with their latest package Sheba, Baby (1975). By the arrival of the mid-Seventies
Grier was at the top of her game, coming off such genre classics as Coffy
(1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) both directed by Jack Hill and both of which are
also available in superb releases from Arrow. Grier’s work for AIP continued in
explosive, fashionable style with Sheba, Baby and with new director William
Girdler at the helm. Sheba is without doubt a star vehicle that was tailor made
for exploiting Grier’s talents.
Shayne is a Chicago private eye who receives a telegram informing her of
trouble in her hometown of Louisville. The local mob boss, Pilot (D'Urville
Martin) has started to turn up the heat in trying to obtain her father’s loan
business. Along with her father Andy (Rudy Challenger), the business is run by
his partner Brick Williams (Austin Stoker), an instantly recognisable actor and
best known perhaps as Lt. Ethan Bishop from John Carpenter's cult classic
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). After several threats and a near fatal car bomb,
Sheba soon realises that the situation is becoming desperately out of control.
a few shaky moments in the script (credited to director Girdler and producer David
Sheldon), the film is carried in every respect by Grier’s scintillating screen
presence, she truly bosses the film, and looks fantastic in every frame. It’s a
film that should be enjoyed without too much scrutinising; accept it purely on
its surface level and you’ll find yourself smiling a whole lot and lapping up
the action. If your intention is to analyse it, then forget it. If you
scrutinise the problems in terms of continuity of dates, Sheba’s small quantity
of luggage (there’s a costume change in practically every scene), etc, then
you’ll be missing out on the action and overlooking its pure entertainment
value. The action scenes are plentiful and arrive fast and furious. Was this
film actually rated as PG upon its release? Look out for the car that spins
wildly off a grass verge, then look again to see how it misses Grier (on the
assumption it was her and not a stunt double) by a matter of inches. It is a pure
adrenalin pumping sequence. Yes, the film might be considered as routine and
stereotypical, even offensive in relation to its language (the ‘N’ word raises
its ugly head on several occasions), and the mob are of course pimped to the
max. But you’d be wise to let it go, as this is, after all, a product of its
time, and yes, it was almost considered as socially tolerated in the more discriminate
social culture of the seventies.
1080p presentation of Sheba, Baby can only be described as flawless. The
picture quality is as near to pristine as you could ever wish. Whist it retains
a generic low budget look, its colour grading delivers both a natural look and
just enough enhancement to emphasise those wonderful vivid colours of the
fashions and the times. The whole look manages to achieve a perfect balance.
Check out the film’s opening credits, the pin sharp yellow lettering almost
pops out from the screen. If they look familiar, you might just make the
comparison with Jackie Brown (1997), as director Quentin Tarantino uses the
exact same colour and font for his own Pam Grier movie. It’s not only homage,
but a deeper example of how Tarantino holds these movies so close to his heart.
The Blu-ray audio (original mono uncompressed PCM) is clean and clear
throughout, and allows the film’s soulful score (by Alex Brown and Monk Higgins)
to become an integral part of the experience. There are also a couple of great
vocals tracks (including the theme) provided by the American R&B/soul
singer Barbara Mason.
bonus material is both enjoyable and generous. First, there are two audio
commentaries, the first featuring producer-screenwriter David Sheldon and moderated
by critic Nathaniel Thompson. The second is provided by Patty Breen the
webmaster of WilliamGirdler.com. Breen’s commentary is actually a great deal of
fun; it’s a completely relaxed ‘fan’ style narration. Whilst Breen can’t help joking
about the film’s flaws and inconsistencies, it is never in malice and it’s
clear she absolutely adores every aspect of the movie.
Baby (15mins) is a brand new interview with David Sheldon who discusses his
role and his experience working on the movie and alongside director William
Girdler. Pam Grier: The AIP Years (12mins) does exactly what it says on the tin
and takes a look over the wonder years of the Blaxploitation queen with film
historian Chris Poggiali. The original theatrical trailer (2mins) and a
selection of publicity shots and lobby cards rounds off a very nice collection
of bonus material.
packaging consists of a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips, while the booklet features brand new
writing on the film by Patty Breen and is illustrated with both archive stills
Sheba, Baby is an excellent package and one that leaves us in hope that Arrow will
continue to explore Grier’s later American international Pictures such as Bucktown
(1975) and Friday Foster (1975). There’s little doubt that they would certainly
be welcomed and appreciated with open arms.
Technical Spec: Region: Region A/B Blu-ray / DVD 1/2, Rating:
15, Cat No: FCD1210, Duration: 90 mins, Language: English, Subtitles: English
SDH, Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, Audio: Mono, Discs: 2, Colour
‘Five Dolls for an August Moon’ is Mario Bava’s 1970 psychedelic spin on Agatha’s ‘Ten Little Indians’/’And Then There Were None’
with the addition of 70s fashions, a funky soundtrack, a walk-in meat fridge
and a revolving bed. This movie is all about ‘The Look’ and has all the Bava signatures
present – the overuse of zooming camera techniques, the appearance of the beach
and headland at Tor Caldara on Anzio Cape in Italy as the main filming location,
the effective, budget-defying special effects shots and the consummate
cinematography. Though often written off as lower-tier Bava, Arrow’s brand new region 2 Blu-ray/DVD edition, with vibrant colours and sound, shows Bava’s finesse and ensures
Businessman George Stark (Teodoro Corra) and
his wife Jill (Edith Meloni) invite guests to stay at their luxury shoreline
residence on a secluded island. The visitors are Professor Jerry Farrell
(William Berger), his wife Trudy (Ira Fürstenberg), mysterious Isabel (Justine
Gall), the Starks’ temporary ward, and businessmen Jack Davidson (Renato
Rossini) and Nick Chaney (Maurice Poli) and their wives Peggy (Hélèna Ronée) and
Marie (Edwige Fenech). The trio of businessmen want to persuade Jerry to part
with the formula for a new type of synthetic industrial resin and offer him millions
of dollars, but Jerry stubbornly refuses. In the boozed-up, decadent atmosphere
of Stark’s retreat, hedonistic excess, murder games, marital infidelity and
jealousy flourish. For example, Marie is having an affair with the Stark’s resident
houseboy Charles (played by Mauro Bosco), who rounds the island’s occupants up
to an even ‘ten’. Soon the guests are stranded – George sends away the island’s
yacht and later the motor launch, the only other way to leave the island, vanishes,
while radio contact with the outside world ceases. Then the killings start…
The principal objective of this static albeit
stylist giallo is to kill off its attractive cast – in that respect, it is very
much a rehearsal for Bava’s ‘A Bay of Blood’/’Twitch of the Death Verve’ the
following year. Some of the scenes in the Starks’ landscaped garden, with it
tropical palms, are very similar to the later film. But whereas in ‘Bay of
Blood’, we see many of the killings enacted before our eyes, often in graphic
detail, here his camera discovers the corpses already in eternal repose. We
suppose that the principal motive for the killing is greed for Professor Jerry’s
secret formula for resin, which he plans to unveil at a chemists’ convention in
Geneva the following month (presumably September). In typical giallo style, the
film’s title is evocative, but meaningless. The ‘five dolls’ are the five beautiful
women and the film’s French title, ‘5 Filles dans une nuit chaude d’été’
translates as ‘Five Girls on a Hot Summer Night’. Most of the mystery’s
revelations involve flesh. Edwige Fenech, the beautiful heroine and future
screen goddess of continental sex comedies and gialli, is most memorable as
Marie, one of the female protagonists – mainly because she plays the role clad
in underwear, bikinis, towels or less. Most of the actors are rudimentarily
going through the motions, with William Berger, Ira Fürstenberg and Justine
Gall being most notable for putting some effort in. The women aren’t
particularly well-rounded characterisations and mostly exist to be dressed,
undressed, caressed and distressed. The men are iniquitous, greedy and easily
dislikeable – Nick tries to persuade Marie to seduce Jerry to gain the formula
– and as a result of their lack of sympathy, it’s difficult to become involved
in the plot or the victims’ plight. It is
one film Bava singled out for criticism in interviews as the least favourite of
his work: “They paid me on Saturday and I had to start filming on Monday. I had
to accept the script (by Mario Di Nardo) which was just a horrible rip-off of
‘Ten Little Indians’. I had to keep all the characters, but I took revenge by
changing the identity of the killer”.
Kino Lorber has released a dual 3-D and 2-D Blu-ray of the 1954
cult sci-fi flick “Gog”.
At a secret US government base in the desert, various top secret
experiments are taking place that will provide invaluable data when the nation launches
its first manned rockets (keep in mind this is still a good six years or so
before the first Mercury flight). The experiments start to go awry so top
analyst Richard Egan is called in to investigate. Naturally, his
girlfriend Constance Dowling (producer Ivan Tors’s wife) is a top research
scientist there as well. As the investigation develops and the body count
increases, it appears that a pair of robots, GOG and MAGOG, are the cause of
the ‘accidents’…. or are they? Is someone or something else at the root
The 3-D and overall quality on this release is extremely good
(Richard Egan’s overindulgence in Brylcream is rather obvious in some shots
here). The action takes place in different fields in the frame and is
handled rather effectively. It is not a gimmicky 3-D film in any sense
and has been well thought out. When viewed on a Panasonic AG 8000 projector
there was very little or no ghosting. This project was produced by the
3-D Archive (Bob Furmanek, Greg Kintz and Thad Komorowski), the same folks who
brought us ‘3-D Rarities’ and ‘The Bubble’ last year.
“Gog” was released in May 1954 when the public's brief infatuation
of 1950’s 3-D was on the decline. As such, it was rolled out in 3-D in
only 5 bookings in southern California. It then played flat, or 2D, as
the release fanned out across the country. When “Gog” ended up in a TV
sale, for some reason it was then distributed in full frame B&W. Also
over time the negative for the left side was lost, actually most likely
destroyed, as the studios liked to keep their shelves clear to reduce storage
expenses (“Gee, why do we have two negatives of the same film? We can
throw one out!”).
So “Gog” became a ‘lost’ 3-D film. Fortunately, a left side
original release print was stumbled upon at a film exchange in a pile of materials
that was to be thrown out. The print worked its way to the 3- D Archive,
where it was found to be very faded. Fast forward to present day and the
digital technologies available to archivists. Greg and Thad, spent close
to five months working diligently to restore color, perfect registration of the
3-D image, clean up damage and dirt, all the while maintaining a ‘filmic’ look
to the presentation (films scrubbed too clean for Blu-ray have a very unnatural
Sixty three years later now, you can finally see GOG in 3-D,
better than the way it was meant to be seen.
The Kino Lorber release contains : both a 3-D and 2-D
version of the film; trailers; interviews with both the director, Herbert L.
Strock and director of photography, Lothrop B. Worth; featurette on the
restoration as well as an audio commentary by film historians Bob Furmanek, Tom
Weaver and David Schecter.
Scott plays a bounty hunter returning a former Indian captive in “Comanche
Station,” a 1960 Columbia release directed by Bud Boetticher and written by
western regular Burt Kennedy.
Jefferson Cody (Scott) trades rifles and
other items with a group of Comanche Indians in exchange for a captive settler,
Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates). Her husband has offered a large reward for her
return. After the exchange they’re met by outlaw Ben Lane (Claude Akins) and his
sidekicks Frank (Skip Homeier) and Dobie (Richard Rust) who help Cody during an
Indian attack at Comanche Station. Lane and Cody are old enemies and he and his
men have been searching for Nancy. Lane wants a piece of the $5,000 reward in
return for helping protect Nancy on the journey to her husband. Cody
reluctantly agrees and forms an uneasy alliance due to the Indian threat.
Cody befriends Dobie, who wants to be his own
man rather than the sidekick to the outlaw Lane.. Cody and Nancy form a friendship
which Lane sees as an opportunity to get under Cody’s skin. He plots to return
Nancy on his own and collect the reward, but he knows Cody is a better shot and
the better man.
The Indians are threatening and portrayed by
Native Americans rather than red-faced Caucasian extras. They’re talked about
more than seen and when they are seen they’re mostly on horseback and only a
modest threat to Cody and Lane. Lane is the real threat and Cody predicts the
outcome as Lane’s men are killed and the movie ends with the thrilling, if
predictable, gunfight between Cody and Lane on the edge of a rocky cliff.
The movie is a little gem overall with excellent
location photography beautifully shot in CinemaScope by Charles Lawton, Jr.
There’s also tight direction by Boetticher and strong performances by Scott,
Akins and the rest of the cast. The movie was apparently shot in 12 days in the
California desert, but the very short running time of 70 minutes doesn’t hurt, as
it ensures that things move at a brisk pace.
was the final film for Ranown, the production company formed by Scott and
producer Harry Joe Brown. Scott announced his retirement from movies after this
release. Fortunately, Scott returned for one more movie, “Ride the High
Country,” in 1962. Generally regarded as a classic of the genre, Scott retired
for good after that.
region 2 German release includes both German and the original English audio. The
CinemaScope picture and sound quality on this release are both terrific. While
the movie has a running time barely over an hour, there’s a lot packed into the
70 minute running time which is also an excuse to watch it as part of a double feature.
The movie was previously available as part of the 2008 DVD set, “The Bud
Boetticher Collection.” The only extra carried over from that release is the
original trailer in English. This German release also includes a slide show
stills gallery of original advertising material which is accompanied by cues
from the score. Well worth the time for fans of classic westerns, Bud Boetticher
and Randolph Scott.
Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However, imports
can often be found on eBay and Amazon in other countries. Although officially a
“region 2” title, many of readers report that Explosive Media titles play fine
on their region 1 players.)
Hyams’ “Busting” (1973) was one of several early 1970s police dramas that
followed the lead of “Dirty Harry,” two years before, in glorifying vigilante
tactics by disgruntled cops. Los Angeles
Detective Michael Keneely (Elliott Gould) tries to entrap a hooker, Jackie
(Cornelia Sharpe), by posing as a prospective john. He and his partner Patrick Farrell (Robert
Blake) trash her apartment without a warrant, looking for her “trick book” of
clients, and arrest her. The
incriminating pages disappear from the journal after it’s processed into an
evidence locker, and a high-powered defense attorney (William Sylvester) has
Jackie’s arrest thrown out of court on grounds that Keneely lacked evidence of
a crime: she had not explicitly propositioned him before he made the
pinch. The detectives learn that
Jackie’s boss is Carl Rizzo (Allen Garfield), a powerful drug and prostitution
kingpin, and they go after one of Rizzo’s heroin runners, Hyatt (Jack Knight)
with equal lack of success, igniting a bloody gunfight in a crowded public
market. Rizzo brags to Keneely that he
is so well connected politically that Keneely and Farrell will never be able to
two cops are banished to an assignment nabbing “perverts” in the men’s room at the La Brea Tar Pits
Park. Marvel Comics fans take note,
Keneely has an “Ant-Man” comic book at hand to pass the time as he watches from
a stall. I doubt it was paid product
placement. Frustrated, they target Rizzo
on their off-hours with a campaign of harassment, hoping to eventually make a
case while getting under the gangster’s skin. Rizzo is so predatory and arrogant that the viewer, presumably, has no
qualms about Keneely and Farrell nailing him by any means necessary. This was the same Nixon-Era, middle-class
paranoia that “Dirty Harry” manipulated even more cunningly: the fear that
criminals were literally getting away with murder (not to mention rape,
robbery, and varied affronts to public decency) because recent court decisions
had tied the hands of the police.
an audio commentary with Elliott Gould for Kino-Lorber’s new Blu-ray release
of “Busting,” film critic Kim Morgan
calls the movie a “wonderful . . . under-looked should-be-‘70s-classic.” “Classic” is debatable; “curiosity piece”
might be a better description for younger audiences who are likely to find the
period ambience of cynicism, grimy squad rooms, seedy peep shows, and strip
bars novel. Be warned, the dialogue is
heavy with offensive terms like “faggot” and “fruit” that may reflect the
homophobic slang of the time but are no longer tolerated at all.
the movie runs a trim 92 minutes, it seems longer: Hyams’ script tends to
wander from scene to scene, never really picking up much momentum except during
the well-filmed chase and shootout at L.A.’s Grand Central Market, and even
that sequence drags at the end. None of
the characters is sharply developed, only Keneely having much in the way of a
background, and that limited to a monolog about how he started out as an
idealistic young cop. Two iconic ‘70s
cult actors are cast in small supporting parts -- Sid Haig as Rizzo’s bodyguard
and Antonio Fargas as an aggressive customer in a gay bar where Keneely and
Farrell are assigned to a drug stakeout -- but neither is given much to
his comments on the audio track with Kim Morgan, Gould recalls that Ron Leibman
was originally set to play his partner, but when Leibman didn’t work out
(Gould’s comments on this point are vague), Peter Boyle and Blake were up for
the part. Gould says, “I love both
actors,” but he championed Blake because the actor was “dangerous and
unpredictable.” Ironically, Gould’s
character is the more volatile of the two detectives. The movie might have worked better if the two
leads had been cast to type, Blake as Keneely and Gould as Farrell. Gould’s commentary is droll and
informative. “Oh my God, I don’t remember
this,” he says as Cornelia Sharpe takes off her top in the scene between
Keneely and Jackie in her apartment.
1920x1080p image in the Kino-Lorber Blu-ray is about as serviceable as one
could expect from a 40-year-old, mid-budget movie. Other extras besides the commentary tracks
are trailers for “Busting” and two other releases, “The Long Goodbye” and
“Running Scared” (the 1986 Peter Hyams cop-buddy movie with Gregory Hines and
Billy Crystal, not the 2006 film of the same name with the late Paul Walker).
Back in the pre-internet era there was an old adage that went "Never pick a fight with somebody who buys ink by the barrel." In other words, think twice about taking on someone who can reach millions of people through the reach of magazines or newspapers. That might have included screenwriters, as well. Take the case of Walter Bernstein, a prolific television writer in the early days of the medium. Bernstein was one of the high profile victims of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunts which, through the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The committee was ostensibly searching for "Fifth Columnists" who were secretly in league with the Soviet Union and plotting to undermine the American way of life. McCarthy and his cronies convinced a wide swath of the American public that Hollywood was a nest of covert commies and would point to films and TV series that were alleged to be sympathetic with the communist doctrine. Conveniently forgotten was the fact that the U.S. government had implored the major studios to make such films after our enemy, Josef Stalin, was betrayed his ally Adolf Hitler, who launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union. Immediately Stalin found himself now a crucial member of the Allies. It was a relationship of convenience for both sides. Stalin depended on the war in the West to occupy the majority of Hitler's forces, which would otherwise have been able to to capture his entire nation. For America, Britain and the other allied nations, Stalin and his tremendous military resources managed to keep Hitler bogged down in Soviet territory, sustaining huge losses in what became the Fuhrer's greatest military blunder. Hollywood studios were called upon to start cranking out propaganda films disguised as popular entertainment that would paint Stalin and the Soviets in a benign and heroic manner. The studios cooperated in the spirit of patriotism. Ironically, as soon as Nazi Germany was defeated and Stalin became a villain again, these same studios were chastised in some quarters for being pro-communist- and the "proof" was the very film that the U.S. government had implored the studios to make. McCarthy, a far-right zealot, shot to international fame with his hearings before HUAC at which suspected subversives were compelled to testify at. The deal such individuals were offered was simple: rat out suspected fellow subversives or incur the wrath of the inquisitors. Many people did betray their friends and colleagues but others, such as Walter Bernstein, refused to do so. In return they found themselves blacklisted in the entertainment industry. Legally the government could not demand that such people be denied a living but from a practical standpoint, pressure was put on TV networks and studios so that the top brass "voluntarily" decided not to employ these individuals. In the end, McCarthy's hearings unveiled no real communist threat but he did succeed in ruining the lives of plenty of left-wing artists, writers, directors and academics before being publicly humiliated himself.
By the late 1950s, Bernstein was gainfully employed again and was writing for film and TV productions (his credits include the screenplay for "Fail Safe"). In 1976, Bernstein wrote the screenplay for the devastatingly effective Martin Ritt-directed film "The Front", which explored how blacklisted writers had to endure the humiliation of employing "fronts" (i.e non-writers) to sell scripts to studios and networks, ostensibly as their own work. The real writers were denied decent paychecks and screen credit. Bernstein's long memory of those dark days of disgraceful American political policies extended to another film, "The House on Carroll Street", made in 1988. This production was somewhat less political and concentrated more on the aspect of being a thriller, which is probably what attracted the involvement of Peter Yates, who directed such high profile action films as "Robbery", "Bullitt" and "The Deep". The story centers on Emily (Kelly McGillis), a vivacious young woman living in New York City who is strong-willed and independent. She is also a "career girl", to coin a quaint phrase of the time, and holds a prestigious position as photo editor for Life magazine. However, her leftist views place her in the cross-hairs of HUAC and she is called to testify before the committee. When she refuses to cooperate and "name names" of friends and colleagues who might be communists, she is fired after her employer receives pressure from government agents. To make ends meet she makes a measly salary by reading novels to a rich old woman, Miss Venable (Jessica Tandy). While at Venable's house, she notices some strange goings-on in a house across the garden. A group of German men are having intense discussions and acting in a rather suspicious manner. Emily goes into Nancy Drew mode and eavesdrops on them but can't quite figure out what they are talking about. She later meets a young man who was at the meeting and strikes up a friendship with him. However, his behavior only increases her concerns. He is extremely nervous and informs her that there are some dastardly things being planned but he won't reveal what. Emily begins to secretly follow him and discovers that other people are doing the same. Who are they- and why does she feel increasingly threatened herself? Meanwhile, Salwen (Mandy Patinkin), a hard-nosed big wig on the HUAC committee, is ordering increased pressure on Emily to cooperate. The FBI sends a team of agents to routinely harass her and subject her to humiliating searches of her home. One of the agents, Cochran (Jeff Daniels), takes sympathy on her and the two strike up an awkward friendship that later turns into a love affair that could threaten Cochran's career.
The plot becomes increasingly complex as Cochran begins to assist Emily in finding out what the group of German-speaking men are up to. It appears that they are working in league with Salwen and government agents in a top secret plot to provide ex-Nazi war criminals with false identities in order to allow them to enter the United States and become citizens. It seems that the U.S. is willing to forgive these men for their crimes of genocide because they could provide valuable tools to combat the Soviets in the Cold War. Emily and Cochran are even more horrified to discover that the ex-Nazis are being given the identities of deceased Jewish people. Selwan discovers that Emily is on to the scheme and tries to bribe her to keep secret. When that doesn't work, things heat up and attempts are made on her life. The action-packed finale finds Emily and Cochran in a battle for their lives against Selwan and his men in the midst of bustling Grand Central Station.
"The House on Carroll Street" was met with apathy by both critics and the public but the film's attributes are more apparent today. It plays out like a Hitchcock thriller with the innocent protagonist swept up into incredible events that are initially beyond their comprehension. Walter Bernstein's screenplay is both intelligent and largely believable and director Peter Yates downplays violence in favor of good old-fashioned suspense. (It's the kind of film in which the heroine decides to place herself in harm's way by walking through an eerie old house in order to investigate suspicious activities.) The film effectively reflects an era in which America went mad and civil rights were sacrificed in the name of national security. McGillis gives a very fine performance and even provides a nude scene that is completely gratuitous but which was still much-appreciated by this viewer. Jeff Daniels is also commendable as a likable, all-American FBI man who finds that his agency is embroiled in some very un-American activities. Patinkin is a villain in the Bond mode: dripping with phony charm and charisma while all the while plotting nefarious fates for his intended victims. The production design is also commendable and convincingly evokes the look and feel of New York in 1951. The most ambitious sequence is the finale set at Grand Central Station. The mind boggles at how Yates pulled off shooting such a complicated action scene in a place that is jam-packed with people 24 hours a day, but the result is highly impressive . It should also be noted that the movie boasts a fine score by Georges Delerue and excellent cinematography by the esteemed Michael Ballaus. The film is not an underrated classic. There are some occasional laps in logic, loose ends and some highly predictable plot developments but for the most part it plays out in fine style and is consistently interesting and entertaining. Recommended.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has a fine transfer and features the original trailer.
The "coming of age" genre of American movies can vary wildly in terms of subject matter. There are the great teenage "coming-of-age"
films (see: John Hughes)- which are more poignant than standard, individual
teen angst stories dealing with topics such as "Why doesn't he like me?"
or "How do I get rid of my acne and become more popular?" Yet other, far more dramatic "coming of age" films center on the evolution of the United States, none more movingly than those dealing with the abolitionist period of our nation's history. It
was a proud time in our history; people of conviction stood up against an
abhorrent societal norm in certain areas of the country. Some people went
willingly and others were dragged kicking and screaming into a new age of
tolerance and growth. Yes, I know, we're still not
all growed-up yet but you notice that with every day passing day we see increasingly
sympathetic reactions to tragedies such as those that happened in Ferguson,
Missouri or Sanford, Florida. Good people often come together through grief.
The North Star is a moving and engaging "coming-of-age"
film. First time writer and director Thomas K. Phillips assembled an impressive
cast to tell this inspirational story based upon factual travails. "Big Ben" Jones and
Moses Hopkins (Jeremiah Trotter and Thomas C. Bartley, Jr., respectively)
become runaway slaves from the plantation they work on in Virginia when Ben
learns that he is about to be sold to an even more heinous slave-owner. Once sold, he will be
shipped to Mississippi - a state where he fears he would be subject to even greater degradation "Let's just say it's a matter of Mississippi
pride,"says the purchaser of "Big Ben," Wilburn Davis (Tim
O'Connell). "With the biggest owned niggrah comes the biggest
prestige," replies the current owner, Master Anderson (John Diehl) and
they settle on a price of $5000. Upon
learning that his new “property” has escaped, Anderson takes immediate action."That's
over a year's salary," Anderson tells the slave hunters he's hired. There
are some frightening, reprehensible creatures in this film but also some benevolent characters, as well. One of them is Mr. Lee (Clifton Powell), who advises the runaways to head toward the free state of Pennsylvania by following- you guessed it- the North Star.At the risk of making a faux pas, there's very little gray in
The North Star - things are pretty much black and white.
The North Star premiered on
UMC (Urban Movie Channel) last month for Black History Month and is now sold at
Wal-Mart and Amazon, and will be available on disc via Netflix as well as
the following digital sites: iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, GooglePlay, Xbox and Vimeo.
I viewed the film on DVD, which unfortunately has no bonus extras or even
set-up options, either. There are scenes in the film where the dialogue is very
soft and lines can be missed, indicating the sound mixing could have been
tweaked a bit better. I would have watched it with subtitles had I been given
the option. One unrelated peeve of
mine is that there isn’t enough screen time afforded to Keith David. This
accomplished actor briefly portrays (less that 2 minutes of screen time) the
great Frederick Douglas. If you have never seen Mr. David perform Shakespeare,
do so if you can. His Othello (with Liev Schreiber as Iago) is the finest I've seen. (I've forgiven him, almost, for playing Cameron Diaz's step-father in
"There's Something About Mary." That's two hours plus I'll never get
however, is worth a viewing, despite the fact that the direction is a bit erratic and the editing sometimes results in some confusion. However, cast is uniformly superb. Despite my aforementioned criticisms, I believe that director Thomas K. Phillips has a promising future in the industry and I look forward to his next film.
"Gunman's Walk" is another obscure Western gem that has been given new life through a Blu-ray release by German-based Explosive Media. The 1958 production was filmed in CinemaScope, the widescreen process that studios relied on to combat the newly-evolved threat of television. Director Phil Karlson makes the most of the format and captures the grandeur of the open plains of Arizona and mountainous regions of California for a story of a dysfunctional family that manages to fracture even further despite the abundance of wealth it enjoys. Van Heflin plays Lee Hackett, a one-time pioneer who endured every kind of hardship and struggle to establish a ranch in hostile Indian territory. Over the years he became a state-wide legend by triumphing over adversity and by building a modest cattle ranch into an empire. Lee also helped establish the town which has now grown appreciably. Consequently he carries a lot of weight and political power with the locals. The story opens with Lee as a middle-aged widower who has two grown sons. Davy Hackett (James Darren) is the younger, a quiet, relatively shy young man with a thoughtful disposition. He is the polar opposite of his older brother Ed (Tab Hunter), an arrogant, mean-spirited person who is constantly getting into trouble. Lee prides himself on being a strict disciplinarian over his boys but in reality they realize that his bark is worse than his bite. (He even encourages them to call him by his first name.) Much to Davy's frustration, Lee constantly uses his influence to get Ed out of trouble. If he can't do it legally, he'll use bribery or intimidation.Even while Lee dotes over his eldest son, Ed has plenty of "daddy issues" with his father. He resents that he has been handed everything on a silver platter. He also is fed up with Lee's ego and constant self-aggrandizement for having endured Indian battles, gun fights and the extremities of nature in order to build and protect his business. Ed also accuses his father of wanting him under his control so that he'll never have the opportunity to become his own man and possibly exceed his Lee's achievements. Despite this tense relationship, Lee continues to spoil his eldest son even as he hopes he can exert a positive influence on him.
When Lee and his sons lead a major cattle drive into town the family relaxes afterward by living it up a bit. Lee and Ed don't adhere to the local sheriff's (Robert F. Simon) edict that no one can carry a gun in town and the sheriff is too intimidated to challenge them. Almost immediately Ed gets into trouble by getting drunk, frequenting prostitutes and insulting people- but things are about to get worse. On the prairie Ed and a local ranch hand who is a Sioux engage in what starts as a good-natured race to see who can rope a much-desired white stallion. When the other man threatens to win the prize, Ed shoves him and his horse over the side of a cliff, resulting in the man's death. Ed claims it was an accident but two other Sioux secretly witnessed the incident and report it to the sheriff, who finds his backbone and arrests Ed for murder. However Lee rides to the rescue again and gets his son off the hook by bribing a stranger to say he witnessed the incident and it was indeed an accident. But Ed doesn't learn his lesson and continues to cause trouble- this time with deadly consequences.
Despite being saddled with a "B" movie title, "Gunman's Walk" is a highly compelling, intelligently written drama that is packed with tension thanks to the able direction of Phil Karlson. The script addresses a number of hot-button issues such as abuse of wealth and the ugliness of racism, which were topics not usually covered in Westerns of the period. The film also affords Tab Hunter a role that has far more depth than the one dimensional hunks he was often saddled with playing. As Ed, he is a tragic figure- a man to be despised, yet pitied. Hunter gives a fine performance, at times managing to be charismatic and almost likable before spiraling back into villainy. He's more than matched by old pro Van Heflin, who gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as a man who created his own living hell by over-indulging the son he loves so much. James Darren is capable but rather unexciting as the younger brother, but the part doesn't have much meat to it to begin with. Katherine Grant is fine as a young woman who Darren is trying to romance despite the fact that she is half-Sioux and is looked upon as inferior by his brother and father. As with most Westerns of this era, the cast is peppered with fine character actors. Among them: Mickey Shaughnessy, Robert F. Simon, Ray Teal and Edward Platt. In all, "Gunman's Walk" is a truly fine Western that has been unjustly overlooked for decades.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray is top-notch, as is generally the case with this company's releases. It includes both English and German dubbed versions of the movie along with an interesting stills gallery accompanied by Tab Hunter crooning the Western song "Runaway", which he sings in a pivotal sequence in the film.
(Explosive Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However, you can often find imports available on eBay and other Amazon sites around the globe. Explosive Media Blu-rays are region free.)
begin by making one thing clear: The animated opening titles sequence of The Amorous Prawn (U.S. title: The Amorous Mr. Prawn) aside – which features
a pair of flirtatious cartoon crustaceans flitting around the screen – there
isn't a single prawn to be found in director Anthony Kimmins' lukewarm 1962
farce, let alone an amative one. The title in fact references the nickname of
one of the film's secondary characters, a rakish lothario played by Dennis
thrust of the story actually concerns Dodo (Joan Greenwood), the wife of
General Sir Hamish Fitzadam (Cecil Parker) and her resourceful scheme to scare
up some quick cash to help fund his impending retirement. The couple live on a
sparsely manned Army base in the Scottish Highlands, and when Hamish is sent
overseas on business Dodo sets into motion 'Operation Lolly', opening up the
house and expansive grounds of the base as a salmon fishing holiday destination
for American tourists. She bribes Corporal Sydney Green (Ian Carmichael) and the
other members of the small on-site platoon to disguise the building's military
purposes and assist in her plans by posing as hotel staff. Naturally the
subterfuge is a recipe for calamitous misunderstandings.
The Amorous Prawn exudes the whiff of
theatrical buffoonery – and not of the particularly amusing variety at that –
it should come as no surprise to learn that it first saw life as a stage play
written by none other than director Kimmins himself. Yet, to be fair, what it
lacks in laughs it manages to compensate for with a modicum of amiable charm.
Ian Carmichael is always watchable (even if his character here is a tad less
endearing than those he played in the likes of School for Scoundrels and Double
Bunk) and there are a number of stalwart Brit reliables on hand to imbue
the proceedings with a mien of comforting familiarity, among them Derek Nimmo (whose
portrayal of Private Willie Maltravers is more camp than a row of tents),
Finlay Currie, Geoffrey Bayldon, Gerald Sim and Michael Ripper. Meanwhile Liz
Fraser brings her stock in trade bosomy blonde sex appeal to the party, though
she's very nearly upstaged in the glam department by one of Price's squeezes,
barmaid 'Busty Babs' (Sandra Dorne).
Today The Amorous Prawn's primary
audience will reside either among nostaligia-seekers who remember it from its
original run round the circuit, or those with a fondness for unassuming Sunday
afternoon fare. Supported by one of John Barry's earliest scores, fans of the
composer may also be drawn to investigate, though it should be said that his
work here falls well shy of his more distinguished endeavours.
The film comes to DVD in the UK from Network, the crisp transfer serving DoP
Wilkie Cooper's black and white photography marvellously. Though not in a
position to clarify – I've seen the film just once before – it should be noted
that some material has allegedly gone AWOL from this release, apparently
amounting to some 3-minutes’ worth of footage. The film was certainly subjected
to BBFC-imposed cuts back in 1962 in order to secure a 'U' certificate, but
given that a fleeting (though startlingly graphic) glimpse of frontal male
nudity when a Scotsman's kilt rides up is present and correct in this 'U'
certificate DVD release, one would have to wonder what could possibly be
missing. The only bonus feature is a generous gallery of production stills, front
of house cards and artwork, some of which bears the film's alternate titles The Amorous Mr Prawn and The Playgirl and the War Minister.
One of the most unfairly neglected WWII films of its era, director Lamont Johnson's 1970 escape thriller The McKenzie Break comes to Blu-ray through Kino Lorber. The movie is rather small in scale with most of the action confined to a POW camp for German prisoners located in Scotland (though the movie was actually shot in Ireland.) The establishing sequence succinctly makes the film's scenario abundantly clear. The British ostensibly run the camp but the real power is in the hands of the senior German naval officer, Schlueter (Helmut Griem), a 27 year-old true believer in the Nazi cause. In the first scene we observe the inability of the camp's British commandant, Major Perry (Ian Hendry) to stop a riot orchestrated by Schlueter in protest of plans to shackle twenty five German officers in retaliation to the same action recently done by Germans to British POWs. The British guards seem hapless and ill-equipped to handle the situation. This leads to the arrival of Capt. Jack Connor (Brian Keith), an unpopular maverick officer who has been sent by London to the camp to "advise" Major Perry about how to reinstate order over the POWs and blunt Schlueter's growing influence with them. Although Perry isy the senior officer, he can read the tea leaves and understands that Connor has virtually carte blanche to carry out his plans. Connor immediately meets with Schlueter and makes it clear there's a new sheriff in town, so to speak. The two men are outwardly cordial toward each other but only in the kind of superficial relationship that one sees between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. They both know they intend to get the better of the other man. In Schlueter's case this means successfully orchestrating a daring escape through a secret tunnel for a key group of naval officers. He has been ordered by Hitler himself to do this so that Germany's shrinking U-boat corps can get some extra manpower. Schlueter, who is handsome, witty and charismatic, is determined to carry out his orders at any cost and Connor discovers he is willing to kill any dissenters among his fellow prisoners. This includes a disgruntled Luftwaffe officer who resents Schlueter's tactics. He's mortally wounded in another riot orchestrated with the sole intent of leading to his demise. Connor confronts Schlueter about this war crime and the fact that he believes Schlueter previously murdered his superior officer in the camp because he refused to aggressively follow the plans for the escape. Connor tells Perry that he knows there is an escape tunnel. Perry argues that they should close it down immediately but Connor has a more daring plan. Knowing that the escapees would have to make their way to the coast and be rescued by a U-boat, he argues to allow the men to escape then follow them and nab the U-boat, too. Perry thinks the plan is too risky but Connor prevails and the group of German soldiers escapes. Unfortunately for Connor, things to do not go the way he anticipated and he discovers there is a good chance the men will make it back to Germany.
The McKenize Break is an intelligent, well-written film based on a source novel by Sidney Shelley. There have been countless WWII movies set in prison camps but this one gets a refreshing twist by making the Germans the prisoners. Under the impressive direction of TV director Lamont Johnson (in his feature film debut), the Germans are not portrayed as dolts or stooges, nor the mustache-twirling villains they often were in films such as this. They are presented as loyal servicemen who are simply trying to do what any POW would want to do: get back to their native country. The character of Schlueter, however, is more controversial because he can excuse killing his own men in order to achieve the greater goal. Connor is also a flawed officer. Within hours of arriving at his new post, he's sleeping with a female orderly. He's also bull-headed and suffers from a superiority complex that makes him adverse to taking advice from Major Perry, who he considers to be an incompetent. The performances are excellent, though this is primarily a two-man story. Keith, long one of the most underrated leading men in Hollywood, gives a commanding performance. He's charming even while he's being insolent and his thick Irish brogue adds a feisty element to his character. Similarly, Schlueter is extremely well played by Helmut Griem, a fine actor with considerable screen presence. It takes a good deal of skill for a young actor not to be overpowered by Keith's sizable persona and Griem pulls off the feat admirably. The film builds in excitement as the escape plan goes into action, although not without some tragic and unforeseen consequences for the Germans. The final sequence is a race to nab the escapees by an increasingly desperate Connor, who now fears they will indeed get away on the U-boat. The final scenes are packed with suspense and extremely well-staged, as is the film's ironic conclusion. Highly recommended.
The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber does not include any extras except for the original trailer.
men find peace and friendship as they uncover a mystery in the Yorkshire
countryside. “A Month in the Country” is one of those elegant movies about a
bygone era in post Victorian England that has become enormously popular in
movies such as those produced by Merchant-Ivory and in TV series like the recent
“Downton Abbey.” The exploration of class distinctions and gender roles has
been a staple in English drama in movies and TV for decades and the audience
appears to always be hungry for more. The likes of Austen, Bronte and Dickens
and stores of England through WWII have provided fertile ground for countless
tales that continue to fascinate and entertain.
Month in the Country” features early career performances by Colin Firth and
Kenneth Branagh. Both actors went on to enormous success and in the case of
Branagh, as a successful director, too. Firth and Branagh were born to feature
in period pieces like this and they both do an excellent job carrying the movie
with believable performances. Natasha Richardson is also on hand and gives an
equally excellent performance as the lovely vicar’s wife.
two central characters, Tom Birkin (Firth) and James Moon (Branagh) are veterans
of the latest “war to end all wars”, commonly known as WWI, and suffer from what
was then known as “shell-shock” and later “battle fatigue,” (now known as post-traumatic
stress syndrome or PTSD), an often misunderstood and misdiagnosed symptom of
continuous exposure to the extreme violence of war. Each man is in the small
town of Oxgoodby to work, but instead uncover a secret. Birkin is removing the
paint and restoring a long forgotten mural in the local church. Moon has been
hired to find the ancient grave of a local resident. The secret behind both the
painting and the grave are at the center of the story as both men come to terms
with their emotional wounds.
church mural dates to the Middle Ages and a local patron is paying the church
for the restoration. The vicar is less than enthusiastic about the scaffolding
and feels the mural will be a distraction, but grudgingly allows Birkin to
sleep in the belfry while he works on revealing the picture. Moon is more
interested in the prospect of locating buried treasures than in finding the
grave and both he and Birkin become friends. Moon has his own demons and suffers
from nightmares while sleeping in a hole he dug beneath his tent. He tells
Birkin it makes him feel safe. Birkin stutters (a precursor to Firth’s “The
King’s Speech” stutter) as a consequence of his emotional breakdown. Both men
enjoy the solitude and peace of the countryside as they uncover the layers of
paint and earth which cover their respective projects. They form a bond with
each other and the people of Oxgoodby as they uncover and expose their
plays Alice Keach, the aforementioned vicar’s wife. Young and beautiful, she
seeks out Birkin and brings him apples. Moon suggests the possibility of chemistry
between them and the way things usually work in these period stories is that a
romance develops. However, this isn’t a story about romance and love affairs.
It turns out Birkin is married and has a wife somewhere. Birkin also befriends
the local station master Ellerbeck (Jim Carter, the head butler in “Downton
Abby”) and his delightful children.
emotionally scarred, Birkin is also a bit of a jerk and resents that nobody in
the town, particularly the vicar who lives in a large empty house with his
wife, has invited him for dinner or offered lodging. Just then the station
master Ellerbeck’s children, Kathy and Edgar, arrive with food and a gramophone
to entertain Birkin as he works. They also invite him for lunch, which he
is also a local lay-preacher, the fire and brimstone type, although he’s a
friendly and kindly husband, father and friend. He sends Birkin off to his
afternoon sermon and Birkin reluctantly agrees. The children accompany Birkin,
who attempts his own fire and brimstone sermon, but instead discusses his work
in the Oxgoodby church. Afterwards he has dinner with a family who lost a son
in the war and later visits a dying girl who is at peace with her illness. All this
has an effect on Birkin as he continues working on the mural. Moon discovers the
lost grave and the mystery behind the mural and the grave are revealed. As the
movie ends a letter arrives for Birkin from his wife and both men depart on new
projects, restored to a type of normalcy.
movie is filled with terrific performances, beautiful scenery, feelings of
melancholy, a longing for what could have been and the experience of a life
lived. The movie runs a leisurely 96 minutes and includes a wonderful score by
Howard Blake. Directed by Pat O’Connor and based on the novel by J.L. Carr, it was
released in 1987 and features outstanding location photography.
Blu-ray features an insightful commentary by Twilight Time regulars Julie Kirgo
and Nick Redman who reveal the movie was lost in a sort of movie limbo and
remained unseen for decades. Kirgo and Redman are classic movie enthusiasts and
listening to them makes you feel like you are in their company. Be sure to watch
the movie a second time with the commentary. The disc also features the trailer,
isolated music & effects track and a booklet with notes by Kirgo. This is a limited edition of 3,000 units.
The good folks at Synapse Films are primarily known for releasing high-end editions of retro porn flicks and cult sci-fi/ horror titles. All of their releases are impressive, if not in terms of content, then certainly in terms of quality and the imaginative bonus extras. The label often gives the deluxe treatment generally reserved for David Lean films to low-rung, long-forgotten titles. Often, even if the film is of questionable merits, the perspectives offered by the extras make the viewing experience highly enjoyable. Synapse sometimes strays from their own formula by releasing mainstream films. Case in point: "Stalingrad", an acclaimed three episode documentary that was broadcast to great acclaim in 2003 in Germany and Russia. The new Synapse Blu-ray release is an extended cut featuring previously unseen footage. The film is presented in three separate stand-alone episodes, each running 55 minutes, that follow the progression of the battle in sequential order. As a viewing experience, "Stalingrad" is utterly mesmerizing. It's a sobering reflection on what was deemed the bloodiest battle of WWII. Directors Sebastian Dehnhardt, Christian Deick and Jorge Mullner present heart-wrenching interviews with both German and Russian veterans of the battle. The horrors they recount are backed up by some of most dramatic newsreel footage I've ever seen. The battle of Stalingrad has been documented many times before- and very effectively. However this documentary has the advantage of an extensive running time that allows some of the more personal nuances to be recounted in ways that previous documentaries were not able to do. The film is fairly well balanced between the Russian and German perspectives and the stories told from both sides are uniformly moving.
If there is a weakness in the production its in the fact that it lacks an introduction that gives the overall background on how the battle came to be. Clues to its origins are strewn throughout the episodes but for the benefit of those who are not WWII historians, a brief overview of the conflict would have been useful. For the record, in 1939 Nazi Germany shocked the world by signing an alliance with Stalin's Soviet Union. The move was a surprise because from a political standpoint, National Socialism was vehemently against Communism. But Adolf Hitler was shrewd in his political dealings. He conned Britain and France into ceding Czechoslovakia to him on the basis of a promise that it would satiate his territorial demands. By the time they realized they had been snookered, Hitler had moved against Poland, thus initiating the outbreak of WWII. Hitler was already in alliance with imperial Japan and Italy. Indeed the Axis powers seemed destined to rule much of the world. Josef Stalin was more than happy to sign up and share the spoils of war. He assisted in invading Poland and Finland but behind the scenes Hitler regarded him as a hapless stooge and the Russian people are genetically inferior to the Aryan race. By forming an alliance with Stalin, Hitler ensured that he wouldn't have to fight the Soviet army until a time of his choosing. That time came in June 1941 when Hitler launched a major invasion of the Soviet Union. By that point he was comfortably in control of most of continental Europe and he felt he could deal Stalin a quick death blow. His generals warned him otherwise, but Hitler had assumed total command of German military strategy. At first his instincts seemed to be right. German columns made quick progress through the Soviet territory, decimating the ill-prepared enemy forces they encountered. Thousands of miles of land was seized and the peasant populations subject to cruel tortures and genocide. Hitler's unwillingness to take advice from his generals backfired when he split his forces in 1942 to launch simultaneous attacks on two different regions, sending half in a quixotic mission to seize the oil fields in the Caucuses and the other half to take Stalingrad. It was the military equivalent of hubris. He was most obsessed with taking Stalingrad not because of any relevant military importance but simply to deal Stalin a personal blow by occupying the city that bore his name. The Germans met far greater resistance than they had anticipated. The civilian population joined the fight and proved a formidable force, building barricades and tank traps while the regular army fought the Germans fiercely. Germans did inch forward and at various points occupied large sections of the city. However, Staliln's mastermind general Zhukov had kept an enormous army secretly in reserve. As winter bore on, the Germans were not equipped to deal with the harsh Russian weather. Food and fuel supplies dwindled, morale sank among the huge German Sixth Army and their advance came to a stalemate. Zhukov waited until his prey was weak and disheartened, then launched a one million man surprise counterattack that resulted in hundreds of thousands of German troops being encircled, starved and relentlessly bombarded even as temperatures reached 60 below zero. The toll was horrendous on German troops, many of whom died from starvation and some from suicide. Toward the end, the starving soldiers sometimes resorted to cannibalism to survive. Hitler demanded that the troops fight to the last man, but Field Marshal Paulus ultimately relented and surrendered, making him the first German Field Marshal in history to do so. Ultimately it would take years before a political agreement would see the surviving POWs allowed to return to Germany. Only 6,000 of the 100,000 prinsonersremained alive at that time.
"Stalingrad" cuts presentation of the causes and background of all of the above to the bare minimum, instead concentrating on first-hand accounts of the battle. Survivors include both Russian civilians and German and Soviet war veterans. All of their stories are compelling and some might move you to tears. Among the tales of mutual cruelty, however, are some stories of unexpected compassion. The German POWs expected to be executed immediately but were impressed by the fact that their captors, themselves drastically short of food, split their bread ration with the prisoners. Soviet doctors also worked diligently to save the lives of wounded Germans. For the German troops, most had turned against Hitler when it became clear that he intended to all but abandon the Sixth Army to their fate, save for a relative small number of wounded men who were able to be airlifted out. One patient recalls that all wounded men were placed in occupied Poland until they recovered because Hitler didn't want the stigma of so many injured soldiers to bring down the morale of the German people who, by that time, were suffering terribly. The Blu-ray includes a wealth of incredible battle footage from both sides that will make you appreciate the bravery of war time photographers and filmmakers. Bonus features include interview segments that were deleted from the original cut of the film, an interview with historian Dr. Guido Knopp that adds interesting perspectives to the events, and "Stalingrad Today", a video tour of the impressive city that has since been rebuilt and renamed Volgograd but which still bares the scars of the infamous battle. What is left as an overriding impression is that over 500,000 died unnecessarily in order to satiate the whims of a madman.
"Stalingrad" is a major historical record that should be seen by everyone.
The German video label Explosive Media has another impressive release with the largely unheralded 1969 Western "Land Raiders", which the company has released on Blu-ray. The film was largely dumped on secondary markets for drive-in audiences and rural theaters in a year that saw such high profile Westerns as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "True Grit" and "The Wild Bunch". Small wonder it didn't receive much attention. Not helping matters was its rather lame title which doesn't even represent the main focus of the story. The movie was yet another in the seemingly endless line of European Westerns that went into high gear a few years earlier with the success of the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone trilogy. "Land Raiders" rises to the top echelon of those homages (rip-offs?) thanks in large part to the presence of some seasoned Hollywood veterans. The movie was produced by Charles H. Schneer, a frequent collaborator of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. The direction is by Nathan Juran, who was on Oscar-winning art director who turned to directing many of the Schneer/Harryhausen films. This project represented a rather odd subject matter for Schneer and Juran, as they generally stayed within the realm of science fiction and fantasy. (Juran had directed many episodes of Irwin Allen TV shows in the 1960s including "Lost in Space" and "The Time Tunnel".) What possessed them to tag onto the fading genre of spaghetti westerns is open to speculation but it must be said that they delivered a surprisingly intelligent, well-acted movie that overcomes some of its production shortcomings.
Telly Savalas plays Vicente Cardenas, an evil land baron (are there any other kind?) who is attempting to forsake his Mexican heritage in order to build a successful empire in the American West. He controls the local government in a small but booming town and even has the sheriff, John Mayfield (Phil Brown), under his thumb because he has been financing the education of Mayfield's teenage daughter Kate (Janet Landgard), who is unaware of the deal with the devil he has made with Vicente. Vicente has an insatiable desire to keep expanding the territory under his control and is willing to use ruthless methods in order to achieve his goal. If he can't buy someone's loyalty he will use sheer brutality to intimidate them. Vicente also has a macabre bounty that is drawing miscreants to the territory: he is offering a cash reward for every Apache scalp delivered to him. On the surface he pretends to be a man of the people. He even has a glamorous American wife, Martha (Arlene Dahl), who continues to be willfully blind to her husband's brutality, as it affords her a luxurious lifestyle. But Vicente has mastered the art of instilling fear into the hearts of the local population and convincing them that he represents the the strong man who can keep them safe. (He should have run for U.S. president...) Into the mix rides Vicente's estranged brother Pablo (George Maharis). He's a depressed, motiveless drifter who is still nursing a broken heart over the death of his fiancee a couple of years earlier. When he learned she was carrying another man's baby, the couple got into a very public row. Soon after she was found dead, presumably as the victim of an accident. However, the local population became convinced that Pablo murdered her. He has stayed away for quite some time but is forced to enter town again when he saves Kate Mayfield from an attack by Apaches. His presence in the town sets off predictable tensions with Vicente, who attempts to patch up differences but finds that Pablo will have none of it. He's well aware of his brother's duplicity. Meanwhile Vicente gets some disturbing news from U.S. Army Major Tanner (Guy Rolfe): the government is attempting to broker a peace treaty with the Apaches and is sending a representative to meet with them. The government intends to cede to the Apaches a wide swath of land that Vicente depends upon to use as open range for his cattle. In short order he convinces Major Tanner to become an ally to help him thwart the deal. What Tanner doesn't know is that Vicente has his thugs murdered the government agent and framed the Apaches for the deed. Vicente then rallies the locals to make a raid on the Apache camp. Pablo tries to convince the citizens that Vicente was behind the murder, but no one believes him. What follows is a horrendous massacre of innocent Apache women and children. The Apache braves understandably want revenge and launch their own raid on the town. In the midst of all this Pablo learns some vital information regarding the death of his beloved fiancee that leads him to settle the score with Vicente even as the Apache attack begins.
The most surprising aspect of "Land Raiders" is how effectively it had been cast. Nearly all the roles are convincingly played, with Savalas in full bad guy mode, chewing up a lot of scenery and dominating every frame he is in. However, Maharis, never the most dynamic of leading men, holds his own against him and even manages to be convincing as a Mexican. The story has some implications that go beyond standard horse opera fodder. The movie was released the same year as "Soldier Blue" and both films bucked the trend by painting Native Americans as victims of genocide. If the massacre sequence in "Land Raiders" isn't as stomach-turning as that in "Soldier Blue", it's still somewhat shocking in its depiction of the brutal killings. The script also delves into the philosophical differences between Vicente and Pablo over retaining their ties to their Mexican heritage. So "Land Raiders" is a notch above most of the simplistic shoot-'em-up plots that defined the majority of European Westerns during this period. The movie is compromised by the use of some obvious stock footage in scenes of stampedes and cattle drives (the film stock doesn't come close to matching), but it does have several impressively-staged action sequences including the large scale attack on the town by Apaches. It's all competently directed by Nathan Juran and set to the requisite Ennio Morricone-cloned score by Bruno Nicolai that at times could pass as the work of "The Master". "Land Raiders" is by no means a classic but it has stood the test of time as an impressive entry in the Euro Western genre.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray has a wonderful transfer, the original trailer, a highly enjoyable still photo gallery and variations of the opening credits. The Blu-ray is primarily available from Amazon Germany under it's German title "Fahr Zur Holle, Gringo" ("Go to Hell, Gringo") but you can sometimes find imports on your local Amazon or eBay.
Most urban crime thrillers made today are indistinguishable blood baths that consist of mindless car chases and pretentiously tough characters. Every now and then, however, a real unsuspected gem surfaces. Such is the case with the 2015 film "Criminal Activities". Despite its generic, computer-generated title that sounds like it was created to emulate one of the endless CBS crime series, the film is expertly made and superbly acted. It also has some very clever plot twists and turns that play out logically and very surprisingly. Most impressive is that this marks the directorial debut of character actor Jackie Earl Haley, who has been kicking around the industry for decades mostly in minor roles. Now in his fifties, he's made a dynamic impression both on-screen and behind the camera with "Criminal Activities". One must proceed gingerly in reviewing a film like this, 'lest some of the spoilers be divulged.
The film opens with the death of a seemingly troubled young man who is killed by a bus in front of horrified on-lookers. It's presumed to have been a suicide. After his funeral, some of his friends gather to discuss the tragic event. They are Warren (Christopher Abbott), Bryce (Rob Brown) and Zach (Michael Pitt). They are unexpectedly joined by Noah (Dan Stevens) , a nerdy financial investment analyst who was the butt of jokes in high school among some of his friends. He's still very much a nerd but is reluctantly accepted into the group's social orbit partly out of compassion for the way he was treated by them so many years ago. Over drinks the group analyzes why their friend might have ended his life. It's revealed that the dearly departed had been complaining about being followed by some unknown person or persons in recent days...something that unnerved him. Is it possible this stalker might have actually been responsible for his death? The conversation soon turns to money...and the common goal of everyone in the group to attain a successful life style. Bryce says he has a sure-fire investment scheme based on insider trading. There is a stock that is about to skyrocket but they would need to come up with $200,000 to get in on the deal. Collectively they don't have anywhere near that amount. However, Noah advises that he can definitely front the money, as long as they all share the risk as well as the profit. Assuming Noah is putting up his own savings, the young men readily agree. Weeks later, the "sure-fire" investment goes to hell when the company involved is raided by the feds and its CEO is arrested, causing the stock value to plunge to virtually zero. The panicked group gets together and learns more bad news: Noah didn't put up his own money. Instead, he borrowed it from a local crime kingpin, Eddie (John Travolta) who now expects to be repaid. He meets with the terrified men and they find him to be a smooth operator. He's quiet, calm and witty- but alerts them that the "interest" on the loan is another $200,000. The men advise him that they can't possibly come up with $400,000. He then makes them an offer they literally can't refuse - or they will pay with their lives. Eddie explains that a local rival crime boss has kidnapped his young niece and he's desperate to get her back. He advises them that he will forgive their entire debt if they successfully kidnap his rival's nephew. Eddie will then ensure the release of his niece by arranging a trade of hostages. The four men are understandably frightened by the proposition. After all, they are every day guys with no experience in criminal activities. Nevertheless, Eddie leaves them no choice. He makes it abundantly clear that failure is not an option-at least if they value their lives. The men concoct a scenario to kidnap the nephew, Marques (Edi Gathegi) from a local sleazy nightclub he hangs out in. The men bungle key aspects of the plan but, against all odds, succeed in capturing Marques and bringing him to a vacant apartment they have access to. They advise Eddie that the plan was a success and he tells them everything is looking good- just keep Marques on ice until he gets his niece back. Marques proves to be a handful. He speaks in street jive that is a far cry from the vernacular used by his Gen X white captors. Although tied to a chair, he exudes significant enough charisma to possibly talk his kidnappers into releasing him on the basis that they can still get away with no criminal charges. From this point on, it would be a disservice to detail more of the plot except to say that things wrap up in a startling manner that this viewer didn't see coming.
Director Jackie Earl Haley, who wrote the screenplay based on a script by the late Robert Lowell that had been gathering dust since 1977, provides himself with a plum supporting role as the most memorable of a two-man team of hit men who are in Eddie's employ. The concept of two eccentric hit men had moss on it even before Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson played such roles so memorably in "Pulp Fiction". In fact, Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager were terrific in similar parts way back in Don Siegel's 1964 remake of "The Killers"- and Robert Webber and Gig Young were also quite good in Peckinpah's "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia". However, Haley is superb in his brief scenes on screen as a chatty, seemingly friendly street guy who can jump from making quips to blowing someone's head off in a nanosecond. The entire cast is superb, with Dan Stevens particularly memorable as the hapless Noah and Edi Gathegi almost stealing the entire show with an extremely good performance. Travolta, who also served as Executive Producer, seems to be having a blast as the villain. His screen time is limited but he makes the most of it, appearing at key points in the plot. In essence, he's playing a low-end version of a Bond villain. He lives in comparative wealth, has adoring women around him and sucks down dreadful kale-based milk shakes as part of a bizarre diet. He never loses his temper and becomes even scarier the more friendly he acts. As director, Haley keeps the action flowing at a swift pace and credible reactions by the "kidnappers" that evoke the way most of us would feel if we found ourselves caught up in such extraordinary circumstances. However, Haley-who is too obsessed with Tarantino-izing his film- puts style over substance during the movie's surprising final sequence. It proves to be a near fatal error. When the surprises are revealed, Haley does so in a lightning-fast sequence that is almost impossible to comprehend. Worse, he jumps back and forth in time and introduces a key character we haven't seen before. I had to revisit the ending several times in order to comprehend exactly what was being unveiled. Once I understood the plot development, I found it highly satisfying- but no viewer should have to rely on taking such measures just to figure out what is going on. "Criminal Activities" was denied a theatrical release and went straight to home video. Perhaps the incomprehensible nature of the ending was a factor in this. Nevertheless, if you are willing to stick with it (and possibly re-review scenes on the Blu-ray), you might well agree that this is a highly entertaining film and that Haley shows considerable promise as a director.
The Blu-ray from RLJ Entertainment features some deleted scenes and an all-too-brief joint interview with Haley and Travolta. The film should have included a commentary track, as Haley's late break into directing and his nurturing of an almost ancient un-filmed screenplay would have made some interesting points for discussion.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the 1963 action adventure film "Kings of the Sun", a movie that has largely faded into relative obscurity. In viewing for the first time since its initial release I was pleasantly surprised at how impressive the film is on any number of levels. For one, it takes place during a period that has been largely untouched by Hollywood in that it is set in the era of the ancient Mayans. One must deal with the fact that the historical aspects of the screenplay are largely hokum. The story opens with the Mayan people mourning the death of its king in battle against a rival tribe led by the blood-thirsty Hunac Ceel (Leo Gordon). The new heir apparent is Balam (George Chakiris), a young man who must instantly assume his father's throne and responsibilities. These include the practice of human sacrifice to appease the gods. Balam does not agree with this practice and feels it is at odds with an otherwise highly advanced culture. Nevertheless, under badgering from the top holy man, Ah Min (Richard Basehart), he concedes to continue with sacrifices in order to keep his deeply religious people satisfied. He is also told that he must choose a young maiden to be his future bride. He chooses Ixchel- and who can blame him since she's a ringer for Shirley Anne Field? Ixchel is willing to accept being queen but her enthusiasm is dampened by Balam's cold, unemotional demeanor toward her. Before the young betrothed couple can wed their village comes under siege by Hunac Ceel and his forces. Their only hope for survival is to take to the sea and find a new land. The voyage is an arduous one that threatens to diminish the Mayans' confidence in their new king. However he is redeemed when they actually find land and discover that the climate is hospitable and that crops grow abundantly. They set about building a stockade and permanent dwellings, using their scientific knowledge as a guide. A new threat emerges, however, in the persona of Black Eagle (Yul Brynner), chief of the indigenous people who populate the Mayans' new home land. Black Eagle ambushes Balam and engages him in a duel. However, Balam is saved by fellow Mayans who seriously wound Black Eagle. Ah Min orders that he be nursed back to health with the ultimate goal of using him as a future sacrifice to the gods. Black Eagle is cared for by Ixchel and you can see immediately where the story is going once the two lock eyes. It's clear they are mutually attractied. Ixchel is fascinated by Black Eagle, who has savage ways in terms of combat but who also possesses a great intellect. Not hurting matters is that he is in superb physical condition and struts around in a tiny loin cloth while her husband-to-be and the other male higher-ups among the Mayans are generally seen wearing enough silly costumes and headgear that they look like an ancient version of The Village People.
As Black Eagle makes a slow, painful recovery the relationship between him and Ixhcel intensifies and he even proposes to her, though she has to decline as she is already committed to Balam. Black Eagle has extolled the virtues and civility of the Mayans for nursing him back to health but his attitude changes when he is informed that he will be their sacrificial lamb. Assurances that his death will result in his being worshiped as a god don't appease him and he is led to the sacrificial altar. At the last moment, however, Balam spares his life and orders that the Mayans will no longer practice human sacrifices. Ah Min is so alarmed by this that he takes his own life in order to appease the gods. Nevertheless, Balam instructs his people that this is a new era for the Mayan culture and that they will learn to co-exist peacefully with Black Eagle's people. At first things go well as both cultures blend together well and teach each other valuable skills. However, Balam becomes aware of the attraction between Black Eagle and his future bride. Jealousy finally gets the better of him, resulting in a fight between Ixchel's two would-be lovers. The peace treaty is called off and both tribes are likely to become enemies again. Another crisis hits the Mayans when, unexpectedly, Hunac Ceel arrives by sea with a massive invasion force. When Balam ignores his demands to surrender, the two sides engage in a fierce battle. At first Mayan military strategies take a heavy toll on the invaders. However, their sheer numbers soon overwhelm Balam's forces. The Mayans' only hope for salvation lies in Black Eagle's hands. Will he commit his people to fight on behalf of Balam's kingdom who they now regard enemies?
There aren't many surprises in the story. Once the angle of a love triangle is introduced it becomes obvious that both men will end up squaring off against each other. As these things usually turn out, one man's heroic death conveniently leaves the path clear for his rival to get the girl, so to speak. It's like "The Vikings, only with an abundance of sand. Still, "Kings of the Sun" is never less than entertaining. The direction by the woefully underrated J. Lee Thompson is first-rate, not only in the dramatic sequences but also in the climactic battle, which ranks as one of the best-staged I've seen in films from this era. It's all set to a stirring score by Elmer Bernstein, who occasionally seems to channel some note-for-note aspects of his legendary score for "The Magnificent Seven". In fact there are a couple of genuine connections to that film. Brad Dexter, who was one of the "Seven", has a supporting role and the opening narration is by an uncredited James Coburn, who, of course, also starred in "Seven".
Chakiris and Field give highly credible performances, given the fact that they don't remotely resemble anyone who could be considered a Mayan. However, the film is Brynner's show. Few actors could command the screen like he did. His very presence in a frame ensured that he could steal the scene and "Kings of the Sun" presents him at his exotic best.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray boasts a great transfer that does justice to the film's semi-epic scope. There are a lot of people in this expensive-looking film that takes full advantage of the Mexican locations. The Blu-ray contains the original trailer and a trailer for another fine Yul Brynner film, "Taras Bulba". Kino Lorber has also retained the magnificent original artwork for the packaging which gives full evidence of that glorious era in which seemingly every other movie poster looked like a classic piece of artwork. Highly recommended.
Scott plays a former Confederate spy in the 1953 western “The Stranger Wore a
Gun.” When the movie starts, Jeff Travis (Scott) is involved in a brutal murder
during the final days of the Civil War while spying for Quantrill' Raiders, a
gang of notorious Confederate guerrillas. A wanted man after the war, Travis
heads west to Arizona to start a new life. Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor) helps
him escape from a river boat and meets up with him later in Arizona. Travis
also meets up with one of his former Quantrill Raider associates, Jules Mourret
(George Macready), who offers him a position in his new gang of outlaws so he
can continue to steal “Yankee gold.”
wants Travis to continue his old ways as a spy and pretends to be a detective
sent by the stage line to investigate recent gold robberies. Travis meets the local
stage line owner Jason Conroy (Pierre Watkin) and his pretty daughter Shelby
(Joan Weldon) and both take a liking to him. Travis plays Mourret against rival
gang leader Degas (Alfonso Bedoya) and tries to turn Mourret’s own men against
each other. Dan Kurth (Lee Marvin) and Bull Slager (Ernest Borgnine) are part
of Mourret’s gang of cutthroats and naturally they don’t trust Travis.
movie is filled with action scenes staged for the 3-D camera and they look a
bit silly on the flat screen. However, the movie has high production value,
fine performances and is high on action with one particularly brutal scene of a
man having objects shot off his head by a drunk Degas and his equally drunk sidekick
as the man begs for his life. Travis shows up and departs, leaving Degas to
continue his deadly game. The move comes to a predictable conclusion with a
fire, gunfights and Travis and Josie departing on the stage together.
and Scott made six movies together, all westerns; “Man in the Saddle” (1951),
“Carson City” (1952), “The Stranger Wore a Gun” (1953), “Thunder Over the
Plains” (1953), “Riding Shotgun” (1954) and “The Bounty Hunter” (1954). DeToth
was known for the gritty depiction of violence in his movies, many of them
crime thrillers and westerns, but he is also remembered as the director of one
of the greatest horror movies ever made. No stranger to 3-D, he helmed the horror masterpiece, “House of Wax” for
Warner Bros. in the same year he made “The Stranger Wore a Gun.” The irony is
that the Hungarian born director only had one eye and lacked the depth
perception to enjoy the fruits of his 3-D labor. Yet he directed what is
considered to be both the greatest 3-D movie and one of the best horror flicks
ever made. The first wave of 3-D movies was released throughout the 1950s, but
the process was costly and cumbersome with few theaters set up to project in the
duel strip 3-D process.
chose the right director for a 3-D western, but this movie was only shown in
that format in its early engagements. Watching it in 2-D one can still see
where 3-D effects were used as guns are fired, flaming torches, chairs and
whisky bottles are tossed directly toward the camera at every opportunity.
Explosive Media DVD is Region 2 so
you’ll need the appropriate player (though some viewers report they had no
problem playing it on their Region 1 units.) The movie audio options are German
and the original English. Extras include a photo montage of advertising
material and a couple of trailers, including one where Scott promotes the
virtues of three dimensions, Technicolor and stereo. The picture and sound
quality are terrific and the movie concludes after a brisk 79 minutes. Well
worth the time for classic western fans.
Explosive Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However,
imports often turn up on eBay and Amazon in other countries.)
Back in 1978, Burt Reynolds was still at the beginning of
a cycle of six action comedies that he made with director Hal Needham—a cycle
that started with “Smokey and the Bandit “(1977) and ended with “Cannonball Run
II” (1984). One of the best of these
films was “Hooper”—a tribute to Hollywood’s unsung hero, the Hollywood stunt
man. “Hooper” was a very personal film for both Reynolds and Needham who both
started their movie careers as stunt doubles. Needham started doing stunt work
in the early years of live TV in New York and is best remembered for his stunt
driving in Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” (1968). Reynolds also began in TV and
parlayed his athletic ability along with his good looks to become one of
tinseltown’s biggest stars. In a very real way, “Hooper” is even more personal
film for Reynolds, because one of the characters in the film is based on a
legendary, real-life stunt man/movie star, whom Reynolds knew personally and in
“Hooper” begins with opening credits superimposed over
Sonny Hooper (Reynolds) putting on braces, ace bandages, and padding over a
body bearing multiple scars. “March of the Toreadors” plays on the soundtrack
as he dons a motorcycle outfit and strides out into the sunlight to perform a
dangerous stunt, skidding a motorcycle under a moving truck. He’s working on a
spy movie starring Adam West who appears in the film as himself. That stunt
completed, next day he takes a high fall off a roof with a dog. “Make me look
good,” West tells him. But it’s after that fall we discover Sonny’s got a bad
back. He gets his friend Cully (James Best) to walk him to his trailer, where
he gives him a shot of Xylocaine. “You know what I’d do if I ever met the guy
who invented Xylocaine?” Sonny asks. “I’d get on my knees and kiss his ass.”
In the meantime, a new younger stuntman said to be the
next Sonny Hooper, arrives on the scene. Ski (Jan Michael Vincent) meets Sonny
during filming of a chariot race scene. Although he sees Ski as a threat, Sonny
can’t help liking the young up-and-comer. For one thing, the kid is damn good
at what he does. Maybe too good. As the story progresses, Sonny realizes the
new generation of stunt players coming up are smarter and tougher, if not better
than he and his contemporaries were. “They don’t take pills,” he tells Cully, “they
don’t drink, they don’t take shots, and they carry little pocket calculators.
We don’t watch out, they’re gonna blow us right out of the tub.”
The story follows a simple straight line, the old timer
trying to keep up with the younger rival even if it costs him his life. His
doctor tells Hooper that his vertebrae are torn almost beyond repair. One heavy
impact or fall could paralyze him for life. Naturally the film leads to a
climax that calls for Hooper and Ski to perform the greatest stunt ever
filmed—one that involves jumping a rocket car 325 feet over a collapsed bridge.
In addition to the main plot line there is a subplot that
in a way is even more interesting than the rest of the movie, once you know the
inside story. Hooper has a sweetheart, a gal named Gwen, played, of course by
Sally Field, Reynolds’ main squeeze at the time. Gwen has a father, Jocko Doyle
(Brian Keith) who was once known as the greatest stunt man alive. It’s no
coincidence that in real life Sally Field’s stepfather was none other than Jock
Mahoney one of the greatest stuntmen who ever lived. Keith first appears on
horseback wearing a fringed buckskin jack, the kind that was Mahoney’s trade
mark when he played the Range Rider, a Gene-Autry produced TV series that aired
in the 1950s. Mahoney, who was known in the trade and by his friends as
“Jocko,” had been a stunt double for Charles Starrett in the Durango Kid
features. He played Yancy Derringer on a CBS series and went on to play Tarzan
in two features that were filmed in Asia. Unfortunately, he contracted dysentery
and dengue fever while on location in Thailand and his general health took a
heavy hit. During the filming of an episode of the Kung Fu TV series in the
seventies Mahoney suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheel chair for some
I mention all this because near the end of Act Two of “Hooper,”
Jocko Doyle also suffers a stroke, mirroring the same fate suffered by Mahoney.
In Gene Freese’s biography, Jock Mahoney,
The Life and Films of a Hollywood Stuntman, the author tells us that both
Reynold and Needham were Jocko fans, and of course he was Sally Field’s
stepdad. Freese says the part of Gwen’s father was “based on Jock Mahoney
himself.” Both the star and the director wanted Mahoney to play the part, but
the studio didn’t want him. Some fans, who knew the Mahoney/Doyle connection
thought that perhaps he wasn’t physically able to play the part. But that wasn’t
it. He was fit enough, Freese writes, but the studio wanted a bigger name.
However, Mahoney was on hand during filming in an advisory capacity and
provided some of the “Mahoneyisms” that the actors used in their dialog.
“Hooper” is one of those special movies that really
deserved to be released on Blu-Ray. For one thing it’s the kind of movie that
they don’t make any more, and probably never will again. As Hooper said, the
boys with the calculators and computers have taken over. A lot of stunt work has
been replaced by CGI. “Hooper “is light hearted and fun to watch because
everyone in it seems to be enjoying themselves. Reynolds does his usual mugging
and winking into the camera, and there was real chemistry between he and Field
back then. But more importantly, “Hooper” pays homage to the men and women who
made the stars look good, as Adam West said. And it shows the price these
legendary people paid, in terms of broken bones, chronic pain, in some cases
permanent injury and even death. Yet despite the odds of surviving a career
like that intact, the film conveys a sense of good humor mixed with bravado
that’s hard to find in movies these days. It’s no Range Rider, but it’s a damn
Warners Home Video released “Hooper” in 1.85:1 aspect
ratio. The picture is excellent. The soundtrack contains the usual country
western tunes, but is in mono with too much shrill high end and not enough
bass. The only extra is a standard format trailer. This is another case where an
iconic film significant at least of the time period in which it was released,
is presented with no commentary or documentary features. I would really have
enjoyed hearing Reynolds or Field talk about it.
CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE "HOOPER" TRIBUTE FACEBOOK PAGE.
("Hooper" will be shown on Turner Classic Movies (North America) on Saturday evening February 13. Check local listing for time in your area.)
The Best of Benny Hill 1974 Region 2 DVD
Review: Directed by John Robins. Starring Benny Hill, Henry McGee, Bob Todd, Patricia
Hayes, Jackie Wright and Nicholas Parsons.
early Seventies saw Benny Hill at the very top of his game. He was a unique
figure and a giant among comedy acts. Hill’s diverse range of hugely memorable
characters, his sketches and songs propelled him to stardom and made him a worldwide
household name. The Best of Benny Hill was released theatrically in 1974, a
hilarious compilation of sketches culled from his early Thames Television years
1969-1973. All of the film’s featured sketches are from the television episodes
produced and directed by John Robins.
Best of Benny Hill brings back many precious memories. While many of the
sketches would today no doubt find themselves labelled as either politically
incorrect or simply out of touch, you ultimately look upon them with a genuine
sense of innocence. Arguably, the late Sixties and early Seventies were more
liberating and promiscuous times. Hill’s sketches were reflective of that. It
was simple fun with no real offending agenda. Yes, it was cheeky, saucy fun -
the type of which you would find on a Bamforth seaside postcard.
the sheer diversity of Hill’s characters that makes this compilation so
entertaining, Pierre De Tierre the Avant-Garde French film director, Fred
Scuttle’s health farm and “Keep Fit Brigade” sketches all remain prime examples
of Hill’s simple but highly infectious comedy. There’s also Tommy Tupper in
Tupper-Time, Hill’s hilarious parody of Simon Dee and the chat show Dee Time.
Check out Hill trying to contain his laughter throughout this sketch, it is
both endearing and priceless. Of course, it shouldn’t be overlooked that a
great deal of the success was also due to Hill’s reliable and regular stable of
support actors. Brian Todd, Henry McGee and Jackie Wright as Hill’s ‘straight
men’ were all highly credible and essential to his comedy routines.
as part of Network’s British Film Collection, The Best of Benny Hill is
featured in a brand new transfer from the original film elements. Presented in
its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the picture looks impressive. There are a few
vertical scratches (during a couple of studio sketches) which were of course
shot on tape and where such minor defects are to be expected. The film elements
(originally shot on 16mm) look very nice and the mono audio track is clear
throughout. The special features include the original theatrical trailer and a
selection of stills and promotional material in the image gallery.
The Best of Benny Hill is a wonderful time capsule that provides a hugely
enjoyable 83 minutes of laughter, and perhaps a welcome reminder of more simple
times. As a collective, it serves as perfect showcase and a lasting tribute to
a much missed comedy genius.
When they say "They don't make 'em like that anymore" it could well be in reference to "The Honey Pot", a delightful 1967 concoction that has just enjoyed a Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. The film is the kind of star-studded comedy/mystery that is all but unseen today. However, the film barely registers in the minds of most movie-goers and was not successful when it was first released. (The studio even reissued it under a new title, "It Comes Up Murder".) The project was cursed from the beginning. The original cinematographer, Gianni Di Venanzo, died before production was completed. When the film was released in select engagements, the running time was 150 minutes, which was deemed to be far too long for this modest enterprise that is confined largely to interiors. For general release, 18 minutes were cut although some of those scenes still appeared in lobby cards advertising the movie. One well-known character actor, Herschel Bernardi, had his entire role eliminated. Additionally, the film's producer Charles K. Feldman was under a great deal of stress, as he was simultaneously overseeing production on his bloated, out-of-control spoof version of the James Bond novel "Casino Royale". Yet, what emerges somehow managed to end up being quite entertaining, thanks in no small part to the larger-than-life Rex Harrison having a field day playing an equally larger-than-life rich cad. Essentially, he's playing Henry Higgins from "My Fair Lady" once again- only this time with a more devious streak. Both characters are filthy rich. Both are erudite and sophisticated snobs who devise cruel games involving innocents in return for his own self-amusement. Harrison is a wicked but lovable character. You can't help cheering him on despite his lack of ethical convictions.
The film, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is cobbled together from Frederick Knotts' play "Mr. Fox of Venice" and Thomas Sterling's novel "The Evil of the Day" with a healthy dose of Ben Johnson's play "Volpone" tossed in. In fact the film opens with Harrison as the pretentiously-named Cecil Sheridan Fox enjoying a performance of "Volpone" at a magnificent Venetian theater. The camera pans back to show that this is a private performance for Fox alone. He stops the play before the finale, thanks the cast members for a spirited production and leaves the scene. Yes, he's that rich. We soon learn that he is using elements of "Volpone" to orchestrate an elaborate and expensive practical joke. The first step comes when he hires an unemployed American actor, William McFly (Cliff Robertson) to be his hired hand. He informs McFly that he must pose as Fox's long-time major domo in his elaborate mansion house, which is impressively located right on one of the canals. Fox explains to McFly that he has written to three former lovers and told them he is terminally ill. None of the women know that the others have been informed. He reasons that they will all make a bee-line directly to him, ostensibly to care for him, but in reality in hopes of inheriting his fortune. First on his list is Lone Star Crockett (Susan Hayward), who Fox wooed when she was a wild teenager. In the course of their affair, he put her on the road to a life of luxury and pleasure. Then there is Princess Dominique (Capucine), an exotic beauty who is in a troubled marriage and Merle McGill (Edie Adams), a famous but fading movie star. On the surface, all three of these women are independently wealthy and shouldn't need his fortune. But he suspects that, in reality, all are in some degree of financial distress and he wants to see if they will compete with each other to earn his favor. Sure enough, each of the ladies arrive at his home and are surprised to see they have two female competitors. Lone Star is now a cranky hypochondriac who requires constant pampering from her ever-present companion, a spinster named Sarah Watkins (Maggie Smith). Dominique tries to put on an heir of self-assurance and Merle is a wise-cracking cynic. All of them individually express their sympathies to Fox and there is even the occasional attempt at seduction. Fox puts on a show that he is desperately ill and even sits in bed affixed to an oxygen tank. In private, however, he blasts classical music and dances around the room, delighted that his perceptions of human behavior are proving to be true. The plot takes several major swings in due course, however, when one of the women ends up dead, ostensibly from an overdose of sleeping pills. However, McFly and Sarah suspect murder is afoot. The film then becomes one of those time-honored drawing room mysteries with upper crust characters matching wits with the local inspector (Adolfo Celi, marvelous in a rare comedic role.) To describe the plot in any further detail would necessitate providing some spoilers. Suffice it to say there are plenty of red herrings and a complex plot that will demand your constant attention or you will be hopelessly lost.
The performances are all first rate, though Capucine (never one who mastered the light touch that these sorts of comedies require) is a bit stiff. However, Hayward and Adams pick up the slack with very funny characterizations. The scene stealer among the women, however, is Maggie Smith, who is more street wise than any of the others suspect. As for Harrison, he seems to be having a genuine ball, chewing the scenery and dispensing bon mots that are consistently amusing. The sequence in which he dances around his bed chamber is one for the ages.
"The Honey Pot" deserved a better fate than it received when it was released theatrically. Hopefully it will get a more appreciative audience through this fine Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. You'll find viewing it is time well spent, indeed. (There are no bonus extras except for the original trailer).
Impulse Pictures has once again delved into their archives of seemingly unlimited adult film titles from the 1970s and 1980s for two separate DVD releases: "Farmer's Daughters" and "Snow Honeys". The former film is apparently the most notorious- and for good reason. Released in 1976, "Farmer's Daughter's" is the work of director/writer Zebedy Colt, who made a reputation back in the day for creating some of the most distasteful and shocking hardcore porn feature films. The fact that the bearded, grungy Mr. Colt is seamy enough to make the lunatics on "Duck Dynasty" look like sex symbols did not stop him from placing himself in the leading role, thereby guaranteeing he'd get plenty of "fringe benefits" from the on-screen action. The setting is a remote farm in an unnamed location. The opening sequences make you think you're going to be watching a lighthearted porn spoof of shows like "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Green Acres". We see the aforementioned Mr. Colt as Shep, an aging, bedraggled husband who is happily going at it with his wife Kate (porn superstar and publisher Gloria Leonard, billed here as Gayle Leonard.) Ms. Leonard is fine on the eyes but it takes a lot of willpower to watch Colt enjoying carnal pleasures with her. Things get kinky right away when we see that they are been secretly observed by their three daughters (Susan McBain, Marlene Willoughby and Nancy Dare). That's a pretty twisted premise right there but things are about to get even weirder. The three sexually frustrated sisters are inspired to take matters into their own hands and start a private orgy between themselves. When a goofy local farm boy, Fred (Bill Cort), stumbles on the scene, they force him to have sex with them. (That's right: in the film's most unbelievable lapse in credibility, he has to be forced to have sex with them.) What follows won't be described here in detail. Suffice it to say that upon having Fred reluctantly satisfy their needs they indulge in some acts of humiliation towards him that are still plenty eye-opening even by today's standards.
Pretty soon the sisters get their own comeuppance when three escaped convicts happen upon the farmhouse. You don't have to be a modern Sherlock Holmes to figure out the premise that happens next as the three men engage in gang rape and even kinkier activities involving the girl's parents. Again, we won't provide the details but the molestation of young Fred pales in comparison to what follows. The film's climax somehow incorporates elements of "Last House on the Left", "Deliverance" and "Death Wish" and combines group sex, gang rape, blood-drenched revenge murders and incest, thus giving a new interpretation of movies that are intended for the whole family. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of this wacky exercise in perversion is the fact that one of the horny convicts is played by a real actor, Spalding Gray. Yes, that Spaulding Gray, the grumpy raconteur who built a cult following on the basis of his one-man stage show and subsequent film, "Swimming to Cambodia" which was based on his experiences playing a small role in the 1984 movie "The Killing Fields".
"Farmer's Daughters" is repulsive, offensive, shocking and degenerate on every level. Small wonder that these "qualities" are cited in promotional releases for the DVD which will undoubtedly please its intended audience.
Another Impulse release is more benign in content but also wacky in its own way. "Snow Honeys", released in 1983, is a hodgepodge collection of scenes from unrelated porn flicks wrapped around a thin premise. Erotic superstars of the era Ken Starbuck and Kara Lott open the movie in scenes filmed at a scenic ski resort. They amiably break the "fourth wall" and speak directly to the viewer, griping that they are getting very little money for being in this production so they might as well enjoy themselves. Within minutes the two are starkers inside a resort hotel room and bizarrely describing scenes we are about to see even while they are pleasuring each other. This device is used to link choppy clips from older porn movies starring such familiar names and faces as John Holmes (was there a porn flick from this era he wasn't in?). Vanessa Del Rio, Desiree Cousteau, Seka and John Leslie, to name just a few. The vignettes range from a rather strange lesbian seduction sequence that starts out as romantic but quickly turns S&M to a somewhat amusing take off of Superman with the hero, Super Rod, getting it on with Lois Lane (named Lois Canal here). The big joke is that every time they mention their more famous counterparts' names, they are bleeped. "Snow Honeys" is fairly uninspired in its premise but does provide some abbreviated and memorable moments from other, better productions- and at least Ken Starbuck and Kara Lott are much easier on the eye than watching anything starring Zebedy Colt.
Both transfers are impressive considering the questionable source material and both include sneak peeks at Impulse's line of "Peep Show" silent loops from grind house theaters of days gone by. "Snow Honeys" also has a reversible sleeve with the alternate image more provocative than the weird sleeve depicted above.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "FARMER'S DAUGHTERS" FROM AMAZON
Johnny Depp, whose films have generally tanked at the boxoffice lately, is returning to the safe terrain of the "Pirates" franchise.
Forbes has compiled their annual list that no actor wants to find themselves on: the most overpaid stars of the year. Forbes matches an actor's stratospheric paychecks to the performances of his films at the boxoffice. The results show that Johnny Depp leads the pack in terms of the dubious honor of being the most overpaid major star. Other "honorees" include such major names as Denzel Washingon, Will Ferrell and Will Smith, all of whom suffered through a number of money losing duds. The perpetual favorite in the analysis, Adam Sandler, escaped being named the most overpaid actor only because he didn't have a film in release during the time frame Forbes used to compile the list.. For more click here.
"Ten Seconds to Hell" is the kind of low-key potboiler that studios used to churn out by the dozens in the hopes of making a fast profit. That isn't meant as a knock. Plenty of very worthy films fall into this category and there is much to recommend about this one even if it never quite lives up to its potential. The most interesting aspect of "Ten Seconds to Hell" is the fact that among its creators are any number of big names who were on the cusp of gaining wider recognition. Director and co-writer Robert Aldrich was already an established name in the industry but would find his greatest successes ("Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" ,"The Dirty Dozen" among them) in the Sixties. Producer Michael Carreras, one of the founders of Hammer Films, was just discovering that that the horror film genre for which Hammer would be forever associated was far more lucrative than standard thrillers or crime films which Hammer had originally produced. The cinematographer Ernest Laszlo would go on to lens such high profile films as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", "Judgment at Nuremberg" and "Fantastic Voyage". Art director Ken Adam would become perhaps the most legendary production designer in the history of the business with "Dr. Strangelove", "Barry Lyndon" and numerous James Bond films to his credit. Thus, modest productions such as "Ten Seconds to Hell" often provided fertile training grounds for major talents in the making.
The story is an off-beat one in terms of its protagonists who are six German soldiers who return to Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WWII. What they find is an apocalyptic landscape that the local population and the Allied forces are trying to rebuild into a major urban center. Aside from the sheer logistics of clearing the debris from seemingly endless bombing raids there is the problem of bombs themselves. As in every city that faced bombardment there were countless "dud" bombs that failed to go off. However they remained a major risk as they were capable of exploding without warning. It fell to small teams of incredibly courageous men to try to disarm them- and the casualty and fatality rates among them were sky high. The six German ex-soldiers had cleared dud bombs for the army during the war. In fact they were all deemed to be politically undesirable by the Nazis and were sentenced to concentration camps. However since there were considered to be expendable, they could best serve the Reich by disarming bombs. If they were killed in the process then so be it. The six men formed a tight-knit group and learned the expertise required to survive the war. Now upon returning to Berlin, the British solicit their services to disarm dud bombs that have fallen throughout the city. As an inducement the men are offered high salaries, comfortable apartments and double rations- quite an offer for a city that was left in poverty and on the brink of starvation. The men agree to the plan even though they know that they will face death every day. The group is dominated by two strong-willed men: Eric Koertner (Jack Palance), a sullen but honest man who is nursing psychological wounds from the war that are never satisfactorily explained and Karl Wirtz (Jeff Chandler), a selfish man of few morals who puts a good time above everything else. The six men end up making a pact with a morbid premise: they will each contribute half of their salaries into a pot over a period of three months. Knowing there is a good chance at least some of them will die in the course of their work, the survivors will split the proceeds at the end of the "game". What starts out as a rather tasteless exercise takes on greater resonance when, indeed, over the course of several weeks numerous members of the group are indeed killed in the line of duty. Adding to the tensions is the deteriorating relationship between Eric and Karl, who must share the same apartment with Margot Hofer (Martine Carol), a beautiful young French woman who is persona-non grata in her native country because her late husband had been a German soldier who was part of the occupying forces in Paris. These three troubled souls are forced to inhabit the same living quarters and inevitably sexual tensions arise. Eric is slowly falling for Margot on an emotional level while Karl clearly just wants to take physical advantage of her. Predictably the end of the film finds the two men as the last living members of their group and who are engaged in working together on a particularly dangerous disarmament of a bomb from which only one will emerge alive.
"Ten Seconds to Hell" falls short in several key aspects. If there is a sure-fire way to ensure on-screen suspense it revolves around having someone desperately having to disarm an explosive device. Yet director Aldrich fails to wring much suspense out of these premises. Additionally the characters are not very well-defined. We never really get to know the reasons behind Eric's moody personality. We learn he was a prominent architect prior to the war but the script hints at much deeper insights into the man that never materialize. Additionally, Karl is such a loathsome, self-centered and untrustworthy man that one wonders why the group chooses to include him among them in their post-war assignments. Not helping matters is that this is yet another Tower of Babel-like film production in which some of the supporting characters have quasi-German accents while the male leads all talk with varying American accents that make it hard to accept them as German nationals. Aldrich deserves kudos for thinking outside the box and presenting the post-war period from the standpoint of those on the losing side but the distraction of hearing known American stars such as Palance and Chandler speak as though they are in a Western proves to be a minor undoing of the film. Still, "Ten Seconds to Hell" is an efficiently-made thriller and boasts some memorable aspects such as a sequence in which one of the group is trapped under a fallen bomb while a dilapidated building threatens to fall on top of him and his would-be rescuers. At the time the film was made in 1959 there were still plenty of bombed-out neighborhoods in West Berlin and Aldrich and art director Ken Adam take full advantage, providing some eerie backdrops for the film's most pivotal scenes. I also enjoyed the byplay between Chandler, Palance and Martine Carol who makes for a sympathetic figure- a woman who could not help but fall in love with an average German soldier despite the fact that her country had fallen to the army he represented. In many ways her character is the most interesting of all the protagonists. Palance gives one of his more restrained performances and refrains from hamming it up, as he could frequently do. Chandler is effective playing against type as a charismatic villain.
The Blu-ray transfer is flawless and does justice to the stark black-and-white cinematography. An original trailer is included and, as was the practice of the day, its typically bombastic in its promises to provide riveting screen entertainment.
Robson’s Valley of the Dolls (1967) became something of commercial success,
despite being generally panned by the critics. Following the murder of Sharon
Tate, the film was re-released in 1969 and once again proved to be a success
with audiences. In December 1969, filming began on Beyond the Valley of the
Dolls (1970), a film that was intended as a direct sequel to Robson’s movie. Jacqueline
Susann, the original author of Valley of the Dolls had been approached to write
a screenplay, but declined the offer. Instead, director Russ Meyer and film
critic Roger Ebert, took on and completed the task in just six weeks. Ebert
described it as ‘a satire of Hollywood conventions’ while Meyer leant more
towards ‘a serious melodrama, a rock musical […]and a moralistic expose of the nightmarish
world of Show Business’.
film is set around a female band, The Kelly Affair featuring Kelly MacNamara
(Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella "Pet"
Danforth (Marcia McBroom). Along with their manager (and Kelly’s boyfriend) Harris
Allsworth (David Gurian) the group set off to Los Angeles to find Kelly's
estranged aunt, Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis), who is heiress to a family fortune.
and her band arrive and are greeted fondly by Susan who informs her that she
will be left a portion of her inheritance. However, Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod)
a financial adviser to Susan, attempts to discredit the band as general
degenerates in order to embezzle the money for himself. Aunt Susan meanwhile
introduces Kelly and the band to a connected producer Ronnie "Z-Man"
Barzell (John LaZar). At one of his flamboyant parties, Z-Man wastes little
time in persuading the band to perform, the result of which is a huge
success. Z-Man becomes the group’s
manager and changes their name to The Carrie Nations which ignites the fuse and
causes a series of clashes with Harris.
of these elements nicely combine to set up a classic and well-rounded piece of
melodrama. Add to the mix a healthy dash of seduction, drugs, alcohol, one-night
stands, a lesbian affair, an abortion and a delicious little twist or two and
you’ll discover there’s more than enough meat on the bone for a fulfilling and
thoroughly magical couple of hours.
have put together a really thoughtful and beautifully presented limited (3000
copies) edition containing two of Russ Meyer’s key Hollywood films. The Blu-ray
(1080p) presentation of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is quite wonderful. The
vibrancy of the film’s colour palette shines through in practically every scene
and is only emphasised by the lush surroundings of the late Sixties hippy
culture. Skin tones (and there’s a lot of it on show) look fresh, but perfectly
natural and free of any forced enhancement. The film retains that comic book colour
freshness that one could perhaps align with in any classic episode of TVs
Batman. Yes, it very hip and very cool. Arrow has also provided an array of supplementary
delights especially in terms of audio options. Aside from the film’s original
uncompressed mono track, there is an engrossing commentary track by
co-screenwriter and film critic, the late Roger Ebert. Ebert’s commentary is a
wonderful listen, a man who knew his stuff and was of course an element of the
film’s DNA. Whist the commentary was initially featured on Fox’s DVD release of
2006; it’s a real treat to have it included here on the Blu-ray. Also featured
is a second audio commentary, courtesy of cast members including Erica Gavin,
John LaZar, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page and Dolly Read. Again, this commentary
also appeared previously on the Fox DVD, and while it is rather less
streamlined than Ebert’s specifics, it does offer an entirely different
perspective. The two commentaries ultimately complement each other rather well.
On top of the two commentaries is a further music and effects track, which I
believe marks a first for this title on any home cinema format. It’s a very
welcome track, considering the popularity of music and for consumers who might
not have the soundtrack among their collections.
this point it is perhaps best to shift focus towards Arrow’s second disc in
this set, and the film The Seven Minutes (1971). This Russ Meyer directed film
was made directly after Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and was his last
mainstream production for Twentieth-Century Fox. The film consists mainly of
his stable of regular actors and actresses, but look out, too, for appearances
by Yvonne De Carlo and a very young Tom Selleck. Overall, the film was considered
as a rare commercial failure for Meyer, but it’s very welcome here as a bonus
disc. Sadly, it is only included in standard DVD format.
to Arrow’s other bonus material; there is an optional introduction by Z-Man
himself, John LaZa. Much more entertaining is: Above, beneath and beyond the
Valley: The Making of a Musical-Horror-Sex-Comedy, which is a fascinating
retrospective documentary (30 minutes). Look
On Up at the Bottom, with composer Stu Phillips and three members of the Carrie
Nations discussing the film’s music. It’s a nice little featurette which
manages to cram a lot into its relatively short time (11 minutes). The Best of
Beyond features favourite moments from the film selected by cast and crew
members (12 minutes). Sex, Drugs, Music & Murder: Signs of the time, baby takes
a look at the late 1960s social culture that spawned Beyond the Valley of the
Dolls (8 minutes). Casey & Roxanne: The Love Scene is a nice short
featuring both participants Erica Gavin and Cynthia Myers who discuss the
film’s lesbian scene (5 minutes). There is also a very nice collection of screen
tests for Michael Blodgett, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page and Marcia McBroom, all
of which are presented in relatively nice condition (8 minutes). Also included
is a selection of trailers, one of which is based on a behind-the-scenes photo
shoot with Meyer taking the publicity photos and provides a great ‘sneak peek’
privilege. Finally there is a high definition photo gallery which consists of
approximately 125 images.
packaging is of their usual (and exceptional) high standard. Inside contains an
informative and nicely illustrated 42 page booklet featuring new writing on the
film by critic Kat Ellinger. I was also very happy to see Arrow’s regular
reversible sleeve format containing two original pieces of ‘Beyond’ film art,
rather than an optional piece of ‘new’ art. It’s an option that will arguably
please the purists among film collectors.
was fabulous to revisit what is perhaps Meyer’s most polished piece of work.
Yes, there’s no denying it, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is trashy, dirty and
totally unscrupulous… and exactly why I find it so lip-smacking good. Everything
considered, it’s probably the best piece of exploitation ever committed to
film. So miss this wonderful cult classic at your peril…
Though the 1966 space-age vampire flick Queen of Blood is not new to home video,
it has been one of the more elusive science-fiction titles of the 1960s. Issued on VHS as Planet of Blood back in the early 1980s on the budget “Star
Classics” label and later in 1990 on a much improved laser disc from Image (paired
with Mario Bava’s similarly-themed Planet
of the Vampires), Queen of Blood has
been mostly unavailable to collectors for nearly twenty-five years. In March 2011 MGM finally re-issued the title
as part of its Limited Edition Collection,
but only as a made-on-demand release. In
2015, Kino Lorber has – very happily for genre fans and collectors - rescued
this title from the wasteland of cult-film marginalia with their superb Blu-Ray
release of this Roger Corman-Curtis Harrington classic.
of Blood (for reasons we’ll get into a little later on) more
resembles a 1950s sci-fi B-film than one from a decade on. Astronauts Allan Brenner (John Saxon) and Laura
James (Judi Meredith) are co-workers at the International
Institute of Space Technology. The
agency is developing plans to send a spacecraft to Mars and Venus but James’
works seems terribly mundane: she sits
in the radio room diligently monitoring the stream of white-noise signals
emanating from outer-space. Listening
for endless hours at this “music of the spheres” (as Brenner describes the monotonous
stream), James might be doing important work; but it doesn’t seem – at first – that
she enjoys a particularly exciting forty-hour work week. That is not until the radio she monitors starts
picking up an unusual transmission.
Expert cryptographists and cipher analysts are brought
in and quickly decipher the spectral message from the cosmos. They’re excited to learn that seemingly
friendly and curious ambassadors from an un-specified planet are en route to visit
planet earth. The scientists are obviously
thrilled by the prospect, and one can appreciate the excitement of the
world-renown Dr. Farraday (Basil Rathbone) as he triumphantly crows via a loudspeaker
that the greatest of historical summits is imminent. But the euphoria on campus is short-lived. The planned meeting seems to take an unpredicted
turn for the worse when a second message is received. It seems the alien’s spacecraft has
crash-landed on a Martian moon and its surviving single occupant asks that a
space craft be dispatched to collect. This is where, of course, the trouble begins.
A rescue mission is arranged, with Brenner, James, Paul
Grant (Dennis Hopper) and Dr. Anders Brockman (Robert Boon) in tow. The alien spacecraft has crashed on the
Martian moon of Phobos and it’s there that the crew will have their first
face-to-face meeting with the titular Queen
of Blood (Florence Marley). With her
green skin, crimson red lips, and mod bee-hive hair-do (initially hidden by the
rugby-ball shaped leather helmet she wears), it must be said that the visitor
cuts a startling figure. Brockman
suggests the space-ambassador’s green-tint is likely due to the presence of chlorophyll
in her genetic make-up, that the emissary’s DNA might be more akin to that of a
plant. If the Queen is a sophisticated plant, as the astronaut opines,
it’s safe to say she’s more Venus fly-trap than sunflower.
Paul’s gentle entreaties to the alien are both warm and
genuine. He tries to get her to sip some water but her disingenuous eyes
are mistaken as windows of affection. In reality, the Queen is not
displaying any romantic interest in Paul (as embodied by the still strikingly
young Dennis Hopper). She is, in fact, sizing up the naive astronaut as a
possible future meal. We soon learn the reason the Queen has not partaken
in any of the previous meals offered; she’s more intent on feeding on the warm
blood of the crew. There haven’t been any screams in the night to alert
them to the menace. The Queen first hypnotizes her intended prey and then, much
like a vampire bat, uses her saliva to serve as a numbing agent, dulling the pain
of the incisors as they stab into her victim. Once wise to the treachery,
the astronauts – still determined to bring her back to earth as the scientific
find of the ages – feeds her the ship’s store of blood plasma. This works
out OK until that limited supply is exhausted and they’re still far from earth.
The back-story to this film is nearly as interesting as
the film itself. The imaginative and extraterrestrial scenes were Soviet in
origin, the outer-space sequences shot entirely at the Odessa film studios in
the Ukraine, just off the shoreline of the Black Sea. The space-footage featured in Queen of Blood had been primarily sourced
from the 1963 Soviet film Mechte
Navstrechu (“A Dream
Come True”) (1963), directed by Mikhail Karzhukov and Otar Koberidze. In what would prove to be the first salvo of
the C.C.C.P. vs. U.S. space-race, the Soviet Union would launch Sputnik in
October of 1957. It was the first
successful satellite launch in world history and Soviet filmmakers were
encouraged to celebrate this glowing achievement of socialism with Eastern bloc
neighbors in the form of cinematic paeans. The multitude of imaginative space-age film tapestries created in the
wake of the Sputnik launch were truly impressive; the Soviet depictions of space-ways
were majestically conceived presentations combining vibrant colors, eerie
Martian landscapes, rotating spherical objects, state-of-the-art visual
effects, and futuristic set decoration.
happened upon seeing several of these magnificent space-epics in a cinema in
east Hollywood. Thrilled by the
sophistication of the on-screen imagery, Corman would travel to the Soviet
Union and arrange licensing rights for a package of Soviet sci-fi films through
Mosfilm, the official-organ of the state-run motion-picture industry. Corman wasn’t interested in releasing the
films in the U.S. in their original – and very political - forms. He recognized the Soviet films were littered
with heavy-handed doses of anti-Americanism and thinly disguised metaphorical proselytisms
of socialist-internationalism. Corman
was primarily interested in re-cutting and re-dubbing the Soviet films for
consumption by a decidedly non-ideological U.S. audience. Queen
of Blood would not be Corman’s first experiment with such
re-constitution. Two of his earliest
efforts in re-dubbing and incorporating new footage to westernize his package
of Russian sci-fi films were Voyage to
the Prehistoric Planet (1965) and Battle
Beyond the Sun (1962).
In the case
of Mechte Navstrechu, a film mostly
plundered for use in Queen of Blood,
its rosy scenario of peaceful co-existence between the planets was not commercially
viable. Instead Corman envisioned the film
as a space-age version of a “traditional gothic vampire story.” As he was busy working on other projects, Corman
arranged for director Curtis Harrington to shoot new scenes with an American
and British cast and then seamlessly blend these segments into the existing
Russian space-footage. In one of the
supplements, Corman mildly boasts that many scholars have mused that the
low-budget Queen of Blood might have
very well been the template for the big-budget box-office smash Alien (1979). This is at least partly true, but Queen of Blood itself was largely a
re-working of the It! The Terror from
Beyond Space” (1958). Sci-fi and horror film buffs will also detect the
not-so-subtle allusions to the famous Twilight
Zone episode “To Serve Man” (broadcast March 2, 1962) as well as Mario
Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965).
Having already made a considerable investment in his licensing
of the Soviet films, executive producer Corman was rather stingy with the
financing of its American cousin. Harrington was only apportioned somewhere in
the region of $40,000 to $65,000 – depending on what source you’re to believe -
to re-constitute the original Soviet production into a commercial commodity. Though John Saxon had earned a reputation for
professionalism as an actor – he already had two-dozen or so films to his
credit - his star had not yet completely risen. Seventy-three year-old Basil Rathbone was brought in for a day’s work to
augment the bill as the seasoned actor enjoyed name recognition amongst genre
There’s no trouble identifying the Harrington-shot
footage from the original Soviet - and this is not a knock against his
direction. To keep production costs down the U.S. control-room sets had
been, very clearly, constructed from wood elements purposefully painted silver
as to project a metallic sheen. As seamless
merging of the original film with new footage was paramount to the film’s
success, a great amount of attention – and budget - was given to the art department
to authentically mimic the design of the original space-suits and helmets worn
by cosmonauts in the original film.
Regardless of such penny-pinching shortfalls, Queen
of Blood is one of the more eerie space-films of the era. This is
mostly due to Harrington’s ingenious use of shadowy silhouettes as an
inexpensive but effective method to convey tension and suspense. Most of the memorable on-screen gloominess of
Queen of Blood is the result of the
unblinking, emotionless eyes of Czech actress Florence Marley. It was a
masterstroke not to give Marley’s green-tinted alien any dialogue – it would
have surely diluted the effect of her menacing countenance. Watching her cold
eyes follow the doomed crew-members aboard the spacecraft with a cold,
reptilian-like disengagement is positively chilling.
This Kino Lorber Blu-Ray release
features the film as 1080p high-definition widescreen (1:85:1) transfer. Supplements include an interview with Roger
Corman, who provides his never-less-than usual amiable but cogent overview of
things, including a reminiscence of when first introduced to the Soviet
science-fiction films in a theater in east Hollywood. The nitty-gritty of the Queen of Blood production is more thoroughly examined in a second
interview, this time featuring the commentary of with Oscar-winning visual
effects specialist Robert Skotak. Skotak
is as much historian as artist (he’s the author of “IB Melchior: Man of Imagination” (Midnight Marquee Press), and
muses knowledgably and at some length on all aspects of this great
“B”-film. The original theatrical
trailer of Queen of Blood rounds out
the special features.
The Warner Archive has delved into its vaults to release some WWII-era American propaganda films. One of the more interesting titles is "Hitler's Madman", a 1943 exploitation piece directed by Douglas Sirk, who would go on to become an esteemed filmmaker whose work is still revered today. The movie was made on shoestring by an independent production company and was considered marketable enough for MGM to make a rare acquisition of a film made outside of the studio's control. The "quickie" nature of the production was designed to capitalize on one of the most horrendous war crimes in history: the systematic destruction of an entire village, Lidice, in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The film centers on the ordeal suffered by the peasant population of the village when Nazi rule becomes increasingly more oppressive under the command of "Reich Protector" Reinhard Heydrich, a Hitler favorite because of his unquestioning loyalty to National Socialist dogma. Even by Nazi standards Heydrich was considered a brute and was feared by both the people of Czechoslovakia and Germans who interacted with him. Heydrich was a man without conscience who believed in suppressing dissent by use of ruthless methods. He is played very well in the film by John Carradine, whose dyed blonde hair renders him virtually unrecognizable. Its doubtful that the real Heydrich engaged in the kind of Prof. Moriarty dialogue and mannerisms that characterized so many cinematic villains of the period, but Carradine does manage to evoke some truly sinister and creepy forms of behavior, all the time exuding a pretentious charm that makes those on the receiving end of his icy stare realize they might well be doomed.
The script personalizes the ordeal of the people of Lidice by following the story of Jarmilla Hanka (Patricia Morrison), a young woman who is shocked to discover that her former boy friend Karel Vavra (Alan Curtis) has secretly arrived back in town on a mission for the Allies to organize the locals into an underground movement to disrupt Nazi activities. He gets a less-than-enthusiastic welcome by the men of the village who are understandably reluctant to give Heydrich an excuse to unleash a widespread crackdown on the population. Jarmilla's own father Jan (Ralph Morgan) is an advocate for conformity and warns against the consequences of opposing the Nazis. However, Heydrich and his goons ratchet up the pressure by arresting and executing professors and other intellectuals, then forcing the male students to "volunteer" for service on the Eastern front. Adding insult to injury, he announces that girls between the ages of 16-19 will be forced into bordellos to pleasure the stressed out German troops. in one of the film's most daring and unnerving scenes, Heydrich has the young women line up in a perverted version of a beauty pageant as he personally decides which girls have the necessary "qualities" for this degrading assignment. In fact the film abounds with sequences that are shocking in their implications. It was pretty strong stuff for 1943. However, there is a good deal of Hollywood hokum attached as well as the expected distortion of historical events. It is true that Heydrich was assassinated and, in revenge, Hitler ordered every male in Lidice to be shot; every adult woman sent to a concentration camp and all young children sent to state-run orphanages. He then ordered that the entire village be razed to the ground and that any historic or geographical reference to its existence be eliminated. The film attributes Heydrich's murder to Jamrilla and her father who assassinate him on a country road. This is pure baloney. Heydrich was actually mortally wounded by a team of highly trained commandos who carried out the deed as Heydrich's car drove through the streets of Prague. Historical liberties aren't the only problem with the film. The acting tends to be of the "over-the-top" variety that was frequent in Poverty Row productions of the era. Not helping matters is the distraction of having some actors utilize exotic European accents while others sound like they are from New Jersey. This "Tower of Babble" effect undercuts the dramatic aspects of the performances. However, the film retains much of its power in the jarring sequences of Nazi oppression and the human toll it took on the population of the lands areas they occupied. There is also the considerable presence of John Carradine, whose performance transcends some of the weaker aspects of the production. Director Sirk also rises above the material and, given the minimal clout he must have had at this point in his career, manages to make a "B" exploitation flick into something more meaningful.
The Warner Archive region-free DVD looks fine but contains no extras.
If you never heard of the controversial 1982 futuristic thriller "Turkey Shoot" it may be because the film's release was largely botched especially in the United States where Roger Corman picked up distribution rights and re-titled the movie "Escape 2000" (despite the fact that the story is set in the year 1995!). The film's troubled production history is graphically outlined in the impressive Blu-ray special edition from Severin Films. But first let's examine the premise. "Turkey Shoot" is among the countless forerunners of "The Hunger Games" in that it uses the time-honored concept of presenting helpless humans as prey in sadistic "sporting" contests. From "The Most Deadly Game" to Cornel Wilde's superb "The Naked Prey", the concept seems to be a favorite for screenwriters and directors. "Turkey Shoot" started as a promising venture for director Brian Trenchard-Smith. His two leading actors, Steve Railsback (who had recently made a splash in the acclaimed film "The Stunt Man") and Olivia Hussey (of "Romeo and Juliet" fame) were enthused about the premise. The film presents them in a futuristic society in an unnamed country where totalitarianism is prevalent. (How come we never see an optimistic view of a futuristic society?) Railsback is Paul Anders, an admitted dissident against the police state who is busted when he makes repeated radio broadcasts denouncing the government. Hussey is Chris Walters, an apolitical young woman who gets arrested when she tries to aid someone who is being brutalized by the state security forces. The two find themselves whisked to a "re-education" camp in a remote jungle setting. The place is actually a concentration camp run by a sadist named Thatcher (Michael Craig, whose character's name is a not so subtle rebuke of the British prime minister of the era. In fact, in some countries the film was released with the alternate title "Blood Camp Thatcher"). Anders continues to defy authority and Thatcher delights in torturing him. Chris tries to keep a low profile but it isn't long before the predatory guards headed by Chief Ritter (Roger Ward) have targeted her and other young women for chronic sexual abuse. The nightmarish situation only becomes worse when Paul, Chris and two other inmates- Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner) and Griff (Bill Young)- are chosen to be prey in a high stakes game of life or death. The four prisoners are sent unarmed into the wilds with a bit of a head start before Thatcher and some elitist cronies begin hunting them with hi-tech weaponry as well as a crossbow, wielded with deadly skill by Jennifer (Carmen Duncan), a vivacious but particularly cruel woman with lesbian tendencies who has some distasteful plans for Rita, to whom she is sexually attracted. It takes quite some time to get to the main theme of the film which is the "turkey shoot" of the hapless prey, all of whom delight the hunters by proving to be especially inventive in their methods of staying alive. The victims also prove to be masters of turning the tables on their pursuers and killing several of them. Things tend to get very bizarre when, out of the blue and without explanation, a half-man, half-beast creature is unleashed by the hunters to help track down the exhausted fugitives. It's like someone inserted some outtakes from the 1977 version of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" into the movie. Along the way viewers are treated to an unending feast of sadism, sexism, and all-around general cruelty complete with torturous deaths, some of which are over-the-top and seem included only for the sake of the gore factor.
When "Turkey Shoot" was originally released it apparently was the subject of quite a bit of controversy in Australia and the UK, where critics and media watchdogs griped about the film's violent content. Over the decades, however, the movie seems to have built a loyal cult following that may have been at least in part attracted by the film's back story, which is more compelling than what ended up on screen. All of this is explored in Severin Films' outstanding bonus features, many of which were imported from a previously released edition from another company. Combined with some fascinating interviews culled from the acclaimed documentary "Not Quite Hollywood" (an excellent history of the Australian film industry by director Mark Hartley), this hodge podge of bonus features adds up to one of the most compelling special editions I've experienced. Most of the major participants are seen reminiscing about the movie. Since they were interviewed separately there wasn't the stigma of offending another participants sensibilities. The interviews play out like a real-life version of "Rashomon" with so many distinctly different versions of the same experience that you wonder if these folks are referring to the same movie. Their candor is both amusing and fascinating as they mostly recall their work on the movie as a very unpleasant experience. (Olivia Hussey is notable by her absence from the extras and this is perhaps the reason why.) The real fun starts when the blame game goes into effect with various actors, producers and Trenchard-Smith assigning responsibility for a film most consider to be least somewhat of a disaster. Trenchard-Smith points out that just before shooting started his production funding was cut substantially. This resulted in key sequences being scrapped. He could have quit there but you have to admire the guy. As a true professional he stuck with the truncated version of the script and began shooting in an inhospitable climate with an unhappy cast and trying to cope with often sub-par special effects caused by the budget cuts. He admits that the negative reaction to the film derided his career (although apparently it made a good deal of money.) There is a new round table discussion with Trenchard-Smith, producer Anthony Ginanne and cinematographer Vincent Monton (who did not film "Turkey Shoot" but who had worked for Ginanne on other productions.) The discussion is polite but leaves little doubt that both Trenchard-Smith and Ginanne both harbor different views about who is to blame for the film's artistic failings. Steve Railsback, seen in a separate interview, implies that even with a reduced budget of $2.5 million, it should have bought a more opulent production for its era and insinuates that some hanky-panky may have caused some of the funding to mysteriously disappear. Lynda Stoner remains especially bitter about her experience on the movie and is still angry that she was pressured into doing a nude scene. Hussey was, too, but stuck to her guns only to have a completely unconvincing body double play the scene. Stoner also harbors resentment toward actor David Hemmings (who did not appear in the film, but who served as one of the producers) for being a dictatorial presence on the set and even insisting upon directing some sequences.
For all its faults there is much to admire in "Turkey Shoot" especially when one becomes aware of the extreme obstacles that the director and cast had to overcome. The gore factor has become somewhat less shocking in our desensitized era and the good things about it (notably the performances and direction) hold up well. The movie is definitely an acquired taste for select viewers but the Severin special edition should be recommended as a "must have" for anyone who wants an insightful look at how major productions can be sabotaged by factors that neither the case or crew have any control over.
In the 1970s and 1980s director Brian De Palma had some high profile hits with Hitchcockian thrillers such as "Sisters", "Obsession", "Dressed to Kill", "Blow Out" and "Body Double". De Palma's defenders extolled the virtues of these films as clever homages to Hitchcock while detractors accused De Palma of using The Master's formulas to make a fast buck. In 1982 director Robert Benton jumped on the same bandwagon with his own Hitchcockian project, "Still of the Night", which was shot under the title "Stab" before the marketing campaign had been re-evaluated. A few years earlier Benton had triumphed at the Oscars with "Kramer vs. Kramer", taking home the Best Director Oscar. That film also provided an important career boost for Meryl Streep, who also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The two were reunited for this project which stands out on both of their credentials as an odd choice. Chances are that when you think of Streep's exalted status in the film community today, the thriller genre is unlikely to come to mind. (Though she did also appear in "The River Wild" and the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate".) Benton, who had directed relatively few films to date, was more accustomed to the genre and perhaps his involvement with this flawed production can be explained by the fact that the basis for the story (which he collaborated on with David Newman) was a real life experience that found him obsessed with a woman who simultaneously excited and frightened him. Certainly it's a sold premise for a thriller and through much of the movie Benton provides a compelling scenario complimented by two excellent actors: Streep and Roy Scheider. The film falls apart in the final act when it begins to resemble less of a homage to Hitchcock than an homage to De Palma's homages to Hitchcock- with a dose of "Play Misty for Me" thrown in (i.e knife wielding killer attacks protagonist on a balcony that overlooks the churning sea.) It's not that "Still of the Night" is bad (though Streep has gone on record as saying it is), it's simply that it hardly seems like it would ever have been compelling enough to attract two recent Oscar winners.
The film opens in the office of New York City psychiatrist Sam Rice (Scheider). Like most cinematic headshrinkers, he appears to need psychiatric care more than his patients do. He's going through the miseries of a divorce and seems bored and depressed. The only significant female relationship he has is with his mother (Jessica Tandy, who perhaps not coincidentally starred in Hitchcock's "The Birds".) Sam's mundane daily routine takes a dramatic turn when he discovers that a long-time patient, businessman George Bynum (Josef Sommer) has been found stabbed to death in his car on a Manhattan street. From this point some key elements of the story are told in flashback sequences. Sam remembers Bynum as a sexual predator who had been having an affair with one of his staff workers. Then he meets Brooke Reynolds (Streep), a gorgeous thirty-something blonde who seems both alluring and vulnerable. Bynum confesses that he is obsessed with her and cut off his previous affair in order to engage in one with Brooke. Shortly after Bynum's death, Sam is shocked when Brooke appears at his office, nervous, unsettled and chain-smoking. (Yes, you could smoke in an office in those days.) In the awkward conversation that follows she says the purpose of her visit is to return a wristwatch that Bynum had accidentally left at her apartment. She doesn't want to return it herself for fear of alerting Bynum's widow about the affair he was having with her. From minute one Sam is smitten and intrigued by this quirky, jittery- and stunningly beautiful- young woman. He also realizes that her cover story about the watch is thin. She actually wanted to meet him. Shortly thereafter Sam is visited by Detective Joe Vitucci (Joe Grifasi, channeling every personality cliche you can think of when it comes to a New York City cop). He asks Sam if he can shed any light on who might be Bynum's killer. Sam informs him that anything he had discussed with Bynum would be protected under doctor/client privilege...but he also finds himself unable to inform Vitucci about Bynum's affair with Brooke. He realizes he is now obsessed with her, just as Bynum was. He strongly suspects that Brooke is Bynum's murderer but can't get her out of his mind. Like Bynum, he's simultaneously sexually stimulated and terrified of her. Nevertheless, he begins finding excuses to see her and his presence seems to have a calming effect on Brooke. The friendship goes to another stage when she responds to his kiss but Sam is too lacking in self-confidence to actually seduce her. Meanwhile he begins to experience some eerie occurrences. He believes someone is stalking him in the basement of his apartment building. As he follows the mysterious Brooke on a nighttime walk through Central Park (a chilling scenario for anyone in those days), he finds himself alone and so unnerved that when a man jumps out of the shadows to mug him, he is actually relieved to have another human being on the scene. Director Benton knows that a sure-fire way to ratchet up suspense is to put the protagonist in a creepy dark house or in an equally unnerving location. However he goes to the well with this plot device a little too often. For a man who lives in the heart of Manhattan, Sam seems to wind up repeatedly in eerie, isolated places. However, some of the sequences are genuinely suspenseful as in the scene in which Sam is in the laundry room of his apartment building, deep in the bowels of the basement. No one is around. There is total isolation when suddenly the lights in an adjoining room inexplicably go out. You can share his sense of increasing panic as he knows someone is stalking him...but who and why? Refrehingly, Scheider portrays Sam as an everyday guy, not a tough-as-nails hero. He's vulnerable both physically and emotionally throughout.
The film's primary asset is its two stars, both of whom give intense and very convincing performances. There are also the usual plot twists and red herrings one would expect to find in a movie of this genre and Benton for the most part manages to wring some genuine suspense out of it even when he resorts to old gimmicks that include a dream sequence in which Bynum is menaced by an eerie little girl (are there any other kinds of little girls in dream sequences?) It's straight out of "The Shining" but then again just about everything in "Still of the Night" seems recycled, even though it manages to be engrossing right up until the climax when Benton the screenwriter resorts to every time-worn cliche imaginable: an old dark house, a sacrificial lamb character, a vulnerable hero, a knife-wielding maniac...you get the picture. About all that is missing is John Carradine as a mad scientist. The weak ending feels like it was tossed together at the last minute and doesn't retain the suspense or logic that Benton has managed to build heretofore. Nonetheless, "Still of the Night" is still worth a look if only for the performances and those few genuinely spooky sequences.
The Blu-ray edition from Kino Lorber includes the original trailer and trailers for two other Roy Scheider films, "Last Embrace" and "53 Pick-Up."
protest has been part of human society going back to Paleolithic times when the
first homo-protestapien complained "What, nuts and berries again?"
The response was most likely either "Go out and kill something,
then," or "Discover fire and I'll make a casserole." Admittedly,
I loosely translate from the original "ogg," "ugh" and
the year 1968 the earth was awash with protesters (for good reason) who had
developed protesting into an art form. The art form of choice was the protest
song. From Arlo Guthrie to John Lennon, Country Joe McDonald to Marvin Gaye,
Bob Dylan to The Plastic People of the Universe, Phil Ochs to Jimmy Cliff, the
airwaves were filled with politically charged lyrics that stirred the souls of
the youth of the world. Americans like to think they had a patent upon it but
Eastern Europe was at the forefront of something other than Vietnam, their own
had been over for more than twenty years but there still were countries in
upheaval. The Prague Spring had come to Czechoslovakia
and led to another Communist invasion. Yugoslavia was beset with protests from
ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Western Macedonia that led to concessions that
angered Serbians and Montenegrins. This caused not only a Serbian emigration
from Kosovo but also further religious tensions as Macedonians created their
own Orthodox Church and Muslim nationalism rose in Bosnia irritating Serbian
churchmen. And, of course, the Cold War was in full swing in Germany with the
Berlin Wall, just seven years old, still 21 years away from demolition. It is
in the politically turbulent year of 1968 that "Fatherland," aka "Singing the Blues in Red" begins.
meet protest singer-songwriter Klaus Drittemann (Gerulf Pannach, whose
biography mirrors his character's) as he is interrogated by officials of the
Stalinist-Communist East German government who look to convict him of crimes
against the state and exile him. Drittemann (whose name translates from the
German as "third man," make of that what you will) is a
Marxist-socialist whose criticism leads to being denied to perform any longer
and eventually, at the age of 40, gets him a one-way exit visa to West Germany
and he leaves his son and an ex-wife behind.
some people may think that a good thing with the opportunity to make a living
again and become a success in the west - there is already a record company
waiting to sign him, Klaus does not. In his, and "Fatherland's" world
view capitalism is just as terrifyingly corrupt as hard-line Communism. He is
besieged as soon as he steps into the west, turned into a celebrity and faces a
choice of signing his life away to the record company or maintaining his
ethics. At his press conference in West Berlin he is asked a number of times
about his father (Sigfrit Steiner) who was also a musician forced into exile
back in the 1950s. When he opens a safe-deposit box in a bank there (the key to
which was passed to him by his mother back in East Berlin) he discovers
personal effects from his father that turn his life upside down. He now wants
to find his father and with the assistance of Emma, a French-Dutch journalist
(Fabienne Babe) who seems to be withholding information, he begins his journey
and heads to England.
made mostly in Germany and in German, "Fatherland" is an English
film. Written by Trevor Griffiths, who collaborated with Warren Beatty on
"Reds", it was directed by Ken Loach who made a number of politically
charged films in the 1980s that ran him afoul of the Conservative Margaret
Thatcher government. That government influence extended to the film and
television industries and Loach found it harder and harder to work in the UK.
This film could be viewed as Loach's and Griffith's response. The dichotomy of
Germany's two faces (materialistic consumerism v. slapstick communism) mirrors
the divided Great Britain of the late 80s where Thatcher's Tory government of
opportunists held sway over a divided Liberal party.
eventually found partners in West Germany and France. "Fatherland" is
as straightforward as good Rock ‘n Roll music, it doesn't pull many punches and
delivers a philosophy of life that sounds pretty bleak here: "The man born
to be hanged need not fear drowning. The ones that are ruled carry others; the
ones who rule are carried by others. Any life is better than no life." But
if I delivered these lines in context it would amount to a 'spoiler' and if
"Fatherland" teaches anything it is that context is everything.
"Fatherland" has been released by Twilight Time as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. The disc contains an isolated score track and an informational collector's booklet.
Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will has long posed a conundrum for film critics and historians. How do you assess a film that is brilliantly made but which promotes a hateful message? The 1934 production which was created as a love letter to Adolf Hitler and his rapidly-rising National Socialist movement has been relatively shunned at film festivals and the art house circuit over the decades. It's undoubtedly been most widely seen in classrooms and on home video. Yet the passing of time has allowed the film to be more actively shown in recent years and it is nearly always accompanied by an introduction that rightly explains its relevance both to the period in which it was made but also as it pertains to today's world. Director Riefenstahl had been a popular actress in German cinema who had caught the eye of Adolf Hitler, who was quite the movie fan (his favorites included Gone With the Wind and Laurel and Hardy.) Riefenstahl had recently become a pioneer as one of the first women to enter directing in the era of sound films. Hitler commissioned her to film the Nazi party's annual meeting in Nuremberg in the expectation that it would bolster the movement as well as increase the fanatical cult of personality that was already attached to him. Hitler had tried to overthrow the German government a decade earlier but ended up in jail. He turned this to his advantage by becoming a martyr to the cause and writing his personal bible Mein Kampf from his jail cell. By the time he was released, even those who had prosecuted him were trying to curry favor with the future dictator. Hitler ran for office and won the election to become Germany's chancellor. In reality he had most of the political power but was prudent enough to bide his time until the ceremonial head of state, Von Hindenburg, passed away from natural causes. Hitler knew that the public would not abide him disrespecting the beloved Von Hindenburg, who was regarded as a national war hero. As it had so many times in these early days of Hitler's rise, fate cooperated with his interests. Von Hindenburg passed away and Hitler went full throttle to establish himself as a virtual dictator. His first order of business was to eradicate Germany's fragile hold on democracy. The nation had come out on the losing side in WWI and was suffering terribly from onerous war reparations that had to be paid to the Allies, who were basically using Germany as a cash cow. Hitler quickly put to rest the last remnants of the loathed Weimar Republic and combined the offices of chancellor and president, thus giving himself unchallenged power over the country. He then persuaded the Reichstag to voluntarily cede most of their powers to him, thus making the series of checks and balances in the government a rubber stamp for Hitler's policies. Hitler still had important goals to fulfill. It was important to mobilize the nation as a fighting force in the expectation of war. However, he was bound by the Treaty of Versailles which mandated that Germany's armed forces number no more than 100,000 men. Hitler got around this by organizing numerous civic and political groups and turning them into paramilitary organizations. In this way he was able to train millions of Germans as soldiers even if they carried picks and shovels instead of rifles. Hitler also did some controversial "house cleaning" within his party by personally ordering the murders of SA head Ernst Rohm and his top lieutenants. The SA was Hitler's personal bodyguard but had grown to the size of an army. He worried that Rohm had political aspirations of his own and that he might orchestrate a coup. On the so-called Night of the Long Knives, the top echelon of the SA was systematically executed. Hitler appointed a more benign stooge, Viktor Lutze, as the new head of the SA. Hitler's biggest challenge was to ensure that he and Lutze could convince the rank and file SA men to stay loyal to the party and Hitler himself. This he intended to do at the Nuremberg rally, where he would give speech extolling his appreciation of the SA. The ploy worked and any dissension never spilled over into a threat to Hitler.
"Triumph of the Will" presents a sanitized picture of all these dastardly goings-on. What emerges is a nation that is completely behind Hitler and the Nazi cause. This was nonsense, of course. There were countless people who opposed the regime and over the course of the next few years they would pay dearly for their protests against the demise of German democracy. Nevertheless, as a propaganda piece the film is probably unrivaled in its impact. Although the movie was shown internationally, it didn't quite have the alarming impact one might have assumed. The Western democracies still thought of Hitler as primarily a quirky crank whose influence would be primarily confined within Germany's borders. Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was a master of using cinema as a tool of manipulation. Not wanting to alarm the Allies before Germany had been rebuilt militarily, the film was given rather non-threatening sub-titles to accommodate its international showings. Meanwhile, within Germany, the messages were more ominous. When viewing the film even today one gets the feeling that Germany was an invincible power. One can only imagine the trepidation Allied troops must have felt when they finally had to go up against what had become a seemingly unstoppable war machine. The clues were in the film. The legions of robot-like paramilitary adherents are presented as fanatical loyalists to the new dictator. In fact the "real" armed forces were featured so slightly in the film that they raised protests. To appease them, Hitler commissioned a second film by Riefehstahl titled "Day of Freedom" (also included in this set). The movie has her trademark use of imaginary camera angles but it amounts to basically a sop to the armed forces by showcasing their prowess through military training exercises. More powerful are the scenes in "Triumph of the Will" that carefully showcase Hitler as a demi-god. He is seen traveling to Nuremberg by the small plane he favored for use in his political campaign stops. (Hitler was the first politician to eschew the traditional whistle stop train tours in favor of using a plane in order to cover more territory.) The images of his plane flying through the spectacular cloud formations are truly stunning. We also watch him as he stares down at the massive rally forming in expectation of his arrival. When Hitler does arrive at the rally he is preceded by a small army of his top officials who were being formally introduced to the German people through this film. In retrospect, they formed the perfect "Rogue's Gallery" and would go on to perpetrate some of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century. Most paid for their sins with their lives though others were sentenced to jail terms in the aftermath of the war. When Hitler takes to the podium he used his trademark practice of starting his speech in a low voice but gradually rising in tone and emotion into a virtual scream. The most disturbing part of the film occurs when all of the countless thousands of participants march past the podium and pledge their loyalty, not to Germany, but to Hitler personally. The film then concentrates on the ancillary fanfare that took place during this seminal week in the nation's history as we watch torchlight parades march past Hitler's hotel balcony where he looks on approvingly. At all times Riefenstahl diminishes the notion of individualism in order to present Hitler in an almost superhuman manner. He is photographed from angles that make him seem literally larger than life.
The Synapse Blu-ray, which features a restoration by Robert A. Harris, contains some valuable extras, the most informative being a feature-length commentary track by Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, an expert on German history. Santoro's calm, laid-back manner is somewhat jolting at times, given the gravity of what we are viewing, but he provides excellent information regarding the nuances of these scenes and the fate of the individual Nazi top brass.Where the track falls a bit short is in Santoro's discussions of Riefenstahl and her legacy. He acknowledges her talents as a director but doesn't put much meat on the bone in regard to her personal life and legacy. (She lived until the age of 101 and never fully repented for her association with Hitler, nor was she ever prosecuted. She would defensively point out that she never actually joined the Nazi party, which is indeed surprising.) She would go on to make another important propaganda film for Hitler in 1938, Olympiad, an equally whitewashed account of the 1936 Olympics that were held in Berlin and which also managed to elevate Hitler as a star attraction even though he was largely a bystander. Arguably, Olympiad was the more important and effective film as it was meant to appease foreign concerns about the atrocities that were just being implemented in Germany.) Some of the slack from the commentary is addressed in excellent liner notes written by director and film historian Roy Frumkes, who delves deeper into Riefenstahl's fascinating life. Frumkes points out that the film should not really be considered a documentary because many of the "spontaneous" scenes were staged by Riefenstahl and some were shot repeatedly in order to get the desired footage. The new 2K restoration is impressive on all counts and does justice to Riefenstahl's astonishing camera angles. This presentation also boasts newly interpreted English sub-titles that accommodate the film's original German language version. It's beneficial to watch the film first then view it again with Dr. Santoro's commentary to provide context.
Compromised genius: Riefenstahl directing Triumph of the Will.
"Triumph of the Will" is indeed a major cinematic achievement- but tragically it promoted the greatest evil of the 20th century. The mind reels at what Leni Riefenstahl could have achieved had she not been compromised by her political beliefs.
Cinematographer Carl Guthrie opens “Fort Massacre” (1958)
with a widescreen cinemascope desert vista – mountains in the background, and a
rock formation shaped like a vulture perched on a rock in the foreground. The
vulture seems to be looking down at a group of soldiers on a burial detail. Private
Robert W. Travis (John Russell), a member of the troop, in a brief bit of
opening narration, tells what happened. “C” Troop, Sixth Cavalry was ambushed
by 50 apaches and only a dozen men survived. The commanding officer was killed,
and a lieutenant is badly wounded, leaving non-commissioned officer, Sgt. Vinson
(Joel McCrea), in command. Vinson is a tough man who says he makes his
decisions based on what he thinks Army regulations call for. But before long,
as they start the 100-mile journey to Ft. Crain, his men begin to wonder if
there isn’t something deeper and darker motivating him.
McCrea gives a grim, tight-lipped performance as Vinson, the
sergeant who has command of the troop suddenly thrust upon him. His mission is
to find the main column of soldiers they were separated from or failing that to
proceed by themselves to the fort. Among the other survivors is Travis, the
chronicler of this story, a young recruit who tells Vinson that he joined the
Army to become a man. Before that he was just a 28-year-old “baby,” unable to
make any decisions for himself. Educated, he could have been a doctor or a
lawyer but couldn’t decide, so he drifted. Pvt. McGurney (Forrest Tucker) is an
Irishman who’s seen a bit of life, and has found his home in the cavalry. He has
some serious concerns about Vinson’s ability to command. Next is Pvt. Pendleton (George N. Neise), one
of the wounded men, a coward constantly challenging Vinson’s decisions. There
are several others who all play a part in the drama, with Pawnee (Robert
Caruso), the Indian scout, an important and pivotal character.
Vinson decides to lead the troop toward a waterhole
ahead, but Pawnee returns from a scouting mission to report that 20 Apaches
have stopped there. Vinson, despite the strenuous objections of his men, orders
the troop onward. They will take the waterhole from the Apaches, even though
they are outnumbered at least 2-1. It’s on the way to this fight that McGivney
tells the other men he suspects the Sgt. doesn’t give a hoot about the safety
of his men, but is obsessed with hatred for the Apaches. He informs the others
that Apaches killed Vinson’s wife and now all he wants is revenge, even if he
has to sacrifice the entire patrol.
When they get to the waterhole, a fierce battle ensues,
and the troopers are victorious. However, Travis witnesses Vinson’s cold-blooded
murder of an Apache who had tried to surrender. When Travis questions him about
it, Vinson goes off the rails, ranting that the Apaches “hate us,” and you have
to “feed them bullets.” From this moment on even Travis begins to doubt his
sanity, and we watch as a tormented man battles his inner demons.
“Fort Massacre” was directed by Joseph M. Newman (“This
Island Earth”) from an original screenplay by Martin Goldsmith (“Detour,” “The
Gunfight at Dodge City”). It’s an unusual story for a western. While there’s
plenty of action, the focus is on the inner turmoil of the tormented character
played by McCrea, a man torn between his responsibility to his men and his
fierce hatred of his wife’s killers. The central question Goldsmith poses is “Which
side will win out?” The story moves with the inevitability of a train heading
toward a collision, culminating in a battle that takes place in an eerie ancient
Indian cliff dwelling, which Pvt. Pendleton sarcastically dubs “Fort Massacre.”
And, in an ironic twist, it is Travis, the young man who could never make a
decision, who provides the film’s shattering climax. “Fort Massacre” is a film
well worth watching.
Kino Lorber has done another admirable job bringing this
Cinemascope feature to Blu-ray. The film is for the most part exceptionally
clean with rich colors and the 2.35:1 aspect ratio for Cinemascope gives us
every millimeter of Carl Guthrie’s beautiful cinematography. The soundtrack is
DTS Stereo. There’s no surround sound, and the soundtrack is not all that
dynamic, but Marlin Skiles score is heard to good advantage throughout. As
usual with these Studio Classics Blu-rays the only bonus features are some
trailers for other films in the company’s catalog. It’s too bad. Commentary on
Goldsmith’s screenplay alone would have been worth whatever the extra cost. Nevertheless,
for anyone interested in westerns, particularly the westerns of Joel McCrea
this Blu-ray is a must-have.
(or “RIFFRAFF” as it appears in the titles) opens on a rainy night at the El
Caribe aircraft hanger in Peru. The pilots, ticket agent and a passenger await
the arrival of a man who rushes to the ticket agent and enters the plane
clutching his attaché case as he finds a seat among the cargo and livestock. Midflight,
a buzzer sounds and a pilot discovers the cargo door gone. The remaining
passenger, Charles Hasso (Marc Krah), says the other man jumped. Hasso arrives
in Panama and is briefly interrogated by Major Rues (George Givot) who advises
him to remain in town for further questioning.
the attaché, Hasso makes his way to detective Dan Hammer’s office and hires him
to protect him and asks to meet later at his hotel. Before leaving he pins a
map from the attaché to Hammer’s wall hiding it in plain site among all the
other items where it remains unseen by everyone. Meanwhile, Hammer is hired by American
oil company executive Walter Gredson (Jerome Cowen, Dagwood’s boss George
Radcliffe in the “Blondie” movie series) who owns the map. He wants Hammer to
find Hasso and the map. It turns out the map is worth a fortune in South
American oil revenues.
O’Brien is terrific as Dan Hammer, an American ex-pat living in Panama. He’s as
hard-boiled as private detectives get and is soon approached by pretty blonde
nightclub singer Maxine (Anne Jeffreys), the requisite femme fatal and
girlfriend of the oil executive seeking the map. Walter sends her to watch over
Hammer and follow his progress. Meanwhile, Eric Molinar (Walter Slezac) is also
seeking the map. He has his thugs murder Hasso and traces him back to Hammer
and the oil executives.
has a friend and side-kick, a cabbie named Pop, played by Percy Kilbride.
Kilbride would soon become famous playing Pa Kettle in eight widely popular movies
between 1947 and 1955. Kilbride provides just the right level of laid back comic
relief in an otherwise dark detective thriller. Hammer also has a lazy shaggy
dog which sleeps outside his open office door and Major Rues is on hand
throughout the movie. The relationship between Hammer and Maxine is strictly professional
and Hammer quickly realizes she’s sent to spy on him, but they soon fall for
each other. Hammer takes quite a beating at the hands of Molinar’s thugs until
Maxine discovers the map while helping Hammer get cleaned up.
movie comes to a satisfying conclusion after 80 hard boiled minutes filled with
lots of snappy dialog. The 1947 RKO production was directed by Ted Tetzlaff,
better known as a cinematographer in over 100 movies and director of a handful of
movies. He put his camera skills to good use here as director creating just the
right atmosphere of light and dark and shadows. The black and white image is
well preserved on this burn-to-order DVD released as part of the Warner Archive
Collection. The disc is bare bones, but the movie is worth checking out for the
outstanding black and white photography, terrific story, great cast of
character actors and of course that great title. “Riff-Raff” is a true gem
among 1940s crime thrillers.
Alec Guinness gave so many brilliant dramatic screen performances that many
moviegoers forget that he was also one of the most accomplished comedic actors
the British film industry had ever seen. Although Guinness first gained fame
with star-making roles in David Lean's "Great Expectations" and
"Oliver Twist" (playing Fagin), the bulk of his successes in the
1950s were in classic British comedies such as "The Lavender Hill
Mob", "Kind Hearts and Coronets", "The Ladykillers",
"The Horse's Mouth", "Our Man in Havana", "All at
Sea", "The Captain's Paradise", "The Man in the White
Suit" and "The Lavender Hill Mob". By any standard, a remarkable
roster of great comedies. By the 1960s, however, Guinness concentrated
mostly on dramatic roles. Who could blame him, with prime appearances in David
Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago"? In 1965
he did make one screwball comedy, "Situation Hopeless..But Not
Serious", a WWII-era film that co-starred young up-and-coming Robert
Redford in a supporting role, but the movie didn't particularly resonate with
critics or audiences. His only other concession to the genre of cinematic
farce was "Hotel Paradis0", filmed in 1966 by writer/director Peter
Glenville, who only sporadically made movies. Glenville's most recent cinematic
excursion had been his highly acclaimed 1964 film version of Jean
Anouilh's play "Becket". "Paradiso" was as far away from
that dramatic achievement as one could imagine. It returned Guinness to a genre
that allowed him to re-tune his considerable skills at playing overt
comedy. In fact, Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956.
The film is adapted from the play "L'Hotel du Libre
Echange", whichwas co-written by Georges Feydeau (who Glenville appears as
in the film, albeit in an uncredited role.) In fact, Alec Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956. Like the play, the movie is set in the suburbs of Paris in the early 1900s. Guinness plays Benedict Boniface, a sophisticated
milquetoast who lives a comfortable existence with one glaring exceptional
factor: he is constantly henpecked by his shrewish, dominating wife Angelique
(Peggy Mount), who oversees his every move. Benedict suffers in silence, finding a bit of solace by puttering around his garden which adjoins the home of Henri and Marcelle Cotte (Robert Morley and Gina Lollobrigida).They have their own problems: Henri is a negligent husband who is more obsessed with his career as an architect than he is with the considerable charms of his gorgeous wife, who is frustrated by his neglect and who is desperate for some romantic attention. One sunny afternoon when Henri leaves for an overnight business trip to the city, Benedict summons the courage to drop in on Marcelle and express his love for her. She is shocked but doesn't lose any time in agreeing to explore the possibility of an affair with him. Fate favors the would-be lovers when Angelique announces that she, too, is leaving on an overnight trip to look after an ailing sister. Things almost go awry when an unexpected house guest, Mr. Martin (David Byng), arrives to take up the Boniface's on a long ago offer they made to have him stay with him. The trouble is that Martin, a widower, has in tow his brood of four young daughters and their enormous amount of luggage. The Benedicts are horrified and inform Mr. Martin in the most polite manner possible that they simply don't have space to lodge the entire family and that he she consider taking rooms at a hotel in Paris. Through a misunderstanding, the name of Hotel Paradiso is mentioned. This happens to be a sleazy establishment that stays afloat by catering to illicit lovers. It is precisely the place where Benedict intends to spend the night with Marcelle. However, unbeknownst to him, Mr. Martin has mistakenly assumed that Benedict has recommended the hotel as a place for him and his daughters to stay. Benedict and Marcelle meet for dinner at a local restaurant where they briefly enjoy a rather saucy stage act before realizing they might be recognized. They then head off to Hotel Paradiso where they rather awkwardly enter the bedroom in anticipation of carrying out their plans for engaging in the kinds of activity that would surely cause a public scandal if they were to be discovered. Things get complicated quickly. Every time the would-be lovers are about to get down to business, another remarkable coincidence occurs. They include the arrival of Henri, who is staying at the hotel to examine the plumbing. Then Mr. Martin arrives with his four daughters. Even the Benedict's flirty maid shows up with Henri's nephew, who is about to be seduced by the amorous domestic servant. Playwright Georges Feydeau is on hand as he silently observes the goings-on. The film quickly becomes a classically-styled bedroom farce with Benedict and Marcelle now trapped in their room and deftly trying to avoid being seen. There are countless near-misses and close encounters and the inevitable face-to-face meetings that require explaining their presence at the hotel by employing incredulous excuses. Before long, the police end up the hotel and Benedict and Marcelle are arrested, which adds another obstacle to overcome in their unconsummated love affair.
The film was greeted with tepid reviews at the time, with critics citing Glenville's propensity to direct films as though he was still working in a theater. It's true that Glenville does have a somewhat heavy hand in terms of directing lightweight comedy scenarios.However, the movie certainly plays better today simply because no one makes films like this anymore, least of all with the caliber of stars like Guinness and Lollobrigida, who was also quite adept between dramatic roles and lightweight farces. Both actors are at their best here, especially as the pace of the farce picks up pace and the coincidences and obstacles that their characters have to deal with become more incredible and amusing. There is able support from the always-reliable Robert Morley and Akim Tamiroff turns up as the hotel's sleazy manager. However, the show-stealing performance is the hilarious turn by David Byng, whose Mr. Martin is a naive eccentric with a sporadic speech impediment that comes and goes depending upon the state of the weather! It plays a pivotal role in the film's climax. The concluding sequence takes place at the opening of a new play by Georges Feydeau which the principal characters attend together. It leads to a very amusing "sting-in-the-tail" finale with ironic consequences. "Hotel Paradiso" benefits from a lavish production design and a good score by Laurence Rosenthal. It also marked an early career achievement for legendary film editor Anne V. Coates. In summary, a most entertaining film from an era in which there was a place for sophistication in cinematic comedies.
The Warner Archive DVD is region-free and includes the original trailer. The packaging also retains the wonderful original poster art by Frank Frazetta.
“He Ran All the Way” (1951) was forties’ tough guy John
Garfield’s last cinematic performance. It’s a taut, tense, claustrophobic drama
about Nick Robey, a cop-killer who takes a family hostage in a small apartment,
as he tries to figure a way to lam out of town. As Garfield’s swan song it’s a
compelling performance, and ironically there are eerie hints throughout the
film of the real life crises he was facing at the time. More on that later.
The film begins with Robey’s mother (Gladys George)
hollering at him to get out of bed and go look for work. She talks to him like
a worthless bum and the first time we see him, Robey is a harassed, seemingly
helpless character without a clue what he ought to be doing with his life. When
he leaves his apartment his friend, Al Molin (Norman Lloyd) catches him on the
street and reminds him they do have
something to do. Almost as if against his will, Robey finds himself with a gun
in his hand, as they march into a warehouse and rob a guy carrying a briefcase
full of money. The job is botched from the start. A cop shoots Molin in the
back and Robey plugs the cop and runs for it.
James Wong Howe’s stark black and white close up cinematography
showing the sweat on Garfield’s face and the look of fear in his eyes and John
Berry’s close, unyielding direction perfectly convey the rage and paranoia of a
desperate man on the run. Robey stays on the crowded city streets as long as he
can, then ducks into an indoor swimming pool where he picks up Peggy Dobbs
(Shelley Winters). He figures if he has a girl with him, he has a better chance
of not being spotted by the cops. He manages to take her home, where
unexpectedly he learns she lives with her mom (Selena Royal) and dad (Wallace Ford)
and kid brother (Bobby Hyatt).
The family, seeing that Peggy has a new boyfriend,
obligingly goes to the movies, leaving them alone. Peggy is hopelessly naïve as
Garfield grills her about the family and her life. When she turns on the radio
and they start to dance, she tells him to loosen up. “I dance the way I wanna
dance,” he snaps and turns the music off. That’s the kind of guy he is. When
the family members come back from the movies, he looks out the window and sees
them on the street talking to two men. He thinks they’re cops and he pulls a
gun on mom, pop and the kid when they come upstairs. That’s when the trouble
starts and unfortunately that’s when the story starts to unravel.
After keeping them hostage overnight, he lets the old man
and Peg go to work next morning so as not to arouse suspicion, threatening to
kill the others if they give anything away. Frankly, at this point, the
situation becomes too contrived and the characters, Robey included, too unbelievable
and too unlikeable for anyone to really care what happens to them. The Wallace
Ford Character and his wife are too cowardly, Peggy is at first too naïve and
then later too daring or foolhardy to be believable. And Robey is at turns too
much of a whiner on the one hand and too much of a thug on the other.
As noted earlier, “He Ran All the Way,” a movie about a
man hounded by authorities and grim fate, mirrors in many ways the real-life
situation Garfield was living through at the time. His career was on the skids,
he had a bad heart condition, and he was being investigated by Joe McCarthy’s
House UnAmerican Activities Committee for his involvement with the Communist
Party. Like Nick Robey, Garfield was trapped in a web of circumstances from
which he would never escape. Garfield would be dead of a heart attack a year later
at the age of 39.
This film generally gets great reviews, in part, I
suspect because it was Garfield’s last, and also because, in another ironic
twist, it was written by Dalton Trumbo, who had his own troubles with the
McCarthy Committee. He went to jail as one of the famous Hollywood 10 for not naming
names. Trumbo and co-writer Hugh Butler had to use the name of Guy Endore in
the credits as a front. Working from a novel by Sam Ross, they tried to keep
the tension high, but in the end it all sort of comes apart, and by the time
it’s over you’re sorry more of the characters don’t suffer Robey’s fate. They
just plain get on your nerves. But maybe that was the point. The world created
by Trumbo, Butler and Ross, was a world you wouldn’t want to live in anyway. Maybe
you’d be better off dead. Come to think of it, wasn’t that the point of most of
Kino Lorber has outdone themselves with this stunning Studio
Classics Blu-Ray presentation of “He Ran All the Way.” The restored transfer is
absolutely flawless. The picture is crystal clear and the crisp black and white
photography is rendered in film-like detail. Sound is mono. Unfortunately there
are no extras except for a trailer for the film and for two others, including
“A Bullet for Joey.”
Overall, I can think of several other Garfield films I’d
recommend over this one, including “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” and “Body
and Soul.” But despite its flaws, I’d recommend getting this one just to round
out your Garfield collection and to enjoy, perhaps, one of the best black white
Blu-ray discs on the market.
The contemporary horror film genre has become an endurance test for seeing how much blood and splatter can be contained in each stomach-churning release. Gone are the days when such films were populated by literate scripts and iconic stars. Fortunately, home video releases still allow us to revel in the glory days of the horror genre, which came to a gradual end in the mid-to-late 1970s. The genre reached its first peak in the great Universal Monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s before being reinvented for a new generation in "gorious colour" by Hammer studios in Britain. Then American International Pictures got on board with enormously successful adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories produced by Roger Corman and generally starring Vincent Price, who became a horror icon during this period. This era also saw the rise of Amicus, another British production house that sought to emulate the success of Hammer by often producing horror anthology tales that also starred icons of the genre. Still, by the mid-1970s, such movies were growing stale with younger viewers as a new generation of filmmakers specialized in the kind of gory tales that would have been deemed unreleasable even a few years before. The 1974 production of "Madhouse" represents the last desperate gasp of the type of horror film that had grown so popular over the previous decade. It stars two genuine legends, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, who heretofore had been denied sharing the screen together despite having jointly appeared in anthology horror flicks. Robert Quarry, who was being groomed as their heir apparent by American International on the basis of his portrayal of Count Yorga, also had a prominent role in "Madhouse". The production, however, was far from a joyous swansong for the film that marked Price's final association with American International. In fact, the entire movie was deemed such a mess by those involved that it's a testament to their talents that it was even completed. The film was a joint venture between A.I.P. and Amicus, two studios with very different philosophies about making movies. There was tension from day one and the film went into production with a hastily cobbled together script that no one found satisfactory. Indeed, having received the script on Friday, the actors were expected to begin shooting on Monday. Robert Quarry was so disgusted by the lame dialogue that he took it upon himself to ghost write major portions of the script, an act that was looked upon favorably by his co-stars who asked him to do the same for their characters.. Jim Clark, who is primarily known as a talented editor for many esteemed films, was assigned the thankless task of bringing this mess-in-the-making to the screen. He was hobbled by a disgruntled and dispirited cast as well as quarreling executives.
"Madhouse" was originally titled "The Revenge of Dr. Death", a much more appropriate title. The film opens with Price as legendary film star Paul Toombs hosting a New Years Eve party in his Hollywood mansion. Toombs has become a star largely based on his recurring role as Dr. Death, a hideous murderer who stalks his victim in a distinctive skull-like mask. He no sooner announces his engagement to a beautiful actress, Ellen Mason, (Julie Crosthwait) when he is distastefully informed by porn producer Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry) that the bride-to-be used to be one of his top stars. Disgusted by this revelation, Toombs publicly chastises Ellen and the two storm off upstairs. Minutes later, Ellen is decapitated by someone in a Dr. Death costume. The prime suspect is Toombs, who is blamed for the murder and who suffers from a convenient bout of amnesia that leads him to believe he must have been guilty of the crime. He is committed to a mental institution for years. When he is released, he is convinced by his best friend and favorite screenwriter Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing) that he should accept an offer to revive the Dr. Death character for television. Ironically the show is being produced by Oliver Quayle, who is now a reputable figure in the industry. Toombs initially spawns the offer, partly out of revulsion for Quayle but primarily because he fears that playing Dr. Death again might inspire him to commit more violent crimes. Nevertheless, Herbert, who is now also an aspiring actor, convinces Toombs that he is up to the challenge. As the show goes into production, a series of high profile murders occurs with the victims turning out to be people who have come into contact with Toombs. They include an opportunistic young actress (Linda Hayden), who tries to seduce and blackmail him and her equally opportunistic step parents. As the body count rises everyone suspects that Toombs is the killer but Scotland Yard can't pin the crimes on him. It's apparent to the viewer, however, that Toombs is the victim, not the killer. This is typical for protagonists played by Price. Even if they are murderers, it's generally the result of them having been driven insane by unscrupulous people they had trusted. "Madhouse" takes this formula to an extreme. At times it plays like "Gaslight" on steroids. You would also have to be the least adept sleuth since Inspector Clouseau if you can't spot who the real villain is practically from frame one.
"Madhouse" follows the style of recently successful Price films from the era, primarily the Dr. Phibes movies and his acclaimed hit "Theatre of Blood" which had been released the previous year. The key component is a sense of campiness, though in "Madhouse" the actors play it straight and don't give overly broad comedic interpretations of their roles. Price actually has an interesting character to play, as Toombs is a multi-faceted man with a painful past and present to contend with. He does yeoman work, giving one of his finest late career performances (he even gets to croon a love song that is played on old Victrolas!). Cushing is largely underutilized until the climax when the two stars share a terrific scene. Stuck between these two legends, Robert Quarry doesn't have much to do other than sip cocktails and make snarky remarks. Still, having these three stars on screen together makes for a delightful experience even if the material is often predictable. In fact, it's the sheer predictability of the script that makes the movie so enjoyable. This is the kind of horror flick in which nubile and defenseless young woman walk through dark houses to see what went bump in the night. It's gory and bloody in keeping up with the times, but somehow the gore is never as repugnant as it is in slasher and "dead teenager" flicks that would come to redefine the horror genre. It should also be pointed out that Price's Dr. Death makeup effects are truly impressive, as is the gimmick employed throughout the film of having clips from Price's old collaborations with Roger Corman shown as examples of Paul Toombs's career highlights. (A nice touch is acknowledging the late great Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, who appear in these sequences, in the opening credits of "Madhouse".)
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release is outstanding on all levels. It features a commentary track by horror film historian David Del Valle that is both entertaining and informative. Del Valle personally knew many of the people involved in the production and his track is like a master class in horror filmmaking. There is also a short but very good retrospective documentary about the making of the film in which Del Valle is interviewed along with another esteemed horror film scholar, C. Courtney Joyner. Both of them provide plenty of fascinating facts about the troubled making of the movie, which was renamed "Madhouse" at the eleventh hour by A.I.P. executives who had already printed publicity materials bearing the film's previous title. The Blu-ray also contains a gallery of other Vincent Price films available through Kino Lorber.
"Madhouse" may have been deemed a second rate horror film back in the day but, given the dearth of larger-than-life stars in today's movie industry, it allows retro movie lovers to revel in the onscreen pairing of two truly iconic screen legends. It also represents the type of movie of which it can be said, "They don't make 'em like that any more". I only wish they did.
I've long had admiration for the work of actor Robert Shaw ever since he impressed me at age 8 with his chilling interpretation of the SPECTRE psychotic killer Red Grant in "From Russia With Love". Shaw could always be counted on to deliver a fine performance even if the material he chose was sometimes underwhelming. Shaw was also a talented writer and playwright, having won acclaim for his play "The Man in the Glass Booth", which was inspired by the war criminal trial of Adolf Eichmann. Shaw, like many actors, participated in many questionable films in order to enable his real passion, which was to bring avante garde movie projects to fruition, even if they only appealed to the art cinema crowd. One of Shaw's most interesting vehicles is one of his least seen. "Figures in a Landscape" was his 1970 adaptation of an allegorical novel by Barry England that abounded with reference to the (then) on-going Vietnam war. Shaw dispensed with that aspect of the novel and instead played up its more opaque aspects, particularly those that concern the two protagonists in what is basically a two-character adventure. The film opens with Shaw and co-star Malcolm McDowell on the run in an unnamed country being pursued by unnamed forces (presumably the police and/or military) for unspecified crimes. One senses they are political prisoners in a totalitarian state but this is never addressed directly. Shaw is MacConnachie ("Mac"), a middle-aged man with a colorful past that often found him on the opposite side of the law. McDowell is Ansell, a twenty-something free spirited type from London whose social values are the polar opposite of Mac's old fashioned values. When we first see the men, they are running at a high rate of speed and have to contend with the major obstacle of having their hands bound behind their backs. We never learn how they effected their escape and from whom but these are just several key questions that Shaw's screenplay goes to lengths in terms of not filling in the audience on the details. The two men, bound by their mutual need for one another, bicker and bark at each other like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones" with Mac channeling his future performance as Quint in "Jaws" by constantly attacking the younger man for being the product of a soft generation. As these types of films generally play out, Mac and Ansell are able to win some small victories through mutual efforts and begin to develop a grudging but sincere admiration for each other. (In one of the script's few instances of humor, we learn that Mac is somewhat of a prude by the way he chastises the younger generation for the sexual promiscuity afforded by "The Pill".) They finally figure out a way to free their bonds and obtain food, water and arms. However, they find themselves relentlessly pursued by a helicopter piloted by faceless, nameless men who coordinate a widespread army of pursuers on the ground The image of the helicopter haunts Mac and Ansell throughout their desperate race across a harsh landscape that contains both deserts and high, snow-covered mountains. Throughout their ordeal, the men come to know each other better though Shaw's screenplay, perhaps not coincidentally, gives his character far meatier material than McDowell gets to work with. Shaw is at his best in the quiet sequences, reminiscing about his beloved wife who waits for his return home.
The film falls short of its Kafkaesque pretensions but is never less than engaging, thanks in no small part to the skill of director Joseph Losey in keeping the bizarre aspects of the scripts from becoming too alienating for the audience. There is also superb cinematography that does justice to the magnificent, if sometimes foreboding, Spanish landscapes and a fine score by the estimable Richard Rodney Bennett. It's unclear what Shaw was trying to say in this sometimes puzzling film that at times evokes aspects of Patrick McGoohan's classic TV series "The Prisoner". This jumbled aspect of the story robs the film of some of its potential dramatic payoffs but there is real satisfaction in watching Shaw and McDowell in parts that are this meaty. We only learn enough about each character to tantalize us even further regarding how they ended up in this dilemma and it's probably best that Shaw never provides any easy answers. However, some of the men's actions and interactions cry out for a bit more clarification especially in the exciting climax when Mac is motivated to take on downing the hated helicopter even at an unnecessary risk to his own life.
"Figures in a Landscape" has been released by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray. As with most of the company's titles, this one boasts a superb transfer that does justice to the impressive filming locations. Unfortunately, no extras are included. A pity because this film cries out for a commentary track that could have covered not only the movie itself but also Shaw's remarkable career, one that never completely fulfilled its potential because of his own personal demons.
Business” features Gene Hackman and Mikhail Baryshnikov in an espionage
thriller directed by Nicholas Meyer. The Cold War is over and a former CIA agent
is called out of retirement to exchange an imprisoned Russian agent for a
captured American pilot. The movie was released in 1991 just as the Soviet
Union ceased to exist and the Russian Federation was born. Old tensions between
East and West remain and the movie tries to be a tense “Cold War” style
is Sam Boyd, a retired CIA agent who is using his skills as a corporate spy.
Mikhail Baryshnikov is Pyotr Ivanovich Grushenko, a former Soviet spy serving
time in an American prison. Sam is called out of retirement to exchange Pyotr
for the American being held by the Russians. Glasnost and perestroika indeed,
or so it would appear. Sam escorts Pyotr to the recently reunited Germany along
with a case filled with a million dollars when he realizes they are being tricked
by the Russians. It turns out the exchange is a fake and they are involved in an
elaborate double cross and money laundering scheme involving the Russians and
on their trail are the American and Russian agents attempting to get the money back
and to kill Sam and Pyotr who form an alliance and make their way through
Germany and on to Paris. It’s not exactly clear what they plan on doing once
they get there or how they plan on getting away with their lives and the movie’s
ending does little to clear things up. The main problem is that the story was
obviously meant to be a typical Cold War thriller. Nicholas Meyer does a good
job as writer and director, but it’s clear that the story just was not going to
work after the Cold War ended during production. What do you do with a Cold War
thriller after the Soviet Union ceases to exist? It was an unfortunate time to
produce such a movie.
is a great actor and Baryshnikov is generally good, but they both appear bored
and don’t really look like they’re into it. The supporting actors are almost comical
in a painful way in their attempts to play it straight, but one can predict
everything that’s going to happen before it plays out. The movie is trying to
be a kind of comic buddy movie, but it never quite works out. Géraldine Danon is on hand as a French woman who turns
out to be Pyotr’s daughter, but she serves no serious purpose other than to
launder the money through a Swiss bank to make it untraceable (I guess).
Smith is on hand as Sam’s CIA contact and is good in just about everything he’s
in. Terry O’Quinn is also on hand, but other than being the mastermind behind
the money laundering scheme, he doesn’t have much to do. The central plot is
too full of holes and none of it really makes any sense. Why not just keep the
cash and hide somewhere in luxury? Instead Sam and Pyotr keep exposing
themselves by meeting with old friends and known associates in cities filled to
the brim with spies.
movie looks fine on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray and showcases some fine on-location
work in Germany and France. The night-time street scenes in Germany are very
nicely shot and the movie is an easy going 98 minutes. The disc contains a
featurette with interviews by a very bored Hackman as well as out-takes, sound
bites and the trailer. Interestingly, the trailer attempts to sell the film as
a buddy comedy and features a scene not in the movie with the leads living in
retirement on a tropical island. I’d say catch this movie if you have to see
everything by Gene Hackman, Mikhail Baryshnikov and director Nicholas Meyer.
"The Strangler" is a long-forgotten 1964 low-budget exploitation movie originally released by Allied Artists. It has developed a bit of a cult following among retro movie lovers who will be delighted that the film has come to DVD through the Warner Archive. The movie was designed to capitalize on the notorious Boston Strangler murders that were in the news at the time. However, what sets the movie apart from other cheap thrills productions is the fact that it is intelligently scripted and presents its villain as a highly complex character, filled with nuances and psychological tortures. Victor Buono, who had made a sensational film debut the previous year in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", gets a rare starring role as the titular character. He's Leo Kroll, a meek, obese young man who barely makes a living as a lab assistant in big city hospital. He's quiet, unassuming and superficially friendly even though he has no real friends in his life. Our first glimpse of Leo is rather startling. We see him inside the apartment of an attractive young woman who is undressing, not knowing that she has a stalker on the premises. Leo suddenly emerges and strangles her with her own stockings. We learn that Leo is behind similar serial murders of young women in the area but the police are at a dead end. Leo's private life is pure hell. He lives with his aging mother (Ellen Corby) who controls virtually every aspect of his life. She even ensures that their apartment is a shrine to herself, adorned with numerous photos of her. When the film opens, she is confined to a hospital room and expects Leo to visit her every night right after work. When he takes a night off to indulge in his murderous past time, his mother's abrasive accusations of neglect seem to bother him more than the heinous crimes he has committed. He clearly hates and resents his mother. She never fails to remind him that he is a loser: overweight, homely and friendless. She tells him that she is the only person he can rely on and trust. She also warns him against getting involved with women, saying that any girl who would date him had to be after his money. Leo also has a peculiar fetish- he likes to leave dolls at the scene of his murderS, each representing the woman he has just killed. He obtains them by winning a game of chance at a local arcade where his skill at the game seems to impress the girls behind the counter, one of whom, Tally (Davey Davison), he clearly has a crush on, which inevitably puts her on Leo's endangered species list.
There weren't many diverse roles that Buono could play in his career. Generally, the baby-faced actor was stuck portraying varying incarnations of a "man child". However, he did carve out some memorable performances playing largely comedic villains in shows like "Batman", "The Wild, Wild West" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.". He worked steadily, occasionally landing a mature role in major films such as "Robin and the Seven Hoods" and "Four For Texas" in which he appeared with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Buono, who died young at age 42 in 1982, arguably gives the best performance of his career in "The Strangler", making a man who commits despicable acts seem almost sympathetic. When he finally asks a woman he barely knows to marry him, her rejection of him is truly a heartbreaking scene. Leo ends up on the short list of police suspects but manages to elude arrest. He even demands to take a lie detector test, which he passes due to the fact that he has no feelings of guilt whatsoever. His motive for murder isn't even to alleviate the sexual repression he feels. It's simply his way of dealing with mommy issues. Each woman he slays is a stand-in for the mother he deplores. Under the highly competent direction of Burt Topper, "The Strangler" boasts some impressive performances by a largely unknown cast. The police sequences, which highlight David McLean as the over-worked cop assigned to crack the case, ring with authenticity. The B&W film also has good cinematography and creative use of lighting effect. Yet it is Buono who dominates the production with a performance that would have won critical raves if it were seen in an "A" list production. The film is consistently entertaining and at times highly suspenseful. The Warner Archive release is top-notch but lacks any extras. A commentary track on this title would be most welcome for a future edition.
In the early 1960s director John Frankenheimer emerged as one of Hollywood's most exciting talents. Consider the remarkably diverse films he made in a four year period between 1962 and 1966: "Birdman of Alcatraz", a somewhat fictionalized but extremely compelling prison drama with an Oscar nominated performance by Burt Lancaster; the classic thriller "The Manchurian Candidate" which perfectly analyzed the type of paranoia that still defines American politics today; "Seven Days in May", yet another classic political thriller that also retains its relevance; "The Train", a superb WWII film about the French Resistance attempting to thwart a Nazi's theft of priceless national treasures, "Seconds", Frankenheimer's brilliant and underrated "Twilight Zone"-like chiller and "Grand Prix", the big budget, star-packed racing extravaganza that was unlike any of his previous films (it was in color, for one). For a while, it seemed Frankenheimer could do no wrong. However, by the late 1960s, he began to stumble. His forthy comedy "The Extraordinary Seaman" was, by any rational evaluation, a complete disaster and was deemed largely unreleasable by MGM. His next major effort, "The Gypsy Moths" reunited him with Burt Lancaster, star of some of his greatest successes. However, despite having many merits, the film failed to click with audiences and critics. Suddenly, Frankenheimer was no longer the "Golden Boy" who represented the new age of daring young American directors. In the mid-1970s, he got two more bites at the apple with "French Connection II" and the terrorist thriller "Black Sunday". He delivered the goods artistically but both films did not amass the anticipated grosses and Frankenheimer was increasingly relegated to helming middling films in return for a quick pay check. He later confessed that some of his problems were self-imposed due to his dependency on alcohol. As his feature film career deteriorated, Frankenheimer found salvation through directing acclaimed, high profile TV movies that saw him win four Emmy Awards. He did have one late career theatrical hit with the spy thriller "Ronin" in 1998. He passed away in 2002, having had the satisfaction of seeing his work re-evaluated by a new generation of critics with "Seconds", in particular, finally winning the type of praise that had eluded reviewers when initially released in 1966.
One of Frankenheimer's least-discussed films, "The Fourth War", has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The movie went into production at the very end of the Cold War. By the time it was released in 1990, the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, which is probably why the audience is informed that the story takes place in 1988. Although the film is set up to be a grudge match between two military tough guys on opposite sides of the political spectrum, the central character is Col. Jack Knowles (Roy Scheider), a spit-and-polish veteran U.S. Army officer who arrives at his new command, a remote base on the border of West Germany and Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia. Knowles is a complete hard ass with Patton-like disciplinary measures he doesn't hesitate to enact for any soldier who doesn't abide by his rules. But we learn later that Knowles is a bit of a hypocrite. Seems he has a reputation for being a loose cannon who consistently defies orders and regulations in order to carry out procedures his own way. He's been booted from several commands and this is his last chance. It's an opportunity that has been afforded him by his Vietnam War buddy Gen. Hackworth (Harry Dean Stanton), whose life Knowles saved back in the day. Knowles shows his gratitude by immediately violating orders and taking a small patrol past the "no go" boundary that abuts the Czech border. By happenstance, the group witnesses a disturbing sight: a dissident is racing toward the West German border over snow covered fields with Soviet soldiers relentlessly hunting him down on horseback. The man almost makes it to freedom but is shot dead by the Soviets. Outraged, Knowles pulls his pistol and is about to initiate a shooting war. His second in command, Lt. Col. Clark (Tim Reid) realizes the international implications that would follow and convinces Knowles to holster his weapon- but Knowles is still outraged. He tosses a snowball at the Soviet commanding officer, Col. Valachev (Jurgen Prochnow). This juvenile act of protest will lead to a relentless war of wills between both men, each of whom studies the other's history. Before long, Knowles is making surreptitious nocturnal one-man missions behind the border. At first he causes mischief by holding Soviet guards at gunpoint and humiliating them. But his actions become increasingly risky, culminating in his destroying a guard tower and nearly killing the men in it. Valachev begins to respond in kind, sneaking over the border to humiliate Knowles. By this point, Lt. Col. Clark suspects that Knowles is becoming irrational and carrying out forbidden missions. General Clark dresses down his old friend and tells him that if he makes one more slip-up, he won't be able to save him from being drummed out of the military. Knowles is momentarily shaken but can't resist resuming his activities over the border.On one such "mission", he meets a desperate young woman who is trying to sneak back into Czechoslovakia. She's Elena (Lara Harris), who explains she has to rescue her little daughter who is being cared for by her grandmother. Elena explains that her mother is now too ill to take care of the child and she worries that the girl will be placed in a state home. The gruff Knowles is moved by her plight and agrees to help her in her quest- a promise that ultimately leads to dramatic consequences and a one-on-one confrontation with Valachev that could reignite the Cold War.
While "The Fourth War" is not of a caliber of John Frankenheimer's early classics, the film has much to recommend about it. The movie did not make much of an impact when it first opened and has remained under the radar screen ever since. It needs a few champions and I'm happy to be one of them. For one, it's intelligently written and presents two interesting characters, though we never learn much about Valachev. Knowles, on the other hand, is an emotional basket case hiding behind a tough guy persona. He's friendless and desperate to find meaning in life. In one poignant scene, he celebrates his birthday in his quarters, accompanied only by a bottle of booze and a kid's party hat on his head as he tries vainly to have a civil conversation by phone with a grown son who is clearly not enamored with him. He's a tragic, fascinating figure- a small scale General Curtis Lemay, who has channeled his demons into a personal crusade against communism. Scheider gives a terrific performance and gets fine support from Prochnow, Reid and Harris, whose character provides the catalyst for a clever plot twist late in the film. Harry Dean Stanton is terrific especially in the sequence in which he locks horns with Scheider. It's riveting all the way. Director Frankenheimer turns the Canadian frozen tundra into a convincing replica of the Eastern European landscape and milks a good deal of suspense from the proceedings, culminating in a spectacular, testosterone-laced battle between the two antagonists in full view of their respective armies.
"The Fourth War" is well worth a look. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks sensational. Bonus extras are the original trailer and a gallery of other trailers for Scheider films available from the company.
Long regarded as one of Roger Corman's most ambitious and poignant films, "X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" comes to Blu-ray as an impressive special edition from Kino Lorber. Corman became a legend by overseeing production of countless low-budget horror and exploitation films beginning in the late 1950s. What the movies lacked in budgetary aspects they more than made up for in terms of intelligent scripts and often creative technical processes that more than compensated for the skimpy budgets. Corman's films not only gave early breaks to a new generation of actors and filmmakers, but he also helped resurrect flagging careers of veteran actors, one of whom was Ray Milland, who stars in this film. Milland was a Best Actor Oscar winner for the 1945 movie "The Lost Weekend" but by the 1960s his boxoffice appeal had waned. By teaming with Corman on "The Premature Burial" in 1962, Milland found he enjoyed acting in horror-based flicks. They also helped him pay the bills and maintain his status as a leading man, albeit in vehicles that critics generally dismissed as "B" movies. If Milland never became a legend through his association with horror films as Vincent Price did, his presence in these movies kept him on the radar screen and allowed him to occasionally nab fine roles in major Hollywood productions such as "Love Story", "Gold" and "The Last Tycoon". The success of "The Premature Burial" led to Milland reuniting with Corman for "X" the following the year.
Original Gold Key tie-in comic book.
"X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" presents Milland as Dr. James Xavier, a respected surgeon in a big city hospital who has an obsession for exploring the greater meaning of life. He is consumed by a belief that if people could be empowered to see through solid matter, they might learn the secrets the universe. Xavier has been working under a grant to explore these possibilities and the result is a serum that, if administered as eye drops, might allow a person to obtain X-ray vision. Against the advice of his colleagues who claim the serum hasn't been perfected yet, Xavier boldly administers the drops in his own eyes. The results are positive. He finds that, to a limited degree, he can indeed see through solid matter. However, the effects are temporary and unpredictable. Xavier tempts fate by continuing to up the dosage. This results in his being able to achieve extraordinary results. He finds he can see inside the human body and uses his skill to help correct misdiagnosed patients. His boss, head surgeon Dr. Willard Benson (John Hoyt) is skeptical of his claims and his best friend, Dr. Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone) refuses to assist him in his experiments on the basis that he perceives Xavier is suffering from psychological problems based on the serum he has been taking. In fact, Xavier is slowly being driven mad. By being able to see within virtually every object and person, he finds the mental anguish to be excruciating. He can't turn it off at will and is subject to often seeing the world through blinding psychedelic patterns that result in him acting irrational. His sole ally is his colleague Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis), a colleague who seems to have a romantic interest in him. Diane attempts to talk Xavier into stopping the experiments but he feels compelled to continue in the hope that eventually he will be able to unlock the secrets of life. Tragedy strikes when Xavier's irrational behavior results in the accidental death of a friend. Because he flees the scene, he becomes wanted for murder. By this point, the serum has wreaked havoc on his eyes, which now look surrealistic. To hide them, he wears an omnipresent pair of over-sized sunglasses. Desperate and alone, Xavier meets a carnival barker, Crane (Don Rickles), who soon understands the extraordinary power he possesses. Crane, an opportunist, convinces Xavier to appear at the carnival and use his power as a money-making gimmick. Xavier is appalled but consents out of financial necessity. However, when Crane begins to exploit sick people, Xavier flees the scene. Diane tracks him down and the two hurry to Las Vegas where Xaveri's X-ray vision results in him winning big. However, he doesn't know when to quit and suspicious casino staffers challenge him, turning his triumph into a debacle.The film's conclusion finds Xavier in a high speed car chase across the desert, pursued by police vehicle and helicopters. He stumbles on a religious revival meeting being held in a tent by a charismatic, fanatical preacher (John Dierkes), whose sudden influence over Xavier results in the film's controversial and shocking final scene.
"X" is a fine film on all counts. Corman, who not only produced but also directed, never allows the fantastic premise of the story to drift into the area of the absurd. To his credit, Milland plays his role with the dignity he would have afforded to an "A" list part in a big budget film. He gives a fine and compelling performance, as does everyone in the supporting cast including Rickles, who reminds us that he was once a dramatic actor before honing his skills as an insult comic. The intelligent script aspires to deal with issues that go beyond the standard horror/sci-fi film format. In this respect, it should be viewed on par with another similar film, "The Incredible Shrinking Man". The movie also benefits from creative special effects, a fine score by Les Baxter and impressive cinematography by the legendary Floyd Crosby.
The film's final frames are still the subject of debate among retro movie lovers today.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is joy to view, not only because of the excellent transfer, but also due to the inclusion of two separate commentary tracks. On the first Corman discusses the film in detail, and with great affection. He also talks about his long term relationship with American International Pictures, a studio that allowed him virtually complete creative control over his productions. The result was a mutually beneficial partnership that lasted many years as the studio and Corman helped define each other. The second audio commentary track is by film historian Tim Lucas, whose knowledge not only of this specific film but of the genre itself is highly impressive. Not surprisingly, his grasp of the minor details involving the film's production exceeds that of Corman himself, who admits on his track that time has made his memory of certain aspects of the movie a bit hazy. (He incorrectly states that this was Don Rickles' first feature film, when, in fact, it was his fourth, having appeared in such high profile movies as "Run Silent, Run Deep" and "The Rat Race".) Both Corman and Lucas discuss in detail the film's controversial final frames, which I will not discuss here for fear of providing a spoiler. There is also a welcome video interview with director Joe Dante, who professes his love for the film from the first time he saw it as a kid. Dante also points out that the movie was originally titled simply "X" and remained so even in the print itself. He informs us that the subtitle "... The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" was added at the last minute for the print campaigns only. A segment from Dante's popular web site Trailers From Hell presents the movie's original trailer with an introduction and commentary by another contemporary director, Mick Garris. The trailer also appears separately and when viewing it, one becomes of aware of how American International included the film's only humorous sequence simply for use in sexing up the trailer. It involves Xavier and Diane at a house party where Xavier finds his X-ray vision allows him to see everyone naked. Refreshingly, his ethics don't outweigh his libido and he does what any other guy would do: he keeps gawking. The trailer emphasizes this brief sequence as only an American International production could do. Another bonus included on the Blu-ray is the film's original prologue, a rather bizarre and pedantic slog that resembles those creaky old science documentaries that baby boomers were forced to watch in school auditoriums. The seemingly endless piece is boring and bland and Corman used excellent judgment in cutting it. Nevertheless, it makes for fascinating viewing today.
"X" was an important early success for Roger Corman. That it still stands the test of time as fine entertainment today is a testament to his skills as a producer and director.
Sam Spiegel was one of the most revered and accomplished producers in Hollywood history. His achievements included such classics as "On the Waterfront", "The African Queen", "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia". His body of work, though not nearly as extensive as that of some other producers, was notable in the sense that Spiegel thought big and shot for the moon when it came to bringing to the screen stories that spoke to the human condition. Following the triumphant release of "Lawrence" in 1962, Spiegel did not make another film for four years. When he did, the movie - "The Chase"- turned out to be a star-packed drama that won over neither critics or audiences. Spiegel had a more ambitious idea for his next production, a screen adaptation of the best-selling WWII thriller "The Night of the Generals" by Hans Helmut Kirst. Spiegel had the inspired idea of reuniting his "Lawrence of Arabia" co-stars Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. They were reluctant to take on the project, but they certainly owed him. Both were virtual unknowns until Spiegel gave them the roles that made them international stars. Spiegel also added to the mix an impressive cast of esteemed British actors ranging from veterans such as Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray to up-and-coming young actors Tom Courtenay and Joanna Pettet. He chose Anatole Litvak to direct. Litvak had been making films for decades and had a few notable hits such as "Sorry, Wrong Number", "Anastasia" and "The Snake Pit". Spiegel being Spiegel ensured that the production benefited from a large budget and an appropriate running time (148 minutes) that would allow the story to unfold in a measured process.
"The Night of the Generals" is certainly a unique spin on WWII films. There are no battles or major action sequences, save for a harrowing sequence in which the German army systematically destroys part of the Warsaw Ghetto. Instead, it's very much a character study populated by characters who are, indeed, very interesting. The film opens with a tense sequence set in occupied Warsaw. The superintendent of an over-crowded apartment building accidentally overhears the brutal murder of a local prostitute in a room upstairs. From a hiding place he witnesses the killer walk past him. He does not see the man's face but recognizes his uniform: he is a general in the German army. The man keeps this information to himself on the logical assumption that divulging it might mean his death sentence. However, under questioning from the army investigator, Major Grau (Omar Sharif), he tells the shocking details of what he witnessed. From this moment, Grau becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Grau may be a German officer, but he is a pure cynic when it comes to the Nazi cause and the brutal methods being employed to win the war. He can't control the larger picture of how the war is being waged but he can control what is in his jurisdiction: bringing to justice the man who committed this one especially savage murder. Grau soon centers on three suspects. The first is General von Seiditz-Gabler (Charles Gray, channeling his future Blofeld), an effete, well-connected opportunist who is in a loveless marriage to his dominating wife Eleanore (Coral Browne). Then there is General Kahlenberg (Donald Pleasence), a man of slight build and low-key personality who has some eccentric personal habits that may include murder. Last, and most intriguing, is General Tanz (Peter O'Toole), a much-loathed and much-feared darling of Hitler's inner circle whose ruthless methods with dealing with civilian populations disgust his colleagues. Tanz has been sent to control or obliterate the Warsaw Ghetto.
The screenplay (which includes contributions by an uncredited Gore Vidal) is a bit disjointed and cuts back and forth to the present day in which we see a French police inspector, Morand (Phillippe Noiret), investigating the case twenty years later as he tries to tie together Grau's findings with dramatic developments that occurred during his handling of the case. Morand also appears in the war era sequences, having befriended Grau, who does not seem at all disturbed when he learns that Morand is actually a key figure in the French Resistance. Grau becomes particularly intrigued by General Ganz. He is an elitist snob who is devoid of any humor or compassion. A workaholic with seemingly no human weaknesses, Tanz is ostensibly under the command of his superior officer, Gabler, but it becomes clear that his political connections make him the top general in Warsaw. Major Grau interviews all three suspects and finds that any of them could be the murderer. When he becomes too intrusive, he is conveniently promoted and transferred to Paris, presumably to shut down his investigation. However, as the fortunes of war decline for the Third Reich, the top brass is eventually moved to Paris and Grau resumes his investigation when he discovers that prostitutes are being brutally murdered there as well. There is a parallel story that accompanies that of the murder investigation. It centers on Corporal Hartmann (Tom Courtenay), a young soldier who has been reluctantly acclaimed to be a national hero. It seems he was the last surviving member of his unit after a bloody battle. The brass used him as a propaganda tool, bestowing medals on him for heroic actions. In fact, he is a self-proclaimed coward whose only goal is to stay alive through the war. Hartmann confesses this to his superior, General Kahlenberg, who is amused by his honesty. He assigns him to be General Tanz's personal valet and orders him to show Tanz the history and sights of Paris. Neither he nor Tanz wants to partake in the venture, but Gabler orders Tanz to take a few days vacation, largely because he despises the man's presence. The scenes in which Hartmann tries to appease the mercurial Tanz without making any missteps are fraught with tension and suspense. Tanz is a fascinating character, presumably devoid of the vices most men have. However, in the course of their time together, Hartmann realizes that Tanz is somewhat of a fraud. He surreptitiously drinks to excess and changes into civilian clothes in order to meet with prostitutes in seedy bars. Although Tanz chews out Hartmann for every minor infraction, he seems to come to respect the younger man's professionalism. This sets in motion another complex plot development that also involves Hartmann's secret romance with General Gabler's free-spirited daughter Ulrike (Joanna Pettet).
Just trying to summarize the various plot strands of "The Night of the Generals" in this space is fairly exhausting. Oh, did I mention that another subplot involves Field Marshal Rommel (a cameo by Christopher Plummer) and the July, 1944 plot on the part of rebellious German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler? Nevertheless, although the various story lines become quite complex, they are all tied together eventually in clever and compelling ways. The film is part "Whodunnit", part political statement and part war movie. The movie moves back to the present for its intense conclusion as Inspector Morand is finally able to solve the crime and attempt to bring the culprit to justice. When the killer is revealed it's about as shocking of a development as the revelation that the butler did it in one of those old British film noir mysteries. Still, director Litvak (who shares the producer credit with Sam Spiegel because he owned the screen rights to the novel) keeps the action flowing briskly running time and elicits outstanding performances from his cast. O'Toole, who would later capitalize on playing larger-than-life characters, was at this point in his career still very immersed in portraying introspective, quiet men. He is quite mesmerizing as General Tanz and quite terrifying as well. Sharif is, at least on the surface, badly cast. I'm not aware of any Egyptians who became prominent German officers. Sharif has the map of the Middle East on his face and lingering remnants of his native accent. It's to his credit that he overcomes these obstacles and gives a very fine performance as the charismatic investigator who doggedly pursues his suspects with Javert-like conviction. All of the other performances are equally outstanding, with Courtenay especially impressive- and one has to wonder why the very talented Joanna Pettet never became a bigger star. The international flavor of the cast gives the film a Tower of Babel-like effect. Some of the actors attempt to affect a quasi-German accent while others speak with British accents, and then we have the French and Poland-based sequences with even more diversity of languages. Still, if you could accept Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood speaking "German" in their native tongues in "Where Eagles Dare", you won't find this aspect of "The Night of the Generals" to be particularly distracting. I should also mention the impressive contributions of composer Maurice Jarre, cinematographer Henri Decae and main titles designer Robert Brownjohn (remember when films even had opening titles?) In summary, the film-which not successful with critics or the public- is a thoroughly intriguing experience and affords us the joy of watching some of the best actors of the period sharing the screen.
"The Night of the Generals" has been released as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The transfer is gorgeous, giving full impact to the impressive cinematography and lush production design. There is also an isolated score track, the original trailer and an informative booklet by film historian Julie Kirgo, who examines Sam Spiegel's attempts to rebuild his career in subsequent years only to find that he was out of place in the new Hollywood.
Director Michael Winner was never the darling of critics except for his breakthrough films in the mid 1960s which evoked the sensibilities of England's emerging mod movements and a humorous, if cynical, view of society. He later morphed into more populist fare, directing the kinds of action films and moody horror flicks that seemed predestined to alienate critics but please mainstream audiences. Winner hit pay dirt with the release of his 1974 urban crime thriller "Death Wish", a film that perfectly mirrored the frustration of everyday Americans by the perception that crime was spiraling out of control across the nation and that traditional authorities were hamstrung in their efforts to stop the bad guys. The film was loathed by liberals (as well as the author of the source novel, Brian Garfield, who accused Winner of bastardizing and dumbing down his work.) However, as director William Friedkin recalled to this writer, he had never experiences a more visceral reaction to a film by its audience as he did when seeing "Death Wish". Audiences cheered every vigilante shooting committed by the movie's protagonist, Charles Bronson, who had just endured a family tragedy caused by muggers and rapists. Ironically, Winner's greatest boxoffice success was followed by the rapid demise of his clout in the film industry. A series of lazy and largely uninspired efforts followed and he ultimately faded from the industry by the early 1980s, relegated to directing vanity projects that few have ever seen. In his later years, Winner emerged as an omnipresent force on British television, where he appeared as a crusty conservative political commentator who was delighted to take pot shots at Labour, using the kind of insensitive vernacular that made old world pundits cringe but which delighted TV producers. He also became one of England's most temperamental and feared food critics and parlayed that into a successful TV career, as well. Somewhat lost in the shuffle was the fact that Winner occasionally made good movies in his heyday. When Cinema Retro co-publisher Dave Worrall and I visited him at his London mansion ten years ago, we found Winner to be initially in the kind of mood we fully anticipated: cranky, short-tempered and cynical. However he changed his tune when he saw that we were there for a serious evaluation of his films. He expressed his gratitude and said that few people ever bother to examine his cinematic achievements, preferring to accept his new personas as pundit and food critic.
"Scorpio", released in 1973, was one of two collaborative projects Winner made with star Burt Lancaster (the other being the under-rated 1971 Western "Lawman"). The movie was not particularly successful when first released but plays far better today, thanks in large part to a great cast that includes Alain Delon, Paul Scofield and Gayle Hunnicutt. Winner's intelligent direction also plays a major asset. The espionage thriller was a product of its time, though screenwriters David W. Rintels and Gerald Wilson seemed almost prophetic in paving the way for the kind of paranoid spy movie that has been de rigueur ever since. The movie was in production in the wake of the Watergate scandal, an event that seemingly was minor at the time but would lead to the exposure of what Carl Bernstein has termed the "criminal presidency" of Richard M. Nixon. By the time "Scorpio" was in theaters, Nixon was fighting for his political life. Ultimately, he would resign amid the debris of an administration that saw 40 of its members serve jail terms for a sweeping array of crimes that were so widespread in scope that they still boggle the minds of historians. (The resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew during the scandal due to unrelated corruption charges was treated almost as a minor event.) The end result of all this is that public trust in the institution of government was greatly eroded and gave rise to the increasingly paranoid fear that anything even involving the government- particularly the CIA- should be inherently distrusted. The film centers on a CIA agent named Cross (Burt Lancaster), who is said to be aged 50 in the script but who, in reality, was aged almost 60 at the time the film was made. Cross is a shadowy figure who ranks as one of the agency's top operatives. He finds himself inexplicably marked for death by his own boss, McLeod (John Colicos), who has passed the word that Cross is a double agent for the Soviets. McLeod, boxed in by legal sanctions against performing assassinations, outsources the mission to kill Cross to Jean Laurier, a freelance killer who goes by the code name Scorpio. Making matters murkier is the fact that Cross and Scorpio are friends and colleagues, with the older man acting as a kind of mentor for the up-and-coming French operative. Initially, Scorpio intentionally bypasses opportunities to kill Cross because he believes that his friend is innocent of the charge of treason. However, he eventually relents under pressure by McLeod to carry out the assignment. This leads to a cat-and-mouse pursuit that extends from Washington, D.C. to Vienna, where Cross uses his ingenuity and old friends and contacts to outwit and keep ahead of Scorpio and his team of accomplices from the agency. Cross finds an unlikely haven in the apartment of Zharkov (Paul Scofield), a top Soviet agent who is as cynical about his own government as Cross is about his. The two men are the best of enemies. They have thwarted each other in the past, but both men have a healthy respect for each other. They realize that they are each regarded as expendable dinosaurs by a younger generation of bureaucrats who are more interested in advancing their careers than they are in political ideologies. Zharkov houses Cross in his Vienna home while Cross makes plans to try to smuggle his wife Sarah (Joanne Linville) out of Washington D.C. so that she can join him on the run. Trouble is, she is under constant surveillance by the CIA, which is hoping to track down Cross through any communications he attempts to make with her. Things heat up when Scorpio tracks Cross to Vienna, thus setting in motion several high voltage situations in which the old friends attempt to kill off each other.
"Scorpio" is one of those espionage films that becomes so complex that it is almost impossible to follow. I could never figure out whether Cross was being framed or whether he might actually be a traitor, though I presume one is to assume the former scenario. Unlike the recent acclaimed feature film version of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", which was not only incomprehensible but also a complete bore, "Scorpio" allows the viewer the luxury of ignoring the nuances of the plot and simply sitting back and enjoying the outstanding performances and action sequences. The re-teaming of Lancaster and Scofield, who co-starred in John Frankenheimer's 1965 classic "The Train", was an inspired idea. The two do outstanding work, particularly in a quiet sequence in which the old war horse agents get drunk and debate Zharkov's reluctance to disown his belief in communism. Delon makes for a charismatic, if icy, killer and his scenes with Lancaster have a good degree of tension. Michael Winner takes ample advantage of the exotic settings and provides at least one doozy of a memorable action sequence set in an enormous Vienna construction site where the seemingly ageless Lancaster outdoes himself in terms of stunt work as he attempts to elude his would-be assassins. The film also has a "sting-in-the-tale" ending that probably would surprise viewers who are most astute than I in terms of following the key plot points and complex relationships between the characters. I admit that I was left baffled. It should be pointed out that the movie also features a fine score by the late, great Jerry Fielding.
Lancaster, Winner and Delon on the set.
;Twilight Time has released the film as a special edition Blu-ray, limited to only 3,000 copies. The transfer is beautiful; riight up to this company's high standards. Bonus extras include an isolated score track, the original trailer and a highly engaging commentary track by film historians Nick Redman, Lem Dobbs and Julie Kirgo, who also writes the accompanying, highly informative liner notes. On the track, Redman astutely points out that "Scorpio" represented a bygone era in cinema during which studios made plenty of mid-range films that they hoped would generate modest profits. This is in contrast to today's insane practice of gambling an entire's studio's financial health on one or two over-blown productions in the hope they will be blockbusters. Dobbs, for his part, amusingly makes a mea culpa, admitting that he always considered Michael Winner to be a hack director. However, compared to many of today's filmmakers, he practically looks like a master of his craft. Redman also provides some very interesting facts about the sad, final days of Michael Winner, whose "golden years" were marred by a myriad of potentially deadly health problems caused by eating an infected oyster!
"Scorpio" is a film that makes me appreciate all the more how much I miss stars like Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield. The movie may not be a classic but it presents them with meaty roles and they don't disappoint in terms of delivering terrific performances.
Feature: 60 Years of the Gill Man is, essentially, a
seventy-four minute valentine to Universal-International’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Beginning with their lavish staging of The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Universal was Hollywood’s
uncontested House of Horrors, the motion-picture industry’s preeminent fright
factory throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Their films brought to the screen the
most enduring visages of this golden age of horror. The studio made familiar faces – and
occasional bankable stars - of their contract players and talent for hire: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, George
Zucco, Basil Rathbone, Lionel Atwill, John Carradine, Evelyn Ankers, Maria
Ouspenskaya, and Lon Chaney Jr.
But the trademark old castles and foggy moor scenarios
on which the old Universal films were staged were largely gone by the early
1950s. In the years prior to England’s
Hammer Studios breathing colorful - and sexy - new life into the gothic-horror
genre, the creaking-door chillers of times past had been supplanted by new
atomic-age monsters and belligerent visitors from the farthest reaches of
outer-space. Universal, re-christened as
Universal-International following a company merger in 1946, proved adaptable to
the change. The studio would produce
nearly as many classics during the silver-age of 1950’s science-fiction as it
had with its gothic-horrors.
The most successful and iconic of all the Universal
monster-movies of the 1950s was, without rival, Jack Arnold’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon
(1954). Arnold and producer William
Alland had worked previously – and successfully - on the sci-fi classic It Came from Outer Space (1953), so the
studio wasn’t being incautious when they invested $600,000 of those earnings on
a second collaboration. Photographed in
glorious black-and-white, principal shooting was scheduled for the Universal
back-lot and on the freshwater bayous of Wakulla Springs outside Tallahassee, Florida.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon
was one the biggest box-office successes of 1954 bringing in an estimated three
million dollars on its first year of release.
The popularity of the film spawned two successful sequels,
Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). The original film was such a phenomenon that
its pop-culture status was unusually acknowledged - and cross-promoted - by
rival studio 2oth Century-Fox. In a
famous sequence from Billy Wilder’s The
Seven Year Itch (1955), Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell are seen walking out
of a theater screening of The Creature
from the Black Lagoon. As the two
stroll along curbside, Monroe’s dress billows upward from a rush of air through
the sidewalk’s subway grate.
In a supplement from Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill Man, producer-writer Sam
Borowski offers that his affectionate documentary on the history and legacy of
the Gill-man was a labor-of-love. Borowski
recalls first meeting documentarian Matt Crick in lower Manhattan on what was otherwise
a solemn occasion. Both men were in
attendance at a memorial processional following the attack on the World Trade
Center, September 11, 2001. Having long
pondered a tribute to this much-loved monster-series, the producer admits it
was only after Crick signed on that the laborious process of pulling together the
bits of fragmented memories, ephemera and vintage celluloid would commence.
They had a rough-cut of the film assembled as early as
2004, and it was rumored that their documentary would be featured as a
supplement on Universal’s The Creature
from the Black Lagoon “Legacy Collection” release of 2004. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen; even
though the back cover of that DVD set oddly features an attribution credited to
the film (then sub-titled “50 years of the Gill-Man”). In 2005, the filmmakers began to showcase
this early cut of the film at indie-cinemas and various film-conventions but,
as far as I’m aware, this 2015 issue on Blu is its first appearance on any home
The biggest difficulty with the making of such a
documentary was that it was a late-starter. By 2001 there were few very people who had worked on the original film available
to chat with. Producer William Alland,
director Jack Arnold, and co-screenwriter Harry Essex had all passed way in the
1990s. With the exception of the
talented (and still lovely) Julie (aka Julia) Adams, nearly the entire cast had
passed on: gone from consideration were actors
Richard Carlson, Whit Bissel, Richard Denning, and Antonio Moreno. Borowski and Crick did manage an
illuminating interview with co-screenwriter Arthur Ross prior to his passing in
2008. Ross offered he was brought in
late on the first project, originally titled, Black Lagoon, to oversee the writing of a second draft. In one vignette Ross takes credit for
bringing the palpable sense of humanity to the otherwise startling-in-appearance
The two featured stars of this documentary – and, aside
from Ross, the only ones to share first-person, if entirely anecdotal commentaries
- are Julie Adams and Ben Chapman. Adams
is most certainly the more well-known of the two. Signed by Universal in 1949, the actress
worked near-continuously in the television and motion-picture industry until
the late 1980s when offers became less forthcoming. Adams was doubled in many of her water
sequences by Ginger Stanley, a strong swimmer and cast member of Florida’s
Weeki Wachee Springs Water Show. Stanley
is also on hand here to generously share her experiences with the filmmakers.
Though his name does not even appear in the film’s
credits, Ben Chapman was the tall actor who donned the creature-suit for all
scenes on shot on land. (Ricou Browning,
who appears later in the tribute but doesn’t offer much in the way of
commentary, doubled as the creature in all of the film’s marvelous underwater
sequences). Chapman’s enthusiasm for
having played in such an iconic film is infectious. A frequent guest on autograph-show circuits
and monster movie conventions, Chapman was the friendlier and more out-going of
the two surviving Gill-men, always available to chat or take a smiling photograph
with fans young and old. Chapman, a
Universal contract actor, recalls he was twenty-five years old when he got the
part. His casting was the result of
brawny western star Glenn Strange having turned down the role. Strange, beloved amongst horror film fans for
playing the shuffling, stiff-armed monster in House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, passed on the role as he
wasn’t a particularly strong swimmer.
Many Cinema Retro readers write to tell us that they like the fact that we shine a new light on older, under-appreciated movies and re-evaluate them after the passage of time. In this instance, I can't re-evaluate "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" because I had never seen it prior to its release on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory. To say that the film was subject to a string of bad luck is an understatement. It might be more appropriate to consider if it was literally cursed. First some background: the Lone Ranger had been a pop culture hero for many years in comics, on the radio and on screen. The 1950s TV series starring Clayton Moore made the character iconic and forever associated with "The William Tell Overture" which was played each time he rode into action. The 1978 revival of "Superman" as a big screen adventure was a boxoffice smash and elevated its unknown lead- Christopher Reeve- to genuine stardom. It wasn't the first time that a relatively untested leading man carried a major movie to boxoffice success. Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif did so with "Lawrence of Arabia" and George Lazenby managed the feat with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". Producer Jack Wrather was inspired by this history and when he acquired the feature film rights to The Lone Ranger character (for an eye-popping $3 million), he decided to cast unknowns as the Lone Ranger and his loyal sidekick Tonto. After an exhaustive search, he thought he struck gold by casting Klinton Spilsbury and Michael Horse. Both were hunky young men who were adept at riding horses and managing the physical challenges of starring in a big budget action film. The film was to be directed by William A. Fraker, the legendary cinematographer who had earned praise for his direction of "Monte Walsh" a decade earlier. For his cinematographer on "The Legend of the Lone Ranger", Fraker hired another legend, Laszlo Kovacs. Other top talent quickly signed on including esteemed screenwriter William Roberts, who had written the screenplay for "The Magnificent Seven". Composer John Barry was signed to create the score and a main title theme. Jason Robards joined the cast as President Ulysses S. Grant and Christopher Lloyd took a rare dramatic part as the villain. Things were looking promising. However, the bubble was about to burst.
While the film was in production, it reaped a mountain of bad publicity when the producers forced the beloved Clayton Moore from making any further public appearances at autograph shows and charity events where he had been making the circuit dressed in his original Lone Ranger costume. Moore fought the order in court and ultimately prevailed but the damage had been done. An outraged public had an "in" for the new Lone Ranger long before production had ever wrapped. During filming, a stuntman almost died and leading man Klinton Spilsbury insisted on shooting the film in sequence to help with his understanding of his character and motivations. Shooting in sequence can be a costly proposition but the producers complied. However, in viewing the rushes, they decided that Spilsbury was something short of dynamic in the way he delivered his lines. They hired actor James Keach to dub him through the entire film, a fact they tried to keep secret but which leaked out immediately even in the pre-internet era. (Ironically, Keach delivers his dubbed lines in a bland, monotone manner that makes one wonder just how bad Spilsbury could have been.) By the time filming wrapped, the film had been tarnished but Universal, the studio releasing the movie, was still optimistic. However, the bad luck continued even in post-production. The film's technical aspects proved to be challenging and the movie's December 1980 release was bumped to Memorial Day in May of 1981. The good news is that President Ronald Reagan had agreed to attend a special screening of the movie prior to general release. Shortly before this was to occur, he was wounded in an assassination attempt and was unable to attend (the "The Gipper" was considerate enough to send a video greeting to attendees.) When the film opened to the public, response was poor from both the public and critics, who denounced the movie as the second major Western bomb in a row, following the disastrous opening of "Heaven's Gate" the previous fall. The movie quickly became the butt of jokes. Johnny Carson quipped that on opening day, Tonto put his ear to the ground and said "Kemosabe, me hear very few people heading toward the theaters!". Carson rarely weighed in on criticizing films and, as he was one of America's top barometers of pop culture, the sarcasm only reinforced the notion that the film was a bomb. Themovie had the dubious distinction of sweeping The Razzies, the awards for the worst achievements in movie making. Klinton Spilsbury couldn't overcome the stigma of having been dubbed. His name was mud in the industry and to this date, he has not acted professionally again. (Though, bizarrely, he did become an acting teacher in Vancouver for a time.) Michael Horse fared better, however, and carved out a satisfying career as a character actor that extends to this day.
In watching the movie today, its problems remain apparent, though it is entertaining in a goofy sort of way. Some screen heroes such as Batman can look cool in a mask but The Lone Ranger simply looks likes a throwback to a bygone era of entertainment when kids would be less demanding about the corn quotient served up by their idols. The film would probably have benefited from some self-awareness that the entire premise was outdated but the movie-makers made the mistake of playing the entire affair completely straight. In fact, the film is almost devoid of any humor at all. Another problem is that the story takes so long to tell how the Lone Ranger and Tonto ended up meeting and becoming blood brothers that it takes a full hour before audiences even get to see the Lone Ranger. The story leading up to this is compelling, with young John Reid witnessing his parents slaughtered by a marauding band of cutthroats. His life is saved by a Native American boy his own age named Tonto, who brings Reid back to his tribe. The Indians adopt Reid and teach him the basic skills of survival. Before long, he is feels very much a part of the tribe- until an uncle inexplicably arrives from Chicago (!) and takes him back to the big city against his wishes. The action then jumps to years later. Reid is aboard a stagecoach heading West when it is attacked by a group of robbers. In an exciting, well-filmed stagecoach chase sequence, Reid displays his heroics, saves his fellow passengers and falls head over heels for lovely Amy Striker (Juanin Clay), who is the niece of the nearest town's newspaper. When Reid and Amy arrive, they are greeted by the uncle, who is on a one-man crusade against a local evil land baron named Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd, surprisingly good in a non-comedic role.) Cavendish has amassed a paramilitary force, bribed the local sheriff and kept the town's population in fear as he acts as a de facto dictator. For his efforts, the uncle is murdered. Reid joins the Texas Rangers along with his brother and a posse sets off to track down Cavendish. Along the way they are lured into a canyon and in another rousing action sequence, they are all killed except for Reid, who is badly wounded. Coincidentally, Tonto happens upon the scene and recognizes an amulet that Reid is wearing which Tonto gave to him when they became blood brothers. He nurses his old friend back to health and Reid becomes determined to bring his brother's killers to justice as-- wait for it- The Lone Ranger! It's never explained how he gets the fancy duds and mask but we do see the origins of how he adopts Silver as his wonder horse. Before long, the Lone Ranger is bellowing "Hi Yo, Silver!" and riding with Tonto to infiltrate Cavendish's compound. Turns out Cavendish has a lot in common with today's political fringe nuts: he wants to secede from the union and establish a country called New Texas. His scheme is ambitious: he intends to hijack a train carrying President Ulysses S. Grant (Jason Robards) and hold him hostage until his demands are met. The execution of the plan is a highlight of the film, as is Robards' amusing performance as Grant. The scenes in which he matches wits with Cavendish over a sumptuous dinner brings to mind similar obligatory scenes from the Bond movies. The action-packed finale features the U.S. Cavalry joining the Lone Ranger and Tonto to free Grant, who gets into the action himself. By another coincidence, Grant's train had been carrying Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickcok and General George Armstrong Custer, so you can imagine it's gonna be a bad luck day for Cavendish.
There is much to criticize about "The Legend of the Lone Ranger". The producers and director seemed oblivious to the fact that a guy in a white hat and black mask shouting "Hi Yo, Silver!" would come across as incredibly corny to modern audiences if it wasn't played with at least a dab of self-awareness and humor. Alas, it's played straight- as is the use of the "William Tell Overture". It's as though the filmmakers had entered a time warp and thought they were out to please audiences from the 1940s. Another major weak link is the musical score by the esteemed John Barry. The instrumentals are fine but Barry has concocted a title theme called "The Man Behind the Mask" that is crooned by Merle Haggard. To say it's unintentionally hilarious would be an understatement. Not helping matters is some awful narration that describes the action in a corn pone drawl that sounds like it would be more at home in "Blazing Saddles". Yet, for all it's flaws, I enjoyed the film because of its sincere attempt to bring to life an iconic American hero, no matter how outdated the concept might have seemed. There are also some very impressive action scenes and some incredible stunt work. Alas, it wasn't enough to save the movie from its disastrous fate. Hollywood is so devoid of new ideas that the concept was, of course, recently revived as the equally disastrous Johnny Depp version of the Lone Ranger. Can't we let the guy rest in peace?
The Shout! Factory Blu-ray boasts a decent transfer but there is a good deal of grain in some of the sequences. This could be the way the film looked on original release, as it was criticized in some quarters for its sometimes muddy cinematography, which was particularly surprising since director Fraker was one of the best cinematographers in the business. The Blu-ray cries out for a commentary by film historians who could discuss the movie's interesting back story, but alas, only a trailer is included.
“The Gunfight at Dodge City” (1959), now out on a Kino
Lorber Blu-ray, tells the story of Bat Masterson during his time as sheriff in
the famed Kansas cattle town. It recounts how he was forced to leave Hays City
after a shooting incident with a Union Army sergeant and join up with his
brother Ed (Harry Lauter), the deputy marshal in Dodge. Ed doesn’t like being
deputy marshal much because the real authority in town belongs to Sheriff Jim
Regan (Don Haggerty), who runs the town the way he likes it, enjoying the
profits therefrom. He decides to run against him in the next election.
Ed has a fiancé, Pauline Howard (Julie Adams), the
starchy daughter of the town preacher. Bat takes an interest in his brother’s
fiancé, which she seems to encourage, mainly because nobody thinks she and Ed
will ever really get married. Bat also forms a business relationship with
another woman, Lily (Nancy Gates), the owner of the Lady Gay Saloon. He buys an
interest in the saloon, and becomes her partner, not noticing that she may have
more than business on her mind.
Another complication arises in the form of Dave Rudabaugh
(Richard Anderson) a gunfighter with a grudge against Bat. When Ed is killed,
Bat mistakenly believes it was Regan or his henchman (Tim Carey) who killed
him. He can’t prove it so instead of gunning him down he decides to take Ed’s place
and run against Regan in the election.
The rest of the story goes about resolving the
Masterson/Regan conflict and settling the romantic triangle situation. Bat also
learns who really killed his brother, although when told the killer’s identity
it hardly seems to matter to him anymore. And frankly long before you get to
the finish of this dull western, you’ll hardly care, either.
The story, only loosely based on some of the facts of
Masterson’s life, is all over the place, with no central focus to hold your
interest. McCrea, in his mid-fifties when he made this picture, seems to be phoning
it in. Joseph Newman’s direction is by-the-numbers, with little interest
generated in several scenes that should have crackled with tension. The script
by Martin Goldsmith and Daniel Ullman contains more fiction than fact and seems
more interested in the romantic aspect of the story more than anything else.
Julie Adams comes off the worst in “The Gunfight at Dodge City.” Having to play
an uptight preacher’s daughter, she comes off snobbish and brittle, a far cry
from the many radiant female characters she played during her long career.
Bat Masterson was one of the most interesting legends
of the Old West. Besides being a buffalo hunter, a gambler, a gunfighter and a
lawman, he was later in life a sports columnist for New York newspapers, a regular
Times Square celebrity, and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. Too bad the filmmakers
didn’t try to add some of the real Masterson’s pizzazz to the dull character in
Kino Lorber did a first rate job transferring the
cinemascope print to Blu-ray. The presentation is flawless, with vibrant color
and good black level. The mono sound is crisp and clear. The only extras on
this release are preview trailers for other KL Studio Classic releases,
including Anthony Mann’s “Man of the West.” If you are a Joel McCrea fan you’ll
probably want to add this one to your collection, but if you’re looking for a
factual biopic of Bat Masterson or even just a good, entertaining western, look
Somehow I missed Norman Jewison’s Other People’s Money when it was released in 1991, but now courtesy
of the Warner Archive Collection, I was able to catch up with this minor but enjoyable film.
Based on Jerry Steiner’s play of the same name, with a
screenplay by Alvin Sargent, Other People’s Money is mostly notable as Gregory Peck’s last major
screen performance. Peck turns in one of his signature honorable roles as
Andrew Jorgensen, a successful but principled businessman who is ultimately more
invested in his employees and
maintaining integrity than in enlarging his company’s bottom line. That’s why
he and his wife Bea (Piper Laurie), along with manager Bill Coles (Dean Jones),
are determined to keep New England Wire and Cable out of the ruthless hands of
corporate raider Larry the Liquidator (Danny DeVito). Way out of their depth,
they call in a secret weapon, savvy New York lawyer Kate Sullivan (the
wonderful Penelope Ann Miller) to outwit and out-beguile Larry. As Bea’s
daughter, Kate has added incentive to stay a step ahead of her opponent and
keep the company intact.
Devito excels at creating despicable but lovable
characters and gets a rare lead role in this film. He plays Larry like he
stepped out of Guys and Dolls, only
this eccentric millionaire gambles with stock and shares rather than dice. The
love of Larry’s life is his computer system CARMEN which provides him with
potential corporate conquests, but the target of his lust is Kate. Despite
their contrasting physiques, DeVito and Miller exhibit an unexpected chemistry
and their sexually charged repartee really crackles. Unfortunately these more modern sequences
blend awkwardly with those set at the factory, making the other half of this
film feel overly dramatic and sentimental. Even so, it’s a treat to see Peck
deliver an impassioned speech to the company’s shareholders and to enjoy Piper
Laurie in a sympathetic role. I just wish their material had same thread of
humor and fun as that afforded to DeVito and Miller.
Norman Jewison’s lengthy filmography includes multiple
classics and a handful of stage to screen adaptations Fiddler on the Roof(1971), Jesus
Christ Superstar (1973) and Agnes of
God (1982). He’s mastered every genre but the disparate tones in this film
never quite gel in a completely satisfying way. Jewison’s expert skill is still
evident, however, in the polished style and the accomplished performances, thus
making Other People’s
Money a slight but worthwhile film. The only bonus material on this
Warner Archive disc is the theatrical
trailer, but the feature transfer looks slick and for this out of print film.
By 1987, Burt Reynolds was largely regarded as being past his sell date as a leading man in theatrical films. Some of his decline in popularity was self-imposed. Reynolds had continued to knock out cornpone comedies long after they had run out of steam. His other problem was due to the fact that he had been seriously injured on the set of "City Heat" due to a mis-timed stunt that left him in serious shape and resulted in a long hospital stay. During this time, terrible rumors spread widely that implied he had contracted AIDS. By the time Reynolds recovered, the damage to his career had been done. Although he would continue to star in films for major studios, their boxoffice take was generally mediocre at best. Reynolds would eventually gravitate to television where he starred in a hit sitcom, "Evening Shade". One of his attempted comeback vehicles was the 1987 crime thriller "Malone" in which Reynolds eschewed his image as a towel-snapping wiseguy and returned to his roots to play a mysterious man of action. The film opens with the titular character, played by Reynolds, refusing to carry out an assassination for the CIA. Malone has been one of their most reliable covert killers but he's ashamed of his profession and decides to give it up for a quiet, normal life. He knows that one doesn't just walk out on the CIA so he uproots his life and packs all his belongings in his weather-beaten car and heads off to remote areas of the Northwest. While enjoying his lifestyle as a drifter, his car breaks down and he manages to get it to a one-horse town where the local garage owner, a partially disabled widower, Paul Barlow (Scott Wilson) informs him he has to order a special part for the vehicle. The two men make friendly chatter and Barlow offers to allow Malone to stay at his house until the car can be repaired. Also on the premises is Barlow's teenage daughter Jo (Cynthia Gibb), who immediately takes a fancy to the mysterious stranger who has entered her otherwise mundane existence. During his stay, the tight-lipped Malone observes that Barlow and some other town residents are being bullied and intimidated by employees of a local land baron named Delaney (Cliff Robertson), who- for reasons unknown- is trying to force certain locals to sell him their land. Failure to do so results in inevitable harassment. When Malone comes to Barlow's aid and humiliates some of Delaney's goons, Delaney meets with him and tries to bribe him to work for him. Seems that anyone of influence in the town is on Delaney's payroll, including the local sheriff (Kenneth McMillan). Malone refuses the offer and Delaney turns to bringing in professional assassins to murder him. Adding to Malone's woes is the fact that a former CIA colleague, Jamie (Lauren Hutton) has tracked him down and has orders to kill him, as well. Jamie, however, warns Malone of her mission and the two decide that "Make love, not war" should be their mantra. As Delaney increases the pressure, Malone decides to go mano a mano with him. He sneaks into Delaney's heavily-guarded compound and discovers a massive arsenal being stockpiled there. Turns out that Delaney is the leader of an extremist right wing fringe group with ties to sympathetic elected officials in Washington, D.C. He intends to imminently launch a violent uprising in the hopes that it spreads nationally and takes down the government.
There isn't a single original thought in "Malone". The film is a modern day remake of Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider", which had been released two years before. Eastwood's film, in turn, was a virtual remake of George Stevens' "Shane". The stories all share some common themes: a family is being harassed by a local rich guy who has nefarious purposes. A mysterious stranger comes to their aid and, in the process, is idolized by a young member of the family. In the climax of all three stories, the stranger finds himself having to put his life on the line to rid the locals of the menacing figure who is making their lives miserable. Having said all that, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed "Malone". Under the competent direction of Harley Cokeless, the story moves at a brisk pace and there is plenty of time to explore the backgrounds of the key characters. Reynolds still had enough macho mojo to pull off roles like this and it's great seeing him play a serious role once again. As a man of few words, he excels not only in the dramatic sequences but also in the film's explosive conclusion, which borrows much from another (then) contemporary hit, "Witness" as we watch Malone on Delaney's farm systematically eliminate the bad guys. Reynolds gets some fine support from Cliff Robertson (in the kind of superficially charming role usually played by Robert Vaughn), Kenneth McMillan and Scott Wilson. Lauren Hutton's brief appearance is a highlight of the film, as she and Malone intersperse romantic interludes with suspicions about each other's motives. (Malone willingly beds her but is afraid to digest any drinks she prepares out of fear she will poison him.) The biggest revelation is the performance of Cynthia Gibb, who displays considerable charm as the young girl who is starstruck by Malone. (The script thankfully keeps the relationship chaste.) "Malone", filmed in and around Vancouver (the usual tax-friendly doppleganger for American locations), is a good old-fashioned action flick. In today's era of over-produced, over-budgeted CGI-laden monstrosities, it's simplicity, predictability and unpretentious story line are assets. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains the trailer as well as trailers for other Burt Reynolds releases available through the company.
In the perception of most people Paul Newman was a legendary actor who had a hobby of racing cars. However, Newman considered himself primarily a professional race car driver with an interest in making movies. The new documentary "Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman", directed by race car enthusiasts Adam Corolla and Nate Adams, explores Newman's passion for the sport in great detail through the utilization of interesting archival footage and new interviews with some of Newman's friends and colleagues. The result is a highly impressive film that takes a quirky look at a quirky man. "Quirky" is the word because Newman- along with Brando, perhaps- was the most reluctant of Hollywood superstars. He disdained the party and publicity circuit and preferred to live quietly with his wife Joanne Woodward and his family in Connecticut, a place he felt sufficiently removed from the movie industry. Newman would make the occasional TV appearance to publicize a new movie, but he was far more passionate about participating in causes that he nothing to do with show business. He was an unabashed liberal in an era where liberals proudly wore that label. His backing of peace candidate Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential race so infuriated Richard Nixon that he put Newman on his infamous "enemies list". When this was divulged years later, Newman called it one of the great honors of his life. Newman also gave generously to charitable causes and would come out of hibernation for fund-raising on behalf of the downtrodden. In all his years in the spotlight, he was never linked to scandal and, despite being one of the world's most famous sex symbols, was never linked to another woman. There was room in Newman's life for yet another passion, however, and it turned out to be race car driving. As Robert Wagner, who co-starred in the 1969 racing film "Winning" with Newman, explains in the documentary, the actor had no real interest in the sport until the film went into production. A new era of filmmaking had arrived and audiences would no longer tolerate the notorious rear screen projection techniques employed in the past. For "Winning", the actors were expected to drive their own race cars with cameras mounted on them to capture the feel of realism. Wagner admits he was intimidated by the process. He and Newman had to undergo extensive training in one of the world's most prestigious racing schools. When filming was done, Wagner said goodbye to the dangerous sport but Newman was hooked.
The film features interviews with many of Newman's racing car colleagues including the legendary Mario Andretti and his son Michael, along with Willy T. Ribbs, who emotionally credits Newman with opening the doors that made it possible for him to be champion driver. It's pointed out that when Newman started racing, he was greeted with cynicism by the pros, who thought it was just a vanity past time for a major movie star. But Newman quickly won their respect by starting at the bottom and painstakingly learning the craft. He had his share of accidents and missteps but never blamed anyone but himself. Before long, Newman was regarded as an esteemed colleague by the inner circle of drivers. Over the years, he honed his skills and won many trophies on his own merits. What impressed his fellow racers most was Newman's modesty. Even after winning a triumphant victory, he would credit his team for their professionalism and make it apparent he considered the victory to be a group achievement. He also fulfilled a dream of racing at Le Mans, where the only reason he didn't win was due to a tire problem that cost him time in the pit stop and forced him to come in second. The film shows ample archival footage of Newman at Le Mans. He loved the race, but loathed the fanfare. In America, Newman's audience for races largely consisted of serious fans of the sport, not stargazers. At Le Mans, he was subjected to a tidal wave of paparazzi who never gave him a moment of peace. Newman wanted to be respected for his racing skills, not for his film work. Consequently, he never returned to Le Mans.
Newman with his friend and co-star Robert Vaughn in the 1974 blockbuster The Towering Inferno. Despite his legendary status as a film star, Newman preferred to be known primarily as a race car driver.
"Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman" is a consistently interesting examination of a man who was known by countless millions of movie goers, but who largely succeeded in keeping his personal life out of the news. The film is understandably light on his movie career, though some short clips of key career achievements are shown. There are also interviews with Robert Redford, who talks about the personal side of Newman and their long friendship. Redford says he still remains grateful for Newman insisting that he play the Sundance Kid despite the fact that they barely knew each other. The role catapulted Redford to superstardom. He also discusses the elaborate practical jokes they would pull on each other, often at great expense. Neither man would give the other the satisfaction of acknowledging he was the victim of a prank. Newman's brother Arthur speaks emotionally about his close relationship with his brother and states the obvious, that movie studios loathed Paul's obsession with racing- and for good reason. Had he been seriously injured, it could have jeopardized major film projects. Conspicuously missing from the production is Newman's widow Joanne Woodward, though she is seen in archival footage from many years ago expressing her trepidation about his racing and her concerns that he might give up acting to pursue racing as a vocation. Nevertheless, she was generally on hand to cheer him on. The only other celebrity interview featured is that of Jay Leno, himself a well-known classic car buff. He describes having Newman on The Tonight Show when the actor was pushing 80. In a highly amusing clip of the segment, Leno induces Newman into a go-cart race around the cavernous hallways of NBC Studios- a race that Newman wins handily. Leno describes his respect for the man and his low-key, charming nature.
The documentary is consistently informative and entertaining. The film covers Newman introducing Tom Cruise to racing after they had starred in The Color of Money in 1987. Cruise enjoyed his brief flirtation with the sport but lacked Newman's discipline and patience. It also delves into Newman's well-known charitable work. Newman's hobby of making home made salad dressing resulted in it being marketed professionally. He only reluctantly agreed to have funky depictions of his face on the packaging in order to spur sales, but insisted that all the profits go to establish the Hole-in-the-Wall camps for seriously ill children. To date, the Newman's Own food line has donated close to half a billion dollars to this cause.
What emerges from "Winning" is the fact that Newman was an enigma: a shy superstar and humanitarian. The kind of class act that rarely comes along today.
Bonus extras include extended, uncut versions of many of the key interviews, a trailer and a short segment in which co-director Adam Corolla painstakingly restores one of Newman's favorite race car to make it operational again.
The documentary is a unique look at a Hollywood legend - and you don't have to be a racing buff to enjoy the amazing footage of Newman behind the wheel.
Two years after Kino Lorber Studio Classics issued their
Blu-Ray of the continental version of Mario Bava’s horror anthology BLACK
SABBATH, the boutique label has now chosen to release the film’s U.S. cousin in
the same format. Originally released in
Italy in August 1963 as “I tre volti della paura" (“The Three Faces of
Fear”), BLACK SABBATH was issued in the U.S. the following spring under the
American-International banner. The film
is often invoked as Bava’s personal favorite among his many directorial
efforts. The Eastmancolor-shot film is
certainly one of his best; though, truth
be told, I personally find the monochrome, atmospheric and gripping witches
tale, BLACK SUNDAY (1960), to be his true high-water mark.
There is, of course, an interesting back-story to this
U.S. issue. American International infamously
tinkered with the original continental cut of the film. These changes have long
been a subject of angst and scorn amongst horror film fans and scholars; their
main complaint is that A.I.P.’s interference wrecked what was previously a perfectly-wrought
and taut trilogy. Their re-sequencing of
episodes and their trimming of a few frames of shocking but gratuitous gore, both
unwelcome and disparaged, would ultimately be the least of concerns.
The greatest outrage was reserved for the studio’s controversial
re-editing of one particular episode, “The Telephone.” In a clumsy effort to protect American
audiences from any contemplation of perceived sordid behavior exhibited
on-screen in the European version, this segment was re-edited in such manner as
to totally remove any suggestion of vengeful lesbian-culpability as a motive in
the ensuing terror. It was, without
doubt, a calculated business - rather than creative - decision to placate the
moralists at home, but it also inarguably subverted the intent and arc of the original
Having said this, I must admit that I’ve always been fond
of this often pilloried A.I.P. cut. Not
only was it the version to which I was first introduced - through repetitive telecasts
on Saturday night’s Chiller Theater on
New York’s WPIX - but this English-language version, far more importantly,
features the genuine ominous and sepulchral tones of the great Boris Karloff.
There’s no reason to note here the many small and large
differences between Bava’s original Italian and the subsequent A.I.P. version of
the film. The changes are all exhaustively
and expertly attenuated on the colorful commentary track courtesy of Tim Lucas,
editor of the popular cult-film magazine Video
Watchdog. Lucas is undeniably well
suited for the task: he’s the
acknowledged foremost Bava scholar and author of the thousand plus page
labor-of-love tome “Mario Bava: All The
Colors of the Dark.”
It also must be said that the studio’s meddling paid
off: BLACK SABBATH did very well for
A.I.P. It opened in neighborhood
theaters and drive-ins across the U.S. in late May of 1964, the top-bill of a
pairing with another 1963 Bava Italian import, EVIL EYE (aka THE GIRL WHO KNEW
TOO MUCH). It was still doing the
circuit in October 1964, now paired with Herschell Gordon Lewis’s splatter-fest
BLOOD FEAST (1963). One year following
its U.S. release, the film was still being programmed as dependable late night
drive-in fare, but now reduced to bottom-bill status to director William
Conrad’s exploitation-shocker TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (1965).
Cineastes can – and most certainly have – argued the
merits and failings of A.I.P.’s re-sequencing of the trilogy, but the A.I.P.
cut inarguably starts things off with a chill. The haunting and nightmarish “A Drop of Water,” possibly the most
celebrated segment of the trilogy, had climactically closed the earlier continental
version of the film. Reportedly based on
a tale by Anton Chekov, this entry concerns the eerie retribution suffered by
nursemaid Helen Chester (Jacqueline Soussard) following her theft of an amethyst
ring from the corpse of an elderly female patient. The newly departed victim would, only
temporarily, lose possession of the precious stone to her scheming health-care
The twist is that the dead woman was a spiritualist, a
medium with a life-long interest in the black arts. Having some inkling of her client’s interest
in the supernatural, it almost goes without saying the nursemaid should have…
well, known better. The grotesque
corpse of the withered and deceased sorceress – whose dead eyes refuse to stay
closed, no matter how much they’re prompted - should have been warning enough. The décor of the old woman’s home is, as one
might expect, as ominous and brooding as her lifeless body that rests in the
master bedroom. It’s a sullen and dank residence
with heavy draperies, dreary interior hallways, and an assortment of gloomy
toy-dolls strewn haphazardly about the house without explanation. The old woman appears to have retained a
housekeeper to look after her home, but the general disarray that surrounds her
death-bed clearly demonstrates she was not getting the service she’s paid for.
There is a scarcity of dialogue in all three episodes
of BLACK SABBATH; there’s just enough verbiage to propel each storyline
forward. The moments best remembered throughout
are almost entirely visual. Bava was a
stylist of the highest-order (he was a painter prior to working as a
cinematographer), and this film is an amalgam of assortment of haunting images. The corpse-figure of the late medium is so
plainly a mannequin that a more sophisticated modern audience might laugh at the
director’s intended deception. The
problem is the twisted face of the mannequin-corpse is truly the stuff of which
nightmares are made; the molded face with its crazed eyes provides an
undeniably creepy and iconic horror-film visage, one not soon forgotten.
As previously mentioned, the most radical and
controversial re-edits are found in the second segment of BLACK SABBATH, “The
Telephone.” The A.I.P. re-edit of this
episode, more giallo than horror, has
been almost completely shorn of an important red-herring sub-plot. Through their removal of any suggestion of
sexual deviancy, as it is, this capitulation to perceived American moral-sensibilities
of the era inarguably alters and dilutes the sense of mystery that Bava had so masterfully
conjured in the original cut.
In “The Telephone,” the comely Rosy (Michele Mercier)
is terrified by a series of telephone calls that are seemingly coming in from the
disconnected voice of a dead lover. The
mysterious caller is acutely aware of every movement the terrified woman makes
as she moves about her lush apartment - this despite the fact that her windows
are shuttered and blinds drawn. It’s not
explained with satisfaction why Rosy doesn’t simply call the police right away. There is a passing mention she suspects this
voice from beyond the grave is stalking her due to a betrayal: she, apparently,
earlier had turned her lover into the authorities, though it’s never specified
for what crime. Rosy does eventually alert
a seemingly sympathetic friend (Lidia Alfonsi) to the threatening intrusions, but
there is an unambiguous suggestion this called-upon-ally was a former lover who
may or may not have a vengeful agenda of her own.
Boris Karloff’s moniker was the only one in 1964 that would
have carried any marquee import to an American audience. In BLACK SABBATH,” the seventy-six year old
actor not only stars but also serves as a macabre master of ceremonies of sorts;
he bridges the three disparate episodes with his trademark sinister
intonations. He is also, fittingly, the
uncontested star of the film’s third and final (and anglicized) title, “The
Wurdalak.” This episode is a most gripping
and atmospheric entry, an imaginative and mostly original re-working of Aleksey Konstantinovich
Tolstoy’s 1839 short-story, “La Famille du Vourdalak.”
As the menacing Gorca, Boris Karloff, the long-reigning
king of the horror film, plays – for the very first time in his lengthy and celebrated
career, a genuine vampire. Karloff,
of course, had played an assortment of ghoulish roles dating back to the
silent-era. He was, at any given time,
the Frankenstein monster, the Mummy, Fu Manchu, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde… even detective
Dick Tracy’s fabled nemesis Gruesome. Throughout a half-century plus of celluloid villainy, the off-screen
gentlemanly Karloff was cast almost exclusively as a heavy: he was the maddest
of mad scientists, the most ruthless of gangsters, and the most black-hearted
He plays to type here as well, though there is an
interesting twist to this Eastern European brand of vampirism. Though a vampire by any and all definition of
the word, a Wurdalak, we discover, feasts not on the blood of convenient strangers
but on the sanguine cells and platelets of his very own loved ones. This uncomfortable level of intimacy between the
vampire and his victim is used by Bava to great effect. There is one remarkably creepy moment when,
as his distraught son and daughter-in-law look on in understandable dread, the gaunt
and swollen-red-eyed Karloff chillingly embraces his barely post-toddler grandson
with the most evil of intent.
With apologies to goalie-masked Jason of the Friday the
13th series, this is the stuff of true horror. Kino offers the film in a 1:85:1 ratio, and
includes the aforementioned Tim Lucas commentary track as well as the original
theatrical trailer. Fans of Bava and
Euro-horror might be best served by sticking with the original continental cut of
BLACK SABBATH (available on Kino Classics K1162), but Boris Karloff fans will
need this version for their personal collections. It’s essential.