Twilight Time has released Fox's 1970 box-office disaster The Only Game in Town as a Blu-ray limited edition (3,000 units). The film is primarily remembered for reasons its creators would never have desired. It was the last movie of legendary director George Stevens and represented his re-teaming with Elizabeth Taylor, with whom he had made two genuine classics: Giant and A Place in the Sun, both which featured two of her most acclaimed performances. In fact, by the time this movie went into production in 1970, Stevens' clout in Hollywood had been somewhat diminished by his obsessive quest to bring his dream project, The Greatest Story Ever Told to the screen. He finally succeeded in doing so in 1965, only to have the film become a politely-acclaimed epic that ended up losing United Artists a fortune. Nevertheless, in those days past reputations still helped keep older filmmakers in high regard, so Fox executives saw plenty of potential in the third teaming of Stevens and Elizabeth Taylor. To add additional boxoffice clout, the studio signed Warren Beatty as the male lead. Beatty had been kicking around the industry for a decade but had only recently become red-hot due to the success of Bonnie and Clyde. Beatty was so eager to work with Stevens that he passed on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, another Fox property that would have a considerably more positive fate.
The Only Game in Town was written as play by Frank D. Gilroy, who was riding a wave of acclaim for The Subject Was Roses. Fox was so eager to land the rights to the story that they paid a (then) astronomical $500,000 to Gilroy, even though the play had not yet been performed. Fox was in for a rude awakening. When the play opened on Broadway, it had a very abbreviated run and closed shortly thereafter, having been deemed a major flop. Left with a costly investment, Fox felt the same fate might not befall the screen version, given the involvement of Stevens, Taylor and Beatty. However, as with any project involving La Liz, the studio found itself being held hostage to her costly demands. Although the story is set entirely in Las Vegas, Taylor insisted that it be shot in France (!) where hubby Richard Burton was filming Staircase, a movie that was set in London. Go figure. It appears the Burtons had a fetish for demanding that movies be shot in places other than their actual locations. Thus, what should have been a modestly-budgeted romance with only two major characters (there are only four actors credited for the entire movie) ballooned into an $11 million production, with much of the cost going into costly production design in order to recreate "Vegas" in France. This was achieved in a fairly unconvincing manner. Remember those old B&W movies in which someone's arrival in Paris is indicated by the fact that the Eiffel Tower (usually a matte painting) is directly visible from the window or balcony? Well, the same principal applies here. Liz lives in an apartment on the outskirts of the Strip but the casinos are glaringly visible over the sand dunes from her window. However, the effect is not even remotely convincing. The garish still life suggests anything other than a bustling tourist center. For understandable reasons (Liz was a few thousand miles away from the real Vegas), no traffic or people can be seen on "The Strip". Thus, the backdrop takes on an eerie air as though it is an effect from a long lost episode of The Twilight Zone.
The story opens with Fran Walker (Taylor), a chorus girl in a big casino stage extravaganza calling it quits for the night. (Critics cruelly noted at the time how unsuitably cast Taylor was for the role of a chorus dancer. Although she was only 37 years old at the time, she seemed far older. Director Stevens tries to deal with this challenge by confining scenes of Fran at work to one "blink-and-you-miss" intense closeup of Liz bopping up and down a bit, all too apparently not in the presence of any of the "real" dancers shown in the establishing shot.) Seemingly bored and despondent, Fran stops into a local gin mill near the Strip to have nightcap. The joint features a tuxedo-clad pianist who warbles for the sparse crowd in between making cynical jokes and comments. He's Joe Grady (Beatty), a handsome hunk who immediately meets cute with Fran. Before you can say "Dickie Burton", the two of them are canoodling under the covers at Fran's apartment (with sleep being impossible, given the blinding lights from the garish phony Vegas set outside her window.) The script goes nowhere fast with Fran and Joe bickering, making up, bickering again... Fran confesses she is the mistress of a wealthy business executive who assures her he is leaving his wife to marry her. Joe cautions her that she has fallen for the oldest con game practiced by cheating husbands and her assurances that she believes in the man's integrity seem increasingly shaky. However, just when Fran and Joe are about to set up house together, Fran's lover, Lockwood (Broadway actor Charles Braswell) turns up unexpectedly and -dammit all- he turns out to have been a man of his word. He wants to marry Fran immediately and take her away from Vegas for a globe-trotting life of luxury. Trouble is, Fran is now smitten by Joe. Who will she choose? The uber-successful businessman or the down-and-out lounge singer? Joe has other problems beyond his finances. He's a compulsive gambler who squanders away his savings every time he manages to put a little aside. In fact, the sequences with Beatty sans Liz (some of which were actually shot in Vegas) are the best in the film, as we see Joe constantly weaken in his vow to stay away from the craps tables. The scenes of him blowing his hard earned money on rolls of the dice are emotionally effective and, at times, cringe-inducing. What doesn't add up is why the charismatic Joe would be so smitten by Fran. Granted, she looks like Elizabeth Taylor, but she's a moody, whining, generally unhappy person who spends most of her time kvetching about every aspect of her life. Although essentially miscast, Taylor plays the role as effectively as one could hope. However, the generally glamorous Liz is attired in array of bland costumes that makes her look uncharacteristically dowdy. It's Beatty who surprises. He's long been one of the least interesting screen presences among iconic leading men and- with a few notable exceptions- he generally delivers performances that are so low-key they border on being boring. However, as Joe Grady, he's more lively than usual and he displays the charisma that would attract any sane, heterosexual woman. (There is one scene, however, that is a bit too cute: love-struck Joe warbling Some Enchanted Evening in the corridor outside of Fran's apartment.)
The Only Game in Town is a bizarre film and is compromised by the fact that the two lead characters have a relationship that never rings true to the viewer. In her Oscar winning performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Taylor was able to actually play an every day person in a believable manner. Martha, the protagonist of that film, may have been a human spitfire, constantly insulting and berating her long-suffering husband George, but she had charisma and was a sexual dynamo. In George Stevens' film, we are too aware of the fact that we are watching a movie star trying desperately to play an ordinary woman. The ploy simply doesn't work. The fact that the movie lacks any interesting supporting characters (even Braswell is bland and boring) gives the entire production a claustrophobic feeling. The score by Maurice Jarre, certainly one of the great composers, also feels out of place here with inappropriate cues coming at inappropriate times. In the wake of the film's poor box-office performance, Beatty emerged unscathed and went on to become an Oscar-winning director. Taylor, however, lumbered through a number of other major studio productions, all of which flopped. It was the end of her reign as a boxoffice draw.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray features a very nice transfer (though some artifacts are noticeable here and there), an isolated score track and the original trailer. It is region-free and can play on any international system. Julie Kirgo provides the usual insightful background notes in an illustrated collector's booklet. The movie is not quite as bad as critics indicated at the time of its initial release but it falls far short of its potential, given the talent involved. Its sad legacy is, ironically, the prime reason we can recommend retro movie lovers to check it out and form their own conclusions.
At some point in the career of seemingly every porn movie director there comes the desire to aspire to something more meaningful. The problem is that most such directors don't possess the know-how or have the opportunities to become auteurs. Thus, they work within the parameters of their own genre in an attempt to elevate it to something more than just mindless rolls between the sheets. One of the more ambitious directors of 70s and 80s adult fillms was Chris Warfield, a former actor whose 1980 production of "Champagne for Breakfast" has been released on DVD by Vinegar Syndrome. It's easy to dismiss any porn flick from any era but we at Cinema Retro try to objectively evaluate even these lesser contributions to the film industry because, as with mainstream cinema, there are vast differences in the quality of productions- and retro porn represents an important aspect of pop culture, even if you are among those who loathe such films on a moral basis. "Champagne for Breakfast"- a title I never heard of prior to reviewing it on DVD- apparently made a splash back in the day for being one of the first such films made to appeal to couples instead of the usual audience, which consisted of creepy guys sitting in fleapit theaters. It's hard to recall an era when porn movies had to be enjoyed publicly but in those pre-home video days, that was largely the case. The only option was to get 8mm "loops" that could be purchased for home viewing. The quality of these was about as erotic as taking a bath in a tub of ice water. For women who wanted to enjoy cinematic erotica, going to an X rated theater alone was virtually out of the question. Even escorted by a male companion, it had to be an uncomfortable experience not only because of onerous atmosphere inside of such theaters but also the social stigma that came with being seen entering or leaving one. Thus, it was rare for a production company to produce films that might appeal to female viewers. In that sense, "Champagne for Breakfast" was somewhat groundbreaking because there is an attempt to tell a relatively engaging story in a humorous manner from a young woman's point-of-view.
Champagne fulfills one of her fantasies: erotic role playing.
The film opens in the board room of a major cosmetic company in San Francisco. Champagne (Leslie Bovee) has impressed the president of the company with her business know-how and he announces that he has promoted her to VP position in marketing. Champagne is delighted but as soon as the room clears out, the boss's daughter, Peggy (Bonnie Holiday) who is also an executive at the company, has a shocking life lesson for her. She tells Champagne that now that she is in management, she has an obligation to use her power to sexually manipulate men in the manner women have been manipulated for centuries. She proves her point by calling in a waiting sales rep who very much wants to sign a big contract with the cosmetics firm. In front of Champagne, she informs the shocked salesman that the only way he'll get the contract is to service her right there on the boardroom desk. He willingly complies but Champagne is disgusted and leaves the room. Before long, her star rises in the company but she realizes that she is a workaholic with little free time and no significant other in her life. Frustrated, she makes a bold decision to take two weeks off and indulge in hedonistic fantasies. To enable her to do so, she calls an employment agency and requests a body guard to accompany her on her potentially dangerous journey. Answering the call is Harry (John Leslie), a charismatic young man with a chip on his shoulder. He's living on poverty row but every time he takes even a low end job, his good looks result in female bosses wanting to sexually harass him. Sensing that Champagne might be intimidated by a hunky young guy as a bodyguard, he adopts Warren Beatty's character's strategy from "Shampoo" and pretends he is gay. His flamboyant mannerisms ensure he gets the job but frustration soon encroaches when he is forced to drop Champagne off for various sexual liaisons, including a male bordello. Knowing his new boss is sex-crazed but having to act disinterested drives Harry to the breaking point. Things only worsen when Champagne asks him to start giving her daily nude massages. Harry's cover is almost blown when he has to interrupt a fling Champagne is having with a beefy construction worker who begins to abuse her. Harry rides to the rescue and beats the man to a pulp, which doesn't enhance his attempts to play a meek, mild guy. At least Harry doesn't have to suffer the frustration of observing his boss's most daring and promiscuous encounter: an orgy with three male prostitutes. There is also the obligatory lesbian sequence, with Champagne being seduced by an aggressive young woman. The film suffers a bit from some unrealistic aspects of Harry's character. When he is seduced by the female manager of a strip club he has applied for a job as a bouncer in, he becomes outraged when another woman wants to join in the action. He storms out of the bedroom when the two women start entertaining each other, claiming that lesbianism is a perversion. Yeah, right. On the more realistic side, the film's feminine viewpoint results in some role reversal situations. Woman wield most of the power in this film, whether its in the boardroom or the bedroom, though the film does take a sympathetic twist on what males often go through in trying to pick up members of the opposite sex. When the sexually frustrated Champagne enters an upscale bar and tries to seduce an older man, she is shocked that he rebuffs her.
"Champagne for Breakfast" benefits from relatively expensive production values (they even had use of a Rolls Royce!) and a director who can ensure that the cinematography isn't the jittery mess found in other erotic movies of the era. There is even an attempt to provide a romantic love song over the opening credits, even though it sounds more like one of those Sinatra parodies Mel Brooks sings in "High Anxiety". The performances are relatively accomplished and both Leslies- Bovee and John- have real on screen chemistry together. The somewhat amusing plot goes off the deep end in the final act with Harry discovering he has millions of dollars in stocks but they are in the name of a former brother-in-law who has power-of-attorney and won't relegate them back to him. This situation is resolved predictably and abruptly but the entire plot device of a pauper having access to millions in stocks is weak even by porn movie standards when it comes to credibility. Still, the sex scenes do sizzle and there are some genuine laughs. "Champagne for Breakfast" is indeed a cut above most films of this genre.
Vinegar Syndrome's DVD boasts a great transfer, the original trailer (which has tag-on reviews from erotic magazines that tout the film as being virtually the "Citizen Kane" of the porn genre) , a trailer for a softcore version and some deleted scenes. I presume the bizarre box art is taken from the original film poster. For some reason, the main focus is not gorgeous Leslie Bovee but a cartoon of some dork who doesn't even appear in the film, which provides proof that, despite appearances to the contrary, not all lousy film posters are contemporary. Still, you can't judge a porn film by its DVD sleeve and this one is considerably better than the promotional art would have you believe.
When Walt Disney plucked a lanky, charismatic actor named Fess Parker from relative obscurity to star as Davy Crockett in the 1950s, little did either man realize that an international phenomenon was about to be launched. So great was the impact with young viewers that Disney wasn't about to let the fact that Crockett died at the Alamo in the final episode stand in the way of meeting the public demand. Thus, he had to commission some "prequel" episodes to satiate the audience. The Crockett craze resulted in the biggest merchandising boom seen in America since the Shirley Temple phenomenon of the 1930s. Kids everywhere were indulged with Crockett toys and frontiersman garb. Disney even re-edited episodes and released them as a feature film. As the initial audience grew older, Disney simply telecast the color episodes again and younger kids got into the craze, with boys wearing their older brother's Crockett costumes and toting about their toy muskets. In 1964 Parker had an inspired idea of his own: put on the old buckskins again and a coonskin cap and recreate his earlier success by playing Daniel Boone. For all intents and purposes, the characters were virtually indistinguishable. There was even a catchy theme song much in the style of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" from the Disney shows. The difference was that the Crockett episodes for Disney were few and far between while the adventures of Daniel Boone would be a weekly TV series on NBC, totally independent of Disney's tight knit control. Whatever Walt thought about this rather obvious theft of his concept isn't known, but Parker found that lightning would indeed strike twice. While the Boone program never set off a merchandising craze, it was sufficiently popular to last a full six seasons, a rather remarkable achievement for that era. Over the decades, the show has retained many fans who recall the program with fondness. To their frustration, the show was not available on DVD and illegal bootlegs of episodes commanded high prices. In 2007, the series was finally released on DVD as individual seasons commanding exceptionally high prices, much to the disdain of collectors. In 2014, however, Fox released the entire series in one boxed set ON 36 DVDs that can be had through Amazon for less than the price of two seasons from the previous release. (Note: the first season of the show was presented in B&W and all subsequent seasons were telecast in color). The quality is excellent and this release is sure to bring back many fond memories for Baby Boomers.
Calling all Charlie Chan fans! If you are not aware of it, Warner Home Video released a 4 DVD set of Chan rarities in 2013. Here is the information from the original press release.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment brings back the legendary
master of crime in the Charlie Chan Collection -- four beloved
films making their DVD debut, and now available for the first time, newly
remastered, as a single collection. Included are Shadows Over Chinatown, starring
Sidney Toler in one of his last Chan films, plus Docks of New Orleans,
Shanghai Chest, and The Golden Eye starring Roland Winters, the
last actor to play the detective on film.
Writer Earl Derr Biggers created Charlie Chan, a fictional
Chinese-American sleuth, in a series of printed tales beginning in 1923. As
early as 1926, the first of more than 48 Charlie Chan films was put on the
silver screen. Actor Warner Oland, born in Sweden, began a popular run for Fox
in 1931 in Charlie Chan Carries On. After its success, Fox would
produce 15 more Chan films starring Oland. Not surprisingly, the films became
the most popular in 1930s China.
After Oland died, Sidney Toler, an American actor with
Scottish roots, took on the Chan role. Toler starred in 22 Chan films, first
for Fox and later for Monogram Studios. After Toler's death, Roland Winters
became Chan in six more films. The character has also been featured frequently
on radio, television and in the comics.
ABOUT THE FILMS
Shadows Over Chinatown
Charlie Chan heads to San Francisco on a murder case when he
encounters a mother trying to find her daughter who’s gone missing. Chan also
meets a young man, searching for his missing girlfriend. Charlie determines
they’re both looking for the same person and soon uncovers a murder gang, which
has been illegally benefiting from life insurance of the dead.
Docks of New Orleans
Charlie is asked to investigate after the mysterious demise
of a New Orleans chemical company magnate, because even though the police
believe the death was caused by a heart attack, a series of unexplainable
deaths follow. Only Charlie Chan can solve the mystery!
Three people are murdered in San Francisco – a judge,
District Attorney and a juror. The fingerprints of a deceased man are found at
all three murder sites, but could it really be possible for a dead man to be a
serial killer? Again, leave it to Charlie Chan..!
The Golden Eye
An Arizona gold mine is suddenly making a ton of money. The
mine’s owner, instead of delighting in his newfound wealth, confides to Charlie
that something is wrong and he fears for his life. Charlie and “friends” go to
the mine, pretending to be just visitors. They soon discover that the mine is
being used as a cover up for some major crimes and that, indeed, somebody will
soon be murdered.
(Although not mentioned in the press release, the set also includes an abundance of special features.)
First Run Features specializes in releasing often obscure, but fascinating documentaries, with many titles relating to WWII history. The company has just made available Dear Uncle Adolf: The Germans and Their Fuhrer, a 2010 documentary by filmmaker Michael Kloft. It's pretty hard to bring a new angle to the study of WWII, as virtually every conceivable aspect would seem to have been covered countless times. However, Kloft examines a genuinely unique aspect of Nazi culture: the countless "fan letters" written to Adolf Hitler during his ascent to power and his reign as Fuhrer. It seems that after the Soviets took Berlin in the waning days of the war, they uncovered a massive archive of personal letters written to Hitler by German citizens. These were studied, cataloged and stored because Hitler felt they were a good measurement of how his people felt about his policies. The Soviets kept a lid on the archive but in the post-Cold War period, they were opened up, though it's unclear how many historians took advantage of this obscure but important find. The cameras pan down endless rows of neatly cataloged storage boxes all filled with the letters. A narrator reads some of them, along with official communiques from Nazi officials. All of this is blended with mesmerizing footage of Hitler and his cronies, much of it new to me.
The film presents a stark and timeless lesson about how cultured, educated and rational people can willingly suspend their common sense- as well as their civil liberties- in hopes of appeasing a charismatic leader. While it is true the German people had suffered terribly in the aftermath of WWI and the oppressive conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, the desperate population willingly adopted Nazi policies that a decade were deemed uncivilized. When Hitler tried to take power at the point of a gun, he failed. He succeeded only when he went the legal route, understanding fully that frightened people will pay any price to have a benevolent strongman solve their problems. If the price of this pact with the devil is that countless numbers of their fellow citizens be deemed undesirables and marked for death, well, that was just too bad. The letters written to Hitler and documented in this film run the gamut from those sent by academics to literal nutcases. (Yes, even the Fuhrer wasn't immune from attracting crazed eccentrics such as the barber who pleaded with Hitler to allow him to meet him in Berlin so he could fulfill his dream of giving him a haircut!) Countless women wrote to Hitler, with the type of adoration that American bobbysoxers were reserving for the likes of young Frank Sinatra. Their flowery prose barely hide their all-too-apparent desire to offer him sexual favors. One woman blatantly invites Hitler to father a child with her so that his legacy can live on. However, there are also heartbreaking letters from the early days of Hitler's regime. These come from wives and children who profess their devotion to him and the cause of National Socialism even as they plead with him to intervene and release their husband/father who has been jailed for unspecified reasons. One woman writes incredulously that her husband has not even been formally charged with a crime despite being in jail for months, as though the niceties of the Weimar Republic were still prevalent in the courts. In one particularly disturbing missive to the Fuhrer, a terrified woman reaffirms her Germanic heritage and spells out the reasons why a trace of mixed blood should not result in her being branded a Jew. She pleads with Hitler to deliver her from the "curse" of being Jewish. In contrast, one child writes to Hitler to beg him to annex his native Austria into the Reich because the Jews are using Christian German children as human sacrifices. Such tall tales were widely believed and helped justify Hitler's amicable takeover of a once sovereign nation. The letters and communiques in the film also show how well Hitler understood the importance of not trivializing his super-human image, as a baker is chastised for naming a cake in his honor. The man writes a sniveling and apologetic reply explaining he was only conforming to the popular demand for such a delicacy from local party officials.
The film must have seemed to have the makings of a classic. Director Vincente Minnelli reuniting with Kirk Douglas for the first time since their triumphant The Bad and the Beautiful a decade earlier. Edward G. Robinson co-starring and a supporting cast that included Cyd Charrise, Claire Trevor, James Gregory, George MacReady, George Hamilton and lovely up-and-coming actresses Rosanna Schiaffino and Daliah Lavi. Add to this exotic Rome locations during the era when La Dolce Vita was all the rage plus a source novel by Irwin Shaw -- this had to be a project that couldn't miss. Alas, it did indeed go off-target, but the fact that the 1962 screen version of 2 Weeks in Another Town falls short of its potential doesn't mean it isn't a gloriously trashy spectacle to behold.
Warner Archive has released the 1968 thriller Kona Coast, based on the novel Bimini Gal by popular mystery writer John D. MacDonald. The modestly-budgeted production reminds one of John Ford's Donovan's Reef in the sense that one suspects both movies were primarily used as justifications for cast and crew to take a nice vacation in Hawaii. Boone plays Sam Moran, a charter boat captain living the good life in Honolulu, where he routinely indulges in drinking binges and womanizing. When his teenaged daughter falls in with a local high living drug peddler named Kryer (Steve Inhat), she is accidentally given a heroin overdose at a drug-fueled party. Rather than deal with the consequences, Kryer orders her to be murdered. When her body washes ashore, the police think it's a drowning but Sam suspects foul play from the beginning. As he begins his own investigation, he is severely beaten, his boat is destroyed and his first mate murdered. Nevertheless, he vows to soldier on and bring the killers to justice. Sam must have the same bizarre methods of investigation that O.J. Simpson had used to track down "the real killers": his path never seems to wander very far outside of seedy bars and strip clubs. For a man obsessed with avenging his daughter's death, he seems pretty open to distractions. In between downing bottles of booze, his roving eye is attracted to a sexy young bikini-clad girl (Gina Villines) and resurrecting a relationship with an old flame (Vera Miles, looking gorgeous), who - in psychological terms- is carrying more baggage than a cruise ship. There's also a testy relationship with a local businesswoman (Joan Blondell, refreshingly not cast as a bordello madam, for once). Sam interrupts the drinkin' and screwin' long enough to administer the occasional Hawaiian punch to some stock company villains, but finding his daughter's killer doesn't seem like a great priority.
The screenplay by Gilbert Ralston (who wrote the original Willard) is a tepid and under-written and the usually reliable Lamont Johnson is asleep at the wheel in terms of direction. The film lumbers from scene to scene until the painfully anemic climax in which Sam and Kryer square off in a sequence that seemed to take five full minutes to conceptualize and film. (Yes, it's even weaker than that other anemic mano-a-mano duel between hero and villain in The Man With the Golden Gun). The film is not without its modest pleasures, however. Boone is, as always, a forceful and charismatic screen presence. Although he was a TV icon, one wishes he was more selective about his big screen roles. For every good movie (The War Lord, Hombre), he would counter by appearing in several duds. His scenes with Vera Miles are well-acted but the weak dialogue can't be overlooked. There were no professional film studios in Hawaii at the time the movie was made, and indeed it would take another couple of years before the success of Hawaii 5-0 would convince Hollywood to invest in some production facilities on the islands. Consequently, most of Kona Coast utilizes actual locations and this is the film's single greatest asset. The film feels like a TV movie masquerading as theatrical feature, but one could do worse than spending 90 minutes with Richard Boone under any circumstance.
Twilight Time has released the 1960 comedy High Time starring Bing Crosby as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. Crosby's career as an actor has largely been neglected over the decades despite the fact that he was one of the most enduring boxoffice giants of his time. Perhaps the reason is that, unlike Frank Sinatra, who took on dramatic and challenging roles, Crosby was largely content to stick with playing amiable crooners in glossy, feel-good musicals. One such film is High Time, which was originally developed as a comedy titled Big Daddy for Gary Cooper. However, when Cooper became terminally ill, Crosby's production company picked up the option as a starring vehicle for Crosby himself. Der Bingle plays Harvey Howard, a 51-year-old self-made businessman who owns a national chain of popular smokehouse restaurants. Harvey decides to fulfill his dream of becoming the first family member to obtain a college degree. He is met with derision by his spoiled son and daughter, both of whom feel his decision will result in them being mocked in their snobby social circles. Nevertheless, Harvey enrolls in Pinehurst College (actually U.C.L.A) and predictably is met with incredulity by both administrators and his fellow freshmen. In short order, however, Harvey earns their respect by participating in activities with the younger set including salvaging their quest to build the biggest bonfire in school history. He also fits in well with his three roommates and proves to be an inspiration when it comes to taking studying seriously. Along the way, he flirts with a sexy French teacher, Helen Gauthier (Nicole Maurey), and the resulting "scandal" of a potential love affair between teach and "student" causes students to march on the dean's office in protest. That's about the dramatic highlight of the film, which concentrates purely on a viewpoint of college life that, even in 1960, must have seemed ludicrously sanitized. Let's face it: even the era of powdered wigs, students used dorm rooms for all sorts of illicit activities ranging from sex to drugs and drinking. In High Time, Harvey and his roommates toast the beginning of every year with grape juice, soda and milk. Even when Howard is alone with his would-be paramour in the privacy of her own home, it's about as exotic as dining with your sister.
For all of its faux atmosphere of youthful activities, however, High Time is an enjoyable romp. Crosby seems to be genuinely enjoying himself and shares some good on-screen chemistry with three Fox up-and-coming contract players: Richard Beymer, Tuesday Weld and Fabian. Since the film is not a musical, both Crosby and Fabian have scant opportunities to croon but there are some nice songs by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen, including the now-classic "The Second Time Around" which was nominated for an Oscar. There's also a jaunty, enjoyable score by Henry Mancini. The film was directed by Blake Edwards, who was just coming off his great success with Operation Petticoat. In those days, Edwards was far more subdued in his use of slapstick and the comedic situations in High Time are relatively low-key and benign compared to Edwards' later work. The film's primary value is that is serves as a view into social mores from a by-gone era. There is one minority character featured in the film, a student from India, but at least he is portrayed in a dignified manner and not made the butt of jokes. In the closing graduation sequence, the camera pans around the auditorium to reveal precisely one other minority student- a black kid sitting next to the Indian kid. (Hey, if you're the only two on campus, you'd better stick together.) The inclusion of these minorities was probably considered progressive in an era in which African Americans were literally relegated to the back of the bus in some states. Then there is the view of young women, as evidenced by Weld's character who says she is only going to college in order to hunt for a husband. Gavin McLeod plays an obviously gay professor, complete with stereotypical fussy mannerisms that are played for laughs. The film's final sequence is rather touching, as Crosby addresses his fellow graduates and tells them that age isn't defined by years but by every person's outlook on life and their determination to pursue their dreams. The notion that a man in his fifties would be considered "over the hill" may sound ludicrous today, but that was not necessarily the case when the average man's life expectancy was in his sixties. The film concludes with Crosby performing a surprising, attention- grabbing stunt that is designed to please the audience even if would seem to be impossible from a technical standpoint.
High Time, which served as the unofficial inspiration for Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School, is a pleasant time-killer and a fine late career vehicle for Crosby. The Twilight Time release looks sensational (as expected) and features the original trailer and the usual informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo, whose work on these projects adds immensely to the enjoyment of every Twilight Time release.
I hadn't seen Hotel since it opened in theaters in 1967 and I was a tender lad of 9 years-old. I thought it was talky and somewhat boring at the time, but upon viewing the DVD release from Warner Archives, I have to say that I relished every minute of it. This is do in no small part to the fact that the film is packed with great actors that audiences used to take for granted, but whose presence is now sorely missed. Hotel follows the pattern of those all-star dramas that were so popular in the 60s and 70s. It traces the relationships between a disparate group of glamorous types who intermingle over the course of a few days at the elegant St. Gregory Hotel in New Orleans. (Envision The V.I.P.S - with room service.) Melvyn Douglas (who must have excelled at playing doddering old men when he was still in grade school) is the proud owner of the once great hotel that will be forced into foreclosure unless he can find either an investor or a buyer. Enter Kevin McCarthy as a deceitful real estate magnate who wants to con the old man into making a deal to sell him the property so he can turn its elegant aspects into a crass commercial joint. Mediating all of this Douglas' right hand man, hotel manager Rod Taylor, who has to solve the financial crisis, handle McCarthy's seductive mistress (Catherine Spaak) who he is having an affair with, cope with a civil rights scandal when a black couple are denied a room, and try to locate a brazen cat burglar (Karl Malden) who is robbing rooms- while their occupants are asleep. And you thought your life was busy.
Having grown up in the 1960s I can recall the "sword and sandal" rage that swept the cinematic world during that era. Modestly budgeted Italian epics thrilled young audiences with tales of Hercules and other mythical heroes. The king of this short-lived genre was American body builder Steve Reeves, who became synonymous with these films based on his highly successful starring role as "Hercules". Producer Joseph E. Levine had the foresight to release the film in American and British cinemas and reaped phenomenal profits. Like the spaghetti western fad that would come a few year later, the sword and sandal flicks varied widely in terms of quality. I'll admit I had little interest in revisiting these films of my childhood until I edited writer Denis Meikle's article "Blood, Sweat and Togas" in issue #30 of Cinema Retro. Meilke gave the most honest and objective appraisal of the films imaginable and pointed out that many of these movies were drastically underrated in their day. I thought I'd form my own opinion by checking out one of Reeves' films that I had very vague memories of seeing way back in '62. "The Slave" was also known as "Son of Spartacus" largely because the Italians were masters at capitalizing on whatever big movies had been recently released in the English language cinema. With Kirk Douglas' acclaimed epic still playing in theaters, director Sergio Corbucci quickly started his production with Reeves in the title role.
The story centers on Randus (Reeves), a loyal army commander to Julius Caesar (Ivo Garrani). Caesar is at the height of his power but he fears an attempted coup might be in the works due to the opportunistic Crassus (Claudio Gora), who administers the Roman Empire's control over Egypt. Randus is sent on what is supposed to be a good will mission to serve under Crassus. However, Crassus immediately suspects the truth: that Randus is there to spy on him and inform Caesar of his activities and any suspicious behavior. The tension and false politeness between the two men is broken when Randus decides to return to Rome to report to Caesar. En route, however, his galley encounters a disastrous storm and Randus and an Egyptian slave girl, Saide (Ombretta Colli) are washed overboard and presumed dead. They manage to get to shore only to captured by a passing group of sadistic slave traders. They mock Randus for his claim that he is Caesar's right hand man and subject him to humiliation and punishment. The miserable cargo of slaves is forced to march under the desert sun, all the while being beaten and abused by their captors. Randus is shocked when one of the older slaves recognizes an amulet around his neck. Randus says it was inherited by him from the father he never knew. The older man informs him that the amulet was worn by Spartacus, the great hero who led a doomed but noble slave rebellion against Rome. Randus now realizes that he is the son of Spartacus. He uses his incredible strength to escape from his chains and lead the other slaves in killing their captors. However, he is now faced with a moral choice: does he return to Rome and serve the empire that continues to oppress his own people and who crucified his father? He opts to serve the slave population against Rome, adopting a plan whereby he returns to Crassus but uses inside information to launch successful attacks against Roman forces. Wearing a mask and keeping his identity secret, he becomes a legend among the slaves for his daring military strategies. He arranges for Saide to become handmaiden to Crassus's demanding wife, thus sparing her from possible execution. In the course of carrying out attacks against Roman forces, Randus inspires a new uprising, just as his father did. However, he is ultimately captured and faces certain death- unless the slave population can save him first.
I was genuinely surprised at how well made and accomplished this production is. The sets are impressive and the script is compelling and exciting, even if Reeves becomes an Egypt-based predecessor of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The action sequences are extremely well-staged and there is genuine tension in several key scenes. It's impossible to gauge Reeves' skills as an actor because his voice is dubbed despite speaking English as his native language. (The same awkward fate befell Todd Armstrong, star of "Jason and the Argonauts".) Nevertheless, Reeves more than fits the physical requirements of the role and when Saide ends up inevitably swooning over him you can understand why. The direction by Sergio Corbucci is especially impressive and he would fittingly go on to make major contributions to some of the more memorable spaghetti westerns.
"The Slave" is surprisingly effective throughout. Highly recommended.
The Scarlet Box Limited Edition Trilogy 1987-1992 Directed by Clive Barker,
Tony Randel, Anthony Hickox, Starring Doug Bradley, Andy Robinson, Ashley
Laurence, Claire Higgins, Kenneth Cranham, Terry Farrell, Kevin Bernhardt.
Arrow Blu-ray 4 Disc, Released on 26th October 2015.
King was once quoted as saying: “I have seen the future of horror… his name is
Clive Barker.” The future became a reality when, in 1987, Barker unleashed his
directorial debut Hellraiser, launching a hit franchise and creating an instant
horror icon in the formidable figure of Pinhead.
beautifully produced Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box, has arguably for the first
time, been afforded the prestige it fully deserves. The collection works very nicely
in deed, mainly because its focus revolves around creator Clive Barker’s
involvement in the franchise. Whilst Barker had a small interest in the fourth
instalment Hellraiser IV: Bloodline, it would be the last in which he would
have any official involvement.
of the franchise will be all too familiar with the first three movies, which
are by far the best of the series. Barker’s original Hellraiser, based on his
novella The Hellbound Heart, follows Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) as she
comes head-to-head with the Cenobites, the demonic beings from another realm
who are intent on reclaiming the soul of her deviant Uncle Frank.
up immediately after the events of the original Hellraiser, Hellbound:
Hellraiser II finds Kirsty detained at a psychiatric institute and under the
care of Phillip Channard, a doctor who abuses his position to realise his own
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, a reporter investigating a mysterious death in a
nightclub finds herself in the way of Pinhead and the Cenobites, who plan to
bring their horrifying world into our own.
has to be said, Arrow have really gone above and beyond with this superb set.
The films have never looked better, all three movies now benefit from a brand
new 2K restoration with Hellraiser and Hellraiser II being approved by director
of photography Robin Vidgeon. The visual presentations are as close to pristine
as you are ever likely to see. Barker’s original Hellraiser does display a
varying amount of grain (especially in some of the interior house scenes), but
the high level of fine detail and vivid colour (especially in those fleshy,
blood soaked scenes) is exceptional. The Hellraiser series of films has never
leaped out as the sharpest of films. Hellraiser in particular, has often
appeared a little diluted or desaturated, even in its theatrical presentation,
it looked rather dull upon the eye. However,
there is now a genuine freshness to the films, a new edge to them which makes
the whole viewing experience something quite different. The
audio elements are also bound to please with uncompressed PCM Stereo 2.0 and
Lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound for Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II, while
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth sounds pure and clean with a Lossless DTS-HD MA
2.0 soundscape, all of which works very adequately. Each film also boasts multiple audio commentaries which
hardened fans will recognise from the Anchor Bay 4 DVD box set released in
2004. However, Arrow’s box of goodies does secure a brand new additional audio
commentary (on Hellraiser III) and provided by writer Peter Atkins.
three movies are presented in their uncut versions, alongside a bonus
presentation of the unrated cut of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. Running some
four minutes longer than the theatrical cut, this includes bonus unrated footage
(in standard definition) which has been inserted into the 2K high definition
version of the film. It may not be ideal, but Arrow have again been up front
and honest, and assured us that the bonus footage has been ‘sourced from the
best available material.’ The material in question is actually from the video
master that was used for the U.S. panned and scanned laserdisc, therefore expect
a slight drop in quality and a change in the aspect ratio for these particular
scenes. Arrow should of course remain free of criticism for their decision to
include this, remembering that these scenes were never included or intended for
the theatrical version. Accepting it purely on the basis of a bonus feature
should leave everyone feeling satisfied, and yes, grateful for Arrow’s
the subject of bonus material, Arrow’s Scarlet Box is packed and practically bursting
at the seams. One of the main bonus elements includes the comprehensive
fan-made docs, Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II.
These were previously released as an individual 3 DVD set with a mammoth
running time, (Disc 1: The Story of Hellraiser approx. 4 hours 37 minutes), (Disc
2: The Story of Hellbound approx. 3 hours 19 minutes) and (Disc 3: Bonus
Features approx. 3 hours). Arrow has (perhaps wisely) taken the opportunity to
present this fascinating documentaries as ‘brand new versions’, split into two
parts and making the whole story of these two films much more presentable and
tighter in the process. It’s a decision that arguably works to their advantage.
The original (very long) documentaries have received negative criticism in the
past, particularly for their pacing and structure. However, Arrow’s re-edits could
hardly be considered as thin and without substance with running times of 90 minutes
and 120 minutes respectively, there is still ample material here to be enjoyed
Scorpion, the DVD label that specializes in first-class releases of often second-rate films, does it again with Point of Terror, an obscure thriller from 1971. The film was the brainchild of star/writer/producer Peter Carpenter (Blood Mania). Never heard of him? Neither had I until this screener copy arrived. A bit of research reveals that Carpenter was a wanna-be star with grand ambition and modest talents - much like the character he plays in the film, which was directed by Alex Nicol. Sadly, Carpenter's reed-thin list of movie credits is due to the fact that he died young- in fact, shortly after this film was released. Carpenter, who personifies "beefcake", plays a lounge singer with a loyal following. However, he's frustrated that his fame is limited to a local restaurant. Although he has his pick of the female groupies, he's convinced he's destined for fame and fortune. He meets Andrea (Dyanne Thorne of Ilse, She Wolf of the S.S. fame), an uppercrust cougar who helps her impotent wheelchair-bound hubby operate his record empire. Before you can say "Wayne Newton", the pair is tossing and turning all night under the covers. Both characters are manipulative and unsympathetic, which makes it hard to empathize with either one. Andrea is using Tony as her boy toy, while he is using her clout to advance his record career. Soon, both are enmeshed in dastardly deeds including infidelity and murder.
The film has overtones of Play Misty for Me (i.e, sexual obsession taken to a lethal stage) but Clint Eastwood probably didn't lose any sleep worrying that the impact of his film would be diminished by this one. Carptenter himself is a strangely perplexing personality. At times, he resonates legitimate charisma, but at other times, his acting is grade school level. Additionally, the film's opening credits are set to a scene of Tony performing his lounge act- clad in bright red buckskins! It's doubtful this looked hunky even in 1973 and the sequence is unintentionally hilarious, reminding one of those scenes in which women faint in passion at the sight of Austin Powers prancing about in his underwear. Thorne gives a slightly more accomplished performance and gets to doff her top in a swimming pool to display her ample assets. (This was the 70s, remember, and such sequences were all but obligatory for B level actresses.) The movie plods at times and the action is rather clunkily directed, but the film is generally engrossing. Scorpion has provided the usual bevy of extras including an interview with actress Leslie Simms, who has a role in the film. She also served as Carpenter's acting coach and reminisces with affection about her friendship with him. Thorne is also heard via a phone interview done for this release. As with Simms, she speaks highly of Carpenter. The DVD release also includes a trailer and the original poster art on the packaging, which deceitfully implies this is a horror film. Another nice job by Scorpion for a film that would otherwise be lost to the ages.
(This DVD is Region coded "0", which means it can play on any international DVD unit)
The Italians have always loved sex comedies and after the restraints of censorship began to lift in the 1960s and 1970s, the nation's film industry exploited this genre to the max. Case in point: "The Real Decameron", released in 1973 in an attempt to capitalize on the controversy that stemmed from Pasolini's 1971 cinematic adaptation of the legendary collection of erotica that was written centuries before by Boccaccio. (As you can see, very famous Italians don't require first names.) "The Real Decameron" (also known as "The Sexbury Tales") opens in Medieval times with a group of bored wash women who pass the time of day by telling stories of erotic gossip and fantasies. The film is broken into various short comedy segments that are unrelated other than the fact that they center on the sexual frustrations of the protagonists. In one tale, a young virginal male is persuaded by a woman to marry her daughter even though the girl's face is kept hidden under a veil. Upon tying the knot, he's stunned to find that she gives a new definition to "ugly". When he is unable to summon the interest to consummate the marriage with his sex-starved bride, mom comes to the rescue and begins to give him under-the-covers lessons in lovemaking. In another story, a would-be Romeo is banned from seeing his Juliet by her overly-possessive father who locks her in a room inside the family castle. The labored segment focuses entirely on the bumbling young man's ill-fated attempts to secretly gain access to her room. In another sketch, a homely middle-aged farmer is unable to persuade his beautiful young wife to have sex. She's terrified of the act until he persuades her to give it a go. The big payoff here is based on the old adage "Be careful what you wish for- you just might get it", as he learns she is now addicted to sex and wants to make love morning, noon and night. Now the tables are turned and he becomes the intimidated partner. Another "gem" centers on an ugly husband and his nagging but attractive wife who can't stand the idea of consummating their marriage. She concocts a wild tale about seeing a ghost in their house (actually her real lover in costume) to induce her cowardly spouse to run from the premises so she can enjoy an erotic evening. Then there is a tale of a highway man who masquerades as a priest to evade the authorities who are pursing him. Due to his disguise, he is welcomed into the home of a man who is desperately trying to find a cure for an ailment that has kept his wife bedridden. Needless to say, he takes one look at the beauty and bans the hubby from the boudoir so he can administer some "religious rites". In the film's most bizarre story line, a teenage girl claims that her virginity was stolen when a prawn entered her body while she was swimming. A kooky doctor prescribes sex as the only way to mitigate the prawn's nasty effects- which of course leads to her being the most popular girl in town as many young men volunteer to minister to her needs.
If you are wondering how scenarios as lame as these could be funny, the answer that they aren't. The film, directed by Renato Savino (using the nom de plume Mauro Stefani) features frantic and sometimes manic over-acting and some of the weakest payoffs in the history of cinematic comedy. All of this would be excusable if there was an abundance of nudity and sexual content but, alas, the movie is about as erotic as "Monkeys, Go Home!". There is some fleeting T&A to keep male viewers marginally awake but even back in the day, this must have been a pretty limp cinematic biscuit. The film does have some decent production values, costumes and sets for a low-budget flick and the DVD transfer is fairly decent- and we love the stylish original poster art used on the sleeve. Ironically, the bizarre English sub-titles end up providing most of the laughs, though it is purely unintentional.
“Cover Up” (1949) is a very strange little movie. An
insurance investigator Sam Donovan (Dennis O’Keefe) arrives in a small
Midwestern town by train to investigate the death of one of his company’s
policy holders, a man named Phillips. He meets pretty girl Anita Weatherby
(Barbara Britton) on the train and helps her carry the Christmas packages she’s
brought home for her family. He meets her father, Stu Weatherby (Art Baker) who
came to pick her up and invites Donovan to come out to the house for a visit
when he has the time. Friendly town. Donovan next visits the local sheriff
Larry Best (William Bendix) to get the death report. And that’s where
complications start. The sheriff tells him although the death was a suicide by
gunshot, there’s no gun, no bullet and no coroner’s report and the body is
already buried in the cemetery.
Sounds like a decent set up for a good hard-boiled
who-dunnit, doesn’t it? Except it’s anything but. Despite Kino Lorber’s
packaging, with Bendix and O’Keefe wielding a couple of Lugers on the Blu-Ray
cover, “Cover-Up” falters mid-way through, deciding it wants to be a nice, friendly
holiday movie. Despite a set-up that sounds like the beginning of “Bad Day at
Black Rock,” unlike the characters in that film, everybody in this town must
have migrated from Mayberry. There all so nice and kind and wouldn’t want to
ruin anyone’s Christmas with a nasty thing like murder, which Phillips’ death
turns out to be.
This may be the only mystery story in which the
murdered man and his murderer never appear on screen. In fact, although the
mystery gets solved, there’s no punishment that can be meted out to the
perpetrator because he conveniently dies of a heart attack before Donovan get
put the cuffs on him. And besides Phillips was a no good rat that nobody in
town liked and doesn’t miss. So why make a big fuss about it?
It’s all pretty weird and at the same time kind of tame
and dull. The emphasis is more on the romance between Anita and Sam than the
crime. Oh, there are red herrings sprinkled throughout the script co-written by
O’Keefe and Jerome Odlum that keep the mystery plot going but director Alfred
E. Green provides little tension or suspense.
One wonders why Kino Lorber chose to put this title out
in a nice Blu-ray format when there are so many other more worthy noirs out
there waiting for that kind of presentation. The picture and sound quality are
first rate but the disc has no extras at all.
Bottom line, if you’re looking for an unusual, off-beat
Christmas movie, pick it up. You could run a double bill along with Jean
Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story” to liven things up. Tough guy noir lovers should avoid.
“What’s got four eyes and can’t see?...
Mississippi!”, quips Gene Hackman as FBI Agent Anderson in Alan Parker’s Mississippi
Burning, a cynical joke about racist attitudes of the backward-looking American
south. This heavyweight dramatic crime thriller, based on one of the most
notorious race-related murder investigations in U.S. history, gets its first
ever UK Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight.
Set in 1964, endemic racism and
race-related violence throughout the southern states is scrutinised to an
uncomfortably realistic degree, as Roger Ebert wrote: “More than any other
film… this one gets inside the passion of race relations in America”; the film
understands and explains events, whilst Parker’s direction criticises and
highlights prejudice without undue sensationalism. The plot
revolves around the historical events related to the murders of three civil
rights activists (two white and one black) who go missing deep in the heart of
Ku Klux Klan territory. The FBI are called in to investigate, headed by
Agent Ward (Willem Dafoe), very much representing Kennedy’s America; a
progressive, forward looking country of freedom and equality, with zero
tolerance for racist violence and beliefs but believing in his by-the-book
methodology and Bureau protocol. Agent Anderson is partnered with him,
much more cynical with age and willing to take unconventional steps, by any
means necessary, to bring injustice to light. Facing uncooperative
local police and a community too afraid of the consequences to talk to the FBI,
the murder investigation sparks repercussions of national significance in an
era when segregation was still commonplace.
It is obvious to see how Mississippi
Burning won a number of accolades including an Oscar, a number of BAFTAs and a
best actor award for Hackman (at Berlin International Film Festival). And
it is indeed Hackman’s portrayal of Anderson that is the heart and soul of this
film - his warmth and depth of character, his past as a small southern town
Sheriff to his current, cosmopolitan, FBI post illustrates a shift in American
values and the possibilities of a more inclusive future. He understands
the (shockingly prejudiced) beliefs and attitudes of many white southern locals
towards the black population, but does not for one second, as his partner
perhaps mistakes him for early in the film, sympathise with the locals’
attitude in the slightest. In fact, his past allows him to speak to the locals
in a language they understand - violence - to let them know racist actions are
intolerable. He clearly expresses his outrage in a very open and human
manner with which the audience can identify; violent beatings of innocent and
peaceful members of the community from old men to women and children simply for
the colour of their skin or cooperating with the law is extremely upsetting to
witness, as shocking today if not moreso than when the film was released.
Ward is played subtly by Dafoe, leaving
centre stage to Hackman, but his performance is vital to the success of the
film. The audience’s absolute belief in his resolute determination to
solve the case, refusing to give in to the stonewalling by the local community,
and using all means at his disposal is what drives the film along.
For example, a colleague informs Ward that the local motel owner
wants the FBI out as they are ‘bad for business’, to which Ward coolly but
firmly tells him to “Buy it”. Anderson advises Ward that FBI methods won’t
work, knowing that conflict and violence will arise from outside intervention
and will bring a warlike atmosphere to this small town America which, indeed,
escalates to the KKK carrying out violent beatings and relentless petrol-bomb
attacks on houses and churches. Ward, however, sees the value in setting
a precedent here, to make a stand to show there is no place for racial
intolerance in the America of the future, he recognises an era that needs to be
brought to an end: “...it was a war long before we got here.”
Other than these central performances, what
really strengthens the film is the impressive supporting cast; not one single
character is made two-dimensional here, however small a role. Brad Dourif
plays vicious Deputy Sheriff Pell as cruel but with a twinkle in his eye,
Frances McDormand is his resigned but proud wife. R. Lee Ermey plays
Mayor Tilman, parochial and angry, with earnest concern. Even Stephen
Toblowsky, perhaps most recognisable for small but perfectly-pitched apathetic
comedy roles (such as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day) is, in a few short minutes,
able to deliver an impassioned and genuinely chilling speech here as a KKK
leader. Every character feels like a real person; however distasteful
their opinions or actions are within the film, they are still presented as
believably nuanced and rounded human beings rather than caricatures in broad
brush strokes, which could be all too easy to fall back on with such
politically charged subject matter; much credit is due to both performers and
The Blu-ray itself is excellent quality, transferred well without losing the
textured grain of the original film, pleasantly noticeable in places.
Bonus features are few but fascinating; separate interviews with Dafoe,
writer Chris Gerolmo and a 20-minute interview with Alan Parker. There is
also a feature audio commentary with Alan Parker. It would have been
fascinating to have some of the lesser-featured supporting cast mentioned above
involved, perhaps, but the simple and straightforward style of the menus and
the extras presented suit to tone of the film well.
"Get Mean" (1975), the most obscure and final entry in the series of "Stranger" Westerns starring Tony Anthony is getting a long-awaited release in North America thanks to the new deluxe edition Blu-ray that is jam-packed with extras including an insightful collector's booklet written by Cinema Retro columnist Howard Hughes.
Here are the details from the official press release:
The Stranger’s Thrilling Final Adventure!
When an American cowboy stumbles upon a gypsy
family in a wind-swept ghost town, they offer him a fortune to escort a
princess back to her home in Spain. But this silent Stranger finds himself in
over his head (and strung up by his feet) when he gets caught in the middle of
an epic battle involving Vikings, the Moors, brutal barbarians, evil spirits, a
raging bull, and a diabolical Shakespeare-quoting hunchback. Tired of their
never-ending attempts to kill him, the cowboy arms himself to the teeth with
guns, dynamite and a special surprise. Now it’s the Stranger’s turn to GET
Tony Anthony (COMIN’ AT YA!), Lloyd Battista
(BLINDMAN), Raf Baldassarre (THE GREAT SILENCE), Diana Lorys (THE AWFUL DR.
ORLOF), and Mirta Miller (EYEBALL) star in this explosive ‘Spaghetti Western’
directed by Ferdinando Baldi (TEXAS, ADIOS). Now Blue Underground is proud to
present GET MEAN in this 2-Disc Limited Edition, featuring a brand-new High
Definition transfer along with exclusive Extras for the first time ever in
with Producer/Star Tony Anthony,
Co-Writer/Star Lloyd Battista, and
Executive Producer Ronald J. Schneider
The Story Of The Stranger - Interview with Producer/Star Tony
Looking For Richard - Interview with Co-Writer/Star Lloyd
Beating A Dead Horse - Interview with Executive Producer Ronald J. Schneider
Tony & I - Interview
with Director Ferdinando Baldi
Poster & Still Gallery
BONUS Collectable Booklet featuring new
writing by Spaghetti Western expert Howard Hughes
Check out this Q&A session with Tony Anthony from a recent screening of "Get Mean" at the Cinefamily theatre:
have favorably compared GET MEAN to Sam Raimi’s ARMY OF DARKNESS: “Just like
Ash, The Stranger unloads a huge can of whoop-ass on an army of foes. If you’ve
enjoyed ARMY OF DARKNESS, you should definitely enjoy this one!” - IMDB
Stranger Is One Of The Coolest Spaghetti Western Characters!” – Spaghetti
In Its Own Little World Of Surreal Weirdness… A Must For Those Who Enjoy Tony
Anthony’s Stuff!” – Video Junkie
Fun Than Any Other Baldi/Anthony Collaboration!” – The Spinning Image
There are some films that you just know can only ever have been greenlit and bankrolled because the
directors were riding on the success of recent projects – which was precisely
the case with esoteric chunk of dystopian fiction, Zardoz. John Boorman may have been revelling in the plaudits
afforded him following the release of 1972’s Deliverance when he began touting around his script for Zardoz, but even so it wasn’t an easy
sell. The problem was that no-one could really get a handle on what it was about; years later cameraman Peter
MacDonald jokingly suggested that Boorman was the only person who actually understood it. That may not in fact have
been so far from the truth, but in any event it was finally picked up by 20th
Century Fox. All the same, Zardoz is certainly
one of the strangest films ever to snare a position in mainstream cinema. Upon
its original release it was critically mauled and left audiences around the
globe scratching their heads. More than 40 years on it may have reached an
unpredictable plateau of respect, but its power to baffle hasn't diminished one
The year is 2293 and what we bear witness to is “a possible future”.
In the wake of an apocalyptic event, the world’s population has divided. There
are the Elite, blessed with immortality and psychic powers, who inhabit the tranquil
paradise of The Vortex. Then there are the Exterminators, a band of savage warriors
who patrol Earth’s wastelands; worshipping a huge flying stone head – an effigy
of the deity from which the film’s title is derived – their raison d'être
is to restrain the starving populous (known as Brutals), safe in the belief
that when their time is over they will cross over into The Vortex. When the
Exterminators aren’t busy ravaging and slaying Brutals, they enslave them for
the cultivation of food. Zed (Sean Connery) is a rarity: an intelligent
Exterminator. He cunningly manages to gain entry to The Vortex, determined to
learn of Zardoz’s secrets, but his arrival is greeted with mixed reaction.
Immortal May (Sara Kestelman) is keen to study him and, much to the annoyance
of Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) who sees the savage as a dangerous influence
on their society, the senior Friend (John Alderton) permits Zed to remain among
them, if for no other reason than to relieve the boredom born of immortality.
There also appears to be hope in the community that Zed may hold the secret to
the blessed release of death.
Or something like that.
First up let’s address the elephant in the room: Leading man
Connery’s frankly bizarre attire. Throughout the first half of the 1970s the
actor took on a number of roles that would distance him from his James Bond
persona, including an unhinged police detective with possible latent paedophile
tendencies (The Offence) and an
elderly Robin Hood (Robin and Marian).
But with his portrayal of Zed in Zardoz he
hit the motherlode. Ponytailed and clad for much of the film’s runtime in
little more than a scarlet diaper – the publicity stills providing car crash
visuals that are still mocked today – I’d posit that he actually pulls off ‘the
look’. (Just.) If nothing else, I’m sure the skimpy outfit appealed to the
actor’s female fanbase. Appearance aside though, in the role originally
earmarked for Burt Reynolds, Connery delivers a terrific performance and his rugged
screen presence keeps one engaged even when the narrative veers off into the
profoundly confusing – which it does on more than one occasion.
There’s strong support meanwhile from Charlotte Rampling, Sara
Kestelman, TV favourite John Alderton and Niall Buggy as rapscallion Arthur
Produced as well as written and directed by Boorman, Zardoz is a triumph in both style and substance (if you can at least
partially get your head around it). The plot may be something of a conundrum,
but there’s a great deal to admire here. It’s certainly beautifully
mounted; gorgeous location work (lensed in Ireland’s County Wicklow) set
to the music of Beethoven combines with Christel Kruse Boorman’s
economical but impressive costume designs to deliver a captivating
aesthetic that ably compensates for some of the cheaper looking ‘plastic bag’ –
quite literally – visuals. There’s also a very satisfying reveal as to the source
of the titular God’s name, a twist capitalised on in Star Trek: The Motion Picture a few years later.
I've seen Zardoz several
times over the years and still find it a challenge to endure. Yet the fact I
find myself drawn to return to it says a great deal. It’s indisputably a peculiar
one, but never less than intriguingly so.
Okay then, enough beating about the bush. Is Zardoz a load of old nonsense (as so many profess), or a sublime
masterpiece (as equal numbers make claim)?
The opportunity for doubters to reappraise Boorman’s film (or
indeed, for those who’ve always had their tent pitched in the pro camp, to
simply re-indulge) has arrived in the form of Arrow’s scintillating new Blu-ray
presentation. The transfer of the film itself is outstanding – I’ve certainly
not seen it looking quite so beautiful before – and it’s accompanied by an
appreciation piece from director Ben Wheatley, an original 1970s trailer (even
more bemusing than the film it was attempting to cultivate an audience for),
radio spots, plus short but valuable on-camera reminiscences from Boorman,
Kestelman, production designer Anthony Pratt, special effects technician Gerry
Johnston, camera operator Peter MacDonald, assistant director Simon Relph,
hairstylist Colin Jamison, production manager Seamus Byrne and assistant editor
Alan Jones. The icing on the cake is an informative commentary from the
eminently likeable Boorman. Of course, the cherry on the icing would have been
input from Connery, Alderton and Rampling, but they’re all conspicuous by their
absence (rather inevitably where Connery was concerned, one supposes).
A nicely illustrated 40-page booklet comprising interview material
and articles makes for a very handsome finishing touch.
By the 1920s there was already a fear that the age of great adventure and adventurers was rapidly coming to a close. Flight had been conquered and lands that seemed mythical were rapidly being explored by white men. The great white whale that had remained unconquered was the summit of the world's tallest mountain, Everest. Today, the mountain is scaled almost routinely but it still is underestimated by climbers who lose their lives it their quest to ascend it. As late as the 1920s, many considered it be an impossible quest to reach the summit. However, courageous (or foolhardy) souls are often drawn to such seemingly quixotic goals, and so it was that in 1924 a major British expedition was formed with the intent of achieving what many felt was the last great challenge: to reach the summit of the fabled mountain. The expedition was headed by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. Typical of the Brits, the venture was undertaken on a grand scale with a small army of participants, including Tibetan sherpas. Captain John Noel asked if he could accommodate the expedition so that he could document it on film. Mallory and Irvine were reluctant to do so, reminding Noel that they were motivated by scientific exploration, not becoming Hollywood stars. Nevertheless, Noel was given permission to join them- on the proviso that he minimize filming of the people involved and concentrate on the landscapes. Thus, Noel- armed with an amazing array of state-of-the-art film cameras of varying sizes- did indeed spend most of his energies shooting the spectacular scenery. Although there are only fleeting glimpses of the British members of the expedition, Noel did have the foresight to realize how exotic images of the local Tibetan culture would be for Westerners. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to film tribal members and their customs, thus providing the most complete depiction of Tibetan life seen by the outside world.
One of the most impressive aspects of the documentary is Noel's seemingly superhuman ability to keep cameras steady in dangerous situations. The vast regions of ice and sky look just as beautiful and intimidating today as they must have when he filmed them. The movie has an almost mystical quality to it that sets it uniquely apart from any other documentary I have seen. Noel captures the mundane and boring aspects of the expedition as well as its most majestic moments- all leading up to a failed quest and a tragic loss of life. The final images of doomed men setting of to reach to the summit was captured on film by Noel, who kept shooting them even as they faded into figures in a landscape, never to be seen again and whose precise fate remains unknown to this day. Noel successfully marketed his film to appreciative worldwide audiences, but upon his death the elements were allowed to deteriorate. The British Film Institute was given the raw materials by Noel's daughter Sandra and a major restoration project was undertaken that saw the movie returned to its original glory, including some very impressive color tinting. The newly-commissioned score has been brilliantly realized by Simon Fisher; it is both beautiful and occasionally eerie and foreboding. Kino Lorber has imported the BFI restored print for the American Blu-ray release. Extras include interviews with Sandra Noel and other scholars and featurettes about the restoration of the film and the scoring process.
"The Epic of Everest" is a landmark film that has retained all of its emotional power thanks to a brilliant restoration.
by Universal in 1967, “Tobruk” opens with the feel of a 1960s spy thriller. Rock
Hudson is Major Donald Craig, a Canadian prisoner of war on board a German
transport ship anchored somewhere off the North Africa coast in late 1942. A
group of frogmen surface near the ship and sneak on board with silencers fixed
to their guns in order to capture Craig. The frogmen are led by Captain Bergman
(George Peppard) who reveal themselves to be part of a team of German commandos.
commandos take Craig to a German airfield and fly him to a desert landing
strip. They’re unexpectedly greeted by a group of British soldiers led by Colonel
Harker (Nigel Green). It’s revealed that Bergman is the leader of a
German-Jewish commando unit attached to a group of British commandos operating
in North Africa. They secured the rescue of Craig due to his expertise as a map
maker needing his expertise in navigating a mine field and access to the German
occupied port at Tobruk, Libya, so they can destroy it in time for a British
movie is based on an actual, although unsuccessful, attack on Tobruk in
September of 1942 which did include German-Jewish soldiers and fake British
POWs. Just like the actual events, the British commandos in the movie pretend
to be POWs in order to get to their ultimate destination undetected... or at
least in an inconspicuous way that will arouse little attention. During the
journey through the Sahara, the group encounters the German and Italian Army as
well as local horseman seeking money for captured British hostages and aerial
staffing from British aircraft.
by Arthur Hiller, the movie appears at first glance to be an unusual choice for
the director who would be synonymous with message movies and romantic comedies.
However, interspersed between the usual action and military battle scenes, the
British and German-Jewish commando team deal with serious issues of bigotry and
anti-Semitism with Hudson caught between the two camps as the outsider caught in
the middle as they make their way across the desert.
is very good in “Tobruk” and broke away from being stereotyped as a leading man
of about a half dozen very popular romantic comedies to star in more serious
films including heroic military parts in “Tobruk,” “Ice Station Zebra,” “The
Undefeated” and “Hornet’s Nest.” In the 1970s he settled into a hybrid role
which combined elements of his romantic comedies and the heroic leading man as San
Francisco police commissioner in the popular TV series “McMillan & Wife” which
ran from 1971 to 1977.
no stranger to tough guy roles, plays a German soldier for the second time in
“Tobruk” following his performance as aviator Bruno Stachel in the WWI classic
“The Blue Max.” Prior to this he appeared in the WWII adventure “Operation
Crossbow” which was preceded by a string of high profile big budget movies.
Like Hudson, Peppard found success in television with the TV series “Banacek”
which ran from 1972-1974. His acting career was hit or miss in the late 1960s until
he landed the lead in “Banacek” and faltered again in the 1970s until he found
success in the popular TV series, “The A-Team,” which ran from 1983-1987.
Green is a standout as Col. Harker, the leader of the commando unit. One of the
great character actors of British cinema, Green is memorable in just about
everything he appeared in a career cut short by an accidental overdose of
sleeping pills. He played a similar character in another North Africa set WWII
movie, “Play Dirty,” as Col. Masters.
features a cast filled with many of the great British character actors including
Jack Watson, Percy Herbert, Norman Rossington and Leo Gordon as well as
American Guy Stockwell and Irishman Liam Redmond included in the mix. Gordon
did double duty in “Tobruk” as screenwriter as well as a rare good guy role.
early in 1967, “Tobruk” is overshadowed by the blockbuster success and
popularity of “The Dirty Dozen” which premiered that summer. “Tobruk,” like
“The Dirty Dozen,” falls into the genre of “Men on an Impossible Mission,” but
doesn’t pack quite the same punch as movies like “The Dirty Dozen” and “Where
Eagles Dare.” The movie comes close with a satisfying plot, terrific
performances and plenty of action. It is violent, to be sure, including an abundance of graphic deaths via
flame thrower which become more a convenient distraction to move the story
is made-to-order via Universal’s Vault Series and has a run time of 110
minutes. The DVD offers no extras, but the movie sounds and looks very nice
preserving the Techniscope widescreen image. The movie is a welcome addition for
fans of 60s war movies.
One of the great strategic blunders of the Cold War was the Western powers' decision to not militarily challenge the building of the Berlin Wall. Under the post-WWII treaty, Berlin was divided into four sectors with each one governed by a different nation : the Soviet Union, America, England and France. The terms of the treaty called for the former Allies to have free and unfettered access to each other's section of the city. Although Berlin was located inside Communist East Germany, it remained a symbol of freedom and liberty. This was a poke in the eye to the Soviets, who were determined to resolve the situation by simply building an imposing wall that blocked off East Berlin from the other sectors controlled by Western democracies. The world was outraged but in the end, no action was taken beyond exchanging some heated telegrams and phone calls. Thus, in a matter of days, Khrushchev's gamble had paid off. He would later confess in his memoirs that even he was skeptical he would get away with it. Suddenly, the entire population of East Germany was sealed off from other parts of the city. In many cases, families were now divided and would not see relatives for decades until the Wall finally fell in 1989. The building of the Wall was a particular blow to the new American president, John F. Kennedy, who was widely seen as having mishandled the situation. With the additional bungling of the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba that failed to topple Castro, JFK was increasingly being seen by the Soviets as a push-over, which is probably why Kennedy was willing to risk nuclear war to prevent a third Soviet triumph by not allowing their missiles to be based in Cuba. The Berlin Wall did backfire in one sense, however. It came to symbolize the repressive nature of the Soviet regime that was being imposed even on their puppet states. No amount of propaganda could negate what people could see with their own eyes: valiant and desperate East Berliners risking their lives to find ways to get past the heavily fortified wall into the safety of West Berlin. Countless people lost their lives in the process but many others managed to escape. Occasionally, an East Berlin border guard would defect in plain sight. The Wall also provided a backdrop for countless Cold War novels and movies, most notably John Le Carre's classic "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold". Most famously, the Wall allowed another American President to win some propaganda points for the West when Ronald Reagan stood atop it and demanded, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!".
The first film to deal with the Berlin Wall crisis was "Escape From East Berlin" (aka "Tunnel 28"), an MGM production that was rushed into production to take advantage of a story that had made international headlines: the escape of 28 people who dug a tunnel directly underneath the Wall. The effort was led by a daring young man whose effort resulted in freedom for his family and friends. Although this clearly is an exploitation movie in one sense, we should not diminish its considerable merits. The film is tightly scripted and, considering its limited budget, highly engaging and suspenseful, thanks in no small part to the admirable direction of Robert Siodmak, who had brought to the screen two suspense classics: the original versions of "The Killers" and "The Spiral Staircase". Shot in B&W in West Berlin, the only "big budget" aspect to the production was the construction of a section of the Wall that plays such a pivotal role in the story.
Erika and Kurt pose as lovers to deceive border guards who are hunting for her.
The movie opens with a harrowing scene of a young man who tries to drive a truck through a barrier at the Wall in a desperate attempt to get to West Berlin. His effort almost succeeds but he dies in a hail of bullets. The next day, his concerned sister Erika (Christina Kaufmann) searches for him near the Wall. She assumes his quest has been successful and begins an attempt to cross over. She is stopped by Kurt (Don Murray), a young man who lives with his mother, younger brother and uncle in the shadow of the Wall itself. Kurt, who worked with Erika's brother, tries to inform her that he has been killed but he cannot bring himself to do so. She is deluded by the notion that he has escaped and is determined to join him. Meanwhile, border guards are relentlessly searching for Erika because of her attempt to get into West Berlin. She is now confined to hiding in Kurt's home indefinitely, with the family living in fear that the next house check might result in them all being arrested. Kurt's family is also routinely visited by a young mother with a baby who relentlessly tries to convince the family to attempt to escape. Her motive is understandable: when the Wall went up, she was isolated from her husband, who is in West Berlin. Reluctantly, Kurt agrees to begin an escape attempt by tunneling underneath the wall, which is only a few dozen yards from the family basement. In doing so, the family must cope with the logistical problem of finding supplies as well as storing the immense amount of dirt from the digging operation. Additionally, there is the constant presence of border guards outside their window, snooping neighbors who might inform and the unexpected arrival of another man, Brunner (Werner Klemperer) who claims to be a participant in the dig but who may have other motives. The film does manage to present how an authoritarian regime can affect even the most mundane of daily activities, as people must consider the consequences of everything they do and say.
"Escape From East Berlin" is a consistently suspenseful tale that is extremely well-acted, with Murray particularly good in the kind of role that somehow eluded Horst Bucholz, who seemed to have a lock on every part that required a handsome young German back in the day. Murray even provides a convincing accent. Christine Kaufmann is largely wasted, however, in a part that is pure window dressing. Fortunately, the screenplay doesn't saddle her character with having the anticipated romance with Kurt, although they do pose as lovers to escape the scrutiny of border guards. Even the smallest roles are expertly filled with Werner Klemperer as impressive as always as the mystery man. The film builds to a nail-biting conclusion as the plot is revealed by an informer and there is a race against time to get across the border as authorities break into Kurt's family home.
The Warner Archive release boasts a fine transfer and an original trailer that is played for pure sensationalism. Highly recommended.
It's rare that a feature included as a bonus in a Blu-ray release of a classic movie would rate having us provide a separate review. However, director Richard Shepard's acclaimed documentary "I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazle" merits exceptional treatment. The 2009 movie gained considerable praise when first released but suffered the fate of most documentaries in that it was not widely seen outside of the art house circuit and a DVD release the following year. Fortunately, Warner Home Video had the good instincts to include it in their 40th anniversary Blu-ray release of "Dog Day Afternoon" (click here for review) , a film in which Cazale stole the show despite sharing the screen with some of the most talented actors on the planet. The documentary packs a great deal into it's all-too-brief 40 minute running time and sheds much light on the career of Cazale, perhaps the least-heralded main cast member of "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II". The "Godfather" saga saw the resurrection of Marlon Brando's career and made top stars of Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton. Not so with Cazale, who in many ways played the most interesting character in the story lines. As Fredo, the much-beloved underachiever of the Corleone crime family, Cazale gave performances for the ages. This is especially true in "The Godfather Part II", my personal choice for the best American movie of the sound era. It was here that the brilliant screenplay gave the character - and Cazale- the opportunity to dominate key scenes. The results need not be described here if you are a classic movie lover. Yet, Cazale never achieved fame except among film historians and trivia experts. His chameleon-like qualities enabled him to bring remarkable characters and performances to the screen but also resulted in his remaining anonymous to the public. In many cases, movie- goers failed to realize that the edgy and dumb bank robber of "Dog Day Afternoon" was the same actor who had played Fredo. To prove the point, director Richard Shepard stops people on the street and shows them a photo of cast members from "The Godfather": Brando, Pacino, Caan and Cazale. No one can identify Cazale's real name, although most realize he was the actor who portrayed Fredo. (One person assertively insists that "Fredo" was not only the name of the character but the actor who portrayed him, which for a method actor like Cazale might be considered a compliment.)
Shepard became fascinated by Cazale after seeing him in a reissue of "The Godfather". Despite all the enormously talented actors on screen, it was Cazale's non-glam, hangdog look that resonated with him. After becoming a successful director in his own right, Shepard was disturbed that, while the characters he portrayed were still very much a part of pop culture, Cazale's name had virtually vanished from the landscape. Determined to put him back in the spotlight, he and his producing partner Stacey Reiss decided to film a feature length documentary about Cazale- a man who only made five movies, each of which either won or was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: "The Conversation", the first two "Godfather" films, "Dog Day Afternoon" and "The Deer Hunter". Cazale died in March, 1978 at age 42, having barely been able to complete the latter film due to his battle with lung cancer. Like most great actors who died young, Cazale's image is frozen in time. Unlike most of those who shared his fate, however, his name never became legendary. In his audio commentary for "I Knew It Was You" (a pivotal line of dialogue from "The Godfather Part II" spoken by Michael Corleone to Fredo in regards to his ultimate betrayal of Corleone family loyalty), Shepard relates the almost insurmountable challenge of finding financing for the documentary. Everyone thought it was a great idea but, in true Hollywood fashion, no one was willing to put up any money. Ultimately, producer/director Brett Ratner backed the project and succeeded in getting funding from HBO. The only downside was that HBO insisted on limiting the running time to 40 minutes, thus dashing Shepard's original plan to make a feature length film. Nonetheless, he was grateful to the network for financing the project at all and he set to work lining up possible interviews with those who knew or admired Cazale. He succeeded admirably. The documentary boasts an impressive line-up of talent who pay tribute to Cazale and acknowledge his influence. Chief among them is Al Pacino, who knew Cazale during their days as struggling actors in New York City. They both would run into each other occasionally and went on to work in several plays together before being reunited for "The Godfather" and "Dog Day Afternoon". Pacino's affection for Cazale is such that he admits he idolized him. He and others express the belief that Cazale was one of the most intelligent- if eccentric- people they ever knew. Cazale's appeal was that he was no matinee idol. He looked like the guy next door (assuming you lived in a blue collar area of the Bronx or New Jersey.) Others who extol his value as an actor and human being are Richard Dreyfuss, producer Fred Roos, Olympia Dukakis, Sam Rockwell, Francis Ford Coppola (who directed Cazale in three of his five films), Carol Kane, Steve Buscemi, John Savage and playwright Israel Horowitz, who worked with Cazale on ten plays in the 1960s. Shepard even managed to get interviews with such press-shy titans as Gene Hackman, Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep, who discusses her intense love affair with Cazale on camera for the first time. There are also moving comments from Cazale's brother Steve, who relates a sobering story about how he found out that his brother was suffering from lung cancer. There also interviews with two other show business legends who themselves have now left us: Sidney Lumet and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The entire film is filled with sincere, sentimental tales about Cazale that are both touching and humorous.
The "Dog Day Afternoon" edition of "I Knew It Was You" features some excellent extras pertaining to the documentary. Richard Shepard's audio commentary is truly fascinating, as he relates the trials and tribulations of bringing the project to the screen and how he had to shame the rights holders to Cazale's movies into allowing him to use extensive film clips for virtually no fees. There are also extensive outtakes of the interviews with Al Pacino and Israel Horowitz that contain some of the most interesting revelations and stories. A pity they couldn't have been included in the final cut of the movie itself. In one sequence, Pacino is overcome with emotion discussing his friendship with Cazale and comes close to breaking down. He also expresses frustration that Cazale was never even nominated for an Oscar. Horowitz ends his segment in a most unforgettable fashion by reading verbatim the beautiful eulogy he wrote in praise of Cazale for The Village Voice. The extras also contain two short early career films that Cazale was involved with. "The American Way" is a zany, Monty Python-like comedy made in 1962 in which Cazale is seen as an inept anarchist. Cazale doesn't appear at all in the 1969 film "The Box", but served as the credited cinematographer. The comedy involves a guy who finds that his new television set seems to be possessed and determined to drive him insane through playing practical jokes on him.
The fact that "Dog Day Afternoon" is itself a classic of American cinema is reason enough to add this anniversary Blu-ray edition to your library. However, the addition of "I Knew It Was You" would merit the purchase alone.
The name may not resonate with
the same sort of pop culture familiarity as Shaft (1971) or Super Fly
(1972), but Slaughter (1972)looms large as a striking film
in the annals of Blaxploitation cinema. As his theme song proclaims (yes, he
too has a theme song, courtesy of Billy Preston), Slaughter is "big, bad,
black and bold," every bit as much as the protagonists of these more iconic
titles, perhaps even more so. If Slaughter embodies the no-nonsense toughness
seen in characters like Shaft, Priest from SuperFly, Goldie from
TheMack (1973), and Tommy Gibbs from BlackCaesar
(1973), as well as their canny suavity and bravado, his next closest filmic kin
might be Rudy Ray Moore's Dolemite
(1975). With this outlandish character, Slaughter shares a penchant for
exaggerated movements and posturing, and as such, he is as unsubtle as
Dolemite, though he and the film in general are far more serious. Or, at least
it takes itself more serious.
Available now on a bare-bones
Blu-ray from Olive Films, Slaughter was released in 1972 by American
International Pictures and was produced by the legendarily eclectic Samuel Z.
Arkoff, who in the months immediately to follow would continue in the
Blaxploitation vein, with Blacula (1972), Coffy (1973), Hell
Up in Harlem (1973), and the Slaughter sequel, Slaughter's Big
Rip-Off (1973). Penning the script was Mark Hanna, the scribe behind 1957's
The Amazing Colossal Man and 1958's Attack
of the 50 Foot Woman, along with Don Williams, whose sole credits include
this film, its sequel, and Blood, Black and White (1973), all three of
which he had a hand in producing. Slaughter was also the fifth feature
film directed by Jack Starrett, who would compile quite the roster of titles as
director and actor, in both film and television. But the star of the show, of
course, is Jim Brown, the great NFL fullback (Cleveland Browns, 1957-1965), in this,
his twelfth film role, just a year after his induction into the Pro Football
Hall of Fame.
As the film gets started,
former Green Beret Captain Slaughter seeks to uncover the mystery of who
ordered a recent hit on his father. Given that the senior Slaughter had
questionable underworld connections, the investigation inevitably leads to some
unsavory associations and the suggestion that his fate was, in a sense,
unavoidable. When Slaughter seeks information from family friend and apparently
shady acquaintance Jenny (Marion Brash), before she is likewise violently
dispatched, she barely consuls him with, "It comes with the
business." Slaughter then takes matters into his own hands, hunting down
the probable mastermind, crashing a stolen car into the villain's taxiing
plane, and coming out of the wreckage guns blazing. The attack is only partly
successful, though, and the hitman, Dominic Hoffo (Rip Torn), manages to
escape. What is more, Treasury Department officials who were also after the
same man call Slaughter for interference. Since he interrupted their operation,
Slaughter is recruited to assist the feds in order to avoid prison time. He
agrees, and it's off to South America.
There he wastes no time landing
smack in the middle of a preexisting power struggle between the bizarrely
captivating Mario Felice (Norman Alfe—his lone acting credit), who reigns
supreme in the regional drug enterprise, and up-and-coming underling Dominic,
who has resentfully had enough of playing second fiddle. First, the two men
enlist arm-candy Ann (Stella Stevens) to sway the meddlesome stranger, but
Slaughter promptly beds the beauty, compounding the animosity and stealing the
girl for good. More drastic measures thus become necessary.
Warner Home Video has a nasty Halloween treat for all: the release of the Horror Classics Vol. 1 boxed Blu-ray set. The titles are smartly bound in a hardcover book format, complete with some cool graphics. Each of the films contains the original theatrical trailer as well. Here is the official press release:
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will scare the heck out
of fans when Taste the Blood of Dracula; Dracula Has Risen from the Grave,
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed; and The Mummy are released October 6 in the new
Blu-ray Horror Classics Vol. 1 Collection, just in time for Halloween
celebrations. All films in the collection are newly re-mastered in 1080p HD and
packaged in elegant rigid pocketbook style ($54.96 SRP).
The quartet of classic horror films, featuring cinema
monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy, represent classic examples from
Hammer Film Productions. Founded in 1934, the British company became best known
for a series of gothic horror films and a leader among English filmmakers that
dominated the international horror film market from the mid-1950s through the
ABOUT THE FILMS
THE MUMMY (1959) In this vivid Technicolor®
reincarnation of The Mummy, screen horror icon Christopher Lee wraps on the
moldy gauze bandages and emerges as the tormented Kharis, an avenger stalking
the hills and bogs of Victorian England to track down archaeologist John
Banning (Peter Cushing) and other desecrators of his beloved Princess Ananka’s
Egyptian tomb. “Lee looks tremendous, smashing his way through doorways and
erupting from green, dreamlike quagmires in really awe-inspiring fashion”
(David Pirie, Time Out Film Guide). Awe-inspiring, too, was the box-office
success of this third Hammer reinvigoration – after The Curse of Frankenstein
and Horror of Dracula – of a classic screen monster.
DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) In his third
incarnation as Bram Stoker’s infamous vampire, horror great and 55-year movie
veteran Christopher Lee goes fang to cross with the forces of good in this
atmospheric Hammer Studios film directed with stylish menace by two-time
Academy Award ® -winning cinematographer Freddie Francis.
FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED! (1969) Baron
Frankenstein’s (Peter Cushing) experiment went wrong, dead wrong. Thus, another
victim lies in a makeshift grave. Suddenly, a water main bursts, forcing the
dead man’s arm to the surface. Next, the torrent heaves the body upward.
Frankenstein’s panicked accomplice tries to conceal the body… but corpses can
be so unwieldy. This creepy scene is a
highlight of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, horror great Peter Cushing’s fifth
Hammer Studios Frankenstein saga. Other cast members of note include
film-debuting Simon Ward (Young Winston) and Freddie Jones (The Elephant Man)
as the scientist’s pitiable new creation.
TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970)Taste the Blood of Dracula, the fourth film
in Hammer Studios’ cycle of’ hemogobbling’ Victorianera horror, is a showcase
of why Hammer became the name in Gothic terror. The solid cast and rich
production design raise goosebumps of real-life fear and otherworld dread. And
Christopher Lee dons his red-lined cape again to become Evil Incarnate. He’s
Count Dracula, a being neither dead nor alive...but his movies are livelier
What would happen if Travis Bickle’s cringe-inducing
date from “Taxi Driver” was stretched out over an entire weekend in the North
of Italy? Thanks to “The Visitor” (“La Visita”, 1963), we have our answer.
Pina (Sandra Milo) is an independent businesswoman
living in rural Italy. But she’s unwed and approaching 40-years-old, and
longing for a change in her life. She places a personal ad in the newspaper
(readers under 40: think Match.com, but with ink, paper and more desperation)
stating her desire to find a man and marry. Of the potential suitors who reply,
Adolfo di Palma (François Périer), an older bookseller in
Rome, seems the most promising. The story begins as he arrives in northern
Italy to meet Pina in person.
Many have witnessed those godawful first dates in which
every subtle hint goes unread and signs are horribly misinterpreted. Adolfo, it
is safe to say, is the undisputed champion of these first-date nightmares. After
the train he arrives on pulls safely out of the station, the real train wreck
unfolds slowly. Adolfo drinks too much grappa, allows his eyes to wander to a
16-year-old neighbor, loudly proclaims how much he detests Pina’s surroundings
and is a cheap date in every sense of the word.
As Pina grasps at straws to salvage the budding
relationship, Adolfo clumsily grasps at just about everything else. Credit
director Antonio Petrangeli with turning what could be nothing short of a
cringefest into a compelling film that is at once funny and pathetic,
mysterious and revealing. The possible couple are not stock characters who are
aging and lonely, searching for love against all odds. We see their regrets and
secrets in flashbacks and a surprise confrontation toward the end. And it’s in
the final act that the film hits its stride, as Adolfo and Pina finally say
what they’ve been politely skirting around throughout the visit.
tale of regret and redemption is filled with surprising amounts of both heart
and laughs, making it a compelling watch from the early exposition to the
The film has been released on DVD from the Raro Video label and is presented as a special edition with a wealth of extras including an interview with director Ettore Scola, who discusses Pietrangeli's work; an interview with Piertrangeli's son Paolo (who is a director, too) and an interview with the film's composer Armando Trovajoli. There is also a 16 page illustrated booklet that provides analysis of the film as well as vintage interview comments from the director. In all, an impressive package for a worthy film.
The Warner Archive has re-issued a special DVD edition of director Philip Kaufman's The White Dawn as a burn-to-order title. The previous version had been released by Paramount Home Video in 2004 to commemorate the film's 30th anniversary. Fortunately, this reissue carries over the special bonus features from that release. The movie was not well received by either critics or the public at the time of its initial release and vanished rather quickly. Although the production boasts three well-respected actors in the lead roles, none of them were considered "box office" and Kaufman himself had only one modestly received movie to his credit (The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid). It is appropriate that The White Dawn has been re-examined in recent years. This isn't some undervalued classic, but it is an interesting film with many merits. The story is based on a novel by James Houston that, in turn, was inspired by true events. The film opens in 1896 with the three leading men seen as crew members of a whaling ship that is trolling the ice-packed waters off of remote Baffin Island in Canada, just below the Arctic Circle. They manage to harpoon a whale from their long boat but in their relentless pursuit of the creature, they end up being shipwrecked on an ice flow and given up for dead by their fellow crew members. They are saved from certain death by Inuit (Eskimo) people who take them to their village and nurse them back to health. With no immediate hope of returning to their own world, the three men- Billy (Warren Oates), Daggett (Timothy Bottoms) and Portagee (Lou Gossett)- acclimate themselves as best they can in the igloo village they must now call home. The transition is not an easy one. The language barrier presents the most obvious obstacle but there is also the harsh landscape that requires a constant battle to survive. The people are perpetually threatened by severe weather, dangerous polar bears and starvation. They lead a nomadic lifestyle, having to relocate every time the food supply becomes meager. Despite these obstacles, over the course of a one year period, the three men adjust to life among the Inuit, who treat them warmly and respectfully. Before long, they are accepted as "family" by their saviors, who are amused by the cultural differences the men bring to the village. The Inuit elders follow tradition and willingly share their wives as sex partners for the men. To Kaufman's credit, these scenes are handled with a playful innocence and are never distasteful. With sex just about the only enjoyable past time in this frozen wasteland, the Inuit regard it with a laissez faire attitude- much to the delight of their "guests". Although Daggett and Portagee are respectful of their hosts and acclimate themselves to the environment, Billy is a hot-tempered, self-centered man who mocks the Inuit behind their backs and regards them as savages. Eager to make a mad gamble to find another whaling ship that will rescue them, he manages to exert influence over his two companions and thus sets in motion a series of events that leads to the film's tragic conclusion. Billy's attempts to con his hosts at games of chance in order to make claim to their women is the first indication that the situation is going awry. The Inuit prove not to be the gullible, childlike people Billy thinks they are. They are quite aware of attempts to manipulate them. Billy also orchestrates the trio's ill-fated attempt to steal precious food and a boat in order to flee to "civilization". The men fail spectacularly and are faced with the humiliation of having to be rescued once again by the very people whose trust they have abused. However, it is the introduction of Billy's home-made liquor to these innocent people that ultimately leads to the final tragedy.
It's unclear to what degree the incidents portrayed on film reflect what happened in real life. The history has been passed down among the Inuit, so one must assume there has been some alteration or embellishment of the facts, as will inevitably happen over time with any oral history. What impresses most about the film is Michael Chapman's stark cinematography in this frozen wasteland. You literally wonder how any living creature can survive in such an environment, let alone thrive. On the DVD, Kaufman, who provides an audio commentary as well as a filmed introduction, relates the seemingly impossible obstacles that had to be overcome in order to shoot the film. Environmental factors were only part of the challenge. He also had to coach his cast of Inuit people, none of whom had probably ever seen a movie before, let alone acted. In that regard, he pulls off what may be the film's signature achievement, because these non-professional thespians turn in remarkably convincing performances. Henry Mancini provides a wonderful score (one of his personal favorites) that was inspired by an impromptu song that was created by an Inuit woman.
The problem with the film from a dramatic standpoint is that it is never as emotionally moving as it should be. We certainly cringe when we see the rescued whaler's abuse of their savior's hospitality but we never learn anything about their backgrounds and they remain superficial protagonists. With Daggett and Portagee clearly level-headed, decent men, it is never theorized why they continue to follow the bull-headed Billy's advice, even when it would seem to inevitably lead to disaster. The performances of Oates, Bottoms and Gossett- fine actors all- never rise above the level of being merely competent, primarily because, at heart, this is really the story of the Inuit people and how these "aliens" have abused their trust and generosity.
The DVD contains an excellent, restored transfer of the feature film, a brief filmed introduction by Philip Kaufman as well as his commentary track and a historical look at life among the Inuit people. Kaufman also appears in Welcoming the Dawn, an interesting featurette in which he largely focuses on the technical and logistical problems of bringing the story to the screen. He is particularly determined to stress that the slaying of a polar bear in one of the film's most harrowing sequences, did not result in injury to the animal, as incredible as that may seem after viewing the scene. Whatever you think of the end result, after hearing about these obstacles, you'll have to admire the sheer grit and determination of Kaufman and his crew for working amid some of the harshest conditions on the planet. As director, Kaufman has made a number of fine, off-beat films that don't fit easily into any one mold. The White Dawn is certainly one of them. It's a flawed film, to be sure, but one that does have elements that will haunt you long after you've seen it.
The Warner Archive has released two sets of DVDs each showcasing 1970s television series starring James Stewart: "The Jimmy Stewart Show" and "Hawkins" (which was actually a series of TV movies that aired in the 1973-74 season.)
Here is the press release for "The Jimmy Stewart Show":
James Stewart made a rare sojourn into the world of
Situation Comedy on NBC at the dawn of the Seventies. His gift for comedy, on
grand cinema display since the dawn of his career, made him a congenial fit for
the familial world of episodic comedy. Stewart plays Professor James Howard, an
anthropologist struggling to make sense of the generation gap with his college
students and just plain struggling to make sense of his own family. Jim and
wife Martha are busy raising an eight-year-old, as is their
twenty-nine-year-old first born, Peter (James Daly) and his wife, Wendy (Ellen
Geer). And "Uncle Teddy" (Dennis Larson) is sure to demand "the
proper respect" from his five-day-older nephew, Jake (Kirby Furlong). It's
a good thing Jim has a Nobel Prize-winning best friend, chemistry professor Dr.
Luther Quince (John McGiver) to help make sense of the chaos, especially after
a house fire forces Peter's family to move in with Jim's!
A decade before TV saw another silver-haired,
slow-drawling Southern shyster with a knack for sleuthing out the truth, M-G-M
welcomed back two titanic talents, TV producer Norman Felton and screen legend
Jimmy Stewart, for Hawkins. Stewart played Billy Jim Hawkins in rotation with
the Shaft TV movies (Talk about Country Mouse and City Mouse!), solving crimes
alongside his cousin RJ (Strother Martin) and a bevy of sensational costars.
Bonnie Bedelia plays a troubled young woman accused of familicide, Cameron
Mitchell plays a tinseltown spouse facing murder charges, Julie Harris plays an
accused mercy killer, William Windom plays a parent with a vendetta, Lew Ayres
and James Best play folk caught up in a deadly Civil War re-enactment, James
Luisi plays a football pro caught up in foul play, Teresa Wright plays an
ex-amour of Bill Jim’s, and Paul Burke and Pernell Roberts play a senator and
aide caught up in a slaying.
Fox is celebrating the 40th anniversary release of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" with special edition Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD releases. Here are the details from the official press release.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show 40th Anniversary –
the ultimate midnight movie – comes home on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD
September 22 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Featuring an
all-star cast, including: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick and Meat
Loaf, The Rocky Horror Picture Show quickly became a pop cultural
phenomenon passed down from generation to generation. Now, after four decades,
it’s back stronger than ever with an all-new Ultimate Collector’s Edition,
featuring limited edition packaging, exclusive collectible pink surgical
gloves, fishnet stockings and a soundtrack for its army of die-hard fans!
The Rocky Horror Picture Show 40th Anniversary edition is packed
with featurettes highlighting past celebrations and midnight screenings,
deleted musical scenes, 11 outtakes, alternate endings, commentaries by Richard
O’Brien and Patricia Quinn (Magenta), photo galleries and more! Bring the
midnight screening home to share with friends and family with Rocky-oke: Sing
It! – which includes 18 show-stopping musical numbers from the hugely popular
soundtrack: “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me,” “Sweet Transvestite,” “The Time Warp”
and more! The Blu-ray also features incredible HD featurettes, as well as a
photo gallery from Rock ‘N’ Roll’s seminal photographer Mick Rock, which dives
deeper into Rock’s experience capturing the moment on-set and behind-the-scenes
of the 1975 film. In “Mick Rock's Picture Show (A Gallery)” fans can take a
peek at more than 70 high-resolution images from his archives.
A Lou Adler/Michael White Production directed by Jim Sharman, this cinematic
classic follows sweethearts Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) as
they are stuck with a flat tire during a storm and discover the eerie mansion
of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a sweet transvestite scientist. As
their innocence is lost, Brad and Janet meet a houseful of wild characters,
including a rocking biker (Meat Loaf) and a creepy butler (Richard O'Brien).
Through elaborate dances and rock songs, Frank-N-Furter unveils his latest
creation: a muscular man named "Rocky."
Since its 1975 release, The Rocky Horror Picture Show quickly made
its mark as the most-beloved cult film of all time. Today, this iconic cult
classic film is the longest running theatrical release of all-time and
currently plays at weekly midnight showings in over 300 theaters across the
U.S. and even more around the world. Moreover, the film’s cultural exposure and
acclaim has extended far beyond the theatrical release, as the original “Rocky
Horror” stage show continues to delight audiences worldwide.
Blu-ray Special Features:
Includes both the U.S. and U.K. Versions of the Film
Rocky-oke: Sing It!
Commentary By Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn (Magenta)
Don’t Dream It, Be It: The Search for the
35th Anniversary Shadowcast, Part I
An-tic-i-pation: The Search for the 35th Anniversary
Shadowcast, Part II
Mick Rock (A Photographer)
Mick Rock's Picture Show (A Gallery)
A Few From The Vault
Deleted Musical Scenes
1: ”Once In A While”
2: ”Super Heroes”
Alternate B&W Opening
Alternate Credit & Misprint Ending
"Rocky Horror Double Feature Video Show" (1995)
Beacon Theater, New York City (10th Anniversary)
Time Warp Music Video
The Midnight Experience
Pressbook & Poster Gallery….And More!
DVD Special Features:
Includes both the U.S. and U.K. Versions of the Film
Commentary By Richard O'Brien and Quinn (Magenta)
The Theatrical Experience
Prompter: “When do I squirt my water pistol and when do I
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from ITV:
To commemorate ITV’s diamond anniversary, independent
distributor Network will release a 12-disc boxset featuring 60 episodes from
classic TV series including The Sweeney, The Avengersand Upstairs
Downstairs, as well as previously unreleased episodes from the broadcaster. ITV60 (15)
will be released on DVD on 26 October 2015, RRP £79.99 exclusively through
networkonair.com, and is available to pre-buy** now. Terms and conditions
ITV60 will be available from selected retailers
from 23 November 2015.
A mixture of timeless classics, forgotten gems and once
thought lost shows, this set contains exceptional rarities from the Associated
Rediffusion archive: No Hiding Place, Mystery Bag,Crane and Our
Man at St. Mark’s, together with previously unreleased episodes of Crossroads, Rainbow, Tiswas, Coronation
Street, World in Action, The Bill and a classic Whicker’s
Worldaboard the Orient Express.
Since the summer of 1955, the ITV network has
entertained the nation with some of the most memorable programming ever created
for British television. This collection celebrates those six decades with an
outstanding, specially selected collection of superb dramas, hilarious comedies
and thought-provoking documentaries – some of which haven’t been seen since
their original transmission.
With each disc themed to provide an “evening’s
entertainment”, this dip into the archives provides a trip down Memory Lane as
well as a timely reminder of some of the best television of the last 60 years.
Since its launch in 1997,
Network has released over 1,000 programmes on DVD and Blu-ray
from the ITV library.
to be mistaken for the cannibal monstrosity from Umberto Lenzi with which it
shares its title, Eaten Alive is a
1976 tale of terror set in the Louisiana swamps and was directed by Tobe Hooper
in the wake of his phenomenal success with The
Texas Chain Saw Massacre two years earlier. From the outset Eaten Alive shares its predecessor's
mien of ill ease (though not to such stomach-tightening effect), but little of
its wicked humour. Indeed it's an all-round far crueller film and positively bubbles
over with bloodshed.
Mardi Rustam – who also wrote the story with colleague Alvin L Fast, TCSM's Kim Henkel then adapting it for
the screen – was aiming to ride the tidal wave of Jaws' success; what the results lacked in quality (certainly if
Rustam felt truly inspired by
Spielberg’s film) was voraciously compensated for with lashings of cheap
thrills and squalid chills.
story kicks off with a very fresh-faced Robert Englund attempting to abuse 'the
new girl' in a grimy brothel. Immediately deciding that prostitution isn't for
her, the young lass packs her bags and sets off on foot into the night. But
it's very much a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ when she
stumbles across the remote Starlight Hotel and its creepy proprietor Judd
(Neville Brand); after attempting to assault her, he prongs her to death on the
tines of a pitchfork and feeds her corpse to the huge crocodile he keeps in an
enclosure in the back yard. It’s a brutal and extremely graphic sequence but
one via which Hooper adeptly alerts the audience that he's upped the ante to
deliver something rather more visceral then he did with TCSM (which for all its notoriety is a largely bloodless affair,
functioning primarily on a psychological level). The rest of the movie’s
runtime pivots on Judd serving up hotel guests as crocodile chow for no
discernible reason beyond the fact he's mad as...well, as a box of baby crocs.
the unbridled success of Hooper's earlier film, it's no surprise that Eaten Alive is often given short shrift
and indeed it is inferior, mainly due
to sluggish pacing and the fact it was shot in its entirety on a soundstage;
although the hotel exteriors –wreathed in swirling mist and bathed in a
quease-inducing red glow – have an appealingly stylised look, it's also
painfully obvious one is looking at a studio-bound set, replete with the tell-tale
hollow sound resulting when interiors feebly posture as exteriors. However, if you
can look past this handicap, and claustrophobic dread coupled with sleaze by
the bucketful float your boat, then there's plenty on offer here to keep you
cast alone is worth tuning in for. Complementing Brand's frenetic turn as the
maniac hotel manager there are fun appearances from legends Mel Ferrer (whose
career had certainly seen better days) and Addams
Family icon Carolyn Jones (almost unrecognisable as the decrepit Madam of a
brothel). Also on hand are Stuart Whitman as a local sheriff oblivious to the
carnage being perpetrated on his patch and TCSM's leading lady Marilyn Burns, who fortuitously discards her
frightful wig early on but still ends up bound and gagged by our resident psychopath...
the poor girl didn't have a lot of luck in Hooper's films, did she? There's
also a bizarre turn from William Finley as a disgustingly sweaty guest with a
penchant for barking like a dog, giving Brand strong competition in the most deranged
lurking under titles such as Horror Hotel,
Starlight Slaughter and Legend of the Bayou, when Eaten Alive was issued in the UK on VHS
in the early 80s under the moniker Death
Trap it immediately drew unfortunate attention that earned it a place among
the infamous 'video nasties' and it was withdrawn from circulation. Previous DVD
releases have reportedly been pretty much substandard across the board (although
I haven't seen any of them to be able to comment fairly). But one thing's for
sure: Arrow's new uncut Blu-ray/DVD combination package is anything but substandard, in fact it's absolutely
terrific, doing Robert Caramico's stylish cinematography more fitting a service
than one could have ever imagined possible.
if such a superior, uncut presentation of the film alone doesn't make this one a
worthwhile purchase, Arrow has bundled in an impressive collection of
sweeteners. There are new interviews with Tobe Hooper (who also appears in a
blink-and-you'll-miss-it introduction tagged onto the start of the movie), supporting
actress Janus Blythe and make-up artist Craig Reardon, as well as older ones
with Hooper, Robert Englund and Marilyn Burns. Mardi Rustam provides an
informative commentary and there's also a 20-something minute featurette that
delves into the life of the Texas bar owner upon who the film is loosely based,
as well as a healthy selection of trailers, radio and TV spots, plus a gallery
of poster art and lurid lobby cards. A final gem appears in the form of a
gallery of original 'comment cards', collected from attendees at a preview
screening of the film back in 1976, with the incentive for filling them out being
a reward for the best 'new title' suggestion. Most of the remarks are pretty
uncharitable, with an amusing standout being the one on which the viewer
sarcastically requests to be informed of any subsequent title change so that
he/she doesn't inadvertently go to see it again!
The good news is that Timeless Video is releasing multiple films in one DVD package. The bad news is that one of these releases, although featuring two highly-watchable leading men, presents two stinkers. Love and Bullets is a 1979 Charles Bronson starrer that Roger Ebert appropriately described at the time as "an assemblyline potboiler". The film initially showed promise. Originally titled Love and Bullets, Charlie, the movie had John Huston as its director. However, Huston left after "creative differences" about the concept of the story and its execution on screen. The absurdity of losing a director as esteemed as Huston might have been understandable if the resulting flick wasn't such a mess. However, one suspects that, whatever the conceptual vision Huston had for the movie may have been, it must have been superior to what ultimately emerged. Stuart Rosenberg, the competent director of Cool Hand Luke took over but was unable to create anything more than a sub-par action movie. The plot finds Bronson as a Phoenix cop who is reluctantly sent to Switzerland on an undercover assignment. The local prosecutor has been doggedly trying to convict a local mob kingpin (Rod Steiger) for years. Now it appears that his moll girlfriend (Jill Ireland) might be a viable witness in terms of spilling the beans about his operations. Thus, Steiger has stashed her abroad and is keeping her under constant watch. Bronson's job is to pretend he is also a mob guy and convince Ireland to return with him to Phoenix to testify against her lover. The movie seems to exist for one reason only: the main participants desired a paid working vacation in Switzerland. This concept is nothing new. The Rat Pack squeezed in filming Oceans Eleven almost as an afterthought while they were performing nightly in Las Vegas at the Sands casino. In the twilight of his years, John Ford famously got his stock company together for a jaunt to Hawaii and released the result as a big boxoffice hit called Donovan's Reef, which still must retain the status of being the most expensive home movie ever made.
Love and Bullets is such a lazy effort you have to believe it must have taken a great deal of effort for the cast to meander to the set every day. The film also illustrates the danger of love-struck leading men force-feeding the lady in their lives into virtually every movie they make. Clint Eastwood shoe-horned Sondra Locke into a string of his films in the 1970s and 1980s and while some of them were artistic and commercial successes, I always greeted their next team with a sense of bored inevitability. (Locke is also a prime perpetrator in the creation of the worst movie of Eastwood's career, The Gauntlet.) In this case, Ireland had been Mrs. Bronson for over a decade following her divorce from David McCallum. She was always a competent enough actress but the couple obviously envisioned themselves as a new William Powell/Myrna Loy teaming. Not quite. Bronson is on full automatic pilot, registering almost no emotion. Ireland overplays the role of bubble-headed moll to an embarrassing level, as though she is a character in a sitcom sketch. She is saddled with intentionally laughable fright wigs but the real joke comes when she decides to discard them for her natural hair style, which proves to be even less flattering. Absurdity piles upon absurdity as the film becomes one long, extended chase sequence with Bronson and Ireland squabbling like Ralph and Alice Kramden, if you can imagine The Honeymooners being pursued by assassins. Steiger is in full scenery-chewing mode and an impressive array of supporting actors (Val Avery, Michael V. Gazzo, Henry Silva and Strother Martin) are pretty much wasted along the way. I'm generally undemanding when it comes to the pleasures of watching an unpretentious Charles Bronson action movie but Love and Bullets represents the latter period of his career where he rarely even tried to elevate his films beyond being vehicles for an easy pay check.
Russian Roulette (originally titled Kill Kosygin!) starts out promisingly enough but ultimately ends up being as unsatisfying as Love and Bullets. Produced by Elliott Kastner, an old hand at making good, populist entertainment, the production was shot entirely in Vancouver. George Segal plays a renegade cop (were there any other kind in the 1970s?) who has been suspended from the local police force for various infractions. Suddenly, he is recruited by Canadian secret intelligence to help thwart a reputed plot to assassinate Soviet Premier Kosygin, who is due to arrive in a matter of days for a high profile conference. Segal learns that he is being set up in an elaborate and confusing plot that involves traitorous KGB agents who want to kill their own premier in order to prevent him from initiating an era of detente with the West. Their plan involves kidnapping a local dissident (Val Avery), drugging him and using him as a human bomb who will be dropped on Kosygin's limousine from a helicopter! (I'm not making this up.) Along the way, Segal finds he's being set up as a dupe and is framed for murder. The entire tired affair ends in a race against time with Segal going mano-a-mano with a KGB killer on the roof of a landmark hotel that Kosygin is en route to (the only sequence that affords the slightest hint of suspense). Absurdly, Kosygin's motorcade is permitted to continue racing to the hotel despite the fact that hundreds of people are watching a running gun battle taking place on the roof. The film was directed by Lou Lombardo, who made a name for himself as an editor of great talent after supervising the cutting of The Wild Bunch. As director, he keeps the action flowing but the plot absurdities soon distract from some otherwise interesting angles and performances. The fine supporting cast includes Gordon Jackson, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Stock and Louise Fletcher, but their characters are rather boring. The film also throws in Christina Raines for sex appeal but she comes across as the dullest leading lady in memory, barely registering much emotion even when finding a dead body in her bathroom. (Although most of us would find such a development a bit disturbing, Lombardo cuts to a scene of Segal and Raines enjoying a spot of breakfast tea- while the man's body remains on the bathroom floor.) Segal is always enjoyable to watch and his wiseguy persona is in full bloom here, but the production is amateurish on all levels considering the talent involved. Maybe, as with Love and Bullets, everyone involved just wanted a paid getaway and had a desire to visit Vancouver. (It should be mentioned that director Lombardo was said to be battling drinking problems during production and that the finale of the film - the only truly effective scene- was directed by Anthony Squire, who did not receive screen credit.)
Both transfers are adequate though not overly impressive. Love and Bullets was shot in widescreen but is presented here in full screen ratio. Russian Roulette is presented in letterboxed format. There are no extras.
Rory Calhoun, Anne Francis, Vince Edwards and Chuck Connors, “The Hired Gun”
arrives via the Warner Archive Collection. The 1957 western was part of a
production deal between Calhoun and Victor Orsatti, known as Rorvic Productions,
which resulted in this, “The Domino Kid” and “Apache Territory.”
Beldon (Francis) is about to be hanged in Texas for the murder of her husband.
Judd Farrow (Connors), pretending to be a minister, helps her break out of jail
by hiding a Derringer pistol inside a Bible. They ride off to the safety of her
uncle’s ranch across the order in New Mexico. Gunslinger Gil McCord (Calhoun) is
hired by Ellen’s father in-law, Mace Belon (John Litel), to extradite Ellen and
return her to Texas so she can be hanged. He accepts the $5,000 bounty and sets
gets hired as a ranch hand and captures Ellen. On their return trip to Texas,
Ellen fills Gil in on the truth behind the murder. They are pursued by Judd and
Kell Beldon, her brother-in-law. Attacked by Indians and surviving a gunfight
with Judd and Kell, they eventually make their return to Texas. The truth behind
the murder is revealed and the movie concludes with another gunfight followed
by our hero and his gal riding off together.
was a diverse actor and minor leading man who appeared in westerns, musicals
and comedies throughout the forties and fifties including “How to Marry a
Millionaire” and “River of No Return” with Marilyn Monroe. I’ve been an Anne
Francis fan due in part as a result of repeat viewings of “Forbidden Planet”
and the TV series “Honey West.” Chuck Connors’ credentials go without saying,
but he is relegated to a supporting role.
came to this movie with no expectations and while this is not a great western,
it is an enjoyable minor entry in the genre. It feels more like an episode of a
TV series and uses a lot of second unit rear projection shots in many scenes. Released
by MGM in 1957, the black and white transfer looks very nice in this
burn-to-order release with a very short run time of just 64 minutes. The DVD
preserves the CinemaScope widescreen image and includes the theatrical release trailer.
Warner Home Entertainment is commemorating the 40th anniversary of director Sidney Lumet's classic film "Dog Day Afternoon" with a special Blu-ray edition. Also included is the remarkable documentary "I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale"". Here is the official press release.
Calif., June 16, 2015 – On September 21, the actual 40th anniversary of when it was
released in theaters, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will celebrate director
Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon,
the explosive drama starring Al Pacino, with a new 40th Anniversary
Blu-ray ($24.98 SRP). This unique thriller, filled with sardonic comedy and
based on a real-life incident, earned six Academy Awardnominations1 (including
Best Picture) and won an Oscarfor Frank Pierson’s
streetwise screenplay. John Cazale, Charles Durning (Golden Globe®-nominated
for their roles) and James Broderickco-star.
Pacino and Lumet (collaborators on Serpico) reteam for the drama which
currently has a 97% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes® Score. Pacino plays mastermind Sonny
and John Cazale is his partner Sal -- two optimistic nobodies who set out to
rob a bank, and unexpectedly create a media circus and a completedisaster.
The 2-disc release includes a DVD bonus
disc of I Knew It
Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale, a documentary produced by Brett Ratner
for RatPac Documentary Films, which debuted at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
“Both touching and an informative look at the actor’s craft, director Richard
Shepard’s documentary talks to a who’s-who of Cazale’s contemporaries as well
as younger actors who revere him. Before it’s done, he’ll break your heart all
over again,” noted Variety’s Brian
Lowry. Shepard talks with Cazale’s co-stars, friends, and admirers in a tribute
to talent taken too soon.The two-disc set also includes commentary by
Sidney Lumet along with four vintage special features: two extended interviews and two short films featuring Cazale in
front of and behind thecamera.Cazale’s short six-year acting career included only four other films
besides Dog Day Afternoon – The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, The Conversation and The Deer Hunter. In 1978, just after
wrapping the latter, Cazale died tragically at age 42 and cinema was robbed of
one of its brightest talents.
Dog Day Afternoon(1975)
On a hot Brooklyn afternoon, two optimistic
nobodies set out to rob a bank. Sonny (Al Pacino) is the mastermind, Sal (John
Cazale) is the follower, and disaster is the result. Because the cops, crowds,
TV cameras and even the pizza man havearrived.
Blu-ray Disc 1 – Includes the film and
previously released specialfeatures:
by director SidneyLumet
Featurette - The Making of Dog Day
Afternoon: 4-part documentary exploring the actual events that inspired the
movie, casting, filming andaftermath
Featurette - Lumet: FilmMaker
DVD Disc 2 –
Includes John Cazale documentary and previously released specialfeatures:
Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale -Documentary
oAl Pacino – extendedinterview
oIsrael Horovitz – extendedinterview
oThe American Way (1962,
producer/director Marvin Starkman, screenwriter Bob Feinberg) – A rare, offbeat
short film tweaking American institutions and starring a young JohnCazale
oThe Box (1969, director
Marvin Starkman) – Cazale, who had an interest in photography, is featured
behind the camera as director of photography in this early shortfilm
When the “hardware widow” (Allyn Ann McClerie) asks
Monte Walsh (Lee Marvin) if he’d gotten used to the idea of his long-time
partner Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) and her being married, Monte says: “I never
had so many things to get used to in my whole life, as now.” That line of
dialogue in the middle of William Fraker’s “Monte Walsh” (1970) pretty much
sums up this first and best film adaptation of Jack Schaeffer’s novel about the
end of the Old West in general and the cowboy life in particular. It’s a true classic and even though it
features two of the toughest tough guy actors of the sixties and seventies,
it’s not a melodramatic shoot-em-up, full of violence, sound and fury. Rather it’s
an elegiac portrait of the way it must have really happened, presented in a style
as realistic as the Frederick Remington paintings shown under the opening
At the start of the story, Monte and Chet are two
cowboys riding back to Harmony, Montana, and the ranch where they work, only to
find that everything is gone. The winter was so severe the local ranchers gave
up and sold out to Consolidated Cattle, an Eastern syndicate “run by accountants,”
according to foreman Cal Brennan (Jim Davis). Brennan is managing the only
spread left by Consolidated and offers them jobs. The film’s first act
introduces the basic situation and most of the main characters which include
Shorty (Mitchell Ryan), a bronc buster full of mischief and braggadocio, and
Martine (Jeanne Moreau), a prostitute who Monte calls The Countess because of
her French accent and is in love with in his own way. There’s a bunkhouse full
of familiar actors you’ve seen before, including Bo Hopkins, Michael Conrad,
and J.D. Spradlin.
Once the mise en
scene is established, screen writers Lucas Heller and David Zelag Goodman
prepare us for the trouble lying ahead by introducing the character of Fightin’
Joe Hooker (John McLiam), an old, deranged Civil War veteran who rides fence
and keeps muttering, “I had a good life.” Chet and Monte remark to themselves that it appears Fightin’ Joe’s life
is about over. Riding fence is the lowest job a cowboy can have. Soon after,
when all the hands are out on the prairie, gathered around the chuck wagon,
they see Fightin’ Joe on his horse whooping and galloping in a suicide charge straight
off a cliff.
When they return to the ranch Brennan informs them that
Consolidated has ordered four layoffs and Shorty is one of those given his
walking papers. Monte gives him some money, knowing there just aren’t any
cowboy jobs available anymore. Chet meanwhile has had his eye on the widow who
owns the hardware store. In one scene, he asks Monte if he remembered how many
cowboys there were when they first got there. “There’s a hell of a lot fewer
now,” he says without waiting for an answer. He tells Monte he’s going to marry
the “hardware widow.” Too make matters worse for Monte, Martine is moving to a
town 40 miles away. There aren’t enough men left in Harmony for her to make a
After Chet’s wedding, Monte rides to see Martine and proposes
marriage. Only trouble is neither one had any money. He says he’ll come back
after he finds a job. Back in Harmony that night he walks down the dirt street
of the sleeping town and the bleak look on his face shows he’s finally aware of
how bad his situation has become. He discovers the grey bronc that Shorty had
never been able to break penned up in a corral belonging to the owner of a Wild
West show. Monte saddles up and rides the bronc, destroying half the buildings
in town in the process. The scene conveys Monte’s sense of growing frustration
as civilization has been taking away all the things and people he knew. The
destruction of the buildings may be only coincidental to Monte doing what he
does best perhaps for the last time, but it’s also meant to show a displaced
cowboy wreaking some revenge on the progress that is making him obsolete. The
Wild West Show operator offers him a job playing a fictitious outlaw. Monte
needs the money but he thinks about it and turns it down, saying. “I’m not
going to spit on my whole life.”
There have been many films about the ending of The Old
West. Sam Peckinpah’s “Ride the High Country,” “The Wild Bunch,” “Pat Garrett
and Billy the Kid” and “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” immediately come to mind, as does Tom Gries’s
“Will Penny,” with Charlton Heston. These are great films, but “Monte Walsh” is
more like “Will Penny” and “Cable Hogue” in the sense that Peckinpah’s action films
have plots revolving around violence and revenge, while “Monte Walsh” has very
little, if any, plot. There are shootings and fist fights, but are shown merely
as part of the everyday life of a cowboy. Instead of the heavy blood-letting found
in the “The Wild Bunch” most of the action in “Monte Walsh” is rather
good-natured and usually ends in laughter and a drink. These scenes are made
all the more poignant as we watch the impersonal and far more lethal forces moving
into the west, slowly killing the kind of life these people knew.
The times soon become so desperate economically the
characters are forced to change. Lack of employment and the possibility that
there will soon be no place for them, drives them to desperate acts. The
gradual erosion of the situation the cowboys and Monte’s lover face is
portrayed so subtly and realistically that it comes almost as a surprise when
things do suddenly take a violent turn.
“Monte Walsh” was remade in 2002 with Tom Selleck. Unlike
that version, the original film does not present the Eastern syndicate and the
railroad as evil villains. Fraker and his writers instead merely show the
inevitability of progress and how civilization’s forward expansion necessarily
makes some things and people extinct. It’s unfortunate but it’s just the way
Not enough can be said about the understated,
thoughtful performances by the three leads. Marvin reveals a sensitivity that
only a truly tough man can risk showing. His quiet, low key portrayal and his
gradual understanding of what is happening around him slowly builds to a truly
sad and tragic scene near the end of the film. Palance again reminded us of
what a great actor he was in the days when he played Mountain Rivera in Rod
Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” on Playhouse 90. And Jeanne Moreau moves
us deeply as she accepts Monte’s proposal, and later, when he can’t find a job,
tells him “It’s okay.” She wasn’t expecting a wedding right away, knowing in
all likelihood there never would be one.
“Monte Walsh” was Fraker’s first directorial effort. He
is better known as a cinematographer who worked on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s
Nest” and “The Professionals,” also with Lee Marvin. His only other notable
directing job was “The Legend of the Lone Ranger.” On “Monte Walsh” he turned
the lensing over to David M. Walsh who captured some nice images of the area
around Tucson, subbing for Montana.
The music score was by John Barry with a tune “Good
Times Are Coming” sung by Mama Cass. Barry’s score has been highly praised, but
I found it too reminiscent of some of the Bond films he’d done, and for that
reason somewhat distracting. The Mama Cass vocal was another discordant
element, definitely a product of the time the film was made—the peace and love
music of the
Seventies “Flower Power” generation. However, the
ironic tone of the lyrics perfectly fit the movie’s theme.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray give us “Monte Walsh” in full
2.41:1 aspect ratio, as it
was filmed. Earlier VHS versions cropped the film to 1.85:1 . Color and picture are excellent. Sound is monaural and a
bit bright, making Barry’s score shrill at times. However the dialog is clear,
with the music never overpowering the actors’ words. Unfortunately there are no
extras on this Blu-ray other than the original theatrical trailer.
“Monte Walsh,” especially on this Kino Lorber disc is
highly recommended to all lovers of the western and to those who enjoy films that
try to attain the status of a work of art simply by telling the truth.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
The mid-to-late 1960s saw such sweeping and rapid changes in politics, sexual mores and popular culture that the mind still reels when thinking about it. Hollywood studios, ever opportunistic, desperately tried to tap into the dramatically changing youth culture. A few years earlier, sanitized Elvis Presley musicals and lame beach comedies satiated younger movie goers. By 1967, Frankie and Annette had been abruptly made irrelevant by Bonnie and Clyde. Suddenly aging studio executives were throwing money at virtually any project that would prove they had their fingers on the pulse of the increasingly important demographic that represented the future of the film industry. In 1969 alone there was a sea change in the types of films that were bringing in big boxoffice. Wife swapping was played for laughs ("Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice"), drug dealers were presented as tragic heroes ("Easy Rider") and an X-rated film would go on to win the Best Picture Oscar ("Midnight Cowboy"). Even the main staple of the traditional studio release- the Western- was often rendered unrecognizable as veteran stars engaged in unprecedented blood-letting in Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" and the anti-Establishment tone of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". Fox, like other studios, grappled to stay relevant. There was still plenty of business for old-fashioned studio fare that was deemed non-threatening, but the wind was clearly in the sails of those movies that pushed the envelope in terms of making social statements. And so it was that an ill-fated project titled "Che!" went into production at the studio.
"Che!" was very much a "Ripped From Today's Headlines!" film. Ernesto "Che" Guevara had only been killed two years previously and had already become an iconic symbol in international revolutionary movements. The proud communist was born in Argentina but had joined up with Fidel Castro's movement in 1956 that was dedicated to toppling the seemingly indestructible dictatorship of corrupt Cuban president Fulgencio Batista, who was widely deemed to be a bought-and-paid for puppet for American mobsters who had widespread financial interests in the island nation. Che, who started as a lowly medic for Castro's 82 man guerilla movement, quickly rose in stature following a massacre that found the group reduced to only 12 fighters. Incredibly, within a relatively short period of time, Castro's ragtag band regrouped and won almost fanatical support among the general population. In a stunning turn of events, Batista was abruptly forced to resign and flee the country. Castro triumphantly entered Havana and the rest is history.
The Fox production of "Che!" primarily resonates a bit today only because Cuba is back in the news. Castro, who has been on his "death bed" seemingly for twenty years, is still stirring controversy with the recent decision by the Obama administration to loosen restrictions on Cuba. Though widely supported by public polls, the policy is taking a hit in some quarters because of Castro's predictable penchant for tossing insults at the USA during the most sensitive period. He claims that America owes Cuba many millions of dollars in reparations for damage inflicted on the nation through the 55 year embargo. The seeds of all these issues are addressed in "Che!" but only in the most superficial manner. The film presented the titular firebrand, played by Omar Sharif, as the brains behind Castro's successes. Castro, played by Jack Palance, is seen as a relatively benign figure here; a man who becomes almost completely dependent on the political and military advice offered by his younger protege. Upon taking power, however, rifts come between the two "comrades". Castro installs himself as a ruthless dictator in much the manner that Batista was. Che opposes his cozy relationship with the Soviet Union that saw Cuba become the mistress of the Russians, accepting the placement of nuclear missiles in return for the easy financial supplements that Castro became increasingly dependent on. The Bay of Pigs invasion is mentioned almost in passing and the Cuban Missile Crisis is covered almost entirely through some brief newsreel footage of Adlai Stevenson publicly challenging the Soviets to admit the presence of the missiles during a U.N. Security Council emergency meeting that became infamous. The long-term implications of such momentous events are swept aside. Instead, we see the perpetually brooding Che as a man who is impossible to please. While Castro is content to have won power in Cuba, Che is restless to spread the revolution to other nations. While Che is critical of Castro's abuse of power, he falls victim to his own demons as well, justifying mass murders of former government and military officials on the basis that doing so will satiate the public, which is demanding retribution for years of oppression under Batista. All of this is powerful fodder for a dramatic screenplay, but "Che!" is schizophrenic in its structure. It waivers between being a psychological study of a complex man and being an overview of important political events that were still relatively recent at the time of the movie's release. In the end, the film is unsatisfactory on all levels. Worse, it has a rushed look to it and, despite some fleeting atmospheric scenes shot in Puerto Rico (doubling for Havana). Many of the other sequences were all too apparently shot at the famed Fox Ranch set in Malibu. The movie, which fortunately is at least never dull, begins with Che already dead, having been killed in a gun battle in Bolivia, where he made the ill-fated decision to try to launch a revolution in a country that was not demanding one. His story is then told through flashbacks by the normal competent director Richard Fleischer, who uses the awkward device of having friends, colleagues and enemies of Che relate anecdotes by breaking the "the fourth wall" and addressing the viewer directly. It's a hokey tactic that more than once elicits some unintentional giggles.
When the film opened, it was universally panned and helped derail Omar Sharif's status as a bankable leading man. He had made some major hits over the years: "Lawrence of Arabia", "Doctor Zhivago" and, more recently, "Funny Girl". But there were the high profile bombs "Mayerling" and "Mackenna's Gold". With "Che!", both Sharif and Jack Palance found themselves ridiculed by critics who savaged their performances. Ironically, it is only their performances that seem to have withstood the test of time. Not only do they both bear remarkable physical resemblances to the historical figures they are playing, both also give quite credible performances. Sharif is appropriately a brooding, humorless figure and Palance, who was known to chew the scenery, is quite restrained and content to chew some fine Cuban cigars instead. Director Fleischer had assembled an impressive cast of character actors including Cesare Danova, Robert Loggia and Barbara Luna but gave them nothing of any consequence to do. They serve primarily as window dressing. Even the great Woody Strode is bizarrely cast in an almost wordless role that sees him reduced to marching through the jungle and firing machine guns. The screenplay never digs beneath the surface to examine either Che or Castro's motives for their actions. The abuse of the Cuban people by Batista is all but ignored, for example, and the film takes an agnostic attitude towards the actions of Che and Castro, probably because passing judgment one way or the other might well have alienated the intended audience. The strategy didn't work. "Che!" became a notorious bomb at the time of its release and its reputation remains tarnished though it's attributes are probably more apparent today than they were back in the day. This makes the new Twilight Time limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray release all the more welcome. In viewing the movie in retrospect, it still resonates as a misfire but doesn't seem nearly as awful as critics made it out to be in 1969. The transfer looks great and there are some bonus features: an interesting vintage "making of" featurette, a TV spot and the original trailer. There are also the usual excellent liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo, who points out the irony in the fact that to today's generation, Che is primarily known as an anonymous image on bestselling T shirts that have made a fortune for capitalist hucksters. One hopes that the company might reissue this title some day and include commentary tracks by political historians in order to separate fact from fiction.
If there is such thing as a family-oriented sex farce, the 1969 hit "Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell" fits the description. The delightful concoction stars Gina Lollobrigida as Carla Campbell, a vivacious woman of relative wealth who lives in a modest Italian village. She is known for her rather upscale lifestyle that includes a live-in maid, Rosa (Naomi Stevens) and the fact that she can afford to send her 18 year-old daughter to a fancy American university in Switzerland. Life is very pleasing for Carla, who is known for using her money for charitable purposes. She has told everyone that she came by her wealth when her husband, an American officer named Captain Campbell died in action during WWII. She tells a moving tale about how she married him when he took shelter at her house when she was only 16 years old. They fell in love, married and had only a few days together before he was shipped out and killed in battle. During their brief marriage, she became pregnant with their daughter Gia (Janet Margolin), who is now far more American than Italian in her speech and mannerisms. Carla claims that her financial security comes from her late husband's family in America, which has been kind enough to send ample checks every month to provide for her and Gia. Carla also has her own boy toy, hunky Vittorio (Philippe Leroy in a very amusing performance), who oversees her small wine business. As with most Italian lovers depicted in comedies of this period, the two spend a good deal of time verbally sparring with each other but every time one of them threatens to leave, the other uses sex as lure to get her/him back.
A crisis erupts one fine morning when Carla discovers the town is preparing to host a reunion of American airmen who were stationed there during the war. Turns out she has been living a lie. She confides to Rosa and Vittorio that there had never been a "Captain Campbell" who she married. In fact, she created him out of thin air to cover the fact she was pregnant and took the name from a can of Campbell's soup! In reality, three different airmen had been housed with her family during the same week. As one moved out, another moved in...and she had relations with each of them. At the war's end, she was not certain which of them was the real father of her baby so she wrote to each man and told him he was the father. The three men all believed that he was her only lover and dutifully and secretly sent checks to Carla over a period of twenty years, continuing the practice even after they married and had kids of their own. Now the three ex-G.I.'s are coming to town and will expect to slip away from their spouses and see Carla. Making matters worse, Gia has heard about the reunion and has made a surprise return from school in order to meet the men of her father's fighting unit. All the set pieces are now firmly in place for a traditional Italian farce. There is a script flaw in that the film should be taking place some years earlier, as the age of some of the characters doesn't add up. Also, as the movie was released in 1968, why are the Americans visiting Italy to celebrate their 20th anniversary reunion? That would mean they were in the country three years after the war ended.
Japanese release of the Golden Globe-nominated title song.
The three men who think they are Gia's father are a diverse lot. Justin Young (Peter Lawford) is an aristocratic playboy who is accompanied by his long-suffering wife Lauren (Marian Moses), who can barely endure his constant womanizing. She correctly assumes that he intends to hook up with another girl while in Italy for the reunion, though she doesn't know that he believes he will be seeing the mother of his daughter. Walter Braddock (Telly Savalas) also has an abrasive relationship with his wife Fritzie (Lee Grant), who constantly throws painful insults at him because the couple can't have children. (Walter doesn't believe the medical diagnosis because he feels he fathered Gia). Then there's Phil Newman (Phil Silvers) and his loyal wife Shirley (Shelly Winters in full Shelly Winters mode). The couple has their young sons along for the trip and Phil finds that every time he concocts a way to meet up with Carla, family responsibilities intrude. Finally, each man manages to contact her and Carla finds herself in the unenviable position of having them all make secret visits to her villa at the same time. This results in the predictable madcap scene in which she tries to hide them from each other. Director Melvin Frank (who co-wrote the script) demonstrates an ability to make such ancient comedy scenarios work, thanks in no small part to the presence of those great male second bananas, each of whom gets plenty of screen time. (Only Lawford seems miscast. He looks too much like a dapper movie star and no one attempts to explain why an American airman has a British accent.) Carla's complex situation becomes increasingly troublesome as pace becomes frantic, resulting in car chases, lovers quarrels, the unveiling of long-kept secrets and a very moving and sentimental finale.
Lollobrigida gives one of her best performances in this film and was nominated for a Golden Globe. The sheer amount of talent on display makes us point out once again that in days of old, such marvelous actors were taken for granted. Today, there is a dearth of great character actors and the film industry is not better off because of it. The film zips along at a brisk pace, accompanied by Riz Ortalani's inspired score, topped off by the infectious title tune which is crooned by Jimmy Rosell, which was also nominated for a Golden Globe.
The Kino Lorber release has an excellent transfer and features the original trailer.
Boy in the Striped Pajamas” isn’t a horror movie in the traditional sense, but
does depict a real life monster masquerading as a soldier, husband and father.
Told from eight-year-old Bruno’s point-of-view, the story takes place in Nazi Germany
during WWII and is a deeply moving portrayal of the horror of the Holocaust.
The movie opens with Bruno playing with his friends and returning home to learn
his family is moving. His father, a high ranking officer with the Nazi SS, has
been given orders for a new assignment far away from their home in the city.
to a home in the country located next to what Bruno believes is a farm, he wants
to find a friend, but is told to not venture beyond the locked garden gate. For
most boys that’s just a challenge and he finds a way beyond the garden. After
walking through the woods, he meets a boy names Shmuel who wears striped
pajamas and lives at “the farm” located just beyond the barbed wire electrified
fence. They shake hands through the fence and become best friends and meet there
new house has a different type of staff. They’re dressed and behave differently
than the staff at the old house. Bruno talks to an old man working in the
kitchen, but he’s told not to engage him. Bruno’s mother is uncomfortable with
their move, her husband’s work and the new staff. Father is busy and his older
sister becomes infatuated with a young SS officer as well as indoctrinated into
the German Nazi cause. Bruno’s sister posts magazine and newspaper clippings
about Nazis on the wall near her bed like they were movie stars.
of the most moving and fascinating scenes in the movie happens as Bruno is
watching a Nazi propaganda movie made about the death camp which he thinks is a
type of farm. While the camp is never directly identified in the movie, it is a
fictionalized version of the notorious Auschwitz death camp. The propaganda
video depicts a happy existence for the Jews on “the farm” as they stop at the
café for coffee, participate in sporting events and go about their work singing
and happy. The movie within the movie was recreated by the filmmakers and is
based on actual Nazi propaganda created during this period. Bruno embraces his
father, convinced he is making a good life for the those living on “the farm.”
movie is brutal at times and the brutality at the house comes at the hands of
the young SS officer. The man working in the kitchen is terribly mistreated and
suddenly disappears. Bruno’s friend, Shmuel, appears in the house to help set
up a party. After eating some food given to him by Bruno, Shmuel is caught
eating the food by the young SS officer. Bruno denies giving Shmuel the food
and Shmuel is taken away. We see the beating Shmuel received after he and Bruno
meet at the fence days later. Bruno apologizes and they dig a hole under the
fence so they can play together. Shmuel tells Bruno that his father has
disappeared. Bruno offers to help search for Shmuel’s father on “the farm” and
the next day Shmuel brings and extra set of striped pajamas for Bruno to wear.
Their search leads to the devastating conclusion of “The Boy in the Striped
movie is a believable and outstanding depiction of the innocence of childhood
in the midst of real life horror. Bruno is brilliantly played by Asa Butterfield in one of the most believable kid roles
in any movie. Following this movie he gave equally good performances as the
title characters in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” and in the sci-fi drama “Ender’s
mother and father are known to the viewer as “mother” and “father.” David
Thewlis is convincing and understated as Bruno’s father. He runs an
extermination camp by day and comes home for dinner with his family. Monsters
don’t get any more real than that. I loved Thewlis’ performance in this movie,
playing an almost dual role as father and mass murderer trying to keep his
family together. He’s also one of the best character actors working in movies
today. Vera Farmiga plays Bruno’s mother, a woman who comes to realize she is
married to a monster, but who also is trying to pretend they are a normal
family. Farmiga is very good here and currently plays another mother in the hit
TV series “Bates Motel,” where she plays Norma Bates, the queen mother of monster
mothers. Jack Scanlon plays Shmuel, the boy in the striped pajamas. Or, maybe
both Shmuel and Bruno are the title character because in the end they both wear
striped pajamas and share the same fate. All of Shmuel’s scenes are with Bruno
and the two boys connect on screen in believable and poignant performances. The
scenes with the boys are difficult to watch and filled with sadness because we
know that Shmuel is living in a sort of Hell on Earth. The two young actors
carry their scenes beautifully.
Boy in the Striped Pajamas” was released to theaters in the fall of 2008 and is
based on the 2006 book by Jon Boyne who co-wrote the screenplay with director
Mark Herman. Herman directed two of the best comedy-dramas of the 1990s,
“Brassed Off” and “Little Voice.” The Miramax Blu-ray contains an insightful audio commentary
with Herman and Boyne, deleted scenes with optional commentary by the director
and a featurette about the production with interviews of the cast and crew. The
location shots, period costumes and performances are done with great care and
attention to detail. The movie is worthy viewing during this 70th anniversary
of the end of World War II.
the 1982 cult film “Videodrome”, James Woods plays a low life television
programmer named Max Renn. His
television station, Civix TV, Channel 83, televises adult programmes such as
softcore pornography over the airwaves. Alongside
his partner, a satellite pirate named Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), Renn scans the
airwaves for decidedly dodgy shows to broadcast on his station. Harlan discovers a noise-shrouded broadcast lasting
less than a minute that takes place in a sordid room. The footage contains convincingly
realistic sadomasochism and possibly a murder. Renn is drawn to the material and immediately starts to investigate in
order to secure the broadcasting of this edgy program called Videodrome. It is during this time that Renn attends a TV
debate on a talk show, where he meets fellow guest and radio personality Nicki
Brand (Deborah Harry). The couple date and Renn soon discovers that Brand is
something of a sadomasochist and is further more turned on by the idea of
Videodrome. Renn however, is growing more frustrated in
locating the source of the programme and is eventually advised by his agent to drop
the project. Additional clips are
located by Harlan that continues to feed more into Renn’s growing curiosity. He
continues to search for the people behind Videodrome until his path leads him
to an encounter with a curious personality known as Brian O’Blivion (Jack
Creley). From here on, David
Cronenberg’s intriguing film takes a very psychological and disturbing turn. Soon
after, Renn begins experiencing headaches and strange hallucinating effects
that are the result of Videodrome’s hidden signal.
the bio-horror elements of his earlier films whilst anticipating the
technological themes of his later work, “Videodrome” exemplifies Cronenberg’s
extraordinary talent for making both visceral and cerebral cinema. Cronenberg has been hailed by contemporaries
such as John Carpenter, who insists “he’s better than all of us combined” and
Martin Scorsese as a genius. “Videodrome” was Cronenberg’s most mature work to
date and is still regarded as a cult classic.
Woods shines in his role of Max Renn, and Debbie Harry turns in a convincing
and confident performance, almost as if she had a point to prove. Whilst the
story shows it age in terms of technology (with Betamax tapes and 4:3 TV’s all
over the place), it also provides a dark and disturbingly accurate account of
what was also to come.
fans of “Videodrome” will be delighted with Arrow’s new presentation. Its
previous release (by Universal) was largely disappointing, not only because of
picture issues (it was also a cut version), but also because of its failure to
deliver in terms of bonus material, which was zero. This time around Arrow have
used the same Criterion master (approved by director David Cronenberg and
cinematographer Mark Irwin) as its source and in the process, the picture is
vastly better. There is no longer evidence of an over sharpened image and as a
result there is a much smoother, pure, high definition presentation. This
master also offers a correct frame ratio and colour definition is much more
vivid, yet stable. Universal’s previous Blu-ray release suffered considerably
from the reproduction of reds and blues in particular. Strong, deep blacks have
also helped to improve some of the darker scenes without compromising any of
the film’s finer details. The film also benefits from just the right amount of
grain and never looks overly defined.
audio consists of one standard track (in English LPCM 1.0.) but the clarity
remains sharp throughout and really brings to the fore Howard Shore's wonderfully
I find it hard to perceive how anything can possibly topple this defining
collection. It is by far, the finest transfer (I have yet to see) of what some
fans describe as Cronenberg’s finest hour.
By the late 1950s, the late French novelist Jules Verne was considered good boxoffice, with smash hits such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days having been adapted from his books to the screen. Fox wanted to jump on the bandwagon and made plans to film one of Verne's most popular novels, Journey to the Center of the Earth. The studio had allocated a substantial budget, most of which went into production design and special effects. The project began with Clifton Webb attached at the star, but James Mason ultimately took over the key role of Sir Oliver Lindenbrook, as esteemed Scottish scientist who receives tantalizing evidence that one of his legendary peers, who disappeared two hundred years earlier, may have found a way to explore the deepest regions of the earth's nether regions. Obsessed with replicating this quest, Lindenbrook takes along Alec McKuen (Pat Boone), one of his most promising students. The expedition arrives in Iceland, where Lindenbrook also enlists the aid of Hans (Peter Ronson), a strapping young local man whose physical strength will prove to be useful in the ordeals to come. Unexpectedly, Lindenbrook finds himself having to rely on the support of Carla Goteborg (Arlene Dahl), the widow of a rival scientist who Lindnebrook had mistakenly confided in, only to find the man was trying to use the information to make the historic journey himself. The team is well-equipped for the dangerous mission, but once inside the bowels of the earth, they discover that yet another rival, Count Saknussem (Thayer David), is also competing to race them to the actual center of the planet- and he is willing to use deadly force to ensure he gains all the glory. The film is utterly delightful throughout, thanks in large part to the winning cast. Mason is perfect as the cranky, eccentric professor whose obsession for the mission inspires him to lead the team into the most dire circumstances. Most surprising is the performance of Pat Boone, who Scottish accent comes and goes on a whim, but who exudes genuine appeal on the big screen. (Boone also produced the movie, an investment that still pays him substantial dividends.) At the time, casting singing teenage idols in major film roles was a gimmick that often didn't work and proved to be a distraction. However, Boone acquits himself well throughout and limits his crooning to only one romantic number early in the film. Dahl is the ultimate liberated woman, insisting on holding her own amid some vile threats and Thayer David exudes icy menace as the cold-hearted explorer willing to murder for glory. Young Diane Baker plays Alec's fiancee, who spends most of the film back in Edinburgh worrying about the fate of her betrothed. (Although a few scenes were shot in Scotland, the principal actors never left the United States. Much of the footage was shoot at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, as well as Lone Pine, California). Veteran director Henry Levin proved to be an inspired choice to helm the production, as he is equally adept with the human elements of the story as he is with the spectacle.
Twilight Time had previously released the film in 2012. However, this "new, improved" edition features new cover art, isolated score track of Bernard Herrmann's bombastic, impressive score and an audio commentary by Diane Baker and film historians Steven C. Smith and Nick Redman. There is also an original trailer and the usual informative collector's booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo. The limited edition (5,000 units) Blu-ray that does justice to the amazing set designs and special effects. While these aspects of the movie may seem quaint and retro in the age of CGI, they will amaze more sophisticated viewers who realize that they represent the work of true craftsmen who labored to come up with the incomparable look of the film. The climactic attack by an army of super-sized, flesh-eating lizards is especially impressive and downright chilling. This is one exotic Journey that is worth the investment.
sulla città contaminate / Nightmare City 1980 Directed by Umberto Lenzi,
Starring Hugo Stiglitz, Maria Rosaria Omaggio and Mel Ferrer. Arrow Blu-Ray /
DVD dual format.
Reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) is assigned to the airport to interview an
arriving scientist. The airport personnel are left confused when an
unidentified Hercules lands without communicating with flight control. The emergency
services are deployed to meet the incoming plane but as the doors open, all
carnage breaks loose as an array of varying mutant maniacs spill out onto the
runway. Among them is the scientist that Miller was sent to meet. There is an
immediate onslaught. With the mutants seemingly impervious to bullets, they
proceed to attack and devour anyone who stands in their way.
course, it’s a wonderful opening idea and Umberto Lenzi wastes little time in
getting to the action. Forget the phrase ‘slow burner’, Lenzi doesn’t believe
in it. However, examining his film too intently will reveal certain narrative
flaws. Who was flying the plane? How did Miller know the scientist was going to
be on that unidentified plane? These are the sort of questions that simply need
in the true style of Lenzi, let’s cut straight to the chase. These mutants are
most certainly zombies. It is also not a film to be taken seriously; it’s a
‘romp’ as filmmaker and Fangoria editor Chris Alexander so fondly describes it
in his superb commentary. Lenzi’s zombies have often been described as ‘Pizza
faced’, but think of a ‘burnt meat feast’ Pizza and you’ll be pretty close to
the genuine article. You can even (to a certain extent) forget the story in general,
it’s a pretty poor one and very little of it. We soon come to realise that
these zombies are in fact, plague infested zombies and their bite contaminates
their victims. Gore fans can also revel in the fact that these zombies can only
be destroyed by a shot to the head…
bottom line is to just enjoy Nightmare City; it’s a perfect beer and pizza
festivity. I suggest simply soaking up the action, (and it is non-stop action).
Forget the stupid script, the lousy acting and the terrible post production
dubbing. Instead, smile at the pure carnage, the fun of those typical Italian
set ups, the eye gouging, the head splattering and of course, the completely
outdated approach of exposing women’s breasts at every given opportunity.
Accept the film on that basis, and I’m sure you will enjoy this seminal cult
classic. The film also contains a wonderful, minimalistic score from Stelvio
Cipriani, and in a style that would later be adapted by the likes of John
Carpenter and his contemporaries. The film has however, often been criticised
for its ending, but it is an interesting concept to say the least. Depending on
your perspective, some might even suggest it is an imaginative and fascinating
ending. For first time viewers and without revealing any more information, I
will let you decide for yourself.
"The High Cost of Loving" is yet another worthy film that has been plucked from obscurity by the Warner Archive. The 1958 comedy offered a rare starring role to Jose Ferrer as well as an opportunity for him to direct a feature film. Ferrer plays Jim Fry, a 15 year veteran of working diligently in the purchasing department for a mid-size company. He is frustrated with the corporate red tape that inhibits productivity but is overall happy in his work as well as with his home life. Why not? He's in his late 40's and his wife Ginny (Gena Rowlands in her big screen debut) is a ravishing blonde beauty twenty years younger than him (though the poster for the film simply ignores this and refers to them as the "young couple".) The film opens on an amusing note that will be familiar to many working couples. We see Jim and Ginny go through their morning workday rituals in an almost robotic fashion, barely saying a word to each other as they each perform their unspoken duties. He gets breakfast ready, she serves him orange juice in the shower. They both sit silently at the table, each taking a quick read of sections from the newspaper. They both climb into their vehicles and pull out of the garage in tandem before, each en route to their jobs. Ginny, against the fashion of the day, has her own career working at a small company. Jim still considers himself a rising star in his own company, a conceit that is reinforced by the news that his employer is being taken over by a much larger corporation. Warned that this often results in layoffs, Jim feels he is immune. He also isn't sympathetic to those who might lose their jobs, attributing it to social Darwinism and "the law of the jungle".
Jim's smug attitude goes into a nosedive when he discovers that virtually all of his fellow executives have been summoned to a forthcoming luncheon as a get-acquainted meeting with the new brass. The problem is that he didn't receive the invitation. Assuming it must have been a mistake, he pretends he did receive it and joins in all the backslapping among his colleagues who view this as a way to make a good impression on the new bosses and rise the corporate ladder. As the days pass, it becomes apparent an invitation isn't in the cards for him. His concern turns to paranoia as he tries to analyze why all his years of devoted service have resulted in him being bypassed. He becomes obsessed to the point that he barely acknowledges Ginny's news that she is pregnant, something that both have been hoping for quite some time. (Although the film hints at sexual activity, the prudish norms of the time in the film industry relegates both husband and wife to separate beds.) To bolster his spirits, Jim's best friend from the office, Steve Heyward (Bobby Troupe) arranges for he and his wife Syd (Joanne Gilbert) to go to dinner with Jim and Ginny. However, the evening is ruined by Syd's incessant chatter about the importance of the corporate luncheon, which she doesn't realize Jim has not been invited to. The script plays out predictably with Jim interpreting every action (or inaction) of his new bosses as a sign that he is about to be fired. He looks up an old business contact in hopes of getting a new job but not only are there none open, but he is warned that in terms of his age, he might be considered "over the hill" in the corporate world. Now enraged, Jim plans to have a showdown with the brass and tell him what he thinks of them, unaware that his snub from the luncheon was due to a bureaucratic mistake that they intend to rectify.
"The High Cost of Loving" is a modest production shot in B&W on a fairly low budget (most of the scenes are studio interiors). However, the movie signifies that paranoia about one's place in their jobs is not a new phenomenon and that discrimination based on age in the corporate world is also a long-standing concern. There is also plenty of sexism that never gets addressed. When she announces she is pregnant, Jim orders Ginny to quit her job ASAP. The corporate world is made up entirely of men in management positions and bosses refer to keeping an eye out for good "men" they can promote. All of the women in the office are clearly in secretarial positions. Ferrer gives a wonderful performance (did he ever not?) and has a deft hand at the comedic elements of the script. He never allows the characters to depend on slapstick or one-liners to get a quick laugh. They all talk the way real people would in the circumstances. There is also a great deal of pathos involved as Jim comes to a life lesson that no one should define the worth of their character on the basis of a specific job. The film boasts a wonderful supporting cast with Rowlands displaying the star qualities that would serve her well in the years to come. There are also some fun appearances by TV sitcom stars of the future including Jim Backus ("Gilligan's Island"), Werner Klemperer ("Hogan's Heroes"), Edward Platt ("Get Smart") and uncredited appearances by Nancy Kulp ("The Beverly Hillbillies") and Richard Deacon ("The Dick Van Dyke Show" and the only character in the film allowed to go a bit over the top.)
The film is not only delightful but unexpectedly poignant. The DVD includes the original trailer.
Made months before the U.S.’s entrance into World War
II, “All Through the Night” (1941) stars Humphrey Bogart as “Gloves” Donahue, a
New York Irish gangster battling Nazi fifth columnists. “Gloves” runs a bookie
operation and he’s got the world by the tail until he gets a frantic call from
his mother (Jane Darwell) who is upset because Herman Miller, the baker who
makes “Gloves’ ” favorite cheesecake is suddenly missing. “Gloves”- with his
gang which includes William Demarest, Jackie Gleason, Frank McHugh, and Phil
Silvers- rush over to the bakery and find the baker stuffed in one of the
pastry bins in the basement. A mysterious blonde (Kaaren Verne) shows up and
disappears when the cops arrive.
Gloves and his pals can’t understand why anyone would
want to harm poor old Mr. Miller, but Gloves’ mother tells him that the blonde
who disappeared must know something, and she tells him to find her. Gloves
doesn’t have a clue where to look and is not inclined to pursue the matter
further. But Mom is last seen asking a peanut vender outside the bakery if he
noticed the girl. “Gloves” and his boys
go to his expensive apartment to relax, and no sooner does he light up his
cigar than he gets an angry phone call from Marty Callahan (Barton MacClain),
another Irish mug who owns a nightclub. He’s irate because “Gloves’“ mother is
there raising a ruckus.
“Gloves” and his boys run down to the club and his
mother insists that the girl who was in the bakery works at the club. How she
knows this is never explained. But I guess the peanut vendor must have known. We’ll
never know since his dialogue ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s an annoying gap in the continuity but it really doesn’t matter. The corkscrew script by
Leonard Spigelgass and Edwin Gilbtert is intended to keep the audience guessing
with one surprising reversal after another. What’s more little plot hole more
Meanwhile, the mysterious blonde is there on the stage
singing the “All Through the Night” theme song written by Johnny Mercer. “Gloves”
recognizes her, likes what he sees and tells his mom to go home. He investigates
and in the process of trying get to the girl, “Gloves” finds nightclub manager
Joe Denning (Edward Brophy) shot. Denning holds up the five fingers of his hand
as if trying to tell “Gloves” something. Witnesses see “Gloves” kneeling over the
body so naturally he has to scram. On his way out he sees a cab carrying the
girl and some shadowy figures rushing out of an alley. Through pals he knows at
the cab company, “Gloves” finds the address the cab went to and continues his
And that’s just the beginning. It turns out Denning holding up five fingers
was a warning that there was a fifth column movement of Nazis right there in
New York. The mysterious blonde is part of the movement (or is she?), which is
being run by Conrad Veidt and his pal Peter Lorre. They are planning to blow up
a battle ship in New York Harbor. To think, it all started because “Gloves”
couldn’t get his favorite cheesecake!
Movie studios had been under pressure for years by
isolationists in Congress to refrain from making films that would incite the
country to war. But with the growing threat of Nazism, the rumors of horrors
occurring in Germany, and the known presence of Nazis in cities all over the
U.S., by 1941 the atmosphere had changed. “All Through the Night,” according to
director Vincent Sherman who shares an interesting alternate audio commentary track
on the DVD with film historian Eric Lax, was an attempt by Warners to make an
anti-Nazi comedy. Sherman admits that reaction to it was mixed. I suppose audiences
weren’t sure what to make of a movie that plays like Damon Runyon meets “Watch
on the Rhine.”
The idea for the story is based on some fact. There
were Nazis in Brooklyn and other parts of New York in the late 1930s and the
only ones concerned about them were the local gangsters and newspaper men. The
general public and the police couldn’t have cared less. So the ending of “All
Through the Night,” with rival gangs of Irish gangsters uniting and battling
German saboteurs is not as far-fetched as it might seem.
“All Through the Night” is a chance to see a big cast
of Warners’ regulars at or near their peak in a lively film that more than puts
them through their paces. It’s not Bogart’s greatest film, but it continue to
help elevate him up from the B-movie gangster films and westerns he’d once been
relegated to. It would be only a short time later that he would once again be
battling Nazis Veidt and Lorre in “Casablanca.” By then the isolationists were
silent and the country was already at war.
“All Through the Night” presents a good many extras to
enjoy on the DVD release. The audio commentary by Sherman and Lax is highly
informative. Lax presents the historical facts and Sherman tells what it was
like to work under the Warners studio system. The place was loaded with sets
made for earlier movies. All he had to do was walk around and pick what he
needed to make a movie. In those days film makers rarely left the back lot. In
addition to the commentary, there is a cartoon, newsreel a trailer for
“Gentleman Jim” and a comedy short subject about quitting smoking. There’s a lot
to see and hear on this disc. It will definitely keep you watching “All Through
the Night,” and maybe the next night, too.
Monsters come in various forms. Those found in fictional literature or film can be chilling enough but, inevitably, it is the real life monsters that strike the most fear in our hearts. People routinely joke about the fact that whenever a heinous crime is committed, those who knew the perpetrator seem to mouth the same cliches such as "He was a quiet man" or "He was a good family man". Yet there is a disturbing truth to this generalization. Some of the worst people in history have been rather nondescript types who would never stand out in a crowd. Such a man who was destined for infamy was Heinrich Himmler, whose homely personal appearance bordered on the comic. He has been described as someone who looked like a character from a Marx Brothers movie. Yet there was nothing the slightest bit amusing about Himmler, as the new documentary The Decent One makes painfully clear. Directed by Vanessa Lapa, the movie has just been brought to DVD by Kino Lorber. Himmler's life and crimes have proven to be well-worn territory for any number of previous documentaries but The Decent One is unique in that it tells his story entirely from his own perspective, along with that of his wife Marga. This was made possible by the discovery of an archive of personal letters between the couple that were looted from Himmler's home by American soldiers who occupied the place at the end of the war. Somehow the stash of letters and diaries ended up in a historic archive in Tel Aviv where Lapa and her researchers were allowed access to them. They revealed a treasure trove of photos and correspondence that provide fascinating insights into the lives of one of the Third Reich's most notorious war criminals. Virtually the entire film is told through narration of the letters between Himmler and Marga, although the film does begin with an all-too brief vintage interview with Marga that appears to be a debriefing by Allied intelligence officers at the end of the war. There are some other comments made from letters written by the Himmlers' daughter Gudrun, who grew up during the war years.
The film begins with comments from young Himmler's diary. As a teenager, he was among the many disaffected Germans who resented their nation's capitulation to the Treaty of Versailles in the wake of Germanys that saw Germany's defeat in WWI. The terms of the treaty were so severe that they caused widespread economic decline in Germany, which was made a scapegoat by bearing the entire responsibility for a war that was so complicated and unnecessary that scholars are still debating its causes today. From these early days, Himmler viewed himself as an outsider. "People don't seem to like me", he writes more than once in his diary. A key inspiration in his life was reading Adolf Hitler's manifesto, Mein Kampf, which called for a revolution in Germany against the flawed but democratic Weimar Republic. Himmler was an early member of Hitler's National Socialist Party, which espoused a far-right political philosophy that was nativist in tone and intolerant in practice. Himmler had always harbored anti-Semitic prejudices and Hitler's ranting political speeches only galvanized others with similar feelings. Around this time Himmler fell in love with Marga, a woman eight years his senior. The two married in 1924 just as Himmler's stock was rising in the Nazi party. Before long, he would be given increasing responsibilities and would emerge as one of Hitler's most trusted and reliable confidants. The film humanizes Himmler through the correspondence with Marga, from their dating period through their marriage. The couple engages in some overtly sexual banter that seems to imply that to some degree an S&M element may have been present in this aspect of their relationship. (They both bizarrely refer to lovemaking as "revenge" on each other and imply that Himmler has been naughty and should be punished.) Following the birth of the couple's daughter Gudrun, Himmler was distressed to learn that Marga could not bear him any other children. As a key element of Nazi philosophy was that couples should have as many children as possible, the Himmler's adopt a young son, Gehbard. The correspondence makes clear that the couple had little enthusiasm for the lad and were frustrated by what they believe is his errant behavior. At one point, Himmler advises Marga to refrain from signing her letters to Gehbard, who was in boarding school, as "Mother". The film follows the Nazi party's rise to political power. Although Hitler is only seen occasionally in photos and newsreel clips, his presence dominates much of the Himmler's personal life. Himmler is there for "the boss", as he refers to him, day and night and his absence from home ultimately leaves Marga frustrated, though Himmler is dutiful in writing letters and sending presents.
The turning point comes with Hitler's disastrous decision to betray his ally Stalin and launch the massive invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, a strategy that achieves remarkable success initially but which would lead to disastrous consequences in the long run. It represents the first time that Marga addresses the fact that Germany may be in real peril, despite her husband's increasingly meaningless platitudes that Hitler can never be defeated. The Allied invasion of Normandy three years later wreaks havoc on the nation. In correspondence written by the astute Gudrun, the child is distressed that Germany is now without any allies and is on its own. Throughout the entire war, Himmler is only a fleeting presence at home but Gudrun clearly adores him even as Gebhard is never fully accepted as his son. In his duties as right hand man to Hitler, Himmler thrives on his new responsibilities to deal with indigenous populations in conquered countries. He starts off by rounding up suspected homosexuals and incarcerating them in concentration camps with orders to ensure that all are shot while "trying to escape". He organizes death squads to exterminate entire villages in conquered Soviet territory. The most ambitious plan, however, is the "Final Solution" to "the Jewish problem". Himmler enthusiastically oversees the implementation of widespread genocide on a scale that is still hard to fathom. During this time, he continues to extol the virtues of the average Nazi, who he maintains has remained "decent" despite the unsavory tasks they must perform in order to keep the Germanic population free of "human animals". Indeed, Himmler seems to never stop bragging about his regard for ethical behavior despite all evidence to the contrary. He insists that members of the Master Race remain pure in every way- even as he engages in a extra-marital affair that sees him impregnate his mistress. He condones confiscating all the property and wealth of doomed Jews but warns that no German can ever personally benefit from this booty- even as he sends some of it home as gifts to his family.
"The Decent One" is an intriguing experience precisely because it reiterates what we already know: some of the most demonic people on the planet can hide behind the guise of being rational, compassionate individuals. Since the film is restricted to telling Himmler's story only through his own words, it does not serve (or attempt to serve) as a chronological diary of the German experience in WWII. Some key events are only glossed over in the interest of time while others are ignored altogether. (It would be interesting to know what Himmler thought of the July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler by his own generals.) The film ends with a scene of Himmler dead on the floor with a British sentry standing over him. Placards at the end of the movie inform the viewer that he had been captured two days previously but had escaped trial by taking a cyanide capsule. We are also advised that his wife Marga died in 1967. His son remained haunted by his fractured relationship with his father and died only a few years ago. His daughter is still alive and donates to an organization that defends convicted Nazi war criminals. Apparently time and history has taught her nothing.
The film and its director have been criticized in some quarters for utilizing the device of having the entire story told through the words of the subjects themselves. The knock against Lapa is that this fails to provide context to the events that are unfolding on screen. I feel these critics miss the point. The most intriguing aspect of the movie is precisely that there are no distractions between the words of Himmler and his family members. It offers the kind of perspective that a standard format would deny the viewer. The Kino Lorber release features some interesting extras. They include an introduction by esteemed documentary maker Errol Morris, who also discusses the film in a Q&A session at Brandeis University. There are also some compelling featurettes that show researchers looking through the files containing Himmler's correspondence and photos. There are visits to relatives of Himmler, who are not in sympathy with him in any way and who discuss the negative connotations that the surname still evokes today. An original trailer is also included.
"The Decent One" should be seen by everyone who believes the old adage that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.
Orson Welles died in 1985, he was known to the younger generation for his
adverts, his chat show appearances and for voicing a giant robot in Transformers:
The Movie. His early successes more than forty years earlier were often
over-looked, the larger-than-life raconteur having allowed his legend and
personality to become bigger than his numerous cinematic achievements.
Magician serves as a much-needed reminder of just how talented Orson
Welles was. A true polymath, it did not seem to matter what Welles turned his
hand to, he would be better at it than you. He was an established artist,
actor, theatre actor and director all before reaching twenty years old. Before
creating what is still generally accepted as the greatest film ever made, Citizen
Kane (1941), he was a popular radio presence, both as the voice of The
Shadow and through his own Mercury Theatre productions. It was with the
latter that he produced what is still considered one of the most controversial
radio dramas of all time: his contemporary adaptation of The War of the
Worlds in 1938, which terrified audiences by forcing them to realise that
they could not always trust what they were listening to on the wireless. Anyone
who had achieved such amazing success at an age where most of us still don't
know what we want to do with our lives could be forgiven for relaxing somewhat
after that. But not Welles. He spent his entire working life going from one
creative project to another, whether it was film, theatre or television.
Frustrated by the lack of control afforded to him by the studio system, and in
particular by the disappointing way The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) was
treated, he became in effect an independent film director, raising money
wherever he could to fund projects which were often left unfinished. Yet it was
during this time that some of his greatest films were made, in particular The
Trial (1962) and Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight (1965). He funded
these films by putting in memorable appearances in other director’s work, such
as his Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949), a role which he later
recreated for a successful radio series.
the complicated nature of the funding means that some of Welles films are still
in legal dispute, and a high quality copy of Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight is
still not commercially available. Clips from this and many examples of his
other work are included here which reminds us just how visually impressive his
films were. The documentary includes interviews with friends, family and
colleagues, both newly shot and archival. Most importantly Welles is given the
opportunity to speak for himself, with clips taken from various points
throughout his career. Time and time again he was frustrated yet he always
seems philosophical as he considers his failures as well as his achievements.
documentary was given a brief theatrical run before being released on DVD by
the BFI. Extra features include an extended interview with the actor Simon
Callow, who has written three volumes of biography on Orson Welles, whose
research has helped to sift through many of the legends to get to the truth of
the man. Magician is as thorough and engaging a documentary as one would
hope for, and ought to lead to a resurgence of interest in Welles' work. It may
perhaps help to finally resolve the legal limbo in which many of his films
Like most Anglo-European co-productions, the 1968 caper film They Came to Rob Las Vegas deserves plaudits for not using any subtlety in its title. You know instantly what it's about as the protagonists, well, they come to rob Las Vegas. The ring leader is Tony Ferris (Gary Lockwood), a casino craps dealer who uses his inside observations to organize an outrageous plot. The casino's daily monetary takes are hauled off to banks courtesy of seemingly impregnable armored cars owned by Skorsky (Lee J. Cobb), an obnoxious tycoon with mob connections who prides himself on the fact that his armored cars are unique in their design. Each one is a virtually Sherman tank with devices that automatically lock if any attempt to open the doors is detected. Inside the car are heavily armed guards who can live for an extended period of time (there's even a bathroom inside!). Additionally, the drivers can activate armor mechanism and machine guns from within the cab. Still, petty crook Ferris believes he has the perfect plan to knock off one of these trucks and capture the millions inside. He organizes a gang of crooks, each of whom has their own specialized talent, to literally kidnap the truck and secrete it in an underground hideaway in the desert. It goes without saying that there are some flies in the ointment and things don't go as smoothly as planned.
The 1969 comedy The Maltese Bippy has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. What is a bippy? If you're of a certain age and grew up in the 1960s, you need not ask. A bippy was an undefined thing that nevertheless, it was insinuated, had a rather naughty or distasteful element to it. The phrase was coined by comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin on their hit TV series Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. The show is rarely discussed today but there is no underestimating its impact on American popular culture when it premiered in January of 1968, replacing The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which had been canceled after three and a half seasons. The premise of the show capitalized on the youth movement and sexual revolution that characterized the era. There was no structure to the show, which largely consisted of rapid fire one-liners and short comedy sketches that often pushed the limits of network censorship. Rowan and Martin had been a popular comedy team that had nonetheless not reached the top rungs of their profession. That would change with the premiere of the show. Their shtick was not unlike those of other comedy duos: Dan Rowan was the sophisticated straight man and Dick Martin was the naive, goofy partner who got most of the laughs. The two men were improbable hosts for what became TV's hippest "must see" comedy show. Not only were they middle-aged, but they adhered to the then popular tradition of hosting their show while clad in tuxedos. Nevertheless, Rowan and Martin introduced envelope-pushing humor that became a sensation. The Smother Brothers had tried the same thing on CBS and got canceled for their efforts largely because they were so sarcastic about LBS's Vietnam War policies. But Rowan and Martin skewered all of the politicians and even included some of them on the show as part of its tradition of showcasing unlikely people spouting one-liners. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels may have had a hit record titled "Sock It To Me, Baby", but it was Laugh-in that immortalized the phrase. In fact, it played a role in the 1968 presidential election. Richard Nixon, back from the political graveyard, was the Republican nominee for president, squaring off against the Democratic nominee Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The Democratic convention in Chicago had been a disaster, marred by riots and police brutality. Nixon had based his campaign on a calm, law-and-order message that resonated with middle class, white voters. However, he was notoriously lacking in humor or personalty. When his advisers convinced him to make a five second cameo on Laugh-In in which he phrased "Sock it to me" as a question, voters saw a side of Nixon they didn't know existed. Whether he ever knew the relevance of the show or not, his poll numbers started to rise and he eeked out a narrow victory over the surging Humphrey in the November elections. Other phrases popularized on the show included "Here comes da judge!", "Veerrry interesting" and "You bet your sweet bippy", which was routinely used as a retort to almost any question posed to Dick Martin. The show's impact over its five year run included making household names of then unknown actresses Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin. Seemingly all the major stars wanted to film cameos for the show. These included such eclectic talents as Johnny Carson, Jack Benny, Henny Youngman and John Wayne. The show also made a short-term superstar of eccentric crooner Tiny Tim.
In 1969, MGM signed Rowan and Martin to a feature film, The Maltese Bippy. This was not their first time on the big screen. In 1958 they appeared in a forgettable comedy, Once Upon a Horse. The Bippy movie did not replicate their success on television and vanished rather quickly, though it has developed a cult following over the decades. The Maltese Bippy begins amusingly enough with footage from a sword and sandal movie that then morphs into Rowan and Martin doing their standard stand-up routine! You have to give the writers credit for at least thinking outside the box. The film proper begins with partners Sam Smith (Rowan) and Ernest Gray (Martin) trying to eek out a living by convincing a busty, 18 year old airhead to appear in a sexlpoitation film with Ernest as the leading man. The amusing sequence finds them filming this "epic" in the confines of a small office with incredibly shoddy pull down paintings serving as scenery. The office is raided and they are evicted for non-payment of rent. Back at Ernest's Victorian era house, his only remaining financial asset, the pair snipe at each other as they try to come up with some other method of making a living. From this point, the story goes into very bizarre directions. It would be pointless to try to connect all the disparate plot angles. Suffice it to say that over the course of the remaining running time, we are introduced to a series of eccentric supporting characters. These include Robin (Carol Lynley), a young college girl who is boarding at the house. Ernest has the hots for her but her innocent nature may be a ruse and she appears to have an ulterior motive for her presence in the house. This could be rumors that the place holds an ancient treasure that is the motivation for less scrupulous characters to pay visits to Sam and Ernest. These include Mischa Ravenswood (Fritz Weaver), a menacing Romanian nobleman who is always in the company of his mentally deranged sister Carlotta (Julie Newmar). They seem to be after the treasure that the household is said to contain. Added to the mix is another wacky boarder, Axel (Leon Askin of Hogan's Heroes). Then there is Ernest's long-suffering housekeeper Molly (Mildred Natwick) who may not be what she seems. An unrelated subplot has the victim of a vicious murder discovered near Ernest's house. It appears the dead man may have been killed by an unknown animal and this results in extended sequences and gags in which Ernest begins to believe that he is actually a werewolf!
The film lumbers along under the direction of veteran Norman Panama but every now and then a genuinely funny gag comes along that makes you laugh in spite of yourself. The film's greatest asset is the spirited performances and the film provides a treasure trove of goofy characters for well-established actors to have fun with. (It's great to see Fritz Weaver in a rare comedy role.) Ironically, the movie mostly comes alive in the final act in which virtually the entire cast kills themselves off. It's a bizarre but funny premise and is well-executed. Despite its flaws, The Maltese Bippy is an enjoyable romp.
The failure of The Maltese Bippy at the boxoffice ensured that Rowan and Martin never appeared on the big screen again. Dick Martin, who had already established himself as a successful supporting actor and comedy director, had a thriving career until his death in 2008. Dan Rowan retired in the early 1980s partly due to health problems. He passed away in 1987 at age 65. Is it safe to say that Rowan and Martin's legacy as major influences on American comedy in the 1960s is secure? You bet your sweet bippy.
jihadist-occupied Timbuktu, a militiaman climbs off the back of a motorcycle
and, in a daily ritual, uses a megaphone to remind the population about the
mandates of the occupiers’ harsh Sharia law: “Important information! Smoking is forbidden. Music is forbidden. Women must wear socks!” Initially, these scenes in director
Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” (2014) recall the scenes of the PA system
announcing the day’s recreational activities at the 4077th’s field hospital in
Robert Altman’s “MASH” (1970). The
harsh, amplified sound of the delivery system gives the message a heft of
authority. In contrast, the message
itself is absurd, like the logic-twisting quips that one of Groucho Marx’s old
characters would spout. In Altman’s
film, the inane whine of the PA system provided ironic relief from the intense scenes in the
surgical tent. In Sissako’s, the viewer
initially laughs at the nonsensicality of the words, but as the film
illustrates, the jihadist tyranny is nothing to snicker at. Caught singing, a young woman is publicly
punished with 40 lashes. For adultery, a
man and a woman are stoned to death in a particularly horrific way. They are buried in a sand pit up to their
necks, unable to move, and then bystanders batter their unprotected heads with
invasion depicted by Sissako actually occurred in recent history. Jihadists mobilized by al-Queda and its affiliates seized control of Timbuktu in
2012 and remained in power for a year before Malian and French troops drove
them out. In some ways it was a
forerunner of the present aggression by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Like the footage we now see every day from
that front on the web and cable news, Sissako dramatizes the heavy hand of
Timbuktu’s oppressors with shots of his gun-wielding militiamen cruising the
ancient streets in open vehicles, black banners flying. A compassionate imam (Adel
challenges the invaders’ dictates. In
one instance, his resistance is successful as an armed patrol barges into his
mosque during prayer, and he orders them to leave. In another, trying to reverse the forcible
marriage of a teenaged girl to a young militiaman, he fails. “It was a legal marriage based on Islamic
law,” the jihadist administrator (Salem Dendou) rules. But there was no guardian at the ceremony to
look after the girl’s interests, the imam contends. “We are the guardians of all deeds since we
arrived in this territory,” the administrator sternly counters.
oppression of Sharia law, or its interpretation by the extremists, is
reinforced by the fact that interpreters are needed for communication between
the Arab-speaking invaders and the natives of Timbuktu, who speak mostly French
and Bambara. The crushing weight of
fundamentalist rule also falls heavily on Kidane (Ibrahim
Ahmed dit Pino), a herdsman who has attempted to live apart from the invaders
with his wife, daughter, and tenant in an idyllic desert refuge. Kidane’s story forms the core of the film and
builds to a tragic conclusion, which in Western eyes is likely to be all the
more troubling because of Kidane’s fatalistic acceptance of events (“it is
willed”). In an American production,
Dwayne Johnson would have saved the day, or Jamie Foxx as Kidane would have
shot his own way out.
A nominee for the 2015 Academy Award in the Best Foreign Movie
category and for the
Palme d’Or as Best Picture at Cannes, “Timbuktu” looks gorgeous
in the new, hi-def Blu-ray edition released by the Cohen Media Group. Detail is sharp, and the colors of the exotic
tribal clothing worn by Kidane’s wife (Toulou Kiki) and other characters are so
vivid they seem to jump out of the TV screen. Some critics thought the movie was too pretty. However, arguably, Sissako is telling his
story through the eyes of his indigenous characters, and this is the world as
they see it. The Blu-ray disc includes
English subtitles for the multi-lingual dialogue track, and there are two extras:
a theatrical trailer and a thoughtful interview with Sissako at a public
screening of “Timbuktu.”
There’s a scene in John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot
Liberty Valance” (1962) when a newspaper man says “This is the west, sir and
when legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Screenwriter Ben Hecht and
director Jack Conway seemed to have followed that sentiment in their biopic,
“Viva Villa!” (1934) which presents a highly fictionalized version of the life of Mexican
revolutionary Pancho Villa. Though not historically accurate, it’s an
entertaining and worthwhile film, and in its own way presents the truth about what
it means to be oppressed and to finally decide you’ve had a belly full and rise
up against it.
The opening scenes show the peones being told by Porfiro Diaz’s soldiers that their land is
being taken away from them. When they protest, the leader of the protesters is
given 100 lashes. His young son watches as the last lash is delivered and it’s
discovered the man is dead. “It must have been too much,” an officer says
derisively. The boy follows the man who wielded the whip into an alley and
stabs him to death. The boy is Pancho Villa.
Grown to manhood, the adult Villa (Wallace Beery) has
become a bandit, partners with another ruthless hombre, Sierra (Leo Carillo).
Beery plays Villa as a larger than life character of gargantuan appetites. He
drinks, eats, and kills as the impulse strikes him. Every beautiful woman he
sees he must have, and he marries each of them. As his reputation grows, a
contemplative little man named Francisco Madera starts a revolution and his friends,
wealthy landowner Don Felipe (Donald Cook) and his sister Teresa (Fay Wray), enlists
Villa in the cause. Villa recruits hundreds of villagers to fight and they free
city after city from the cruel dictator’s grasp. His exploits are recorded by an
American newspaper man, Johnny Sykes (Stuart Irwin), who helps create Villa’s
Things start to go wrong when Madera, a dreamy
idealist, thinks Villa’s tactics are too brutal, and puts him under the command
of General Pascal (Joseph Schildkraut). Pascal is an opportunist who uses both
Villa and Madera, until the day he can seize power for himself. Despite all
that Villa did for him, Madera excludes Villa from the government he forms in
Mexico City after Diaz resigns. Villa and Sierra return home to the hills of
Chihuahua, where they take up bank robbing again. For his crimes Madera has him
thrown in jail, and Pascal arranges for him to be executed. Madera stops the
execution but not before Pascal humiliates him by making him crawl in the dirt.
There’s a lot more to this big, sprawling story, and
Hecht’s script is tight, full of visual metaphors, most of which revolve around
the land that everyone’s fighting for, down to the last handful of dirt
clutched in a dying man’s hand.
Stories abound regarding the filming of “Viva Villa!”
For example, the movie began with Howard Hawks directing and Lee Tracy playing
reporter Johnny Sykes. But Tracy had a drinking problem and apparently urinated
off his hotel room balcony, while screaming insults at a group of military
cadets. Tracy was hustled out of the country and Hawks was called back to
Hollywood by producer David. O. Selznick. The two of them got in a fight over
Tracy. Hawks wanted to keep him in the picture and he socked Selznick in the
nose and himself out of the picture. He was replaced by Conway. All previous
scenes were reshot.
Despite this setback, the reassembled cast and crew
managed to turn in solid performances in all the key roles. It’s arguably
Beery’s best film, and Schildkraut turns in a world class performance as a
vicious snake. Conway’s direction is solid and straightforward. The black and
white cinematography by James Wong Howe is first rate, highlighted as usual by
his use of sharp contrast in the bright daylight scenes shot in the Mexican
There are other films about the Mexican revolution,
including Elia Kazan’s “Viva Zapata,” (1952) which is more historically
accurate, and “Villa Rides” (1968) an adventure film played almost for laughs
with Yul Brynner as Villa and Robert Mitchum (script by Robert Towne and Sam
Peckinpah). But “Viva Villa!” has a timeless quality to it that holds up well
today and manages to show its influence on the films that followed. The Warner Archive has done a first rate job
of transferring the film to DVD. The original theatrical trailer also appears
on the disc. Recommended.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
The Warner Archive has released the 1951 comedy Callaway Went Thataway. The film is a low-key but delightful tale that has more than a wisp of Frank Capra in its story line. The movie opens with a montage of scenes showing young boys and girls glued to their television sets as they watch the adventures of singing cowboy Smoky Callaway (Howard Keel). They don't realize they are actually viewing old "B" movies from the 1930s. Not that it matters. Callaway has found a new audience with a younger generation and they have made him America's favorite TV hero in these early days of the medium.(Since so many households did not have televisions in 1951, the film shows a common sight during this era: people crowded around department store windows to watch TV broadcasts). Network brass and sponsors immediately want to keep the gold train rolling by initiating more new films starring Smoky. The only problem is that no one has seen him in ten years. The network enlists a marketing firm owned by partners Mike Frye (Fred MacMurray) and Deborah Patterson (Dorothy McGuire) to track down Smoky and sign him up for an exclusive contract that will also see an explosion of merchandise with his name and face on it. Everyone stands to get rich including the marketing firm- but finding Smoky seems to be an impossibility. Mike hires a private eye, George Markham (Jesse White) to turn over every stone to find the unwitting superstar. Ultimately, they assume Smoky must have passed away, alone and forgotten. By happenstance, they come across Stretch Barnes, an amiable young cowboy who is an exact look-a-like for Smoky. The ever-opportunistic Mike convinces him to pose as the real Smoky and sign the relevant contracts that will make everyone a fortune. The ruse works. Network executives and sponsors are delighted and kids enthusiastically look forward to meeting Smoky during his nationwide personal appearance tour. The only problem occurs when Stretch goes before the cameras. Lacking any acting experience, his performance is awkward and unprofessional. However, the executives attribute this to simply having been out of the business for a while and decide they can edit around the footage to make him look like his old self. In the course of accompanying Smoky on public appearance stops, Deborah finds that the simple but sincere country boy has fallen in love with her. He even gives her an engagement ring and tells her to hold on to it until the day she feels he would make a good husband.
The funniest bits in the movie occur late in the story when Markham ends up finding the real Smoky (Keel in a dual role). It turns out he's a far cry from his old image. He's a hopeless alcoholic and womanizer and he's greedy as well. He blackmails Mike and Deborah by threatening to have them arrest for identity theft if they don't fire the phony Smoky and hire him. This leads to some genuinely funny sequences. Mike, stalling for time, agrees to the terms on the proviso that the real Smoky dries out in at a fitness farm. Here, Smoky manages to mix his exercise routine with getting drunk via some well-hidden bottles of booze he has stashed around the facility. Things finally come to a head when Smoky is required to make a charity appearance before 90,000 fans. The real Smoky is too crude to pull it off and Stretch, feeling ashamed of his role in all this deceit, intends to go back to his farm. The finale may be predictable but it's quite entertaining with Keel squaring off in a fistfight with himself!
The performances are very entertaining. MacMurray has long been underrated as an actor, remembered primarily for his late career string of Disney films and starring on the sitcom My Three Sons. However, he was an actor of great depth. He could play villains (The Apartment, The Caine Mutiny, Double Indemnity) and lovable cads with equal skill. McGuire is very charming in the only prominent female role and Keel steals the film in a part that surely would have been played a decade earlier by either Gary Cooper or James Stewart. The movie moves at a brisk pace thanks to collaborators Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, who co-wrote and co-directed the film. The movie is charming throughout and the Warner Archive DVD boasts not only an impressive transfer but an original trailer as well. There is also an unintentionally amusing explanation at the end of the film assuring viewers that MGM meant no disrespect to any contemporary western star and that the studio is well aware of the wonderful social values Hollywood cowboys instill in America's youth!
The 1963 romantic comedy Come Fly With Me has been released by the Warner Archive. The film is a breezy, if dated, homage to an era when flying on a commercial airliner was actually deemed to be an exotic experience. The movie chronicles the love lives of three stewardesses (remember that quaint term?)- Donna Stewart (Dolores Hart) and Hilde Bergstrom (Lois Nettleton) are mature, self-determined young women and the newbie to their flight crew, Carol Brewster (Pamela Tiffin) is a bumbling but irresistible airhead. All of them have one common trait, keeping in the era in which the film was made: they are all drop dead gorgeous. This is one instance in which a profession has not been Hollywood-ized to make it appear glamorous. Back in the day stewardesses were considered to be highly desirable jobs, as they allowed young women the opportunity to not only earn a good living but also see the world during their down time. At the time, few women had opportunities to exert their talents as business executives, so working for an airline was one way out of a humdrum lifestyle. However, there were plenty of misogynist males who controlled the rules that deemed whether a young woman was worthy of being a stewardess. For one, they had to be unmarried. They had to be attractive and had to agree to Draconian terms that could see them fired if they gained too much weight. Adding insult to injury, they would sometimes even have to provide their measurements as part of the employment process. Fortunately, we live in a world today where such practices are not only unthinkable but also illegal. However, we also live in a world today in which travel has become an ordeal rather than a pleasure. Customers must endure skyrocketing prices, petty additional charges and the discomfort of being squeezed like cattle into the tiny confines of their seats. Thus, Come Fly With Me does provide a journey into the past, for both better and worse, when it comes to reliving the glory days of airline travel.
The plot finds our three heroines on an exotic flight that will take them first to Paris, then on to Austria. From the get-go we see how stewardesses were considered to be human prey by lecherous male customers who paw at them and make awkward attempts to get dates. In the film, the women are also targeted by flight crew members. Each of the women ends up meeting their own prospective lover. Naturally, each of them initially spawns the advances. Donna has a chance encounter with a charismatic but egotistical Austrian baron, Franz von Elzinger (Karl Boehm) whose attempts to woo her backfire. Hilde is courted by a older, polite customer, Walter Lucas (Karl Malden) while Carol meets cute with the First Officer of the flight, handsome Ray Winsley (Hugh O'Brian). It will not be giving away any spoilers to reveal that each of the women ends up agreeing to date their individual suitor. Donna is swept off her feet by the lavish favors bestowed on her by Franz. However, in a rather engrossing plot twist, it is revealed that he is actually using her as an unwitting "mule" to smuggle diamonds into Austria on her future visits. Hilde finds herself smitten by the earnest and gentlemanly Walter, but turns sour on the relationship when she learns he has been recently widowed and suspects he only likes her because she resembles his deceased wife. Carol finds a willing boyfriend in Ray but is alarmed to find out he has been having a long-term affair with a predatory married woman in Paris. Worse, the woman's husband has filed a formal complaint with the airline, which has punished him by refusing to promote him to captain.
The film was designed primarily as a chick flick in an era that began a few years earlier with Three Coins in the Fountain, which depicted for the first time the notion that young women should travel the world together on exotic vacations. This was followed by Where the Boys Are, a movie that had an even greater impact in encouraging single women to indulge themselves in travel and partying. (Coincidentally, it starred Dolores Hart). Come Fly With Me sends out mixed messages in terms of women's liberation. On the one hand, the three main female characters are headstrong and think nothing of making demands of their suitors that ensure they are treated with respect. (For all the romantic scenes in the film, it's implied that these ladies are distinctly virginal despite a few frank references to sex.) On the other hand, each of them seemingly only wants to find that special guy and settle down, presumably willing to sacrifice their careers in the process. In the movie's favor is the fact that it was actually filmed on location in Paris and Vienna, which adds a luster that many films of the era lacked. (The studio sequences were shot at MGM's now defunct UK-based studios.) Consequently, the movie has a rich, classy feel to it. The cast is also impressive with each of the stars delivering an amusing performance, even if Tiffin does overdo the lovable goofball routine. The location scenery in these gorgeous European locales still impresses and the movie benefits from the title song by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, which was a big hit for Frank Sinatra in 1957, though it's sung here over the credits by Frankie Avalon. The proceedings move along at a brisk pace thanks to the efficiency of Henry Levin's direction and the impressive cinematography by the legendary Oswald Morris. The screenplay was written by the esteemed William Roberts (The Magnificent Seven, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm). The film ultimately builds to a somewhat suspenseful conclusion via the diamond smuggling plot before it tapers off to a contrived finale in which each of the ladies resolves their romantic issues and finds fulfillment with their flawed, but still admirable beau.
I enjoyed Come Fly With Me despite its predictable story line, largely because of the charismatic cast and the presentation of a bygone era that is somewhat fascinating from a sociological perspective. The Warner Archive DVD transfer is hit-and-miss. At times the film looks gorgeous but at some points (especially in sequences using second unit footage) there is a yellowish hue. There are no extras.
(Trivia notes: This was Dolores Hart's final film. She was a hot property with the studios but decided to leave acting to become a nun. Today she is a respected abbess of a monastery and a documentary about her life was nominated for an Oscar in 2012. Actress Lois Maxwell appears in the movie in an inexplicably wordless role despite having many high profile film credits including two James Bond movies as Miss Moneypenny and the horror classic The Haunting, which was released the same year as Come Fly With Me. It would appear as though much of her footage may have ended up on the cutting room floor.)