that a nuclear attack is imminent as international tensions escalate past the
tipping point, James (voiced by John Mills) and Hilda (voiced by Peggy
Ashcroft) prepare for the worst. From
their nostalgic memories of the World War II Blitz, the elderly English
working-class husband and wife anticipate that “the worst” will be inconvenient
but survivable. Consulting the
government’s civil preparedness brochures, James constructs a lean-to shelter
inside their cottage and lays in a supply of tea, crackers, and tinned food. When the bomb falls, the lean-to protects the
couple from the immediate heat and concussion of the blast, but the house is in
a shambles, the power is out, the taps have gone dry, and the toilet doesn’t
work anymore. Gamely enduring, the
couple settles down to wait for “the powers that be” to bring relief that never
comes as the insidious effects of radiation sickness set in.
the Wind Blows,” an animated feature by Jimmy T. Murakami, faithfully
reproduces the deceptively simple visual look of the 1981 graphic novel by
Raymond Briggs on which it was based. As
the story progresses, the bright, cozy tones of the early scenes give way to
the darker, grayer shades of James and Hilda’s post-blast environment, and the
texture of the images becomes richer and grittier. The story is poignant and its quietly angry
message still resonates, even if we’ve swapped the Soviet bogeyman of the
movie’s Reagan-Thatcher era for a new array of heebie-jeebies on the 6 o‘clock
news. Remember, not so long ago,
Homeland Security reassured us that we had nothing to fear if terrorists were to
attack the U.S. with biological weapons: just stock up on dust masks and put
duct tape around the windows.
Time’s new Blu-ray release packages a windowboxed, 1.33:1 transfer of the movie
in 1080p hi-def with a wealth of supplementary materials, notably a making-of
featurette, a 2010 documentary about animator/director Murakami, an interview
with author Briggs, isolated music and effects tracks, audio commentary by
First Assistant Editor Joe Fordham and film historian Nick Redman, and a handsome
souvenir booklet by Julie Kirgo.The
Blu-ray, which is limited to 3,000 units, can be ordered HERE.
DVD cover art for “The Accursed!” states that the story is “from the files of
the world’s most fabulous secret society: 1958’s sensational spy shocker!” The
movie has the look of a low budget thriller from Hammer studios and features
several alumni of that studio.
members of a German underground resistance group meet annually on the
anniversary of their leader’s death. Colonel Price, played by Donald Wolfit, became
their new leader during the war and years later receives a call from his
contact in Germany informing him that one of their members is a traitor and
responsible for their former leader’s death. The man making the call says he
wants to deliver the name of the traitor in person at Colonel Price’s home in
England where the resistance group is also gathered. The man arrives, but dies
after being stabbed before he reveals the name of the traitor.
Accursed!” features Wolfit, Robert Bray, Jane Griffiths, Anton Diffring and
Christopher Lee in a post-WWII suspense thriller that’s mostly armchair mystery,as
most of the movie takes place in one room of Colonel Price’s mansion. Among the
members of the resistance group are Vicky, played by Griffiths, Joseph, played
by Diffring and Doctor Neumann, played by Lee. Joseph is a pianist working on
his next concerto and was in love with Vicki.
after the murder, American intelligence officer Major Shane, played by Robert
Bray, arrives along with his British aid and proceeds to try and unravel the
mystery and uncover a traitor. It turns out he knows the members of the group
and it’s more than a coincidence that his car breaks down near the home of
movie moves at a brisk 74 minutes and the mystery is solved in a satisfactory
manner. The film, directed by Michael McCarthy, includes a fine score featuring
the piano solo “Prelude Without a Name” composed by Jackie Brown and played by
Dennis Wilson. Wolfit and the rest of the cast are entertaining and the
resolution is very enjoyable.
Accursed!” was completed in June 1956 and originally titled “The Traitor” when
released in the UK in March 1957. It didn’t receive an American release until
July 1958 via Allied Artists along with a title change. The title change is
curious because the original title better connects to the story while “The
Accursed!” reminds one more of a title for a horror movie.
are a few scratches and artifacts found throughout the movie and a couple
scenes go almost black, but overall this black and white movie looks pretty
good. “The Accursed!” is a burn to order DVD released as part of the WB Archive
Collection and there are no extras on the disc. The movie is presented in a
widescreen format preserving the original aspect ratio of the movie. This is a
good rainy day movie and a welcome addition for any fan of British murder
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release)
the recent BFI release of the BBC television series Out of the Unknown
comes this oddity; the only completely surviving episode of Out of This World,
a science fiction series produced in the early 1960s by independent television
channel ABC. The series was created by Irene Shubick and produced by Leonard
White, who would achieve lasting fame through his co-creating The Avengers.
Like other anthology shows before it such as Armchair Theatre, this was
conceived as an opportunity to present a variety of quality writing to
mainstream audiences. It was Shubick's belief that science fiction contained
some of the 'most original and philosophical ideas' in modern fiction.
Karloff was employed as the presenter for the show. By this time he was
seventy-five but was still regularly working in both the US and the UK despite
deteriorating health. He was no stranger to the anthology format, having
previously hosted the shows The Veil (1958) and Thriller
(1960-1962), the latter running to sixty-seven episodes. Out of This World
itself only ran to thirteen episodes, despite being a success at the time.
Irene Shubick was poached by the BBC where she was able to spend the next
several years working on her love for science fiction by producing the
aforementioned Out of the Unknown, that time not using a presenter.
due to budgetary constraints, it was common for television recordings to be
erased after broadcasts, so only one episode of Out of This World
remains, an adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Little Lost Robot. As with all
of Asimov's robotic tales, the story deals with the problems that arise when
the rules governing robot behaviour are tampered with. When an irritated
engineer tells a highly-sophisticated robot to, "Get lost!" this is
exactly what it does. Obeying every instruction, it proceeds to blend in with a
hanger full of identical robots. However, as this robot had its rule to not
allow harm to come to humans revoked, this poses something of a problem for
those in charge. Dr Susan Calvin, a robot psychologist, is called in to devise
a series of tests which will allow her to flush out the real lost robot in
order that the whole batch need not be destroyed. Despite the small sets and
slightly laughable robot costumes, it is an intriguing tale.
of other episodes have survived, and in attempt to be the most complete release
possible the BFI have included them here: an audio recording of Cold Equations,
starring Peter Wyngarde and Jane Asher, and an incomplete audio recording of
Imposter, an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story which would later become a
Hollywood movie in 2001. Also included is the shooting script for Dumb Martian,
adapted from John Wyndham, and a brand new audio commentary with the series
producer Leonard White. White, now aged 98, is on remarkable form and has an
excellent memory for his work in British television. Rounding out the DVD
package is a booklet containing a full history of Out of This World
including plot details for each episode.
Leonard White, photographed at age 95 at a UK "Avengers" event.
(Photo copyright Adrian Smith. All rights reserved.)
latest BFI release is the last in their current "Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and
Wonder" season and is a must for completists and genre fans, and
demonstrates that TV science fiction in the 1960s could be more than just
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
ON THE EVE OF THIS YEAR’S SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL,
PAST GRAND JURY
PRIZE NOMINEE, HOLY ROLLERS, STARRING
NOMINEE JESSE EISENBERG, MAKES ITS FREE VOD DEBUT EXCLUSIVELY ON SNAGFILMS
Beginning January 20th, this Ripped-from-the-Headlines Crime Drama,
Award-Winning Filmmaker Kevin Asch (Affluenza),
Co-Stars Justin Bartha
(The Hangover), Ari Graynor (TV’s “Bad Teacher”), Danny A. Abeckaser
(The Wolf of Wall Street), Q-Tip and
Hallie Kate Eisenberg (Paulie); it
Will Be Available to View Online
at SnagFilms.com, and All Supported Devices, Including Their Multi-Platform
NEW YORK, NY (January XX, 2015) – Inspired
by actual events in the late ‘90s in which Hasidic Jews were recruited as drug mules, HOLY ROLLERS was a
Gotham Award winner and Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize nominee in
2010. On the eve of Sundance 2015, the
crime drama, starring Oscar® nominee Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Now You See Me) makes its free VOD debut on
January 20, exclusively on SnagFilms, the
award-winning social video-viewing platform and 2014 Webby® nominee. It will be available to view online at SnagFilms.com, and all
supported devices, including their multi award-winning app.
HOLY ROLLERS, directed by award-winning indie filmmaker Kevin Asch (Affluenza),
mild-mannered Sam Gold (Eisenberg) is a young Rabbinical student from an
ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Borough Park, Brooklyn. Looking to make some
extra money, Sam and his best friend Leon (Jason Fuchs, Ice Age: Continental Drift) accept a job
from Leon’s brother Yosef (Justin Bartha, The Hangover) to retrieve a suitcase in Amsterdam and walk it
through customs in New York. Yosef has ties to an Israeli drug
cartel, the mysterious cargo turns out to be pure MDMA (ecstasy), and the
promise of easy cash lures Sam into becoming a smuggler and dealer. The film co-stars Ari Graynor (Celeste and Jesse Forever), Danny A.
Abeckaser (The Wolf of Wall Street),
Q-Tip (Cadillac Records), and Hallie
Kate Eisenberg (The Insider)
award-winning streaming video platform offers entertainment lovers an extensive
library of over 5,000 free movies, TV series and web originals on demand. The platform provides members the tools to
discover, watch and recommend a wide range of professional online video
content. The SnagFilms viewing
experience is available everywhere, enabling audiences to watch movies on the
web (including thousands of affiliate sites) as well as on sector-leading
applications that are available on mobile, set-top box and home entertainment
Inc., also owns Indiewire, the independent film industry’s leading news service
and blog network, twice named top entertainment site by the Webby Awards.
Founded by Ted Leonsis, SnagFilms, Inc. was
named as one of Red Herring’s 2013 Top-100 Technology Companies in North
America.Snagfilms.com was a Webby
finalist as 2014’s top entertainment site and a 2013 Webby Honoree. SnagFilms,
Inc. is headquartered in Washington, DC with offices in New York and Los Angeles.
For further information, visit snagfilms.com.
Robert Stigwood ended the 1970s with three major musicals in a row, “Saturday Night Fever,” “Grease,”
and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band,” and then stumbled in 1980 with “Moment
by Moment,” a dumb romantic melodrama with Lily Tomlin and John Travolta.“The Fan” (1981) was expected to revive his
winning streak, headlining Lauren Bacall and James Garner in a suspense thriller
about a Broadway star (Bacall) stalked by the deranged title character, played
in fine creepy fashion by newcomer Michael Biehn.But “The Fan” also did mediocre box
office.Some observers believed the
timing was bad.Three real-life
tragedies involving stalkers were still uncomfortably fresh in peoples’ minds
-- the murders of John Lennon and actress/centerfold Dorothy Stratten, and the
attempted assassination of President Reagan.Other critics blamed the studio’s marketing of the production as a
“Bacall and Garner movie.”The two stars
drew an older fan base that perhaps expected a sedate show-biz suspense drama,
and instead were surprised and turned off by scenes of slasher violence and
co-billing with Bacall, Garner has hardly more than a walk-on role as Jake, the
ex-husband of Bacall’s character, Sally Rice. He doesn’t even show up in the denouement when Sally has her big
confrontation with knife-wielding Douglas Breen (Biehn) in an empty
theater. Garner’s absence from this key
scene must have confounded his followers. Surely Jake would pull a Jim Rockford and show up in the nick of time to
years on, viewers who come to “The Fan” by way of its new release as a Warner Archive Collection DVD may find it far
more interesting than moviegoers in 1981 did. This was director Edward Bianchi’s first feature film (he’s since gone
on to a prolific career directing TV dramas), and instead of investing the movie
with his own style, he clearly borrows from Brian de Palma for the stalker
scenes and from Bob Fosse for the backstage rehearsal scenes and Sally’s big
number for opening night. It isn’t that
Bianchi doesn’t borrow well, with the debt to de Palma underlined by the fact
that the movie is scored by de Palma’s resident composer, Pino Donaggio. It’s that the jarring slasher scenes seem to
belong to a different movie than the slinky, “All That Jazz”-flavored
song-and-dance routines. Adding to the
tutti-frutti mix, Bacall’s spotlight number, “Hearts, Not Diamonds,” sounds
like a Saturday Night Live parody of a 1981-era Marvin Hamlisch/Tim Rice show
tune. In fact, it actually is a
the 1981 audience may have been disappointed by this scrambled omelet of
over-the-top moments, it’s a lot more entertaining than the predictable,
star-driven suspense movies that followed later in the ‘80s, such as “Still of
the Night,” “Jagged Edge,” and “Suspect.” Younger viewers now may get a kick out of the movie’s vanished world of
land-line rotary phones, typewriters, and people smoking in hospital waiting
rooms. Pay attention and you’ll see
Griffin Dunne, Dana Delaney, and Dwight Schultz in minor roles. A scene of Douglas cruising a gay bar, with
unfortunate results for a young man he picks up, has chilling implications on a
symbolic level that would not have been apparent to audiences when the movie
opened in May 1981; the first reports of a real-life scourge stalking the gay
community, AIDS, had not yet surfaced.
The Warner Archive
Collection edition of “The Fan” is a manufactured-on-demand DVD. It has a scene-selection menu and English
captions for the hearing-impaired, but no other extras. The image is a little soft, which may be
unavoidable for older source material, and it’s only a drawback in the “Hearts,
Not Diamonds” number where a crisper image would add to the fun.
in American football has been a big issue during the last year. After former
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was videotaped knocking his girlfriend
unconscious in an elevator and other players were reportedly involved in
incidents of domestic abuse, the National Football League issued a Code of
Conduct for players. Violation of the code can result in a player being
suspended or kicked out of the sport altogether. In Great Britain, however, it’s
not the players who are guilty of off-the-field violence, it’s the fans.
“Football hooliganism” as it is known, is and has been a problem for years.
Nick Love’s 2008 film, “The Firm” tells a story set in the midst of this violent
those who don’t know, football hooliganism refers to the organized gangs of
young soccer fans, almost all young men, who meet one another when the mood
strikes them to have a go at bashing each other’s heads in. These organized groups,
sometimes consisting of 100 or 200 young men, are known as “firms.” According
to Nick Love’s film, however, football has little to do with the violent
encounters these groups instigate. In fact, there was not a single frame of
film shot at a soccer stadium during a game.
Firm” was originally a television play broadcast in the 1980’s and featured
Gary Oldman as Bex, the leader of one of the firms. Reviews indicate it was
told from Bex’s point of view. Love’s adaptation
keeps the time frame, but changes the point of view and makes it more of a
coming of age story. In this version, the viewpoint character is Dom, a boy in
his teens who still lives with his parents, and encounters Bex and immediately
succumbs to a kind of hero worship.
Anderson plays Bex in this version, and Calum MacNab is Dom. Both give very
good, very real performances. And the shifting point of view between the two
main characters provides an interesting contrast between the two characters’
lifestyles. By day Bex wears a suit and tie and sells real estate. At night, he
wears Adidas and bright-colored jogging suits. He hangs out at a local pub with
members of his “firm,” and sets strategy for the next coming fight.
on the other hand, lives in an “estate,” an ugly housing project. and works
with his father in a construction business. Dom’s parents are shown to be mindless
cogs in the lower class of society. A chance encounter in a pub brings Dom and Bex
together, and the younger boy is impressed with the older man’s ferocity and
ruthlessness. When he’s invited to join Bex’s firm he jumps at the chance. He
immediately goes out and begs for money from his dad to buy the kind of clothes
Bex wears. He leaves his former best friend in the dust, and begins using
hooligan slang, that his parents don’t understand.
it is this emulation of Bex that leads to the beginning of Dom’s disenchantment
with his idol. The turning point comes in a scene where Dom shows up at a firm
meeting wearing the same exact red jogging suit and shoes that Bex is wearing.
When the rest of the firm ridicules Dom for this faux pas Bex simply
shrugs his shoulders and lets them rag on him until they’ve had enough. When he
finally tells the others to leave him alone, you can see the disappointment in
the story progresses, Dom begins to see the man he thought was so cool is
actually some kind of psychotic, a man full of violent rage. He leads his firm
in several clashes with another group, the Setis, with the violence escalating
with each encounter. Dom watches as Bex’s lieutenants try to reason with him,
but to no avail. He seems determined to lead his gang and himself into suicidal
Firm” is an interesting film, and keeps you glued to the screen to see how it
finally turns out. And unlike so many films today, it’s about something real,
not spaceships and superheroes. I give Love credit for carrying on a long
tradition of realism in British films that dates back to the days of Tony
Richardson, John Osborne and Alan Sillitoe. Love is not as good a writer as any
of those three. This film contains none of the indicting dialogue of England’s so-called
“Angry Young Men” characters who were so prevalent in films of the 1960s.
tells his story visually. Dialogue is minimal and what there is of it can
barely be understood because of the characters’ heavy accents. It’s all surface
level action. That combined with the loud soundtrack full of music from the ‘80s
results in an accurate portrait of the England of Margaret Thatcher, but it
does not go very deep into what really motivates men like Bex and Dom.
it’s a film well worth watching. The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray
transfer is first rate. The disc contains extras, including the usual deleted
scenes and “making of” featurettes. Another on how the gang fights were
choreographed also was of interest. A booklet containing notes by Julie Kirgo i
also illuminating. The disc also has an isolated soundtrack score. All in all,
a nice package.
This release is limited to only 3,000 units. Click here to order.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
In a major coup, Amazon Prime's video streaming service has signed Woody Allen to write and direct a full season of half-hour programming. The new series has not been titled nor has a concept even been finalized. Allen- presumably in jest- said that his lack of vision for the project may make Amazon regret its decision. That seems unlikely. Allen is one of the most prolific filmmakers in the world and has a track record that is unrivaled: he has released at least one major film every year since he made his directorial debut with "Take the Money and Run" in 1969. Allen is also arguably at the pinnacle of his career, with some of his recent films earning major awards and kudos from critics.
Amazon Prime is going toe-to-toe with Netflix in terms of dominating the video streaming business. Polls show that viewers are rapidly defecting from watching traditional TV broadcasts in favor of utilizing streaming, which allows them to watch what they want whenever they want on TVs and mobile devices. The signing of Allen gives a boost in prestige to Amazon. For more click here.
Warner Archive continues to serve film fans very well by remastering and
releasing a continual stream of little-known and under-appreciated movies from
their huge vault. Terror on a Train (1953) (titled Time Bomb for its UK release)
certainly fits the “little-known” category and once it's seen by more people I
think it will be quite well appreciated by fans of tight B cinema.
film takes place in England where a sharp-eyed police officer catches a man
skulking about a train yard at night. The fellow assaults the cop and runs off
leaving behind a bag with the components of a bomb. Quickly the police realize
that the escaped man must have planted a bomb on the munitions train he was
seen near. Looking over the train's schedule they surmise the bomb must be on a
timer and would probably be set to explode when the train reached the most
populous spot on its trip - the Royal Navy Yard in Portsmouth.
for a demolitions expert lead the authorities to Canadian national Peter
Lyncort (Glenn Ford) who was trained in World War II as a explosives defuser
and his help is enlisted even though he tells the government men he is not at
his best, as his wife Has just walked out on him minutes before! The railway authorities
divert the train onto a line in a residential area and the people nearby are
evacuated as Lyncort tries to find and disassemble the explosives hidden among
the dozens of large mines before the time bomb will explode. At the same time,
the cop who was assaulted by the saboteur is allowed to play a hunch that the
bomber might want to observe his handiwork. He goes to the train station in
Portsmouth in the hopes of spotting the man and possibly getting more
information out of him about the bomb's location. Will Lyncort succeed or will
all his marital problems be solved in a loud ka-boom?
is a short, sharp thriller that moves along very quickly and maintains interest
throughout its 72 minute runtime. Although the film has a pretty good score it
is used very sparingly until the end. The tension of the film is built through
good editing and direction (by Ted Tetzlaff) instead of musical stings and the
movie is the better for it. Many films are undercut by layering the score over
every scene but here the natural, ambient sounds of the hunt for both the bomb
and the saboteur are used to make things more realistic. It could be argued
that the martial discord story element is superfluous but I enjoyed the tension
it added to the ending as Mrs. Lyncort realizes that it is her husband that is
risking his life to defuse the explosives. The film was shot on location and
that adds verisimilitude to the proceedings as does the inclusion of several
nice eccentric characters who seem to mainstays of British cinema from this era.
Warner Archive DVD presents the film in its original aspect ratio looking and
sounding crisp and clean. The only extra offered is the trailer which might
best be skipped until the feature has been enjoyed so that spoilers are
The final image of Arthur Penn’s “Night Moves”
certainly gets the movie pundits in a lather. The scene consists of Gene Hackman as private eye Harry Moseby, shot to
pieces but still trying to steer his motor boat to shore. Bleeding badly from his wounds, he’s unable
to reach the gears; he ends up setting the boat in a circling motion. From
above, we see Harry’s boat circling aimlessly in the Gulf Stream. This scene, which brings the film to a
finish, has been described as a metaphor for many things, including America’s
lost identity after the Watergate era, to Moseby’s own fruitless search for the
truth, to Penn’s own floundering career. To me, it always looks like the boat is going down a drain (or a
toilet). It’s the sort of ending that
leaves a viewer wondering if you’ve missed something, and leaves critics
tripping over their tongues trying to explain it. It’s a bummer, that’s for
But don’t let your aversion to despair prevent you from
watching “Night Moves”. I think it
actually trumps the self-conscious “Chinatown” as an example of neo-noir,
mostly because it doesn’t dress itself up in period garb; instead, it settles
into its own time period, 1975, with Moseby being as much a man of the ‘70s as
he is of the noir tradition. Moseby
isn’t above roughing a guy up for some information, and he certainly beds down
his share of women, but he also deals with such modern ‘70s elements as a
cheating wife, an estranged father, and his share of shattered dreams. Poor
Harry is not only a failed football player, but he’s even failing in his second
career, that of a private investigator. What actor from noir’s golden era could play Moseby? Bogart was too
self-assured. Alan Ladd was too much the tortured angel figure. Widmark? Maybe. Mitchum? Never. Hackman, raw-boned but
intelligent and slightly melancholy, was born to play Moseby. He’s just about in his prime here, on the
heels of those great performances in “The French Connection”, “The
Conversation”, and “Scarecrow”. As
Moseby, he’s the private eye as working class mug. He’s too good for the work
he’s in, but not too good to mingle with the people he’s investigating.
The screenplay, by Brit novelist turned Hollywood
writer Alan Sharp, borrows all of the right elements from the noir cannon: A
faded actress hires Moseby to locate her missing daughter, Delly. The search
brings Moseby to Florida where he finds Delly with her step-father Tom, a charter
pilot who seems to be part of a smuggling operation. It’s all a bit vague and confusing, but it’s
so beautifully played by Hackman and company that you won’t mind not getting it
all. When you get to the end, don’t try
to figure out what just happened, because the movie wasn’t designed to be
understood. Just absorb it and walk away.
The supporting cast is up to the challenge of keeping
up with Hackman, especially a young James Woods as a slippery mechanic who
knows more than he lets on, and a 17-year-old Melanie Griffith as the sinfully
attractive Delly (short for Delilah). John Crawford plays Tom as a blubbery
middle-aged doofus, but his climactic fight scene with Hackman is splendid, one
of the unsung fight scenes of the ‘70s, right up there with Ernest Borgnine
attacking Lee Marvin with a hammer in “Emperor of the North”. Jennifer Warren is Tom’s girlfriend Paula, a
slightly faded hippie chick whose resume includes such varied jobs as teaching,
stripping, and hooking. Warren is one of
those actresses who didn’t act in many movies, but looks familiar because she
did so much TV work. Either that, or it’s because she resembles that other
faded hippie chick, Susan Anspach.
Melanie Griffith as the wayward teenager.
The shoot took place during the second half of 1973 in
Los Angeles as well as at Sanibel and Captiva Islands in Florida. It was a
troubled production. Hackman, a sullen sort to begin with, was enduring some
personal problems; Sharp was unhappy
with the handling of his script, and later complained about Penn’s
“indecisiveness”; and Penn was in a dark mood due to the darkness of the material,
which he described as being about “a country gone boundless.” The director cut scenes that slowed the
action, assuming the audience could figure out what was happening. This is what gives the film its quick pace,
but may also add to the sense that we’re losing something. Penn also admitted that halfway through the
shoot he stopped caring so much about creating a detective story, and became
more interested in revealing Harry Moseby’s inner-self.
“We didn’t pay that much attention to plot,” Penn said
at the time of the movie’s premiere in 1975. “We thought that plot was not
going to be achievable, that there was never going to be way of saying ‘Ah-ha!’
in the last reel when you find out that so-and-so did so-and-so. And my only
excuse or explanation for that is that we’re part of a generation which knows
there are no solutions.”
Ironically, nine days after the release of “Night
Moves” came the release of “Jaws”, a movie that set records at the box office
and forever changed the way movies were made and distributed. Steven Spielberg’s shark may as well have
eaten every print of “Night Moves”, for the arrival of “Jaws” more or less
marked the end of contemplative stories like the one about Harry Moseby. There was nothing vague about the ending of
“Jaws”, that’s for sure. The good guys
killed the shark, and that was that. There were certainly no conversations as
you left the theater about whether the shark really died or not. The era of
introspective characters and vague endings was over. No solutions? Just blow it up, Jack.
In the years since “Night Moves” first hit theaters,
its supporters have praised it as an underappreciated gem, and I agree. There are some great lines here, like when
Moseby’s wife walks in as he’s watching a football game. She asks, “Whose
“Nobody,” he says. “One
team is just losing more slowly.”
Little nuggets like that one keep the movie afloat,
even as the story becomes harder to follow.
When one considers the films of the late, great French director Louis Malle, soul-searching dramas such as "Au Revoir, Les Enfants", "Lacombe, Lucien", "Pretty Baby" and "Murmur of the Heart" come to mind. Malle also had a whimsical side and was not adverse to inserting a good deal of wit and humor into some of his films such as the remarkable "My Dinner With Andre", which consists almost entirely of a conversation between two old friends presented in real time. Then there is Malle's masterpiece "Atlantic City", a witty and moving look at aging with dignity set within the world of petty criminals in the dilapidated New Jersey resort town. One genre you would not associate with Malle is action/adventure. Yet, in 1965, Malle improbably delved directly into that genre with "Viva, Maria!", an expensive production that top-lined two of France's most popular home-grown national treasures, Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau. The film is a weird entry in Malle's body of work but it is nonetheless a great deal of fun and Kino Lorber has, thankfully, just released a stunning transfer of the film on Blu-ray.
The film opens in Europe in 1907 where we find a little girl named Maria shamelessly exploited by her Irish terrorist father, who utilizes her innocent persona to help him carry out deadly attacks against the British government. It's a sordid relationship that extends over many years, as Maria comes of age but remains devoted to her father's cause. The pair's war against government oppression ultimately leads them to the fictitious Central American nation of San Miguel. Here, the duo wreaks havoc on the corrupt government, which is controlled by a brutal dictator named Rodriguez (Carlos Lopez Moctezuma). Eventually one of their plots goes wrong and the father is killed in a shootout with government forces. Maria (Bardot), now a stunning beauty in her twenties, makes a narrow escape and finds refuge inside the wagon of a traveling circus. Here, she holds one of the performers, also named Maria (Moreau), at gunpoint while she gorges herself on food and drink. Despite the hostage-taking scenario, the two women bond in friendship. Bardot Maria is unsophisticated but courageous and self-reliant. Moreau Maria recognizes her as a diamond in the rough and sees elements of her own personality in her. Both are single women trying to survive in a world dominated by men. Knowing that Bardot is wanted by the law and the subject of a nationwide manhunt, Moreau convinces the owners of the circus to bring her on board as a partner for Moreau in her dance act. They perform their relative benign act in wild barrooms in front of sex-starved men who shoot each other at the drop of a hat. When a minor wardrobe malfunction reveals more skin than anticipated, the audience goes wild. The two Marias decide to incorporate this accidental bit of bawdiness into their act. Before long, they become a sensation with their mild striptease act. The entire nation has heard about them, even if the majority of peasants will never get to see their act. The Marias prove to be lucrative for the circus and both women are content. Bardot Maria looks enviously on Moreau Maria's active love life as the traveling show attracts hunky guys in every town. Soon, the virginal Bardot decides to give men a try. She is instantly hooked and outdoes her mentor in the boudoir. (This is another unusual aspect of the film for its day: the notion of women enjoying fulfilling sex lives without any shame or guilt).
The blissful lives of the two Marias come to a crashing halt when the circus troupe is arrested by goons who work for Rodriguez after the women interfere with the ransacking of a village during which numerous innocent people are murdered and enslaved. The circus performers are imprisoned, presumably to await certain execution. While in jail, Maria Moreau meets a prominent revolutionary, Flores (George Hamilton, somewhat out of place in the proceedings.) Although tied to a cross and in terrible pain, he is not immune to Maria's charms- especially when she - shall we say- alleviates him from some of his stress. Before long, both Marias are influenced by Flores to join the revolution. They help the circus performers orchestrate an escape that is amusingly staged, as each performer utilizes his or her unique talents in order to overcome the guards. Before long, the two Marias are national icons for the peasant class, who mobilize an army behind them. The final act of this bizarre "western" finds the Marias boldly leading their new army into battle against the forces of Rodriguez.
"Viva Maria!" (the Blu-ray sleeve omits the exclamation point) is wacko concept grandly executed by Malle. Both Bardot and Moreau seem to be having a grand time playing out the proceedings and foreshadowing the Women's Lib movement by portraying kick-ass action heroes. In the latter stages of the film, Malle goes for comic book heroics and blatant cartoon-like scenarios, but it all works very well indeed. Some of the battle sequences take on an almost epic feel but never overshadow the unique wit and style of the basic story line. I was surprised at how impressed I was by this film and the Kino Lorber transfer is most welcome.
The original trailer is included as a bonus extra.
Vinegar Syndrome has released yet another retro erotica double feature on one DVD. Both flicks are from the big hair era of the 1980s and both features center on similar themes: a frustrated young woman whose workaholic lifestyle leaves virtually no time for their love life. "Purely Physical" (1982) is the more impressive feature, largely because it has some production values and a reasonably intelligent plot, coupled with relatively accomplished actors and actresses. Laura Lazare plays Kathy, a young, overworked college girl who needs extra income. She applies for and gets a job as the night clerk at a local motel. It doesn't take long for the outwardly prim and proper Kathy to observe that the place's primary source of income is as a "hot sheet" destination for people who want to carry out their sexual fantasies. She keeps a poker face even when confronted with the obvious intentions of her clients. There is a nervous young teenage boy who has barely cobbled together the $32 room fee in order to finally consummate his love for his cute girlfriend. There is a dorky, chunky guy who believes the hot number who picked him up in a bar really just wants to sit around the motel room and indulge in his passion for movie trivia. (She turns out to be a conniving hooker.) There is the frustrated traveling saleswoman (Juliet Anderson as "Aunt Peg", the original screen cougar) who finds she has no time for lovers so has to take sexual matters into her own hands. Finally, there is an exhausted businessman whose friend sends up two hookers to please him. He rejects their offer but when they inform him that they are actually lovers, he relents and let's them indulge. Predictably, his exhaustion fades pretty quickly and he gets in on the action. Then there's the attractive and wealthy young woman who want to indulge in her fantasies by renting a room and bringing in her two male tennis instructors. Faced with this sexual tidal wave on her doorstep every night, Kathy finally succumbs to make her own fantasies come true. "Purely Physical" was apparently filmed, at least in part, at a sizable motel, though one wonders if the owners who consented knew exactly what kind of movie was being made on their premises. The opening credits are actually rather impressive, with some good photography of Kathy bicycling through busy city streets. Lazare, who appeared in numerous porn films throughout the 1980s, overcomes the bad hairstyles of the day and gives a fairly accomplished performance. The film only disappoints on one level: the much-hinted-at match-up between Kathy and Aunt Peg never occurs, beyond some mild flirting. Still, "Purely Physical" is one of the better porn efforts of the era.
"Cathouse Fever" (1984), on the other hand, is a lazy "quickie" feature with Becky Savage as a young L.A. secretary whose work hours deprive her of any romantic relationships. She makes the bold decision to join a bordello in Las Vegas. Aside from some "B" roll footage of Vegas in the era, the rest of the film is shot in one-room settings with the exception of a few beach scenes in which Becky is seen walking on the beach. Once at the bordello, Kathy enthusiastically embraces her work, bedding and pleasing an oddball selection of guys, some of whom probably mirror the real life experience of hookers in that they are decidedly unattractive. The movie stresses comedy, with some slapstick sequences inserted into the action. The routine script includes the usual standard sequences involving lesbians and group sex but most of it plays out in mundane fashion.
Both features boast excellent transfers and include the original trailers.
Those delightfully perverted souls at Vinegar Syndrome have delved back into the well to resurrect another interesting artifact relating to retro erotica. "Prisoner of Paradise" has to be one of the most ambitious porn feature films ever made. Released in 1980, it actually had a fairly exotic location and a semi-respectable budget, at least compared to the grindhouse fare that was being churned out back in the day. The film is attributable to one Gail Palmer, who became a bit of sensation for her status as one of the few female directors of porn movies. Here, she is credited with co-directing the film with porn legend Bob Chinn. (It has since been alleged that, in fact, she only served as a front for her then-boyfriend, who was said to be the actual director of the films that bore her name.) "Prisoner of Paradise" presents a bizarre scenario that starts out as a straight adventure film. The ubiquitous porn presence, John Holmes (aka Long Johnny Wadd) stars as an American sailor in WWII. When we first see him, he's washed up on a tropical island. (Yes, the film seems to have actually been shot somewhere more exotic than a bedroom above an L.A. taco restaurant.) Seems Holmes' character, Joe Murrey, is the only survivor of a Japanese submarine attack on his vessel. The film actually plays out as a legitimate survival story for a while, with Holmes' Joe exploring the island, trying to build shelter and identify ways to hunt and find fresh water. In fact, the film moves at such a deliberate pace that it takes a full eleven minutes until the script allows Holmes to reveal his legendary appendage. This is done through the use of flashbacks. We see him interacting with the love of his life, a Chinese girl in an unnamed city, presumably in China. Prior to shipping out to sea, they have an emotional goodbye, as seen in a tastefully directed lovemaking sequence. Minutes later, however, a bombing raid occurs and the girl is killed, leaving Joe emotionally devastated. Now he is apparently the only inhabitant of this remote island and the memories of his love haunt him even further...that is until he comes across the shocking sight of two stunningly beautiful women bathing in a nearby waterfall. Joe follows them and makes an even more shocking discovery: they are part of a tiny Nazi/Japanese encampment. The women are Ilsa and Greta (played respectively by platinum-haired porn icon Seka and Sue Carol.) Turns out that they are Nazi soldiers who have been assigned to this secret outpost along with their commandant, Hans (screen credited as Heinz Mueller. Real name: Elmo Lavino!). Joe observes the goings-on at the camp, which consists only of a hut and small storage shack. The only other inhabitant is a Japanese guard (Jade Wong). The wacky premise is based on the fact that Germany and Japan were allies during the war, but the real reason seems to be a set-up for some inter-racial sexual romps.
Joe is startled to see two captive American nurses (Nicki Anderson and Brenda Vargo) taken at gun-point into the shack where they are sexually abused by the commandant and his two female adjutants, who conveniently turn out to be lesbian dominatrixes. Joe makes a daring attempt to rescue the nurses but they are captured by Suke, the Japanese guard. Brought before the commandant, the trio is subjected to both verbal and sexual abuse- well, at least the women are. Joe's "punishment" is having one of the nurses perform...er, let's call it oral surgery- on him. There are also the prerequisite lesbian sequences. The commandant is total nutcase who is so over-the-top that he makes Werner Klemperer's Col. Klink look like a model of comedic restraint. The commandant toasts pictures of Hitler, even as he condemns him for banishing him to this remote outpost. (Would he really rather have been on the Russian front than on a tropical island with sex-starved women?) Suke makes her predictable intentions known by performing more...er, oral surgery- on Joe, who is tied to a post. During the course of his confinement, he sees the kind of action you used to have to go to Plato's Retreat to experience, yet he is intent on breaking loose. The finale of the film finds Joe successfully freeing the nurses and killing his Axis enemies in a fiery explosion.
What sets "Prisoner of Paradise" apart from most of the porn drivel of this era is the better-than-average direction coupled with a relatively lavish budget. There are some impressive special effects in the finale and the directors even manage to squeeze in an original love song, which isn't as bad as those old lemons by Bread that used to chart in Billboard in the 70s. The battle sequences are shown in flashback and consist of genuine newsreel footage combined with footage from "Tora! Tora! Tora!".
They used to call James Brown "the hardest working man in show business." With all due respect to the Godfather of Soul, I don't think he could hold a candle compared to John Holmes, who was said to have gotten it on with literally thousands of women, all under hot kleig lights in front of a camera crew. "Prisoner of Paradise" at least offered him a change of scenery. The film is rather entertaining in its own bizarre way and the Vinegar Syndrome DVD is impressive. It boasts a fine transfer as well as the original trailer and a gallery of other retro porn coming attractions.
In viewing the first half hour of the 1970 British May/December romance Say Hello to Yesterday, I was sorely tempted to hit the "eject" button the DVD player and pass this title along to one of our other reviewers who might not have such an immediate disdain for the film. Why did I have such a visceral reaction? Because I could not recall a romantic film that featured such an irritating, annoying leading man, in this case played by Leonard Whiting. From the very opening sequence which introduces him as the somewhat estranged son from London who drops in, unannounced and uninvited, on his birthday to visit his working class mother and father. The reception he receives is a rather cool one. He accompanies his dad as the older man makes his daily trek to some rather Orwellian-looking dead end job in an industrial plant. At first, your tempted to to sympathize with this unnamed lad, given his father's constant criticisms about the way he is leading his life. The elder man accuses his son of being a shiftless grifter who can only enjoy the bright lights of the big city by mooching off of friends and acquaintances. The younger man dismisses the criticisms and remains so perpetually cheerful and jolly that you soon begin to resent him, too. The scenes depicting the young man's strained home life give way to his taking a commuter train back to London. On board is a forty-something, attractive woman (Jean Simmons), whose character also remains unnamed during the course of the story. (For the sake of convenience, I will very creatively refer to them as "the man" and "the woman"). A brief introduction to her home life makes it clear that she is a typical suburban housewife with a successful husband and a couple of kids. Outwardly, you can see she lives a comfortable life and doesn't want for materialistic things. However, her body language conveys the fact that she is not satisfied with her lot in life, as she coldly bids her husband goodbye. She's off to spend an entire day in London, ostensibly to go shopping and to have tea with her mother. Yet, the viewer can immediately sense that her real purpose is to temporarily escape her rather mundane daily routine.
On board the train, the man, who is in his about twenty years old, is chatting up an attractive girl his own age when he spots the woman sitting in a crowded passenger compartment, surrounded by stuffy businessmen. He is intrigued by the fact that she obviously wants to smoke but has been consigned to a non-smoking compartment. He is amused by the fact that she is trying to unobtrusively peel the "No Smoking" decal from the compartment window. He is also immediately infatuated by her, despite their age difference. (Who can blame him? She's Jean Simmons!) Soon, they meet cute but she isn't interested for good reason. The man comes across as an obnoxious case of arrested development, badgering everyone in the compartment with juvenile and cynical quips. She finds him slightly amusing, but when she discovers he is following in her footsteps around London shops, she becomes exasperated- especially when his flirting ritual includes causing an embarrassing commotion in a department store. Soon, she is running through the streets of London with the man in pursuit and a posse of good samaritans chasing him down, thinking he intends to harm the woman. In the end, he finally catches up with her and uses his charm to begin to win her over. By this point in the story, credibility goes out the window. The woman is obviously cultured and intelligent and it defies reason that she would put up such a grating would-be paramour simply because he's young and hunky. The man is the human equivalent of nails scraping on a blackboard. Yet, I persevered, if only because the performances by Seberg and Whiting were so engaging. A strange thing happened along the way: I became increasingly engrossed in the story and fate of the characters. Whiting is on hyper-ventilation mode most of the time but in the few sequences in which he talks calmly to the woman, he tells poignant and moving stories about his tragic past. Yet, she suspects- and so do we- that these may be tall tales, because it seems this modern Walter Mitty is also a compulsive liar. Nevertheless, his infatuation with the woman flatters her, even though she repeatedly attempts to escape his company. Yet, even buses and taxis won't deter him. (He catches up with the taxi and jumps on the running board in an act that is supposed to be charming but would strike most women as the action of a potential serial killer.)
The film was clearly inspired by David Lean's 1946 masterpiece Brief Encounter, in which two everyday people begin to fall in love after a chance meeting at a train station. The resemblance ends there, however, as the man in this story is a far cry from the sober, sane and classy character played by Trevor Howard in the Lean production. The plot consists of the woman alternately accepting the man's company, then trying to repel him. She is outraged when he secretly follows her to her mother's apartment and barges in to introduce herself. In an amusing plot twist, the mother (wonderfully played in a wry turn by Evelyn Laye) thinks the young man is her daughter's lover. She not only accepts this but encourages her daughter to carry on with secret liaisons with him, confessing to her astonished daughter that she, too, had enjoyed an affair decades ago. ("It was a long war", she says ruefully). Ultimately, the man and woman do decide to consummate their one-day affair, though by this time the woman is still of decidedly mixed emotions. She feels a sense of guilt. As with the straying married woman in The Bridges of Madison County, she recognizes that her husband is a good man and that the "crime" of being dull shouldn't justify a sexual affair with a man she has just met. In the film's best sequence, they gain access to rental flat and go through the always-awkward process human beings have to engage in when they bed a lover for the first time. This prolonged sequence is the heart of the movie and leads to emotional rollercoasters for both the man and the woman, as he tries to persuade her to leave her humdrum existence for the fun, yet insecure, life he would provide. By this time, I found myself completely engaged in the story line and caring about how matters would be resolved.
Director Alvin Rakoff is to be credited for the sensitive handling of this material. He also deserves high praise for shooting mostly on location, which provides some stunning views of London in 1970. Simmons and Whiting are both terrific and the latter can't be blamed for the fact that his character never really matures beyond the state of a "man-child". The film features a lush musical score by Riz Orolani and some chirpy pop love songs that make The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" seem cutting-edge. Nevertheless, the film does boast some superb cinematography by the late, great Geoffrey Unsworth and it's a rich looking production throughout.
Scorpion Entertainment has released a first-rate special edition DVD of this modest film that most retro movie lovers probably never even heard of. Film historian Tony Sloman does yeoman work on the commentary track with Rakoff, who is refreshingly candid about his criticisms of various aspects of the movie, including the title, which he disdains to this day. Rakoff tells some marvelous anecdotes that sometimes divert from the film at hand, but are nonetheless interesting. They involve frustrations that emerged when working with Bette Davis, who felt she didn't need any direction. He also recounts getting fired from films because of creative differences with the powers-that-be. He is nonetheless proud of Say Hello to Yesterday, though he admits to cringing at some of the man's over-the-top comedic antics. He rightly lavishes praise on Jean Simmons, pointing out that although "cougars" might be all the rage today, it was considered daring to present a love story in 1970 in which a young man is involved with an older woman. Rakoff says that Simmons was self-conscious because she felt she had "bad legs", thus she shows only a glimpse of them above her boots. He also bemoans the fact that Whiting should have had a very successful career in films, but it inexplicably petered out shortly after this movie was released. Rakoff also tells interesting stories about filming in London and points out a brief walk-by cameo done by Rod Steiger, much to Tony Sloman's amazement. Both men are rather astounded at how sparse the traffic and crowds were in the London of this era- a far cry from the teeming masses that populate the city today. The special edition also includes the original trailer.
Say Hello to Yesterday is in many ways a flawed film but it is nonetheless a highly engaging one. Recommended, especially if you are as enamored of retro British cinema as I am.
Charles Bronson was 55 at the time of “St Ives” (1976).
He was just a couple years past his star-making turn in “Death Wish”, and was
enjoying a surprising run of success. I
say surprising because Bronson had, after all, been little more than a craggy
second banana for most of his career. Now, inexplicably, he had box office
clout as a leading man. In fact, Bronson
reigned unchallenged for a few years as the most popular male actor in
international markets. Yes, even bigger than Eastwood, Newman, Reynolds,
Redford, or any other 1970s star you can name. Many of Bronson’s movies were partly financed by foreign investors, for
even if his movies didn’t score stateside, they still drew buckets of money in
Prague or Madrid. Some have suggested that his popularity on foreign screens
was due to how little he said in his movies (there was never much dubbing
required in a Bronson flick). I tend to think international audiences simply
liked what Bronson was selling: straight forward toughness. Because he was much older than his peers, he
didn’t play up the counter cultural smugness or cynicism. No, Bronson was a shear, undiluted
bad-ass. And that sells anywhere.
So what, I wonder, did the global movie goer think of
“St. Ives”? It was a change of pace for
old Charlie, for he talks more here than in “Mr. Majestyk,” “The Stone Killer”
and “Hard Times” combined. He’s also not
blowing his enemies away, or beating them senseless in an alley fight. Even the veins in his neck seem relatively
docile in this movie. He plays Raymond St. Ives, a former L.A. newspaper
columnist who lives in a fleabag hotel. He sleeps late, gambles what little
money he makes on football, and is supposedly working on a novel. We never see him writing, but every time
someone greets him they say, “Hey, how’s the novel going?” That’s how we
know. (The adverts for the movie also
showed Bronson smoking a pipe, yet he doesn’t smoke a pipe in the movie. Since
he spends a lot of time at a deli, a more accurate poster would have shown him
eating a pastrami sandwich.)
When he’s not being a lovable slacker, St. Ives
occasionally “helps” people, ala Travis McGee. The connections he made during his years as an ambulance chaser now
assist him when he needs help tracking down a shady character. When he’s hired by a wealthy old windbag to
retrieve some stolen documents, he soon finds himself knee deep in dead bodies,
and crooked cops. John Houseman plays
Abner Procane, the aforementioned windbag. Procane sits in his mansion, weeping
over old King Vidor movies, while a mysterious coterie of people bustles around
him, including a personal psychiatrist who massages his back. He’s mum about the contents of the documents,
but he’s willing to pay a lot of dough to get them back. Since St. Ives is not
close to finishing his novel, he takes the gig. As the movie’s tagline read: “He's clean. He's mean. He's the
The screenplay by Barry Beckerman was based on a novel
by Ross Thomas, and it tries hard to ape the old Raymond Chandler style.
Unfortunately, it’s neither tough enough to be “hard-boiled,” nor dark enough
to be “noir.” It’s simply the sort of convoluted “who done it” that was rampant
as the mid-1970s went nutty with detectives. Not only was every TV network saturated with investigators of every ilk,
but the big screen was hit with dozens of features, including “The Long
Goodbye” (1973), “Chinatown” (1974) remakes of “Farewell My Lovely” (1975), and
“The Big Sleep” (1978), plus lighter versions of the genre such as “The Late
Show” (1977) and “The Big Fix” (1978). “St. Ives” fits into the list somewhere,
if only because it was probably made to catch the wave created by
“Chinatown.” It’s not nearly as good,
but it has many fine moments and is more watchable than you might think.
First of all, the film looks great. Cinematographer
Lucian Ballard, who worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah,
finds the right tone for an LA where it’s always just past sundown, a low rent
LA of crowded diners, crappy motels, and garages where cars are outfitted with
armor plating. Also, J. Lee Thompson, a
versatile and underrated director (“Guns of Navarone” “Cape Fear”) moves the
story along at a brisk step. There’s a
great scene early on where Bronson is thrown down a freight elevator shaft and
has to scramble his way to safety before he’s crushed; it’s as intense as
anything Thompson directed in his long career.
The cast features a pleasing collection of journeymen
and fringe contenders, including the likes of Houseman, Maximillian Schell,
Elisha Cook Jr., Michael Lerner, Harris Yulan, Harry Guardino, Daniel J.
Travanti, and Dana Elcar. You’ll even see Jeff Goldbloom and Robert Englund as
hoodlums who learn that one shouldn’t mess with Charles Bronson, even when he’s
not in vigilante mode. Jacqueline Bisset
is here, too, for movies of this sort require a femme fatale. She doesn’t quite cut it – she’s too urbane -
but her wet t-shirt scene in “The Deep” was coming up soon and all would be
“St. Ives” loses steam during a second half mired in
car chases and dreary detective work. Lalo Shifrin’s scratchy guitar and bongo soundtrack fails, too, sounding
more appropriate for an episode of ‘Baretta’. There’s a decent shootout at the end, and a couple of twists that we
don’t see coming, but nothing in the film’s second half lives up to the promise
of the first, when Bronson was discovering bodies stuffed into dryers, and
Houseman was huffing and puffing like Sidney Greenstreet.
The movie flopped when it was originally released in
the late summer of 1976. Audiences and
critics alike couldn’t quite accept Bronson as a thinking, methodical
character. One newspaper headline
roared, “Is Bronson Going Soft?” Bronson
couldn’t win. His violent movies were criticized for playing to the rabble, but
when he tried to change, reviewers seemed indifferent, or in some cases,
downright disappointed. “Bronson,” wrote a Pittsfield MA critic, “should be
ashamed of himself.”
Bronson appeared in a few movies during this period
that seemed to be a conscious break from his usual fare. There was “Breakheart
Pass”, an interesting murder mystery set aboard a train in the 1800s, and a
comedy western called “From Noon Till Three.” But as usually happens when a well-known star tries something different,
these movies were a hard sell. LA critic
Charles Champlin called “St. Ives” “competent but uninspired,” and said that
Bronson, “continues to be a strong and attractive figure, even when he has as
little to do as stroll through this charade.”
Was Bronson disillusioned by the cold reception given
to “St. Ives”? If the movie had been a
success, would he have considered playing more characters like Ray St. Ives, a fellow described in The New York Times
as “….the kind of private-eye role that Humphrey Bogart used to do." I’d like to think that if this film had been
a success, Bronson might have continued to evolve as an actor, rather than
spending his later years grinding out the “Death Wish” sequels.
What I like best about “St. Ives” is that Bronson seems
to be having fun. And he’s not
half-bad. He was certainly not a
Neanderthal who couldn’t handle dialog. He speaks the one liners and wisecracks
with a surprising dryness, such as when some thugs rob him of 50 bucks and
complain that he doesn’t have more money on him. "It only took you five
minutes to get it," Bronson says. "That's $600 an hour..." Good
stuff. Bronson may not deliver it the way Richard Dreyfuss would have, but
Dreyfuss probably couldn’t climb out of an elevator shaft.
Still, there’s a
telling moment late in the movie when Bronson pulls a gun. His eyes turn black and the gun seems an
extension of his arm. While watching
this scene I was reminded of something I once read about Buffalo Bill Cody –
that his popularity was largely due to his looking better on horseback than any
other man. And Bronson, too, I could argue, simply looked better with a gun in
his hand than any other actor. And he
didn’t need the comically huge hardware of Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, either.
Bronson looked dangerous even with a small pistol. Perhaps it was inevitable that he would
resume making violent pictures and leave the more subtle characters
behind. But in “St. Ives”, he was compelling
without leaving the streets awash in blood. Bronson was better than anyone knew.
Ives” is available as part of the Warner Archives streaming service. Click here to access the site.
"St. Ives" and "Telefon" are available as a Bronson double feature DVD from Warner Home Video. Both titles contain original trailer and there is a vintage production featurette for "St. Ives". Click here to order from Amazon.
anyone with any knowledge of the history of film could tell you, Bruce Lee is
an icon of both the worlds of martial arts and action cinema. He was a dynamic
and exciting performer who seemed born to be on the big screen. His untimely
death -just as his career was poised to become bigger than any previous Asian
film actor- is only one element of his legendary status. Lee was an astonishing
onscreen presence whose athletic abilities and kinetic style made him the
center of attention whenever he was present. Until he was afforded the chance
to star in his own movies, his bit roles such as a violent thug in Marlowe (1969) showed how thrilling he was to watch. His role in the short-lived TV
series The Green Hornet cast him as the sidekick but it was Lee who provided
the most memorable element in every one of those twenty six episodes. Once
you've watched him onscreen his natural charisma is evident and it is no
surprise that pictures of him often adorn the same walls as other 'gone too
soon' icons as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Like those screen legends, Lee
died in his prime with much promise laid out for the future and- like them- his
loss will be felt by his fans forever.
Bruce Lee's short film legacy is mostly unseen these days by martial arts movie
fans. Other than his last completed film, Enter The Dragon (1973), his film
history seems to have disappeared from the minds of most action fans. It almost
as if Lee's contribution to martial arts cinema began and ended with that one
excellent movie. Luckily, the fine folks at Shout! Factory have produced a
fantastic, affordable Blu-Ray set that presents Lee's earlier films in nearly
perfect transfers- and they have even
included a few hours of extras to provide some context for modern viewers.
up is 1971's The Big Boss which in many ways is the standard template for an
entire sub-set of Chinese martial arts adventures. Lee plays Cheng, a young man
from the countryside who is traveling to a bigger village to get a job (a
common fate for males living in rural China). He intends to work hard and send
money back home to his mother, who has extracted from him a promise not to
utilize his considerable skills as a street fighter in the big city.. Cheng's
uncle gets him a job in the local ice making factory but in just a few days our
hero discovers that the business owner is using the industrial-sized blocks of
ice to transport heroin. Cheng confronts the boss's henchmen and things get
violent quickly- and become even worse when his his co-workers turn up murdered.
Soon Cheng's (almost) girlfriend is kidnapped for the depraved boss' lustful
attentions and it is time for wrongs to be righted in vengeful style.
Big Boss was a huge financial success worldwide and made Lee's stardom
concrete. In many ways it is typical of the type of action film being produced
at the time in Hong Kong. The story is set in contemporary times and used the
usual plotline of drug smuggling as the story's engine. There were at least a
few dozen similar movies made in the 1970s what sets this production apart is
the presence of Bruce Lee. His experience in American television and film is
evident in his careful and fairly nuanced performance. Indeed, his more natural
style often contrasts sharply with some of his co-stars as they mug their way
across the screen like thy were projecting to the cheap seats. Lee's amazing
physical skills are shown well here, too, even if I cringe at the silly
trampoline work used to enhance the fights. The stunts are impressive and the
action well choreographed with the only real complaint being that the film's
pace is often leisurely to the point of irritation. The film clocks in at
nearly two hours and could have been a good deal shorter.
up is 1972's Fist of Fury which is a period piece set in the early 1900's in
Shanghai with Lee playing Chen Zhen. In many ways this is very much a typical
martial arts film of the time with a plot seen often. Chen has returned to his
old school to marry his beloved but learns upon his arrival that his martial
arts master has died from what appears to have been natural causes. Chen is
incredibly upset and angry about this and doesn't believe his master's death
was natural. At the funeral students from a rival Japanese school insult Cheng even
going so far as too slap him repeatedly. Cheng refuses to disgrace his master's
funeral but he later goes to the rival school to challenge his harassers. In an
impressive display of ability, he defeats the entire Japanese school including
the master. This sets up an ongoing series of attacks and retaliations of
various kinds that culminates in much mayhem, death and vengeance leading to a
surprisingly downbeat ending. No one really wins in this terrible war.
a modern viewer it is interesting to see how strong a statement this film makes
about the horrors of racism. The war between these rival schools is based
mostly on ethnicity and is ginned up by wounded pride and the inability to let
old wounds heal. The emotions on display can feel over the top at times but
they seem to reflect the blind hatreds of these groups as rational thought is
ignored in the rush to inflict pain on rivals. Of course, this somewhat
depressing takeaway doesn't alter the fact that the action scenes are
incredible as a showcase for Lee, who demonstrates some amazing skills.. My
favorite fight scene in Fist of Fury has to be the excellent dojo battle wherein
Lee takes on an entire room of opponents and walks away unscathed. (The scene
is marred only by the distraction of flying dummies and bad wigs.)
The year 1972 saw Lee taking control of his
film career in a new way by writing and directing his next screen role. Way of
the Dragon was released in the United States as Return of the Dragon but no
matter what the title, it is a fascinating film. In Rome a Chinese restaurant
owner is having trouble with the local crime bosses. Help from home is
requested but when only one person appears in response to their plea, the
victims despair. Luckily for them this one person is Bruce Lee as Tang Lung.
Tang insists he is capable and even shows his open mindedness by stating that
any fighting style is good and can be incorporated into your own form. Soon the
mobsters are causing trouble, demanding payment and harassing the restaurant
owners in any way they can. After a missed opportunity because of a poorly
timed bathroom trip, Tang establishes his skills and warns the mafia bosses
that these people and their establishment are under his protection. Even though
a death threat on Tang is issued, he refuses to leave and ultimately is forced to take on his would-be
assassins. Seeing that the local killers are not up to the task, a Japanese and
an American martial arts experts are hired to finally take Tang out and it is
in these confrontations that the conflict will be resolved.
rookie cop or soldier arrives at his first assignment and quickly finds they’re
in the middle of some serious trouble. This basic plot has been used more times
than any movie buff can count and crosses genres like westerns, war movies and cop
thrillers. “Pony Soldier” is an odd western in that the action takes place in
Canada and involves the Northwest Mounted Police.
1876 and Canadian Cree Indians cross the border into Montana to hunt buffalo,
but are mistaken for Sioux by the U.S. Cavalry and a battle ensues. Known as
long knives by the Cree because of their sabers, the Cavalry forces the Cree to
retreat. The leader of the Cree kidnaps two white settlers in order to trade
them for buffalo and safe passage to Canada.
Duncan MacDonald, played by the ever-youthful Tyrone Power, is briefed on the
problem and takes up the challenge to negotiate the freedom of the white
captives. He is joined by his half-native scout and side-kick Natayo Smith,
played by Thomas Gomez, in an effort to preserve the peace between the Cree,
the settlers, the Mounties and the U.S. Cavalry.
plays the diplomat cop very well and gains a reluctant friendship with the Cree
chief Standing Bear, played by Stuart Randall, while clashing with the Cree
soldier Konah (Cameron Mitchell), who seeks a confrontation with the U.S.
Cavalry across the border in Montana.
a mirage appears across the valley showing the ocean and a large ship,
MacDonald convinces the Cree of the futility of their efforts and they reluctantly
decide to consider his offer to free the white captives. It turns out one of
the captives is an outlaw, Jess Calhoun (Robert Horton), who is wanted
for murder by the Mounties. The woman captive is pretty Emerald Neeley (Penny Edwards), who has been chosen by Konah to be his bride.
Northwest Mounted Police seek to maintain the peace by returning their wards,
the Cree, back to their home in Canada. Power’s MacDonald is the perfect mix of
level-headed constable and diplomat. He even manages to befriend a Cree orphan
who wants to be his adopted son. While ever the diplomat, MacDonald is no pushover
and asserts himself with the Cree and in a final confrontation with the outlaw
Soldier” looks like a typical western of the era with a Cavalry battle, horse riding
stunts, shootouts and lush vistas while also presenting the native characters as
more than caricatures. Many, if not all, of the native supporting cast appear to
be Native Americans with Anthony Numkena, a Hopi Indian, a standout as
MacDonald’s adopted son, Comes Running.
movie is based on a Saturday Evening Post story by Garnett Weston and was
directed by Joseph M. Newman. Newman helmed the sci-fi classic “This Island
Earth,” the noir cult film “Dangerous Crossing,” Tarzan, the Ape Man” and
several episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”
this movie isn’t shot in the gritty adult western style made popular by John
Ford, Anthony Mann, George Stevens, John Sturges and Fred Zinnemann in the
1950s; it still manages to be entertaining as a sort of transition between the
standard western formula of old Hollywood and the modern westerns being made by
to IMDb, this movie is the film debut of Earl Holliman and features an
uncredited performance by Richard Boone. It also features narration at the end
of the movie by an uncredited Michael Rennie. The movie ends with MacDonald
completing his assignment followed by a contemporary tribute of the Royale
Canadian Mounted Police with Rennie extolling the virtues of their continuing
mission as peacekeepers.
The movie looks terrific and was filmed in Technicolor on location in the Coconino
National Forrest near Sedona, Arizona, and in California’s Red Rock Canyon. The
20th Century Fox production was released in December 1952 on the eve of
CinemaScope and it’s a shame this movie was not able to make use of the wide
Twilight Time Blu-ray release, which looks and sounds wonderful, is limited to 3,000
copies and can by ordered via Screen Archives. The score by Alex North is
offered as an isolated track on the disc and is the only extra. The release
also includes the usual booklet of images spread throughout an informative and
entertaining essay by Julie Kirgo. Fans of Tyrone Power and “north” westerns
will want to give this movie a view and possibly add a copy to their
This week, Amazon is cutting the price of the Universal Pictures 100th Anniversary limited edition Blu-ray and DVD sets. Save up to $220! Includes 25 classic films, a CD of film scores and a 72 page book.
First Run Features has released director Lucia Puenzo's acclaimed 2013 film "The German Doctor" on DVD. The movie is the highest profile Argentinian release in years and was honored at numerous international film festivals. Puenzo, who also wrote the screenplay, based on the film on her novel, which- in turn- is said to have been inspired by the real-life experiences of a family who interacted with the infamous Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele. During WWII, Mengele was known as "The Angel of Death" at Auschwitz. Here, he utilized his considerable medical skills for evil purposes, selecting who would live and die among the wretched masses who arrived daily at the death camp. Those who were spared were consigned to a living hell of torture and slave labor. The few children who were not put immediately to death were used as human guinea pigs in Mengele's bizarre and cruel medical experiments. He was obsessed with genetics in his goal of helping Hitler fulfill his ambition of creating a "Master Race". Mengele played a key role in attempting to manipulate pregnancies to ensure that only Aryan children would be born in nations under Nazi control. His bizarre theories have long been discredited by the mainstream medical establishment, particularly his obsession with twins. Mengele studied pairs of twin children through inhumane methods, often operating on them without any pain-killers. The few prisoners who interacted with him and managed to survive the war report that, for all his barbaric practices, Mengele had a calm, almost soothing demeanor that would often lull his victims into thinking he was a benign presence in the camp. He would pat children on the head and offer them candy, only to dispose of them like rubbish hours later. In the aftermath of the war and the chaos that ensued in Europe, Mengele managed to escape (along with many other Nazis) to South America. In his case, he found refuge in Argentina, where the corrupt government sheltered him, presumably in return for his "expertise" about how to fine-tune torture tactics.
It is against this backdrop- what we inherently know about Mengele- that Puenzo's story begins. It is 1960 and we see Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl), using the assumed name of Helmut Gregor, lost on a remote country road. He has a chance encounter with a young couple, Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and Enzo (Diego Peretti), who are traveling with their three children. Mengele befriends the family, who consent to having him follow them in his car along the desolate roadways. Along the way, Mengele charms each member of the family and he explains that he is a doctor en route to an institute where he will be working. Coincidentally, the institute is very close to the family's destination, which is a resort hotel that they have inherited. The couple intends to reopen the hotel and hope to make a financial success of it. Enzo, it appears, has not been successful in financially providing for his family. He fancies himself an inventor and his real passion is creating a unique doll that can marketed to little girls. He finds a sympathetic ear from Mengele, who reinforces his bond with the family by becoming their first tenant at the hotel. Eva is immediately smitten by the charming German doctor but he seems more interested in the couple's oldest daughter, Lilith (Florencia Bado). Although twelve years-old, she is very short and slight of build, giving the impression she is much younger. This results in terrible bullying at the local school, where there are children of German ex-pats who are particularly cliquish and cruel to Lilith. Both Eva and Lilith are charmed by Mengele, who professes to help them by offering to inject Lilith with hormone injections that will spur her growth. Enzo is adamantly against the idea, but Eva secretly gives the doctor permission to proceed. Before long, Lilith is experiencing strange medical complications. Simultaneously, Mengele discovers that Eva is pregnant with twins. This smorgasbord of potential medical experiments excites him and before long, he has convinced Eva to also undergo some of his quack medical treatments. He has also ingratiated himself with Enzo by finding a financial backer who will mass produce Enzo's dolls. (A sequence set in a doll factory is brilliantly staged and genuinely eerie, with row after row of hollow-eyed dolls evoking memories of a death camp.) However, when Enzo sees his wife and daughter suffering from mysterious illnesses, he begins to suspect that his new friend is really a villain. He is not alone. A local photographer (Elena Roger) is, in fact, an Israeli intelligence agent who also begins to believe that the seemingly benign and charming man of medicine may actually be one of the most wanted men in the world.
"The German Doctor" plays out at a slow, deliberate pace that is refreshing in a film industry defined by fast-editing and mindless action sequences. The script allows each character to be fully developed and the relationships between the key players becomes fascinating, as Mengele uses psychological methods to manipulate his next victims. The performances are uniformly extraordinary, with Brandemuhl particularly impressive. Although portraying one of the most notorious criminals in history, he deftly manages to make him charming and likable, both necessary ingredients if we are to understand why the family he has befriended can be so easily manipulated by him. The film is engrossing throughout and, even though we know through history how Mengele finally met his fate, it doesn't deprive director Puenzo from milking a considerable amount of suspense from the scenario.
The First Run Pictures DVD offers an excellent transfer but is frustratingly devoid of any bonus materials. It would be a worthwhile ambition for the label to eventually put out a special edition of this excellent film with a commentary track that helps viewers understand the historical context of what they are seeing.
The Warner Archive has released the 1962 political thriller "Guns of Darkness" starring David Niven and Leslie Caron. It's a modestly-budgeted affair, filmed in black and white. The film is set in a fictional South American "banana republic" where local dignitaries are being hosted at a cocktail party at the presidential palace. Among the guests are Tom and Claire Jordan (Niven and Caron), a married couple. Tom is employed as the manager of a major sugar plantation owned and run by Hugo Bryant (James Robertson Justice). The drunken Tom enjoys taunting Bryant and publicly embarrassing him with snide criticisms about his sniveling attempts to appease whoever is in power politically so that his plantation can continue to operate without any impediments. Returning home after the party, it becomes clear that the Jordan's marriage is on the rocks. Claire protests Tom's reckless ways and says his drinking and insolent behavior towards others has resulted in his inability to keep a job very long. Another source of stress on the couple is Claire's inability to conceive the child they both so desperately want. When a military coup deposes the democratic, reform-minded President Rivera (David Opatashu), the Jordan's barely register any interest. As long as Bryant keeps paying off local officials, the plantation doesn't seem to be in jeopardy. However, Rivera, who has been severely wounded in making his escape, is the subject of a nation wide manhunt- and he ends up seeking refuge in Tom Jordan's car. Although apolitical by nature, Jordan feels compelled by humanitarian reasons to assist Rivera. He initially hides him at the Jordan's hacienda but when the manhunt gets too close, Jordan makes the bold decision to attempt to smuggle Rivera over the border. This requires he and Claire to drive over arduous and very dangerous jungle roads. Along the way they confront death at every turn, from natural obstacles to roving bands of police and bounty hunters all intent on murdering Rivera. The new regime has a complex plot to denounce the former President...and the last thing they need is for him to make it to freedom and give the real story to the international press.
"Guns of Darkness" is ably directed by Anthony Asquith and the script, based on the novel "An Act of Mercy", is literate and intelligent. The film is consistently engrossing largely because Niven excels at playing an every day man who is unexpectedly thrust into death-defying situations. He's scared and often inept but finds his inner courage. In doing so, he gradually earns the respect of Claire. In the film's most chilling sequence, their car becomes trapped in a quicksand bog. Asquith's direction here is terrific, as the extended sequence milks every ounce of suspense imaginable from this scenario. The chemistry between Niven and Caron is excellent but it's Niven's show. He's in top form throughout. David Opatashu is also fine as the victimized president who Tom begins to think may not be the noble crusader that he has risked his life to save.The film represents the kind of movie they don't make any more. It wasn't designed to be a blockbuster, just good, compelling entertainment. In that regard, it succeeds on all levels.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE WARNER ARCHIVE AND TO WATCH A FILM CLIP
After Warner Home Entertainment released all 120 episodes of the classic "Batman" TV series, fans began complaining that a couple of episodes were incomplete. Warner Home Entertainment acknowledges that less than five minutes of footage is missing from a set that presents over 50 hours of episodes and bonus materials. The company has promised to replace the affected discs in January, as well as provide additional bonus materials. For the full story and a link to the form for obtaining replacement discs, click here.
Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, in an interview with CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria, said that "the president, the press and the public are mistaken" in their belief that Sony had bowed to the demands of cyber hackers by pulling "The Interview" from distribution before the film even premiered. Lynton said "We have not given in. And we have not backed down" in its efforts to find a way to get the film released. However, Lynton placed the blame squarely on theater exhibitors, saying the company could not find a major chain that would agree to show the film. He said that thus far, efforts to find partners who would stream the film or offer it as an on demand title have also not yielded any success. He vowed the company is actively looking for ways to get the movie shown. Some pundits and critics were skeptical of Lynton's statements and suggested that the company should find a way to offer it for free to the public, especially since the company has conceded it has accepted it will take a complete loss on the film, estimated to be in the range of $80 million- $100 million. On MSNBC, guest host Ari Melber suggested an intriguing idea on the "All In" news program. Melber said that, as this obviously will not be the last time cyber hackers will try to use threats of violence to censor films, the U.S. government should consider opening a bureau specifically designed to ensure that any such project is made available to the public. Meanwhile, Michael Lynton's comments will doubtlessly be put to the test as, inevitably, a distribution source will be found for the film. For example, it is highly likely that at least some independent movie theaters would be willing to show the film simply on the basis of freedom of expression. So far, Paramount's decision to refuse to rent prints of the 2004 comedy "Team America" have generated little publicity. The studio withdrew the film from theatrical distribution when some theaters announced they would show it as a protest to North Korea, since the plot centers on a take down of the previous dictator of that country. So far, no word on whether theaters are moving to a Plan C, as some have suggested on line: that is, to screen the 2002 James Bond flick "Die Another Day", which also presents the North Koreans as villains. To view Lynton's interview, click here.
was completely gob-smacked by this one, folks. From the title and description of this 1980 release, I
was expecting a smarmy slasher film that used the holiday season for a cheap
backdrop and even cheaper jokes. What I got instead was a very well-made
character study reminiscent of Polanski's Repulsion. Although not as good
as that classic, it stands proudly beside it as a fascinating picture of a slow
descent into madness and murder. If anything, Harry Standling is a more
sympathetic main character as we are shown in a brief prologue the genesis of
both his fixation on Christmas and the reason for his awkwardness with people.
At an impressionable age the young Harry crept downstairs on Christmas Eve to
see Santa sexually gratifying his mother. That this Santa was actually his father
didn't register and the traumatized boy never really got over the sight of
Jolly Old Saint Nick pleasuring Mom. But let me tell you the story.....
Standling (Brandon Maggart) is an introverted middle-aged man whose hobby is
all things Christmas. Perfectly in sync with his obsessive regard for the
season, he has worked in a toy factory for most of his adult life. Harry's
years of experience have finally landed him a management job in the company and
he seems to have thought that his new position would allow him to make better
toys for kids. With the Christmas season approaching, he finds the hostile
anti-holiday attitudes of his co-workers and the disappointment of no longer
working directly with the toys getting to him. But what starts off looking like
a bout of holiday depression begins to turn nasty.
sad and disappointed by the adults around him, he begins to focus on the joys
Christmas brings to kids. For years Harry has kept detailed written accounts of
the actions of the children that live in his neighborhood and bound books
listing "bad" and "good" kids line his shelves. As he
starts spending more time going through them, adding black & white marks,
he becomes more unstable.
his home workshop he fashions a Santa costume, paints an elaborate mural of
Santa's sleigh on the sides of his van and begins to make plans. Learning from
a snide PR man of his company's halfhearted stab at charity by donating toys to
the local children's hospital, Harry is livid. Dressing as Santa he sneaks into
the factory at night, stealing a van load of toys, and on Christmas Eve
delivers them to the surprised and happy hospital staff. Elated by this near
perfect moment of holiday cheer he tracks the company PR man to a church where
he's attending a Christmas service. After waiting outside, a silent Santa,
Harry is taunted by some of the churchgoers and stabs two of them to death with
a toy solider! Driving away he next goes to the house of a co-worker who has
insulted and belittled him repeatedly. After a failed attempt to go down the
chimney he finds an open basement window, creeps in and kills the man right in
front of his wife. Disturbingly, the dead man's awakened kids wave happily to
the departing Santa just as their mother's screams ring out.
Christmas Day the cops are running around hunting a killer Santa, even going so
far as to put a bunch of them in a line up for witnesses from the church. But
an APB on St. Nick on December the 25th isn't exactly the best move and does
not net them their guy. Harry has spent the night in his van outside the toy
factory and awakens to the realization of his plight. Afraid to go home he
breaks into the place and, as if in a fantasy about really being Santa Claus,
turns on all the toy making equipment. As news reports stoke the fears of the
public Harry's younger brother Philip (Jeffery DeMunn) begins to think his
brother is involved. He becomes convinced that his unbalanced sibling is the
killer after a rambling phone call from him that afternoon. When night falls on
Christmas, Harry ventures out again but ends up being chased through the
streets by an actual torch-bearing mob until he escapes to his brother's home.
An enraged Philip demands answers, resulting in a family fight that brings the
tragic tale to a close.
a film with many things to praise the first should be the performance of
Brandon Maggart. He does a truly brilliant job of getting inside Harry's head,
showing us the broken way his mind functions. The moment I knew he was simply
not going to make a wrong step was in a sequence midway through his Christmas
Eve rounds. He has stopped outside a community house and is watching a
neighborhood party through a window. Spotted in his Santa outfit, he's pulled
inside and asked to join in the celebration with children and adults alike.
It's a beautiful scene that shows what his life could have been like as he
happily dances with everyone and enjoys a few drinks. Maggart is note perfect
here — he even elicits a chill as he says goodbye to the kids with a stern warning
about being good.
thing to single out is the exceptionally fine cinematography of the film. For a
movie made on such a small budget Christmas Evil looks incredible.
From one of the three (!) commentary tracks included in this release I learned
that director Lewis Jackson spent a lot his budget to get Ricardo Aronovich as
his Director of Photography; his skill certainly makes the film a joy to look
at. There are more than a dozen shots here that rival the best Christmas images
I've seen captured in the movies, with some of them being heartbreakingly well
composed. Jackson points out in brief liner notes that his prime visual
inspiration was the Christmas paintings of Thomas Nast and it really shows.
That a film of this type can be so beautiful puts to shame the sad Christmas
movies pumped out every year by Hollywood.
much as I liked the movie I have to admit it's not perfect. The last third of
the film isn't as sure footed as the beginning It's as if the focus has been
lost as Harry parades around the toy factory and it comes dangerously close to
derailing as he’s being pursued by the mob of angry parents. But by the time
the brothers have fought and credits roll over the haunting final image I found
it easy to forgive these small hiccups. Of course, a movie about a murderous
Santa Claus isn't going to be an easy sell for 90% of the public but I think
plenty of folks would love this were it given a chance.
Irvin’s 1980 movie version of Frederick Forsyth’s “The Dogs of War” approaches
its subject with much the same blunt detachment and minute attention to detail
that characterized Forsyth’s bestselling 1974 novel.It’s generally low-key tone and characters
seem a far cry from today’s over-the-top action films in which mercenaries and
paramilitary agents are usually depicted as aging musclemen (“The
Expendables”), manic cokeheads (“Sabotage”), and comic-book caricatures (“G.I.
soldier Jamie Shannon (Christopher Walken) returns home after a failed mission
in Central America. He doesn’t have much
of a life off the job. Divorced, he
lives in a dumpy apartment in Washington Heights, keeping one gun in the
refrigerator and another in a desk drawer. His only friend is a kid whom he pays to carry his groceries home; he
doesn’t even know the kid’s name. When a
mysterious businessman pays Shannon to scout out the military defenses of the
insane dictator General Kimba in the impoverished African nation of Zangaro,
Shannon takes the assignment and flies to Zangaro, posing as a nature
photographer. His cover blown, he is
arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and eventually thrown out of the country. Back in New York, Shannon’s reconnaissance
having identified holes in Kimba’s defenses, the businessman resurfaces and
offers Shannon the job of leading a mercenary coup against Kimba. Shannon recruits three friends from his old
team, Drew (Tom Berenger), Derek (Paul Freeman), and Michel (Jean Francois
Stevenin), puts together a deal for arms and equipment, and heads back to
Zangaro to meet up with and lead a rebel army assembled by Kimba’s corrupt
rival, Col. Bobi.
of Forsyth’s novel described, step by step, the ways and means of financing,
organizing, and executing a military coup. It’s gripping stuff on the printed page, but not very cinematic. The film covers the same ground in about a
half hour of running time. Filling out
the story for the screen, the script gives Shannon (in the novel, he’s an
Irish-born Englishman named “Cat” Shannon) more of a backstory and adds a
couple of new female characters. In the
novel, Shannon’s recon in Zangaro is uneventful. By putting him through the wringer, the movie
punches up the action and gives Shannon a personal reason for agreeing to
depose Kimba. Arguably, it also provides
a stronger rationale for Shannon’s decision, in both the novel and the movie,
to derail his employer’s plan to install the crooked Col. Bobi and instead put
Bobi’s honest rival, Dr. Okoye (Winston Ntshona), in the Presidential
Twilight Time Blu-ray features a handsome transfer of the U.S. theatrical
feature as well as the international version, which runs 15 minutes longer but
doesn’t add anything of vital substance. There is a handsome souvenir booklet by Julie Kirgo, and the art on the
keep case reproduces the U.S. poster art featuring Walken and his unbilled
co-star, the impressive XM-18E1R grenade launcher used by Shannon in the
climactic attack on Kimba’s compound. The Twilight Time Blu-ray, which is limited to 3,000 copies, is
(The following review is of
the UK DVD release of the film, on Region 2 format)
‘Just for You’ is a time
capsule of the British pop music scene in the early 1960s. It was made and released
in the UK in 1964 and the official press release from Network describes the DVD
as follows: ‘This ultra-rare musical film of 1966 tells the story of a rock ‘n’
roll hopeful searching for his big break […] Following the young singer as he
goes from studio to studio with his girlfriend and attempts to convince radio
and TV executives to play his song, ‘Just for You’ becomes a showcase for a
host of sixties musical talent’. This is
actually the plot of the 1966 American edition of the film, under the title
‘Discotheque Holiday’ (sometimes listed as ‘Disk-O-Tek Holiday’). What Network
has released is the original UK release of the film, ‘Just for You’, named
after the Freddie and the Dreamers’ song. The UK version was directed by
Douglas Hickox and doesn’t include the added US scenes directed by Vince Scarza
(with the budding singer played by Casey Paxton).
In the original UK version,
we get layabout impresario Sam Costa (played by comedian, disk jockey and
singer Sam Costa) lying in bed, his every whim tended by his fully-automated
computerised home help, while he entertains himself (and us) by running clips
of various pop acts on a projector in his private screening room. Yes, it’s
The links of Costa smoking
a cigar, wisecracking and at one point attempting to eat an animated haggis,
are diverting, but are really just that: links. The main point of the film is wonderfully
vivid Eastman Colour footage of a mixed bag of guitar bands, individual singers,
vocal groups and novelty pop acts performing their songs on a selection of interior
and exterior standing sets at Shepperton Studios.
The full set list is:
Faye Craig: ‘Bongo Baby’
The Applejacks: ‘Tell Me
Al Saxon: ‘Mine All Mine’
A Band of Angels: ‘Hide ‘n’
The Orchids: ‘Mr Scrooge’
The Bachelors: ‘The Fox’
Doug Sheldon: ‘Night Time’
Caroline Lee, Roy Sone and
Judy Jason: ‘Teenage Valentino’
Peter and Gordon: ‘Leave Me
Freddie and the Dreamers:
‘You Were Made for Me’
Millie Small: ‘Sugar Dandy’
Jackie and the Raindrops:
Mark Wynter: ‘I Wish you
Johnny B. Great: ‘If I had
Peter and Gordon: ‘Soft as
Faye Craig: ‘Voodoo’
The Warriors: ‘Don’t Make
Louise Cordet: ‘It’s So
Hard to be Good’
The Merseybeats: ‘Milk’
The Bachelors: ‘Low the
Freddie and the Dreamers:
‘Just for You’
What’s most apparent in
this film and these performances is that the influence of The Beatles and the
jangly Merseybeat sound is everywhere, even in the female singers – from
lyrical content and acoustics, to clothing choices and hairstyles. Several of
the acts here sport matching black or grey suits. Beatles moptop haircuts are everywhere.
Peter and Gordon’s ‘Soft as the Dawn’ closely resembles The Fab Four’s ‘And I
Love Her’. The Applejacks and the Merseybeats songs are patterned on Beatles
melodies and harmonies. ‘The Orchids’ are a Fab Three, a trio of girls whose
snowy rendition of ‘Mr Scrooge’ looks like an outtake from ‘Help!’, with the
girls’ black attire and red and white striped scarves, and has a Phil
Spector-ish sound. ‘A Band of Angels’ rasping ‘Hide ‘n’ Seek’ has the lads decked
out in silver suits and straw boaters, but their sound is defined by sandpaper
vocals and jagged rhythms – it’s one of the best songs in the film. ‘Dollybirds’
stare vacantly off into the distance throughout their performance; dressed in
leather gear from ‘Continental Fashions’, they look to have wandered in from
Antonioni’s ‘Blowup’. During two numbers – one involving a snooker table (the
rollicking skiffle shuffle of ‘The Fox’) and another wearing matching grey
suits (the ballad ‘Low the Valley’) – the Bachelors demonstrate why they
remained single. Doug Sheldon’s low-key ‘Night Time’ has the singer strolling
beside a shadowy studio mock-up of the River Thames, while Mark Wynter’s
purposeful ballad ‘I Wish you Everything’ is a bit Roy Orbison.
Much livelier are the girls.
Caroline Lee and Judy Jason don red Scottish tartan capes and caps to enact ‘Teenage
Valentino’, their tale of disinterest in a self-obsessed bloke. Roy Sone is the
handsome, narcissistic object of his own desires. The insightful lyrics – ‘Big
man, lover boy, teenage Valentino’ – are attributed to Nolly Clapton and Mercy
Hump. Quirky Louise Cordet (wearing a Shimmyshake Dress by Alice Edwards) is
the party-loving girl trying to behave, but finding ‘It’s so Hard to be Good’
and shrill-voiced Millie’s ‘Sugar Dandy’ is brassy, poppy and ear-splitting. Faye
Craig dances exotically to ‘Bongo Baby’ and ‘Voodoo’ (by Johnny Arthey, one of
the best pieces of music in the movie, with bongos and guitar). The lovely
Jackie and her cardiganed Raindrops perform Goffin-King’s ‘Loco-motion’ among
the commuters on a studio-bound train platform.
Lively is also the operative
word with Freddie and the Dreamers, probably the biggest act on show. Frontman
Freddie Garrity prances around the set and his band join in the synchronised
dancing for their most famous hit, the catchy ‘You Were Made for Me’. There’s
an Elizabethan theme for ‘Just for You’, with Freddie appropriately dressed as
the court jester. Other male artists include Al Saxon, who plays his revolving
piano in a party café decked with streamers for the gutsy sax-stacked groove
‘Mine All Mine’. Fellow piano-thumper Johnny B. Great’s snappy cover of Pete
Seeger’s ‘If I Had a Hammer’ gets his audience dancing.
The Network DVD has excellent
picture quality and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (that’s
black bars at the sides of the picture for 16:9 screens). The original trailer
and an image gallery are included as extras, plus a pdf of promotional
material. If you can track down the American edit, ‘Discotheque Holiday’, you’ll
find it features additional performances for US fans, including The Chiffons,
Rockin’ Ramrods and The Vagrants. ‘Just for You’ is a pop nostalgia-fest
showcasing the great, the good, the overlooked and the somewhat forgotten of 1964.
The rare clips will be lapped up by anyone with an interest in the music and
style of the era. It’s fab and gear.
Athena Video has released "The Rise of the Nazi Party", a three disc DVD set comprised of all ten episodes from the acclaimed British documentary series that was telecast in the USA under the title "Nazis: Evolution of Evil". The fascination with Adolf Hitler and his criminal regime seems to only increase with time. While the documentaries cover well-worn turf, what makes this presentation notable is that the narrative concentrates on the inner workings of the Nazi party and the interaction between its key figures. The series uses dramatic recreations of major events interwoven with an abundance of actual newsreel footage and photographs. Clearly, a sizable sum had been spent on production values. The series interweaves contemporary footage of German locations with the historical films. While the notion is somewhat innovative, the shifting between old and new scenes can be somewhat distracting. That's about the only gripe, however. "The Rise of the Nazi Party" is a fascinating look at how a group of misfits, scoundrels and sadists rose to dominate one of the world's great nations. The series begins with the aftermath of WWI and correctly points out that the greed of the victorious Allied nations ironically helped nurture the rise of right wing extremism practiced by Hitler. The Allies insisted that German pay reparations for the war and the notorious Treaty of Versailles placed such onerous financial burdens on the German people that it risked turning the entire nation into a Third World country. The staggering debt was seen as a cash cow, particularly by Britain and France, the Allied countries that had suffered the most from the conflict. (Incredibly, Germany only recently made the final payments on its war debt.) Because WWI was such a senseless conflict caused by so many vague factors, the German people resented having the entire blame placed on them. As the financial situation in Germany worsened, hyperinflation devalued the German mark to the point where a loaf of bread could cost millions. Simultaneously, as the documentary points out, the Germans suffered another indignity when France sent armed legions to Germany's industrial region to occupy the territory and appropriate the revenues from factories. It was amid such a period of crisis that Adolf Hitler first became known. A decorated hero in the war, Hitler resented the military brass that had signed the Treaty of Versailles and in some warped fashion believed that a cabal of influential Jews were behind the strategy. His inexplicable but rabid anti-Semitism would characterize the entire Nazi movement. Even in its dying days, Hitler had the Nazi regime allocate enormous resources to continue his attempts to exterminate an entire people.
The documentary traces Hitler's first association with fringe groups who were calling for an overthrow of the weak Weimar Republic, a democratic government that had been imposed by the Allies but which had lost the confidence of the German people. Within a short time, the charismatic Hitler becomes the leader of the dissidents and moves to unite the fractions among them into the National Socialist Party. His first attempt to take the nation in a violent coup fails and he is imprisoned. However, behind bars he turns himself into a martyr to his cause by writing his influential memoir, Mein Kampf. When he emerges from jail, Hitler realizes the way to power is to bide his time and go through legal means. The Nazis grow in numbers and in strength but the everyday German doesn't believe they can ever win national offices. They were wrong. During the pivotal election cycle, the average German is lethargic and stays home from the polls while Hitler's fanatical followers turn out in droves. The Nazis become a major factor in the German political landscape. Ultimately, Hitler is appointed Chancellor under the aging but beloved President, von Hindenburg. Knowing that taking action against this national icon would backfire, he bides his time until von Hinderburg's death. He then appoints himself supreme leader of the nation, citing the need for a strong man with extraordinary powers to take on the many crisis facing Germany. The German reichstag all but votes themselves out of any meaningful power beyond being a body of "rubber-stampers" for Hitler's legislation. Within a short period of time, Hitler makes good on his promises. He authorizes massive public work projects that not only wipe out unemployment but also result in the nation having the most modern road system in the world. Worker's wages are raised and the average person's living standards rise appreciably. Hitler becomes a beloved icon. However, the dark side of this success is Hitler's calculated ability to split the population into "us" and "them", the latter being "undesirable" minorities, especially the Jews. He passes the Nuremberg Laws that effectively deprive German Jews of all civil rights- and it only gets worse from there. By rewarding Aryans with a good lifestyle, he correctly gambles that the average German won't do much to protest the persecution of the Jews. By the time he is committing wholesale genocide, many Germans are repulsed but are powerless to stop him. Hitler's obsession for expanding Germany's borders into Czechoslovakia and Austria are achieved without firing a shot, despite having blatantly violated the Treaty of Versailles. However, he miscalculates the Allies with his invasion of Poland, as evidenced by France and England declaring war. Hitler's fate is ultimately sealed when he makes the ill-advised decision to declare war on America in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He is now fighting an industrial giant with seemingly unlimited resources. This factor, coupled with his betrayal of the Soviet Union, it is only a matter of time before Germany is defeated.
The documentary also explores Hitler's love life (or lack thereof) and his obsession with his half-niece, who ultimately committed suicide, possibly because of his dictatorial control over her life. The show also delves into the rise of Hitler's top right hand men: Himmler, Goering, Goebbels and others. Among them is Ernst Rohm, an early supporter of Hitler who built his private body guard, the Brownshirts, into a major military force that virtually equaled the German army. In a sign of the backbiting that would characterize the Nazi brass, Hitler is manipulated by others into believing that Rohm is planning a coup. Thus, Hitler personally leads a raiding party on Rohm and his top men at a vacation resort where they are holding a conference. (It was actually a ruse for Rohm and his homosexual lovers to engage in sexual activities that Hitler felt were appalling for a true Aryan to participate in.) He orders his old friend to be executed. It would serve as a boiler plate for the inner rivalries and paranoia among his confidants that would dominate is reign as Fuhrer. (In the dying days of the Reich, both Himmler and Goering would betray Hitler by each presenting himself as the new Fuhrer and hoping to sue for peace.)
The purpose of the series is not to present the history of WWII. Certain major elements are covered in detail: the Holocaust, the disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union, the attempted assassinations against Hitler, the manipulation of Chamberlain at Munich, etc. However, other key events such as the invasion of Poland, the Hitler/Stalin pact and the fall of France are barely mentioned. The episodes are mostly concerned with the psyche of the Nazi brass. All of it is set to the pitch perfect narration of Joseph Kloska, who provides the necessary tone of gravitas. (Inexcusably, none of the actors who are seen throughout the entire series merit even a mention in the end credits.) There are the usual "talking heads" who provide analysis of the subject matter and these scholars are particularly interesting throughout. The final episode, "Aftermath", is one of the most compelling as it explores the breakout of the Cold War in the immediate aftermath of Germany's defeat. The Nuremberg Trials are covered in considerable detail and the episode bluntly addresses the decision by the United States to recruit notorious Nazi war criminals and whitewash their pasts in order to benefit from the technological knowledge these people had in the areas of science and espionage. (Wernher von Braun, who developed the first rocket technology, had the blood of thousands of slave laborers on his hands yet his indisputably built America's space program.)
The entire series is compelling throughout and will provide new perspectives for even the most devout WWII scholars. The set includes a booklet that features biographies of key Nazis along with a useful timeline of their rise and fall from power.
If there is a lesson to be learned from all of this, it's that when people in democracies are too lethargic to vote or become involved in the political process, the worst elements of society may one day seize power.
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In time for the holidays, Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has released a 75th anniversary commemorative Blu-ray boxed set for "Gone With the Wind". This collector's edition includes the extensive previously released bonus extras as well as some exciting new features. See official press release below:
WBHE honors one of the most celebrated motion
pictures of all time with the Gone with the Wind75th
Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray™ and Digital HD
with UltraViolet. This “must have” for classic film collectors will be
fittingly presented in limited and
numbered sets, with new collectible packaging, new enhanced content and new
collectible memorabilia. The memorabilia includes a replica of Rhett Butler’s
handkerchief and a music box paperweight playing Tara’s theme with an image on
top of the Rhett-Scarlett kiss. Also included is a 36-page companion booklet
featuring a look at the immortal style of Gone
with the Wind, written by New York fashion designer and Project Runway fan
favorite, Austin Scarlett. The new special features include footage of Clark
Gable and Vivien Leigh attending the original movie premiere in Atlanta and Old South/New South, a journey through
today's South, revisiting the real-life locations depicted to see how the world
of the Old South continues to inform life in the New South’s cosmopolitan
JOHN WAYNE: THE EPIC COLLECTION DEBUTS -NOW SHIPPING!
DVD COLLECTION OF 40 WARNER AND PARMOUNT FILMS IS LARGEST JOHN WAYNE BOX SET EVER
INCLUDES HOURS OF SPECIAL FEATURES AND REMARKABLE MEMORABILIA
AMAZON BUYERS GET EXCLUSIVE WAYNE BELT BUCKLE
Here is the original press release from earlier this year:
Burbank, Calif., February 24, 2014 -- To
commemorate one of America’s most iconic film heroes, Warner Bros. Home
Entertainment will introduce a comprehensive new DVD set -- John
Wayne: The Epic Collection-- on May 20. The spring release, just in
time for Father’s Day gift-giving ($149.98 SRP), will contain 38 discs with 40
Wayne films (full list below), including The
Searchers, once called one of the most influential movies in American
history and the film for which Wayne
won his Best Actor Academy Award®, True Grit (1969). The collection comes packaged in a handsome book with
unique collectibles and hours of special features.
The coffee table book includes a
chronological presentation of Wayne films, enhanced with wonderful photographs;
the hours of special features include commentaries, documentaries, featurettes,
vintage shorts and classic cartoons; and the special John Wayne collectibles include
personal correspondence, script pages/covers, pages with Wayne’s notations and
Wayne’s legacy will also be celebrated at the 4th
annual John Wayne Film Festival in Dallas from April 24th through
the 27th. The four-day festival will feature screenings of some of
Wayne’s classic feature films, Q + A sessions with Wayne family members and
co-stars, and parties celebrating the John Wayne heritage and legacy. All the
proceeds from the festival will benefit the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.
In making the announcement of the new
collection, Jeff Baker, WHV’s Executive VP and General Manager, Theatrical
Catalog said, “Thanks to our recent strategic alliance with Paramount and their
catalog titles, we’re delighted to be able to offer this number of titles representing
such a broad range of Wayne’s work. Wayne was one of the most popular film stars
ever. For more than a quarter century he was one of the tops at the worldwide box-office.
This collection will certainly be a ‘must have’ for loyal John Wayne fans and,
hopefully, will have an equal appeal to younger folks who want to learn more
Born Marion Robert Morrison in
Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne first worked in the film business as a laborer on
the Fox lot during summer vacations from U.S.C., which he attended on a
football scholarship. He met and was befriended by John Ford,
a young director who was beginning to make a name for himself in action films,
comedies and dramas. It was Ford who recommended Wayne for his first leading
For the next nine years, Wayne worked
in a multitude of B-Westerns and serials in between bit parts in larger
features. Wayne’s big break came in 1939, when Ford cast him as the Ringo Kid
in the adventure Stagecoach. Wayne
nearly stole the picture from his more seasoned co-stars, and his career as a
box-office superstar began. During his 50 year film career, Wayne played the
lead in more than 140 movies, an as yet unsurpassed
record, and was nominated for three Academy Awards®, winning the Best
Actor award for his performance in True
Discs In John Wayne: The Epic Collection
Big Stampede/Ride Him Cowboy/Haunted Gold, 1932
Telegraph Trail/Somewhere in Sonora/Man from Monterey, 1933
Throughout motion picture history, there have always been "disaster" movies. From Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy facing the great earthquake in "San Francisco" to John Wayne trying to rescue an airliner in distress in "The High and the Mighty". However, the disaster movie didn't emerge as a genre until the 1970s. Most people credit "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) with being the first major entry among these kinds of films during that era, but arguably the genre began two years earlier with "Airport". That blockbuster flick set the standard for all of the disaster movies to follow:
An all-star cast ranging from top boxoffice attractions to respected veteran stars and popular character actors
Big production values
State-of-the-art special effects
Majestic musical score (and, if possible, a Top 40 hit shoe-horned into the proceedings)
A well-regarded director at the helm to preside over the mayhem
For the most part the formula worked fairly well. "Poseidon" was a major boxoffice smash and that film begat the short-lived genre's best year, 1974, which saw the virtual back-to-back release of "Gold", "Earthquake" and "The Towering Inferno", the latter being the "Citizen Kane" of disaster movies. However, the genre was to burn brightly but briefly. In the wake of "Inferno", there was nowhere else to go. The 1977 film "Black Sunday" was excellent, but despite a blimp crashing into the Superbowl stadium, it is not a "disaster movie" in the traditional sense. Most of those films that were, flopped badly. Producer Irwin Allen, who struck pay dirt as the producer of "Poseidon" and "Inferno" found the formula had grown stale by the late 1970s. His 1978 release "The Swarm" is generally referred to as the worst "Bee" movie ever made. His 1980 anemic attempt to blend cast members with elements of "Poseidon" and "Inferno" was released as "When Time Ran Out", an appropriate enough title for the flop that ended his big screen career. Another costly casualty of the disaster genre ebb was "Meteor", a 1979 production that top-lined an impressive cast: Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Brian Keith, Karl Malden, Martin Landau, Trevor Howard and Henry Fonda. It was produced by Gabe Gatzka and Sandy Howard (among others), two veterans with very respected backgrounds in the film industry. The film was directed by another highly respected individual, Ronald Neame, the man who had helmed "The Poseidon Adventure". On paper, the project must have looked like a "can't lose" proposition. Yet, "Meteor" turned out to be a major flop at the boxoffice as well as a critical disaster. What went wrong? To start with, it was probably ill-advised to entrust the production to American-International Pictures which specialized in making low-budget horror and teeny bopper exploitation films. The AIP association branded "Meteor" with a "cheesy" stigma even before cameras rolled.
Connery stars as a cynical, world-respected scientist whose warnings about the possibility of earth being hit by a destructive meteor have largely gone ignored. When the film opens, he is summoned to Washington by government officials who tell him the top secret bombshell disclosure that his worst nightmare is about to come true. A gigantic meteor is racing towards earth and there is only one way to stop it: by having the USA and Soviet Union join forces to synchronize their nuclear missiles in the hopes of blasting the meteor out of the sky. Brian Keith plays the Soviet foreign minister who meets up with Connery and his colleagues at a secret underground New York City command center located adjacent to the subway system(!) Natalie Wood is his comely interpreter, which allows for some mildly suggestive byplay between Connery and her. There's little time for romance, however, as advance particles from the meteor are already hitting earth and causing widespread damage. With time running out, the US and Soviet technicians scramble to employ their nuclear arsenals in a last ditch attempt to save earth. This scenario might seem stale today, but it was a relatively fresh concept back in '79. However, the film was undermined by the apparent shortage of production funds for use in the special effects. The sets are elaborate and impressive but the key sequences showing the missiles in action are laughably poor. Equally bad are the shots of the presumably menacing meteor hurtling towards earth. No matter how much the filmmakers try, it never looks much more terrifying than a large rock you might encounter in your garden. (Sean Connery once referred to the meteor special effects as making the titular objects resemble "little balls of shit".) The screenplay is a scatter shot affair. Apparently concerned that concentrating on the key characters who are locked into an underground command center might prove to be too claustrophobic, the decision was made to "open up" the scenario by showing various international locations being destroyed by meteor fragments. In doing so, the screenwriters cram in completely extraneous characters who are given approximately ten seconds each to develop personalities in the hope we can sympathize with them when they are pulverized. Thus, we see a young father in Hong Kong scrambling to get his child before a tidal wave engulfs the city. People in a ski resort in Switzerland are given equal opportunity for brief character development before they are buried under an avalanche. The sin of it all is that the production company really did film on location in these places but, aside from a few impressive snippets of crowds running frantically through the streets of Hong Kong, there is limited to value to the expenses incurred in shooting in such disparate areas of the globe.
Yet, for all its cheesiness, "Meteor" somehow plays better today than it did at the time of its initial release. This is primarily due to the fact that we can appreciate seeing the great cast members interacting on the big screen. Connery, middle-aged and handsome, makes for a fine leading man.Natalie Wood is given little of substance to do here but, given this was one of her last films, it gives us a precious opportunity to at least see her natural beauty. Brian Keith, long underrated as a leading man in feature films, steals the show, playing against type as a witty and funny Soviet diplomat. Only poor Martin Balsam comes across awful in an unintentionally funny performance as a fussy U.S. general who refuses to trust his Soviet counterparts (Fritz Weaver played essentially the same role very well in "Fail Safe" fifteen years earlier.) The finale of the film is truly impressive as a sea of mud descends upon the underground command center. The sequence was indeed a challenge to film and, if it looks like it was dangerous for the actors, it indeed was: several cast members were injured during this elaborate sequence.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is superb in terms of overall quality. As with so many special effects-laden films of the past, today's technology tends to expose the shortcomings in this pre-CGI era, but that only adds to the charm of watching a flick like this. The only bonus extra is the original theatrical trailer.
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Bill Cosby has been in the news a lot lately, though undoubtedly not in a way he would prefer. Lost in the on-going debate about his career as a legendary comedian and sitcom star and how this affects allegations of sexual assaults, is the fact that Cos at one time showed considerable skill in rare dramatic roles. One such case was a now relatively obscure 1972 detective flick he starred in for United Artists. Largely forgotten by the general public due to very limited exposure since its release, Hickey & Boggs has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. (It was initially released a few years ago on DVD by MGM's burn-to-order division.) The film's primary merit is that it reunited I Spy co-stars Bill Cosby and Robert Culp (though by this time, Cosby's fame had eclipsed Culp's, thus resulting in his receiving top billing). In their classic TV show, Culp and Cosby played a tennis pro and his trainer who were actually secret agents. The glitz of the tennis world allowed them to live Bondian lifestyles while they thwarted bad guys. Intriguingly, Hickey & Boggs goes in a very different direction. Resisting the temptation to revive their wise-cracking I Spy personalities, Culp and Cos are seen as down-and-out private investigators in Los Angeles. Both are divorced but pine away for their ex's; they can't pay the office phone bill and they ride around in cars that look like they barely survived a demolition derby. As the TV spots for the film said at the time, "They have to reach up to touch bottom." On the brink of financial disaster, the men finally get a case: they are hired by a mysterious man to find an equally mysterious woman he wants to locate. The money is good, but the seemingly mundane case soon turns deadly with Hickey and Boggs dodging mob hit men, black radicals and unfriendly police brass.
Twilight Time has released the delightful 1962 hit comedy "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray release. The film is the very definition of old Hollywood star power, with James Stewart and Maureen O'Hara top-lining a cast that includes some first-rate character actors. Stewart plays Roger Hobbs, a burned out banking executive who is introduced to as he makes the daily grind of a commute amid traffic-choked, smog-filled roads. He narrates the story as a flashback, relating how he had planned a romantic getaway for he and his wife Peggy (Maureen O'Hara). She put the kabosh on his plans to tour London and Paris in favor of bringing their kids on a family vacation at a California beach house an acquaintance has offered them for free. Roger is less than enthusiastic about the idea. It will mean bringing along their insecure teenage daughter Katey (Lauri Peters) and her younger brother Danny (Michael Burns), a kid who rarely leaves the confines of his bedroom where he is obsessed with watching TV Westerns. (This was 1962, after all, when seemingly every other TV program was a Western!) Also invited are the Hobbs' grown daughters Susan (Natalie Trundy) and Janie (Lili Gentle), both of whom have more issues than Time magazine. Susan's and her husband Stan (Josh Peine) are parents to small children and are clearly embittered in their relationship due to the fact that Stan has been secretly unemployed for an extended period of time. Janie and her husband Byron (John Saxon, playing against type in a very amusing performance) have a young son and Roger can't stand being around them for any extended period of time. Byron is a pompous intellectual with a superiority complex and the couple's son, for whatever reason, hates grandpa Roger. All of these problems are just the undercurrent for what is shaping up to be a disastrous vacation from minute one. The lovely beach house Peggy has envisioned turns out to look like the set from "House on Haunted Hill", a once-stately home that has fallen into complete disrepair. Roger's first challenge is to get a complex water pumping system working, which leads to an amusing running gag about man vs. machine.
Roger, who is clearly not the typical dad found in sitcoms of the era, tries mightily to control his anger as his self-centered family members burden each other with their problems and emotional conflicts. It's a joy watching Stewart engage in his "slow burn" routine, barely able to restrain himself from exploding. Adding to the pressure is the arrival of an eccentric couple (the marvelous character actors John McGiver and Marie Wilson), who may be prospective employers for Stan- if they enjoy their stay at the beach home. This is the most amusing part of the movie as Roger finds himself valiantly trying to entertain this boring, prudish couple who on the surface seem to have no vices but who are secretly hiding a lifestyle of heavy drinking and sexual frustration. The sequence in which Stewart and McGiver go bird-watching is full of genuine belly laughs.
As film historian Julie Kirgo writes in the very perceptive liner notes in the accompanying booklet, "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" is much deeper than the standard family comedy you might assume it to be. It reflects the changing attitudes of 1960s society and hints at the blossoming rebellion of young people in regard to parental authority. It also takes a much franker look at discussions and representations of sex. Roger and Peggy are aghast when Janie shamelessly announces she intends to start in on the process of having another baby immediately. Roger must contend with a busty, air-headed seductress (Valerie Varda) who cozies up to him every day on the beach in an overt attempt to lure him into bed. Finally, there is the only solace Roger can find at the end of a long, frustrating day: cozying under the sheets with Peggy. During this time sitcom married couples may still have been sleeping in separate beds, but big screen couples had matured to a more natural setting. The film makes quite clear that the Hobbs still enjoy an active love life (how could Roger ever resist a wife who looks like Maureen O'Hara?) Kirgo also points out that this was one of the first films to depict the gradual disintegration of the American family unit. Everyone seems to want to be in their own space doing their own thing- and this was decades before cell phone and video games. In an extended and highly prescient sequence, Roger attempts to gather the entire clan in the living room for a simple toast. However, he is interrupted by numerous mini-crisis that ultimately leave him entirely alone with a full glass in his hand.
Under the expert direction of Henry Koster, who also directed Stewart in his signature starring role in "Harvey", the pace is brisk and the script by noted scribe Nunnally Johnson provides plenty of funny quips that flow naturally and believably from the characters. The movie mixes laughter with some emotionally touching sequences. Roger takes his estranged son Danny on a simple boating trip only to experience the terror of being caught in a heavy fog and drifting far from shore. Stewart is excellent in this sequence. Roger is clearly frightened to death but manages to retain his calm in order to convince his son that he has the situation under control. The experience finally bonds both father and son. Roger also tries to help 14 year-old Katey cope with the insecurity of feeling unattractive because she wears braces. He brings her to a local dance for teens only to find her sitting as a wallflower. He bribes a young man (then teen idol Fabian) to show some interest in her, and the boy movingly returns the money to Hobbs because he genuinely likes her. (In the film's worst scene, Fabian croons a sugary love song to his new flame, which was due to an obvious contractual clause designed to sell some records.) Gradually, the frustrations of Roger's vacation week begin to resolve themselves and there is the expected happy ending. However, the film has a certain bite that was lacking in most family comedy features until that time. Roger Hobbs clearly loves and cares about his family but he's also not ashamed to be a bit self-indulgent in his desire to put his needs first occasionally.
The Twilight Time release boasts an excellent transfer, an isolated music track for Henry Mancini's score, the original theatrical trailer, an illustrated collector's booklet and a brief Fox Movietone News segment that goes behind the scenes on the set.
of the hallmarks of Don Siegel’s “Dirty Harry” (1971) was the way the director shot
the film on location in San Francisco. From the rooftops of Nob Hill to the
streets and alleys of the Tenderloin, Siegel made the location as much a part
of the story as Harry and the maniacal killer he pursues. But this skillful use
of location was nothing new for Siegel. He had long since mastered that
technique back in the late fifties in films like “The Lineup,” filmed in San
Francisco in 1958, and “Edge of Eternity,” shot in Arizona near the Grand
Canyon a year later.
“The Lineup” Siegel and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant concocted a brilliant
tale with off-beat characters and off-the-wall dialog, and gave movie goers a
breathtaking tour of San Francisco, most of which, sadly, is no longer there.
In “Edge of Eternity,” he had a less compelling script to work with, but the
Technicolor and Cinemascope photography of the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead by
Burnett Guffey more than compensates.
opening shots of “Edge of Eternity” show a car stopping near the edge of the
canyon. A man in a suit gets out of the car. Another man dressed in work
clothes appears and tries to throw him over the edge. A fight ensues, the car
falls into the canyon and in the movie’s first surprise, it’s the second man,
the would-be murderer, who goes over after it.
to Deputy Sheriff Les Martin (Cornell Wilde). Driving around the canyon on
patrol, he comes across the caretaker of an abandoned gold mine who tells him about
the man we saw escape death at the canyon, who’s all beat up and asking for
help from the police. At that moment, Janice
Kendon (Victoria Shaw), daughter of a wealthy mine owner, races past them
recklessly in her gorgeous canary yellow 1958 Thunderbird. Martin ignores the
old timer (it seems he’s kind of a coot, who cries wolf a lot) and pursues
out while he’s busy writing a ticket and flirting with her, the man who got
beat up at the canyon is being murdered back at the old timer’s place. So who
killed him and does it have anything to do with the $20 million we’re told lies
in the mine the government shut down during the war?
are the main plot questions, but who cares? The contrived story isn’t what really
matters in Edge of Eternity. It’s the real-time, real-place feeling that Siegel
manages to put on film that makes this little-known movie worth watching. Seeing
Wilde and Victoria Shaw playing their parts with the Grand Canyon in the
background, you hardly pay attention to the dialog anyway. All you know is
there’s a murder to be solved, some back story guilt to be healed by Wilde, and
a love story to be brought to a happy conclusion. Naturally, Siegel pulls it
off with his usual workman-like skill.
really fascinating thing about this movie, though, is the setting used for the
movie’s climax. When the film was made there was a company known as the U.S. Guano
Corp. The company had found a cave on the far side of the Canyon that was
believed to contain 100,000 tons of bat guano that was rich in nitrogen and
could be sold as fertilizer. The company built an expensive cable car system that
ran a span of 7,500 feet to the cave.
course Deputy Martin and the bad guy (you’ll never guess who it is, wink,
wink) have a big fist fight on the “dancing bucket” as it was affectionately
known, 2,500 feet above the canyon bottom, with Janice holding on for dear
life. Some of the close ups are obviously done with rear projection, but there
are a couple of long shots that make you hold your breath at least for the
stunt men. Overall, it’s an entertaining film with good performances, but I
kept wondering what Stirling Silliphant would have done with a set up like that.
the copy of the film I watched was on DVD and not BluRay, Columbia Classic’s
video release is extremely good. The vistas are pretty sharp and the color
bright. The music by Daniele Amfitheatrof is suitably majestic and well
recorded. Edge of Eternity is definitely worth watching.
for the bat guano operation, in real life the thing turned out to be a bust
when they found there was only 1,000 tons of bat doo-doo, not 100,000 tons and
the site was closed down. Nonetheless it was in operation at the time of
filming, and the producers, Siegel being one of them, ran a credit thanking U.S.
Guano for its assistance in making the movie. That may be the first and only
time Hollywood acknowledged the debt it owes to those who also wield shovels. Credit
where credit is due.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon
at Sea” (1937) is old-school Hollywood at its best -- beautifully directed by
Henry Hathaway, great performances by Gary Cooper, George Raft, and Frances
Dee, wonderful support from a first-rate cast of character actors, and fine
Paramount production values.The script
casts a wide net over at least sixgenres, including maritime adventure, disaster saga, love story, spy
thriller, costume drama, and courtroom mystery.Imagine “Amistad” (1997), “Titanic” (1997), and “Master and Commander:
The Far Side of the World” (2003) combined, with a little music and comedy
added in.It sounds like it should be a
mess, but a strong script by old pros Grover Jones and Dale Van Every pulls it
all together seamlessly.
“Nuggin” Taylor (Cooper), an American seaman and sometimes ship’s officer,
faces charges of murder in a Boston courtroom in 1842 in the deaths of 18
fellow passengers during the sinking of the transatlantic brig William
Brown. Taylor is accused of
commandeering a lifeboat, ejecting other passengers and leaving them to drown,
and killing a fellow traveler, British naval Lt. Tarryton, with whom he had
been on strained terms (Henry Wilcoxon). Taylor refuses to speak in his own defense, and his blemished reputation
as a career slaver seems to substantiate the prosecution’s depiction of a
coward and opportunist. The few survivors
assembled in the courtroom plead on Taylor’s behalf, describing a different
sort of man, but there is one dissenting hold-out among them. Tarryton’s embittered sister Margaret (Dee)
supports the prosecution, even though she was one of the people Taylor
rescued. The jury returns a guilty
verdict, and then, as Taylor is led away, a British government official (George
Zucco) rushes into the courtroom and reveals the true story.
sadly underrated Henry Hathaway is best remembered now as a director of Westerns
who, like his contemporary John Ford, was known for bullying good performances
out of his casts. “Souls at Sea,” like
his earlier Paramount classic with Cooper, “Lives of a Bengal Lancer” (1935),
works perfectly fine as an action drama, but Hathaway also invests it with
great sensitivity in romantic scenes between Cooper and Dee, and between George
Raft as Taylor’s friend Powdah and Olympe Bradna as a winsome lady’s maid who
seeks a new start in America. Cooper and
Raft also click as mismatched but loyal buddies, Cooper crossing the frame with
a long-legged outdoorsman’s walk, Raft matching him with a subdued dancer’s
swagger. The climactic scenes
dramatizing the explosion and sinking of the doomed ship use state-of-the-art
1930s FX, chiefly miniatures and special sets simulating the burning, tilted
ship’s deck. Younger fans accustomed to
CGI may not be impressed, but these old-time FX have their own charm for us
The Universal Studios
Home Entertainment/TCM Vault Collection DVD is a manufactured-on-demand
DVD-R. There’s no chapter menu and no
extras, but the 1.33:1 full frame transfer is acceptable.
Kino Lorber has released the relatively forgotten 1954 murder thriller "Witness to Murder" on Blu-ray. The flick is film noir in the best tradition: modest budget, creative lighting and cinematography, an inspired cast and a compelling story. Barbara Stanwyck stars as Cheryl Draper, an independent, career-minded woman who has the misfortune to look out the window of her apartment late one windy evening only to observe a murder being committed across the street in another apartment. She is horrified to see an attractive young woman being strangled to death by a well-dressed, middle-aged man. She phones the police and is visited by two detectives: Lawrence Matthews (Gary Merrill) and Eddie Vincent (cigar-chomping Jesse White), who dutifully take the details and head over the apartment where the crime was committed. The murderer is Albert Richter (George Sanders), a snobby author of some repute who has had time to hide the body of the young woman in an adjoining empty apartment. When the detectives arrive to question him, he puts on a masterful performance, pretending he has been awakened from a sound sleep. He convinces the cops that Cheryl must have been dreaming or the lights may have played tricks with her vision. Convinced of his innocence, the cops inform Cheryl they are convinced no crime has been committed, despite her fervent protests that she was not mistaken. Now Cheryl realizes that her own life is in danger. In true film noir fashion, she plays Lois Lane and begins nosing around the building where Richter lives. She even gains access to his apartment when he is out , on the pretense of wanting to rent a similar unit. Before long, she and Richter and locked in a psychological cat-and-mouse game with Richter holding most of the cards. He enacts an elaborate scheme to discredit Cheryl, making it seem as though she suffers from psychological delusions. He even gets her temporarily committed to an asylum. Meanwhile, Cheryl has begun dating Det. Matthews, but still cant convince him that Richter is a murderer- even when it is revealed his is a "reformed" former Nazi.
"Witness to Murder" bares some startling similarities to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, notably "Rear Window", with some doses of "Vertigo" and "North By Northwest" thrown in. However, before you dismiss this film as another pale imitation of The Master's work, keep in mind that it was released before any of those cinematic classics. Director Roy Rowland keeps the suspense rising throughout until the final, nail-biting (if somewhat melodramatic) climax in which Cheryl finds herself menaced by Richter atop a high rise construction site.
The performances are uniformly excellent with Stanwyck playing that rarity in Hollywood movies of the era: a gutsy, intelligent and independent woman. Sanders is in full sneer mode and demonstrates why no one could play a cad like him. He's charming even when he informs you he's about to kill you. The only weak spot is a brief scene that tries to tie Richter's motive for murder into an improbable plan to revive the Third Reich! Beyond that, however, "Witness to Murder" is top notch film noir and is highly recommended.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains a great deal of grain, but that could have been from the original film negative. In any event, it unintentionally adds a bit of extra atmosphere to the black-and-white intrigue. The Blu-ray also contains an original trailer.
moviegoers who want to immerse themselves in two hours of bittersweet romantic
misery are likely to go see “The Fault in Our Stars,” “If I Stay,” or “The Best
of Me.”In 1955, the comparable ticket
was “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” based on Han Suyin’s bestselling 1952
book.Thanks to Twilight Time’s
limited-edition Blu-ray of the 20th
Century Fox film, today’s devotees of Nicholas Sparks and John Green have an
opportunity to see what made their grandmothers cry as twenty-somethings in the
Eisenhower era, while veteran fans of, uh, more mature age can enjoy Han’s
tragic love story again in beautiful hi-def CinemaScope and Color by DeLuxe.
fictionalized memoir related the story of her love affair with a war
correspondent, whom she called Mark Elliott, in 1949 Hong Kong. The circumstances of the affair were
provocative for the time. The widowed
Han, a medical resident at the crown colony’s Victoria Hospital, had mixed-race
parentage (Chinese father, Belgian mother). Elliott was a married American, although the marriage was strained and
he and his wife lived apart. How times
have changed, in real life as in the movies. In 2014, neither the one partner’s race nor the other’s marital status
would pose much of a challenge in most social circles. If you’re a 20-year-old viewer today, you may
have to check your instinct to judge the story by those more tolerant
standards, in which race isn’t a game-changer at all. Nowadays, in the rare event that a cultural
difference between lovers is needed as a dramatic complication in a movie or TV
show, it’s likely to be expressed in terms of supernatural fantasy, not
race. By that measure, you may care that
one partner is human and the other is a vampire. But that one sweetheart is part Asian and the
other Caucasian? Not so much.
convention of the time isn’t merely irrelevant in today’s ethnically diverse
cinema -- it’s embarrassing. In the
movie, Suyin is played by a fully Caucasian actress, Jennifer Jones, who
doesn’t look particularly Asian, even with make-up. Suyin has a younger sister in China, Suchin,
played by Donna Martell, who appears even less Asian than Jones. A friend in Hong Kong also of mixed
parentage, Suzanne, portrayed by Jorja Curtright, looks less Asian yet. There are plenty of Asian actors in the film,
including such familiar and welcome faces as Richard Loo, Philip Ahn, Beulah
Quo, and James Hong, but they’re relegated to supporting roles. It’s true that the movie could hardly have
been green-lighted as a major production in 1955 without a star like Jones in
top-billing, and that Asian actresses with that sort of clout were non-existent
then. But still. Jones also tends to play her scenes in
somewhat stilted, old-school style, yet another thing that today’s younger
viewers may have to adjust to. William
Holden, at the top of his game as Mark, brings a more relaxed method of acting,
but even his dialogue becomes a little pompous at times: “That reminds me of a line in that poem by
Century Fox dressed up the movie with all the amenities that A-picture budgets
could provide in 1955. These values remain
impressive almost 60 years later: a stirring score by Alfred Newman, which also
yielded the hit title song as a chart-topper by the Four Aces (another sign of
changing times -- can you imagine the Four Aces on the 2014 charts alongside
Robin Thicke and Jay Z?), exotic on-location exterior shots in Hong Kong, and
ravishing color design. The Twilight
Time Blu-ray, limited to 3,000 units, includes a sharp 1080p transfer, an
isolated music track, a souvenir booklet by Julie Kirgo, and a fine commentary
track by Jon Burlingame, Michael Lonzo, and Sylvia Stoddard. Fox Movietone News clips from 1955 show
Holden and producer Buddy Adler accepting honors at a couple of industry award
ceremonies, reminding us that Hollywood loved to celebrate itself long before
“Entertainment Tonight” and “Access Hollywood” came along.
Twilight Time Blu-ray limited edition of “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” can
be ordered HERE.
If there’s one overriding reason to view “The Lords of
Flatbush”, it is to watch a young Sylvester Stallone steal every scene he’s
in.This was two years before his star
making turn in “Rocky”, but there’s a sense that Stallone knew his career was
at a crossroads and he needed to turn in a command performance.The joy in watching him, though, is because
he doesn’t take focus by chewing the scenery.No, Stallone is downright subtle in this movie.To watch him here is to see a smart young
actor at work, not a bloated movie star.
Stallone, along with Henry Winkler, Perry King, and
Paul Mace, star as “The Lords,” (comically misspelled as “Lord’s” on the backs
of their leather jackets), a gang of shiftless teens in late 1950s
Brooklyn. High school is almost over,
though, and the boys are beginning to understand that the future looks awfully
big and empty.
King is “Chico”, the inarticulate lover boy. Stallone is “Stanley,” the group’s muscle.
Winkler and Mace are “Butchey,” and “Wimp,” the wise guys of the group. The gang’s life consists of hanging out at
the pool hall, or the all night malt shop. At one point they steal a car, but they aren’t bright enough to be
competent criminals. They like to talk about “busting heads,” but in the
movie’s single fight scene they don’t seem to be particular handy with their
fists. These photogenic losers find their uneventful existence interrupted by
two things: Chico falls hard for a new girl in school (Susan Blakely), and
Stanley learns that his mouthy girlfriend is pregnant. Though Chico and the new girl provide the
traditional “nice girl/bad boy” love angle, it’s the plot about Stanley that
provides the film with its heart.
Stallone is a whirling dervish of activity in this
movie. He’s constantly cracking his knuckles, slapping his hands together, or
craning his neck, as if he’s simply too dynamic to be contained in a movie frame. Watch him in scenes where the group is
walking together. He’s continually in
motion, hitching his shoulders, munching a toothpick, reaching up to knock a
leaf from an overhead branch, doing
anything to take attention from his co-stars. And it works. He’s the guy we
watch. The scene where Frannie (Maria
Smith, looking like a pint sized Fran Drescher) enters the pool hall and
demands Stanley marry her is mesmerizing. Not believing she’s pregnant, he kneels by a table and grabs a cue ball.
He plays gently with it, listening to her describe their future together. There
is anxiety on Stanley’s face, but also resignation. He cracks a few jokes, but we can see him
sweating. Childhood’s end is near. He is
about to walk stoop shouldered into adulthood, complete with screaming babies
and talky wives.
Nostalgia pieces about the ‘50s were big business in
the ‘70s (think “American Graffiti”, “Grease”, “The Wanderers”, etc). Audiences
paid good money to see flashy old cars, greased pompadours, and hear some
period music. As one critic noted in his
review of “Lords”, “by conjuring up the
magic appearance of that era, a kind of off-beat joy fills the theater,” and
that the gang’s striving for coolness was “perversely thrilling.” “The Lords of Flatbush” rode the nostalgia
wave and was a surprise hit, but it had plenty working against it, not the
least of which was that the four male leads and Blakely were too old to be
playing high school kids. Also, the
ersatz rock and roll score by Joe Brooks and Paul Jabara pales next to the
soundtrack of “American Graffiti”. (In fairness, many people are fond of the
“Lords” soundtrack, and Brooks and Jabara did go on to become successful
an animal energy in the movie, particularly in scenes involving Stallone. I loved how a friendly punching game with
King escalates into sudden, explosive violence. The two also have a scene on a
rooftop where Stallone offers a bizarre monolog about pigeons. Stallone allegedly wrote some of his own dialog
for the movie, and his rooftop prattle sounds a bit like something Rocky Balboa
might say a few years later.
Though many reviewers appreciated the film as a sort of
pop artifact, not everyone was impressed. Jay Cocks of Time magazine pronounced
it “pretty flimsy stuff.” Others, like
John Simon of the National Review, described it as “a film awful enough to
strangle talent in the cradle.” William
Sarmento , the curmudgeonly critic of the Lowell Sun, was so annoyed by the
film’s grainy look that he derided “Lords” as “an amateurish home movie,” and
“exasperatingly inept.” Meanwhile, Roger
Ebert wrote that the film “did a good job of seeing past its black leather
jackets and into the hearts of the essentially immature and unsure people who
wore them.” Oakland critic Robert
Taylor may have given the film its most accurate notice by writing that it was
like “a quick flip through a fat ‘50s wallet crammed with snapshots.”
Co-director and producer Stephen Verona spent three
years putting "The Lords of Flatbush" together. Inspired by the foreign films he’d seen
during the 1960s, Verona set about making his own statement about the life he’d
known. He had the idea to revisit the
1950s long before it was fashionable, but it took so long to fund his production
that the 1950s craze began without him. Raising money by putting the squeeze on “friends, family, and crazy
people,” Verona gathered $50,000, and shot the film in five weeks in 1972. Verona and co-director Martin Davidson shot
some more scenes and fiddled with the ending before selling their feature to
Columbia. When it became one of the sleeper hits of the season, Verona claimed that the simpler codes of
the 1950s were a key to the movie’s success.
"You knew the good guys from the bad guys by the
way they cut their hair, and the clothes they wore,” Verona said in a 1974
interview. “But what we tried to get across in this picture was that we all had
the same problems. We all wanted the girl, and the car."
Verona certainly had an eye for new talent. Along with
Stallone and Winkler, Verona also chose a very young Richard Gere to be part of
the original cast as Chico. According to ‘The Making of The Lords of Flatbush’,
Verona’s 2008 memoir, there was “a glitch in the chemistry” between Stallone
and Gere. Much of the script was written
through improvisations involving Gere and Stallone, but Verona knew that Gere
had to go. “Here they were supposed to be best friends” Verona wrote, “and in
real life they didn’t like each other.” Pointing to Stallone’s “immense imagination and focus,” it wasn’t a hard
decision to keep Sly and give Gere the boot. With a bit of amateur psychology, it’s easy to see why the two young
actors didn’t get along. Like Stallone, the young Gere was another twitchy
scene stealer. One can imagine Stallone
seeing Gere and thinking, Here’s a guy I might not be able to upstage. Hence,
friction. That’s my hunch, anyway. Perry King, destined for a long TV career
but not movie stardom, had a less showy acting style, so Stallone was probably
less threatened by him.
We all think we know what goes into staging a major
theatrical production. There is a writer and a script. There are actors, a
director, scenery and props. We realize that there are people behind the scenery
and props and probably a few other people whose responsibilities we can’t be
certain of. "Theatreland", from the people at the educational DVD
company, Athena,fills us in on all the things between the lines, between the
words and between productions at the same theatre, thus affording us an inside
look at the staging a major theatrical event..
Filmed over the course of six months at the Theatre Royal Haymarket Theatre in
London's West End "Theatreland" follows Sean Mathias as he begins his
term as Artistic Director of the esteemed venue. He has two high profile
productions he is preparing: Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" and
a new play based on Truman Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's". There isn't anywhere the camera doesn't take us. From rehearsal space to stage,
from designing a set to dismantling it, from the dressing rooms to the lobby
bar, we get a look at everything and everyone that makes a theatre production
run. We follow the actors through rehearsals. We follow the carpenters and
painters who build the sets. We follow the theatre manager and staff, from
backstage to front of house and learn just how much goes into putting a
production together. We are treated to all this in one of London's theatre
jewels, first built in 1720, moved to the south side of the street 100 years
later and said to be haunted by the
ghost of one of its former managers. Renovated over 100 years ago, the Theatre Royal Haymarket is in constant
need of maintenance. We watch repairmen work. We watch ushers work. We watch,
well, you get the idea. The delight of it all is we also get to observe such
talented actors as Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in "Waiting for
Godot" and Anna Friel and Joseph Cross in "Breakfast in
Tiffany's" as they prepare and perform.
We learn how a set goes from an artist's model
through its off-site construction and rebuilding at the theatre. It's a
wondrous process to see. Especially when the Theatre Royal Haymarket stage
switches out from the sparse, barren set of "Godot" to the
three-story, colorful and rotating set of "Tiffany's." If this
documentary had been written by Dr. David Reuben in the 1960s it may have been
titled "Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Theatre: But Were
Afraid to Ask." Don't be afraid of this DVD, though; it is both highly
educational and entertaining. Hopefully you won't need the subtitles; some of
the Cockney accents can be difficult!
about domineering fathers and neglected offspring are at least as old as the
Bible and Shakespeare. Gilles Legrand’s
“You Will Be My Son” (2012) is a worthy addition to the genre.
de Marseul (Niels Arestrup) is distressed to learn that his friend Francois
Amelot (Patrick Chesnais) has been diagnosed with pancreatic
cancer. Paul is the wealthy owner of a
French vineyard, and Francois has served for more than 30 years as his estate
manager: “a fancy name for winemaker,” Francois comments. When Francois announces that he’s too weak
from his illness to begin the new production season, Paul’s son Martin (Lorant Deutsch) steps up,
eager to take on the responsibility. He
handles sales for the company, and he knows Francois’ routine through years of
observation. But Paul has no faith in
Martin’s abilities as a vintner, and the two men moreover have a strained
personal relationship. Paul instead
gravitates to Francois’ son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), who has returned from
America after hearing of his father’s illness. To Paul, Philippe is everything that his own son isn’t -- charming,
self-confident, and by instinct and experience, a promising winemaker. As Paul begins to displace Martin with
Philippe, symbolically at first and then with the idea of making Philippe his
son through legal action, resentments seethe and eventually explode.
In an American version 50 or 60 years ago, Paul would have been
played by a powerhouse like Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, or Spencer
Tracy. Niels Arestrup (who may be
familiar to U.S. audiences from roles in “War Horse” and “The Diving Bell and
the Butterfly”) invests the role with comparable ferocity. Deutsch and Bridet (who would have been
Anthony Perkins and Ben Gazzara opposite Steiger or Cobb back in the day) offer
solid support. The scenes between
Arestrup and Deutsch are so raw and real that the confrontations are almost as
painful for the viewer as for the emotionally starved Martin. Equally fine performances are provided by
Chesnais as the ailing Francois and Valérie Mairesse as his outspoken spouse
Madeleine, who watch the situation with growing dismay, and Anne Marivin as
Martin’s supportive wife Alice.
As Paul confronts Martin, Martin confronts Philippe, and Alice
confronts Paul, you’re initially inclined to regard Paul and Philippe as the
villains and Martin as the victim with whom you should sympathize. However, as the story progresses, Legrand
begins to paint the characters in more ambiguous shades. A development late in the movie seems like a
macabre twist out of a Guy de Maupassant tale, setting up what would appear to
be a happy ending for some of the characters. But is it a happy ending?
Cohen Media Group’s classy Blu-ray includes a sharp transfer in
French with English subtitles, deleted scenes, interviews with Deutsch and
Legrand, the theatrical trailer, and a handsome inset booklet with credits and
stills from the movie.
Timeless Media has reissued it's massive set "M Squad: The Complete TV Series Special Edition" containing all 117 episodes of the gritty show that ran for three seasons on American TV commencing in 1957. The series was known for its hard-hitting and realistic look at crime in and around Chicago. Lee Marvin starred as Lt. Frank Ballinger, a no-nonsense cop assigned to crack down on organized crime in the vicinity. Like "The Naked City", "East Side, West Side" and "The Untouchables", the show was credited for having intelligent, believable scripts and fine performances from the cast and guest stars. The program's success helped to pave the way for Lee Marvin to be a major presence on the big screen.
The initial Timeless Media release of this set was released in 2008 and contained a special bonus soundtrack CD (Count Basie and young John Williams were among the legends who performed on the score and title theme.) That disc has been dropped in favor of a bonus DVD that presents Lee Marvin in early TV appearances on "Wagon Train", "Checkmate", The Virginian" and "Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreaker", an obscure 1963 telecast. They are manna from Heaven for Lee Marvin fans (and who isn't?)
One minor gripe: the photo on the box cover is not Marvin in "M Squad": it's actually a well known publicity still from John Boorman's 1967 big screen crime classic "Point Blank". Also, the quality of the "M Squad" episodes varies quite a bit, as they were taken from the best elements available. Purists may be critical of the transfers but the bottom line is that this is a highly impressive boxed set that presents an American acting legend at his very best. Now all you'll need is 117 hours of free time to enjoy the entire experience.
Here is the official press release:
of the most memorable of the early television police dramas,M Squaddebuted in 1957 and ran for
three seasons on NBC. Lee Marvin, a decorated WWII Marine veteran of the South
Pacific, where he received the Purple Heart in the Battle of Saipan, stars as
Lt. Frank Ballinger, a no-nonsense Chicago plainclothes cop in the elite M
Squad Division. On November 4th, 2014, Timeless Media Group, a
division of Shout! Factory LCC, will releaseM
Squad: The Complete TV Series-Special Editionon DVD. All 117 episodes of the
television series as originally aired, as well as a brand new bonus disc
featuring Lee Marvin guest star appearances inWagon Train, Checkmate, The
Virginianand as the host ofLawbreaker)
Squad's (M-for Murder) task is to root out organized crime and corruption in
America's Second City. Marvin's portrayal of a tough undercover officer, whose
perseverance and potential for violence, but with utter cool, permeates each
gritty episode, gave Marvin name recognition with the public, and did much to
make him a star.
If you're pondering what to get your significant other for a holiday gift, look no further than "Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series", which has been released in a boxed set by MPI Home Entertainment. For many, series star Jeremy Brett was- and remains- the definitive interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective. There have been countless actors who have provided wide-ranging performances as Holmes and most of them are commendable in their own way. However, Brett's debut as Holmes in this classic British TV series met with instant international acclaim even among the notoriously fussy Holmes scholars who never seem to be pleased with screen presentation of their literary hero.
The MPI set contains:
Every episode of the series (41 episodes on 12 DVDs)
Includes the five feature film-length adventures
Profusely illustrated collector's guide booklet with extensive essays by film historian Richard Valley
Interview with director John Madden and screenwriter Jeremy Paul
Interview with series co-star Edward Hardwicke
"Daytime Live" show with guest stars Brett and Hardwicke
Sherlock Holmes Museum short
Vintage Sherlock Holmes series promo
In all, a superb and irresistible release that will allow you many hours of matching wits with the world's greatest sleuth. What do you get for that special person for the holidays? The answer should be elementary.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER DVD SET FROM AMAZON AND TO VIEW PROMOTIONAL CLIPS FOR MANY EPISODES.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE SET FROM AMAZON ON BLU-RAY
have been entire books dedicated to the cinema of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven
and with good reason. Known for pushing the envelope of what is acceptable
onscreen in both sexuality and violence, his movies have been celebrated and
condemned - often by the same critic at different times! To one degree or another
I have enjoyed every Verhoeven film I've seen all the way back to the brilliant
Soldier of Orange (1977) but it was RoboCop (1987) that stomped across the
world and made it possible for the madman to make nearly anything he wanted. I
wonder what would have happened if this film - his first English language
effort- had not been a huge financial success. Would we have had a series of
progressively worse sequels with Rutger Hauer ravishing maidens and slaying
nobles for gold? Maybe in a better world.....
+ Blood (1985) takes place in Western Europe in 1501 and begins during an
attack on a small Italian city by a group of mercenaries employed by the city's
rightful ruler Arnolfini (Fernardo Hilbeck). These soldiers have been promised a
full day of consequence free looting if they succeed in retaking the city
but once the job is done Arnolfini soon reneges on this offer when he sees them
destroying the place. The commander of the troops, Hawkwood (Jack
Thompson), is heartsick over a nun that he mistakenly harmed during the attack
and Arnolfini promises to get medical attention for her if the commander will
use the cavalry to eject the mercenaries from the city without their loot. This
betrayal is not taken well, especially by Hawkwood's former lieutenant Martin
(Rutger Hauer). Soon after the group is run off, Martin is burying his
stillborn child when he unearths a wooden statue of Saint Martin of Tours. This
saint with a sword is seen by the mercenaries' cleric as a sign from God
to follow Martin as their new leader.
in the retaken city Arnolfini's son Steven (Tom Burlinson) has been betrothed
to Lady Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They meet for the first time when Steven greets
her caravan on the way to their wedding and love seems to blossom between the
two. But then the entourage is attacked and robbed by Martin's group. Arnolfini
is seriously injured during the raid while Agnes is carried away concealed
among her valuable dowry. That night Martin discovers Agnes and, although the other
men desire to gang rape her, Martin claims her for himself. He first rapes her
but then Agnes starts flirting with him, hoping to gain his protection. She
becomes his concubine after a fashion and is dragged along on the mercenaries'
travels. She easily convinces Martin that he is in love with her and works carefully
on the other members of the band to get them to accept her. She appears to have
completely given up on her former life and forgotten her betrothal.
enough the mercenaries come upon a castle where, unknown to them, the
inhabitants are infected with the Black Death. The group captures the
castle with the help of Agnes, who proves herself very resourceful in many ways.
But Steven is determined to reclaim his bride to be and turns to Hawkwood for
help. Hawkwood only wants to live a quiet life caring for the former nun he had
injured but Steven uses force and threats against the nun to coerce the old
soldier to help in his pursuit of Martin. Once they locate the mercenaries they
realize that they don't have sufficient force to take the castle and lay siege to
it. Inside the castle Martin asks Agnes where her true loyalties lie but she is
ambiguous hinting that she will be happy with whoever wins. Outside the castle,
the dreaded Plague spreads among Steven's forces and even infects Hawkwood. After
an impressive battle with an incredible siege engine built by the well-educated
Steven, the mercenaries capture Steven and shackle him in the castle's courtyard.
Here Agnes feigns hatred of her ex-groom and even has sex with Martin in front
lancing his boils, Hawkwood is able to cure himself of the plague but he cannot
continue the siege alone. Instead, he catapults pieces of an infected dog over
the castle walls and when one chunk lands near the chained Steven, he flings it
into the place's water well. Agnes sees this happen and Steven tells her that
she can decide whether or not to tell the mercenaries.
fears of the Black Death creeping into the castle, the band of mercenaries want
to leave the place but Martin persuades them to stay. Agnes does not warn them
about the well and watches as they drink infected water. However, when Martin begins to drink, she slaps the cup
from his hand. As several of the group start to show signs of the sickness,
they hurl Martin into the tainted well and, as she did after Steven's capture,
Agnes joins in the abuse of Martin. At this point Hawkwood and Arnolfini return
to the castle with an army and attack. Inside the castle, Steven and Martin cooperate
to save each other, but with a fresh siege underway there is no way to know who
will live and who will die.
looking for a sweet natured adventure film with noble knights and derring-do would
do well to back slowly away from this movie. Vicious, nasty, violent and cruel
are just a few of the words I would use to describe both the story and the
characters in this brutal medieval epic. All of the people in this story act in
selfish, ruthless ways at almost every turn and only seem driven by the most primitive
of emotions. Even the very few acts of kindness can be seen as self-serving in
a world where everyone is fighting just to survive. That's not to say the film
is not entertaining. Indeed, I would say Flesh + Blood is supreme fun for fans
of the harsher kinds of cinema. The film is one part exploitation, two parts
graphic violence, one part costume drama and one part historical romance - as
long as you don't need the romance to be the chaste kind!
enthusiasts (Godzilla fans in particular) can join Cinema Retro’s Rod Barnett
along with Troy Guinn as they start a new series of podcasts entitled “Controversial
Kaiju”. The first episode focuses on “All Monsters Attack” (1969) (aka “Godzilla’s Revenge”). The broadcast can
be downloaded through this link.
Shout! Factory will re-issue the entire series of "Secret Agent" (aka "Danger Man") starring Patrick McGoohan as a 17 DVD set. This edition will feature new extra features. See press release below:
“Every government has its secret service branch. America,CIA; France,Deuxième Bureau; England,MI5.NATOalso
has its own. A messy job? Well that's when they usually call on me or someone
like me. Oh yes, my name is Drake, John Drake.” So begins the dramatic 1960s
British spy seriesSecret
Agent. On December 9th, 2014 bring home the adventures of John
Drake with the complete series set of this classic spy show. The 17-DVD box set
also contains a number of bonus features, including audio commentaries and a
brand new interview with Catherine McGoohan.
McGoohan (The Prisoner) stars as John Drake inSecret Agent, the popular
television series from the Golden Age of Spy Thrillers, the 1960s. Travelling
the world to capture international criminals, John Drake rarely solved problems
with a gun, preferring to use charm and wit over violence to bring in the bad
There is a frightening scene in “Prince of The Night” when
Klaus Kinski chases a woman through the streets of Venice. She runs into
an empty building, but like a jungle cat bringing down an impala, Kinski catches
her and smashes her to the stone floor. Actresses Barbara De Rossi and Elvire Audray
complained that Kinski was too rough on them during the making of this 1988
Italian production, but when Kinski is hired to play Nosferatu, a creature
“belched forth by the Devil,” one can’t expect the off-screen neck nibbles of
Bela Lugosi. As he did throughout his hellacious career, Kinski played the role
with an utter lack of restraint. De Rossi and Audray were lucky he
didn’t actually tear open their jugulars.
It turns out that Kinski’s untamed acting had a payoff.
As we can see in the recently released DVD from One 7 Movies, Kinski outshines
the rest of the cast, including such gallant journeymen as Christopher Plummer
and Donald Pleasence. If a few
actresses got scuffed up along the way, so be it.
The cast should have known what to expect when, on his
first day of shooting, Kinski and director Mario Caiano got into a violent
argument. Part of the beef was that Kinski was reprising his character
from Werner Herzog’s 1979 picture “Nosferatu the Vampyre” and was supposed to
wear the same bald head, and corpse-white makeup. However, the petulant
Kinski arrived on the set wearing long hair and asserting that he had no intention
of enduring another painful make-up sessions. This is why Nosferatu of
the 1988 film looks like Aguirre and nothing like the original character
from the Herzog movie (or for that matter, the F.W. Murnau silent
film). Kinski’s only nod to tradition was that he wore the same rodent teeth
he’d worn for Herzog.
Waylaid by Kinski’s bellicose attitude, Caiano left the
production after being paid his full salary. Caiano’s departure wasn’t a
surprise, since the film had already been through several personnel changes.
Producer Augusto Caminito had already hired and fired directors Maurizio Lucidi
and Pasquale Squitieri before hiring Caiano. When Kinski forced Caiano off the
set, Caminito decided to direct the film himself. Since Caminito had little directing
experience, he enlisted the help of Luigi Cozzi, a veteran of many Italian
horror films (as well as the Lou Ferrigno “Hercules” of 1983). Not
surprisingly, even Kinski is alleged to have directed a few scenes.
Somehow, this debacle of a production yielded a highly
watchable movie (originally titled “Vampire In Venice”). I imagine some
of the credit must go to cinematographer Tonino Nardi, who lovingly feeds us
one eye-popping scene after another. It’s as if Nardi knew, while
chaos swirled all around him, that all one needed to make this vampire movie
was Kinski, a few beautiful women, and the gorgeous scenery of Venice.
One can almost turn the sound off, ignore the rickety plot, and simply
enjoy the movie for its visual delights.
The movie is supposed to take place in 1780s
Venice, a time of plagues and death. The
streets are a weird mix of the morbid and the frivolous. You’re as likely to
step over a corpse as to be pestered by a dancing harlequin. Yet, one of my
favorite moments is when an extra steering a gondola is not in period costume,
but is instead wearing a denim jacket and tight fitting jeans, as if a member
of The Doobie Brothers had been somehow teleported into the 18th century.
Caminito was probably so sick of reshoots that he hoped no one would notice the
At the time of its release in 1962 critics treated director J. Lee Thompson's "Taras Bulba" as just another action epic. Well, back in those days, every week seemed to see the release of a worthwhile action epic. However, retro movie fans have long held this film in a place of honor. It has an intelligent script, fine performances and sequences that are truly magnificent in their scope- all set to the legendary Franz Waxman's superb, Oscar-nominated score. The film is unusual on many levels beginning with the period of history it covers: the battles between the Cossacks and Poles for control of the Ukraine Steppes in the early 16th century. When the film opens, the Cossacks are fighting with the Poles to thwart an invading Turkish army. However, the Poles double-cross their allies after victory has been achieved, slaughtering many of the Cossacks, whom they fear will be a future threat. The mantle of Cossack leadership falls to the courageous warrior Taras Bulba, who vows revenge against Poland no matter how long it takes. The Cossacks spend many years rebuilding their strength. During this time, Bulba fathers two sons: Andrei (Tony Curtis) and Ostap (Perry Lopez), both of whom do instill him with pride for adapting the rough-and-tumble ways of the Cossack warriors. When tensions ease with the Polish government, Taras instructs his sons to attend university in Kiev, ostensibly to get an education. In reality, he wants them to study Polish customs and habits, all the better to serve in the forthcoming war against them that he is planning. While in Kiev, the boys suffer the indignities of ridicule, beatings and hazings. (There is an amusing, if unintended,homo erotic aspect to some of these scenes, with sweaty, shirtless men whipping each other.) Andrei finds it's all worthwhile when he catches a glimpse of Natalia Dubrov (Christine Kaufmann), a beautiful young Polish girl who is from an influential family. Against all odds, he manages to catch her eye and ingratiate himself to her. The would-be lovers find ways to secretly meet to carry out their forbidden romance. (The notion of a Polish noblewoman carrying on a love affair with a crude Cossack warrior may seem far-fetched, but if the Cossack is Tony Curtis, I guess anything is possible.) When Andrei's interest in Natalia is discovered by her brother, a sword fight ensues in which Ostap mortally wounds the Polish army officer. The brothers escape back to the Steppes and the arms of their mother and father but Andrei still pines away for his lost love. Taras rallies the various Cossack tribes to join him in an assault on a city held by Poles. After a vicious battle, he bottles up his enemies inside the walls of the town and begins to starve them out. However, Andrei learns that Natalia is within the city and when plague breaks out, he makes an ill-fated decision to attempt to rescue her. This leads to the film's dramatic and very emotional climactic seen between Taras and Andrei.
"Taras Bulba" has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The transfer is outstanding and is so clear that some of the film's technical weaknesses appear more prominent than they probably did on the big screen. The scenes within Kiev are clearly achieved through the use of studio sets and matte paintings. Some scenes have a noticeable graininess to them and in certain cavalry charges, you might observe horsemen moving at sped up motion in the manner of the Keystone Cops. Nevertheless, this is an epic film indeed when it comes to the action sequences. One scene in particular is literally thrilling: the joining of the Cossack warriors on the open plain, all galloping at high speed to Franz Waxman's addictive musical score. The performances are also first-rate with Brynner giving a larger-than-life interpretation of Bulba in manner that no other actor of this era could achieve. Tony Curtis once again overcomes a New York accent (as he did in "The Vikings") and somehow appears completely credible. (An interesting footnote: Bulba's right hand man Shilo is played by Brynner's "Magnificent Seven" co-star Brad Dexter.) Christine Kaufmann was only 16 years old at the time of filming and the on-screen love affair with Tony Curtis replicated itself in real life: they began dating on the set and ended up getting married, though they divorced in 1968.
The Blu-ray disc includes an original trailer that absurdly proclaims, in the typical hyperbole of the day, that the film should be added to the list of "Wonders of the World"! Not quite. But say this for "Taras Bulba": it represents the kind of first rate action adventure epic of which it is often said "They sure as hell don't make 'em like that anymore."
THIS SET SHIPS ON NOVEMBER 11! REMEMBER, THE BLU-RAY SET IS A LIMITED EDITION. ORDER NOW!
"Batman", the classic 1960s TV series, is finally coming to home video after years of legal complications. Warner Home Video will release on Blu-ray and DVD on November 11.
The set will contain all 120 remastered episodes of the the three seasons the show ran and will contain a Batcave full of extras. Among them: a Hotwheels replica of the Batmobile, a letter from Adam West and photos derived from his personal scrapbook and replicas of vintage trading cards.
For more, including a promotional preview, click here.
Twilight Time has released a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray of John Wayne's late-career detective flick "Brannigan". The 1975 film takes Wayne out of the saddle and deposits him squarely in central London ("The Duke's in London. God Save the Queen!" read the tag line on the film poster.). The "fish-out--of-water" crime thriller concept began with Don Siegel's outstanding "Coogan's Bluff" (1968), which inspired Dennis Weaver's hit rip-off TV series "McCloud". Still, the premise works well with Wayne's tough Chicago Irish cop Jim Brannigan sent to London to extradite a top crime figure, much as Clint Eastwood's Coogan was shipped to New York to bring a criminal back to Arizona. Wayne had gone the detective route the year before in "McQ". He had originally been offered the role of Dirty Harry but correctly assumed his fans would not stand for him playing such an anti-Establishment character. Still, the phenomenal success of that movie made him realize that the Western genre was in decline and that he'd better switch gears occasionally to keep his loyal fans on board. Wayne was said to loathe "McQ". It was a downbeat, cynical look at corruption in the police force. Ironically, for many of his fans, it is regarded as one of the best films from the latter part of his career. Teaming Wayne with an ace director, John Sturges, the film provided the Duke with an intelligent script, surprising plot turns and a less-than-larger-than-life character to portray. The movie did fairly well despite Wayne's reservations so perhaps that is why he immediately returned to the crime film genre with "Brannigan". In reality, Wayne had planned to do a detective film with this title for at least a decade. A 1964 trade industry story announced he would begin filming it in "the near East". The project never happened. When it was dusted off a decade later, it was temporarily titled "Joe Battle" before mercifully assuming its original title.
Like "McQ", "Brannigan" is a crime thriller but the two films are far apart in terms of style. "Brannigan" is directed by the underrated Douglas Hickox ("Theatre of Blood", "Zulu Dawn") with emphasis on humor, as we see Wayne immediately learn that the crime kingpin he is to escort home (John Vernon) has been allowed to escape. His counterpart is Scotland Yard Inspector Swan, played by Richard Attenborough. This "Odd Couple"-like teaming of two radically different acting styles is one of the true delights of the film. Both Wayne and Attenborough are clearly enjoying each other's company and their good natured "one-upmanship" provides plenty of genuine laughs. As the two detectives relentlessly track down their man, there are plenty of memorable action highlights including a well-staged car chase that includes a jump over the rising Tower Bridge. There's also a major, well-staged pub brawl that's right out of the John Ford playbook. Director Hickox makes the most of London's fabulous sites, which adds immeasurably to the film's pleasures. (This is only one of two movies to be shot in London's ultra-exclusive private Garrick Club and Hickox makes the most of it, showing off the elegant facility for a sequence in which Brannigan and Swan debate police tactics over lunch.) There is also a spirited, lively performance by Judy Geeson as a young Scotland Yard detective who enjoys a playful but platonic relationship with Brannigan. The supporting cast is a strong one with John Vernon and Mel Ferrer providing the villainy. Ralph Meeker gets relatively prominent billing but his on-screen appearance lasts little more than a minute, indicating some of his footage may have been left on the cutting room floor. The film climaxes with an assassin trying to gun down Brannigan from a speeding car at the old Beckton Gasworks, a ghastly-looking industrial facility that was memorably used for the pre-credits sequence of the 1981 James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only". All of this is set to a zippy jazz score by Dominic Frontiere that is off-beat for a film in this genre. "Brannigan" is not a late-career Wayne classic in the way that "The Cowboys" and "The Shootist" can be regarded. But it is a hell of a lot of fun and provides Wayne with a role that fit him like a glove. Nearing seventy years old, he could still at this point carry off the action sequences credibly.
Original Italian poster
Thankfully, Twilight Time has put some of its considerable artistic resources into this Blu-ray edition, which typically features a superb transfer. The bonus extras include an audio commentary between Judy Geeson and Twilight Time's Nick Redman that is breezy, fun and informative. (Geeson clearly adored Wayne, even though she overheard him refer to her as "an old bag of bones" after she auditioned for her role!) Geeson also provides some silent on set footage taken during the filming of the climax at Beckton Gasworks, which will delight Wayne purists who are anxious to see any previously unreleased footage of the Hollywood icon. There is also an original trailer that amusingly plays up Wayne being out of place in London. Julie Kirgo provides excellent analysis in the accompanying collector's booklet. Highly recommended (even for liberals!).
Probably no genre illustrates the rapid advance of cinematic screen freedoms than the biker movie. The genre debuted in 1953 with Marlon Brando in "The Wild One". The film, which chronicled the virtual takeover of a small California town by a wild motorcycle gang, was considered extremely controversial at the time. The biker film remained largely dormant until the release of Roger Corman's "The Wild Angels" in 1966, which became a surprising boxoffice and media sensation. Only a year or two before, teenage audiences were being fed a steady diet of white bread rock 'n roll films that bore little resemblance to real life. Suddenly, the biker film blatantly presented raging hormones, gang wars, drug use and group sex without apology. Young people patronized these films in droves. With social constraints falling by the minute, the biker films- cheaply made as they were- spoke to the emerging generation that would be defined by hippies, drop-outs and protesters. Suddenly, Elvis movies seemed like entertainment for their parents and grandparents. With the success of "The Wild Angels", imitators galore sprang onto drive-in movie screens across America. The biker films were like any other genre in that some of the entries were poorly done efforts designed to reap a few fast bucks at the box-office, while others had a certain crude efficiency about them. Such a film was "The Glory Stompers", one of the better entries in the biker movie genre. Made in 1967, the film was released by (surprise!) American International, which reaped king's ransoms by producing low-budget exploitation movies. Make no mistake, "The Glory Stompers" is indeed an exploitation movie with little redeeming value beyond it's interesting cast. Dennis Hopper, in full psycho mode, top-lines as Chino, the leader of a brutal biker gang known as The Black Souls. After being dissed by members of the rival Glory Stompers gang, Chino and his posse track down a Glory Stomper, Darryl (Jody McCrea) who is with his gorgeous blonde girlfriend Chris (Chris Noel). Chris is badgering Darryl to leave the biker lifestyle and do something meaningful with his life. They are interrupted by the arrival of the Black Souls, who beat Darryl mercilessly. Believing him to be dead, Chino orders the gang to kidnap Chris to prevent her from filing murder charges against them. Chino advises the group that they will transport her by bike several hundred miles into Mexico, where he has arranged to sell her into white slavery. Unbeknownst to them, however, Darryl recovers from his wounds and immediately sets out to rescue Chris. Along the way he meets a former fellow Glory Stomper, Smiley (former Tarzan star Jock Mahoney), who agrees to join the rescue effort. The eventually pick up one other ally and his girlfriend and head into Mexico in hot pursuit of the Black Souls.
The film features a good deal of padding with extended shots of the bikers cruising down highways or navigating over sandy desert roads. There's also a good deal of footage devoted to sexploitaiton, with topless biker women riding rampant through drug-fueled orgies and the requisite cat right between jealous biker "mamas". This was pretty shocking stuff back in the day and gives the movie a relatively contemporary feel (even though today's Hell's Angels are primarily known for organizing charity fund raisers.) The cast is rather interesting and it's apparent that Hopper's presence in films like this clearly gave him street cred when he decided to make "Easy Rider". Chris Noel is quite stunning as the kidnap victim who must use psychology to avoid frequent attempts by her captors to rape her. She's also a good actress who brings a degree of dignity to the otherwise sordid on-goings. Jock Mahoney is the grizzled biker veteran who puts loyalty above his personal safety and it's refreshing to see him wearing attire that goes beyond a loin cloth. Jody McRae, son of Joel McRae, is a bland but efficient hero. The supporting cast includes ubiquitous screen villain Robert Tessier and future music industry phenomenon Casey Kassem (!), who co-produced the movie. The direction by Anthony M. Lanza is uninspired but efficient and the cinematography by Mario Tosi (billed here as Mario Tossi) is surprisingly impressive, which explains why he became a top name in "A"-grade studio productions. The rock music tracks, produced by Mike Curb, are awful. Curb was a Boy Wonder at the time, producing memorable music scores for American International films such as "The Wild Angels" and "Wild in the Streets". Here, he's clearly slacking. Curb composed the score with Davie Allan but the duo insert jaunty, upbeat tunes during moments that call for suspense-laden tracks. Nevertheless, the film remains consistently entertaining and stands as one of the better entries in this genre.
MGM has released "The Glory Stompers" as a burn-to-order DVD. Despite some initial artifacts present in the opening sequence, the print is crisp and clean. There are no bonus extras.
The 8mm stag movie "loops" that defined the pornography industry until the advent of home video were generally considered to be the Rodney Dangerfields of the cinematic medium in that they didn't get no respect. Of late, however, a number of niche DVD labels have turned to exploiting this sexploitation. The latest is Cult Epics which has released "Vintage Erotica anno 1970", a somewhat unusual collection of 8mm porn shorts that that were defined by the fact that they had longer running times than the loops shown in "private viewing booths" in porn palaces located in red light districts in major cities around the world. The films included on this DVD have some degree of production values and make at least a feeble attempt to present a narrative. These short films have running times between 15 and 30 minutes. All were titles and scripted and some had recorded sound while others were shot as silent movies with a musical soundtrack added later. The shorts presented here are all from Europe and were filmed in the early 1970s. The initial offering features a couple of dozen hippies converging on an isolated wilderness area. They are carrying signs indicating that they are engaging in a "Love-in". They don't waste any time, either, getting down to having an orgy in between strumming folk music on guitars. This was a silent film and a perky, upbeat light rock score has been added. Other segments presented vary from serious attempts to present erotic situations to the age-old tradition of including slapstick comedy in the various scenarios.
Cult Epics has presented these films via a new transfer but there is still varying color quality, blotches and other imperfections. Somehow such deficiencies only add to the enjoyment of watching such fare. As lighthearted as some of the films are, keep in mind these are hardcore productions that leave nothing to the imagination. The clothing may be from the garish 1970s but there are certain consistencies with today's erotic movies, given the fact that no matter how imaginative the participants are, there is still only a finite number of acts that can be performed by men and women (and, given the genre, women and women.) There is a certain innocence to this type of erotica, however. Unlike much of today's porn, which is often defined by acts of violence or outright perversions, these films recall a more -shall we say "wholesome"?- era for the genre. The participants are all happy-go-lucky, the sex is innocent and guilt-free and the scenarios recall an era in which Jerry Lewis-like comedy could actually be combined into hardcore films. Quite obviously, such films are not everyone's cup of tea. However, if you have fond memories of sneaking a peak at such "forbidden fare" when you were young, the Cult Epics release merits "must see" viewing status.
As regular readers know, I have a soft spot in my heart for "B" spy movies of the 1960s. But you'd have to have a soft spot in your head to find much value in "Salt & Pepper", a 1968 Bond spoof with former Rat Packers Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford slumming for a quick paycheck and a good time in London. The film was improbably directed by Richard Donner, who displays none of the skills that would make him a world-class action movie director in the next decade. However, Donner is given some pretty skimpy material to work with. The hobbled-together screenplay finds Salt and Pepper as local legends in London's Soho district, then the epicenter of the mod movement. It's a measure of the script's level of wit that Salt is played by Davis and Pepper is played by Lawford (get it?). The duo operate Soho's hippest and most exclusive nightclub. Pepper represents old world elegance, strolling his domain in a tuxedo while Salt appeals to the "mods" by dressing in some eye-popping outfits that even Liberace would have considered to be over-the-top. The two men are happily ensconed in their world of go-go girls, chain smoking and sex with willing younger women when they become embroiled in an espionage plot that involves the hijacking of a Royal Navy nuclear submarine as part of a plan to bring about a coup in the British government. Salt & Pepper try to alert the authorities but are disbelieved. They are also framed for a series of murders and are being constantly harassed by a local police inspector (Michael Bates), a relentless grouch who, in another sign of the screenwriter's level of wit, is named Inspector Crabbe. The film consists of a series of endless chases including a bizarre central action sequence in which Salt & Pepper somehow employ their own gadget-laden spy car, albeit one that doesn't function very effectively. Even in the midst of an absurd comedy such as this, there has to be some degree of logic. It's never explained why two nightclub owners would be in possession of a super spy car. There are endless scenes of Salt & Pepper being locked in various rooms and using improbable means to escape. Davis is a ball of energy and even gets to sign a bad song in a disco sequence that at least features the redeeming quality of go-go girls in mini-skirts.
Davis and Lawford are fun to watch together and there is an occasional modestly amusing joke or set piece. However, the humor largely consists of Davis vamping his idol Jerry Lewis and the sequences with Michael Bates as the police inspector feature silent-era Keystone Cops gags that are not only cringe-inducing but were about as relevant in the late 1960s as Fatty Arbuckle. The only distinction that sets the film apart from the Eurotrash spy movies of the day is the use of some exotic locations in the British countryside. Beyond that, however, the movie suffers from awful rear-screen projection and sets that look like a high school production of a Bond epic. Nevertheless, "Salt & Pepper" did find an audience and was sufficiently successful to merit a sequel, "One More Time" which was directed by -wait for it!- Jerry Lewis.
Some years ago I hosted a black tie dinner in honor of Sir Roger Moore at New York's famed club The Players. While interviewing him on stage, I asked him what he thought his best film performances were. Moore thought pensively for a moment or two and said, "None of them!" With tongue finally out of cheek, Moore explained that, with the exception of the little-seen 1970 cult movie The Man Who Haunted Himself- he had found success by essentially playing the same character. The names would change, so would the era, but the mannerisms that his fans warmed to were always firmly in place. Moore clearly feels its best to stick to a winning formula rather than have a bold departure from his usual traits backfire, a la John Wayne as Genghis Khan in "The Conqueror". It's hard to be overly critical of an actor with such an admirable tendency toward self-deprecating humor. Moore has become Britain's version of Jimmy Stewart- an avuncular, national treasure who seemingly has no enemies in high places. Nevertheless, Moore would be the first to admit to appearing in any number of cinematic misfires. Although wildly successful on television, Moore's big screen career has a checkered history. His Bond films were predictable blockbusters and "The Wild Geese" and "The Sea Wolves" did very well internationally, even though they tanked in the USA. His "Cannonball Run" may have been awful but the all star cast propelled it to the top of the boxoffice charts. Beyond that, however, even some of the better films he appeared in such as "Gold", "Shout at the Devil" and "ffolkes" (aka "North Sea Hijack") never found the audience they deserved.
One of Moore's more ambitious and curious ventures, "Sherlock Holmes in New York", has been released by Fox as a burn-to-order DVD. The 1976 made for television project was telecast with great fanfare on NBC. (Moore made the movie between his second and third Bond flicks, "The Man With the Golden Gun" and "The Spy Who Loved Me".) He breaks no new ground in his interpretation of the legendary detective, but then again he slips comfortably into the role, bringing the same traits that characterized his performance as Bond and The Saint. To his credit, he never camps it up or goes for an over-the-top laugh (if only he had shown such restraint in the more embarrassing moments of his Bond films.) The movie, directed by the respected Boris Sagal, presents Holmes and Watson (Patrick Macnee) being summoned to New York when they receive word that Irene Adler (Charlotte Rampling) may be in some mortal danger. Adler, as any Holmes buff knows, is the only one who ever got under Holmes's skin. By actually outwitting him in a case, she earned his respect and caused the legendary detective to deal with some inconvenient romantic notions. It's best not to reveal too much about a Holmes story so that the viewer can experience a few surprises along the way. The film does set up the main story line in the opening sequence in which Holmes (wearing an embarrassingly obvious disguise) confronts his arch nemesis, Prof. Moriarty (John Huston) in his London lair. The two men exchange witticisms and insults and Moriarty vows vengeance for Holmes spoiling his latest criminal scheme. Moriarty promises that he will put Holmes in a situation in which he will be forced to abstain from helping authorities thwart one of his most ambitious crimes, thereby tarnishing the great detective's reputation forever.
If the plot is a bit tame and flabby, the cast is a great deal of fun to watch. Patrick Macnee plays Watson somewhat in the vein of Nigel Bruce but doesn't make him overtly useless- and, in fact, he actually saves Holmes life at one point. (Macnee and Moore would reunite in 1981 for the feature film "The Sea Wolves" and in 1985 for Moore's final 007 flick "A View to a Kill".) Huston excels as Moriarty but his scenes are far too limited and only book end the main story. The film was done rather on the cheap and all but one sequence was filmed in a studio, rather surprising considering the luster of the cast members involved. The script does have one rather surprising development about Holmes' personal life revealed as the shock ending...but to say more would be to say too much.
"Sherlock Holmes in New York" isn't one of the top entries in the Holmes canon, but any time you can see Roger Moore, Patrick Macnee and John Huston sharing scenes, it's a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.