model Tina Cassidy (Kathryn Witt) visits Hollywood plastic surgeon Larry
Roberts with a specific list of tiny imperfections that need to be corrected at
the request of Reston Industries, a producer of glossy television
commercials.Dr. Roberts becomes curious
when he realizes that several of his recent patients have had the same type of
follows is a science fiction/police procedural that involves the murder of
these same models.The police become
suspicious when it is discovered that all the victims were patients of Dr.
Michael Crichton once again makes predictions based on emerging
technologies.His first feature film, Westworld
(1973), pioneered the use of digitized imagery to present the point of view of
Yul Brynner’s android gunslinger.
Looker, we have actors being converted to computerized images that may be
manipulated through animation.These
digital actors communicate subliminal messages that cue the audience to respond
favorably to the product.Once these
models are scanned by the L.O.O.K.E.R. (Light Ocular-Oriented Kinetic Emotive
Responses) program, there’s no need for humans to create commercials.And if the process works so well at
convincing television viewers to buy, why not use it to manipulate a national
election and allow a corporate-friendly Senator to be elected President?
one effective scene, Tina returns to her home to visit with her parents and
finds that they can’t take their eyes away from a comedy show they are
watching.Mom and Dad have been drawn in
Industries is also preparing the L.O.O.K.E.R. technology for military
applications with a gun that renders an enemy immobile for several minutes
leaving no memory of the event.A
henchman hired to kill Dr. Roberts employs the weapon to almost humorous effect
as he taunts his victim.
good thriller requires a great cast and director Crichton chose wisely with
Albert Finney as the mild mannered
surgeon Dr. Roberts.One might wonder if
this character was at all inspired by the Beatles’ song of the same name.Also on hand are James Coburn as sleazy corporate head John Reston, Susan
Dey as model Cindy Fairmont, the always
beautiful Leigh-Taylor Young as marketing director
Jennifer Long and Dorian Heywood as
people may be aware of this film only from its claustrophobic pan and scan
showings on pay cable during the 80s and 90s.The Warner Archive’s’widescreen Blu-ray provides a beautifully restored
edition of Looker in all its Panavision glory.The stereo sound is properly re-mastered and showcases the music score
by Barry De Vorzon, who created a terrific techno-thriller
soundtrack that avoided the cheese factor and aged well.And then there’s that title song, performed
by Sue Saad, that will definitely earworm its way into your head for days.
new Blu-ray version of Looker will propel you back to the 80s in style and
comfort. Bonus features are the original trailer, an informative introduction by Michael Creighton and a deleted scene that was included in the TV broadcast of the film. Another great addition to the
Warner Archive library.
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It took Sean Connery years to successfully cast aside the shadow of James Bond and establish himself as a diverse actor. Connery had made some fine non-Bond films even during the peak of 007 mania - The Hill, Woman of Straw, A Fine Madness and Marnie. Each of these worthy efforts afforded Connery a role that was significantly different than that of Bond but, much to his frustration, all of them were box-office disappointments, although he did have the satisfaction of seeing The Hill win international acclaim. When Connery left the Bond series in 1968, he made some more fine films. The Western Shalako was an international box-office success, as was The Anderson Tapes, which cast him as a charismatic crook. Yet, Martin Ritt's The Molly Maguires, an ambitious film about exploited coal miners, failed to click with audiences, as did The Red Tent, which afforded Connery top-billing even though he only had a supporting role. Connery returned to the Bond fold in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever and then quit the part once again. He gave one of the finest performances of his career in Sidney Lumet's micro-budget drama The Offence, but it played in only a few art houses before slipping into oblivion. John Boorman's Zardoz, which has attracted a cult following today, was a critical and box-office flop at the time of its release, as was a minor Connery thriller The Terrorists (aka Ransom). But Connery was not about to be counted out. He scored with Murder on the Orient Express, The Wind and the Lion, Robin and Marian, The Great Train Robbery and, most significantly, The Man Who Would Be King. All were critical successes even if they were not blockbusters. Connery also played a key role in the WWII epic A Bridge Too Far, a fine and underrated film. Soon thereafter, however, his choice of film projects became erratic. Although the films Cuba, Wrong is Right and Outland all under-performed at the box-office, they at least afforded him the opportunity to work with acclaimed directors Richard Lester, Richard Brooks and Peter Hyams, respectively. But the cheesy disaster flick Meteor could only be attributed to the desire to make a fast buck.
As Connery matured as a man and actor he still would take on films with limited commercial appeal if he felt the project was artistically rewarding. This was the case with the 1982 film Five Days One Summer which proved to be the final cinematic work of Oscar-winning director Fred Zinnemann, who had made such classics as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. Zinnemann had scored a late career triumph in 1977 with Julia but hadn't made a film since. The movie was an odd choice for both men since the story was small in scale and seemed to have no hope of attracting mainstream audiences. Five Days is very much an art house movie that was nevertheless given wide release based solely on Connery's presence as the leading man. Predictably, it had a quick playoff to largely empty theaters but perhaps more surprisingly, the critics who had lauded Zinnemann with praise for Julia now accused him of making a film that was too small in scope for a collaborative project with Sean Connery. Zinnemann was seventy-four years old when he made the movie and perhaps he felt he had paid his dues to the big studios over the decades. Now in the twilight of his years he might have simply wanted to make a very personal film that appealed to him, if not everyone else. The script is based on a 1929 short story, Maiden Maiden by Kay Boyle. The film was shot under this title before the decision was made to change it to the equally ambiguous Five Days One Summer. In fact, Maiden Maiden was a more intriguing title because it has a dual reference. The first is the the female protagonist of the story and the second is to The Maiden, an imposing mountain in the Swiss Alps where some dramatic events occur. The story concerns the taboo relationship between Kate (Betsy Brantley), an attractive young woman in her mid-twenties and her uncle Douglas (Sean Connery), a successful doctor in his fifties. Since she was a little girl Kate has had an uncontrollable crush on Douglas and as she grew older, came to resent his wife Sarah (Jennifer Hilary). Director Zinnemann zig-zags back and forth in time to show how a schoolgirl crush developed into a forbidden sexual relationship that finds Kate excluding any other potential lover in favor of Douglas. She alternates between joy and depression, the latter mood hitting her whenever she dwells on the fact that she can never be in anything but a secret relationship with the man she loves. Even if Douglas were to get a divorce, the incestuous love affair could never be made public.
The main part of the film concerns Douglas and Kate pulling off a risky holiday trip that will allow them to spend time together in a remote lodge in the Swiss Alps where they can indulge in their mutual passion for hiking and climbing. To avoid any suspicions, she poses as Douglas's wife in a May/December romance. At first she is as giddy as a schoolgirl because she can finally share a bed with Douglas and they can openly express affection for each other. Things get complicated, however, when their hiking guide turns out to be Johann (Lambert Wilson), a handsome young man who is Kate's age. From minute one he awakens long suppressed sexual desires in her for someone other than Douglas, who immediately perceives the unspoken attraction between the two. The trio enjoy a cordial and professional relationship as the hike and take in the scenic wonders around them. However, Johann becomes more forthright when he learns that Kate isn't married to Douglas (though she does not confide he is her uncle). Johann is outraged and tries to convince her to leave him, telling her that she is in a dead-end love affair with a married man that can't end well. Meanwhile, on a dangerous hike with Douglas, Johann also confronts him while they are atop the summit of the Maiden (not the most opportune place to have an argument with each other.) Douglas maintains that he is not using Kate and really loves her. Meanwhile, she has made up her mind to leave Douglas and marry Johann. Before she can give Douglas a "Dear John" letter, word comes that there has been a disaster on the mountain and that one of the men in her life has been killed in an avalanche. In the final scene, she sees a distant figure emerging from the snowy mountain landscape, staggering towards her and a group of rescuers. Is it her lover or her would-be lover? Either way, the result will affect her life in a dramatic way forever.
"Five Days One Summer" has been likened to the German "mountain romances" that were enormously popular in pre-WWII Germany. These films were known to have skimpy plots but magnificent scenery. If critics were kind to any aspect of the movie, it was Giussepe Rotunno's impressive cinematographer. Most reviewers wondered what it was about this modest story that appealed to Fred Zinnemann, who worked infrequently but generally made "important" movies. Despite the low-key nature of the scenario that unfolds on-screen, there is much to like about the film. The performances are first-rate with newcomers Brantley and Wilson making both faring well in their first major roles in a feature film. (Ironically, Wilson screen-tested for the role of James Bond in "Octopussy" when it seemed doubtful that Roger Moore would return to the 007 franchise.) Connery dominates the film, however, with an excellent performance playing a complex character who at times is sympathetic and at other times somewhat of a villain. He's all superficial charm but he cruelly risks destroying his niece's own life by using her as a bed mate. There's no doubt he loves her, but it's clear he isn't about to endanger his marriage to be closer to her. When she finally expresses her frustration and threatens to leave him for Johann, he reacts violently and slaps her. Equally complex is the character of Kate. We're left to speculate as to just why her obsession with Douglas has presumably led to the exclusion of any other men in her life. In this respect, the script is either lacking or intriguing, depending upon the views of individuals in the audience. The only easily definable character is that of Johann. He's a young man of simple means who has no interest in the world outside of the immediate domain in which he was raised. When he is smitten by Kate, his goal isn't to share her life experiences but rather, to incorporate her into his own world. In this respect, Kate's choices of lovers have one thing in common: they both want her to submit to their ideas about what is in her best interests. Douglas has clearly deluded himself into believing that his relationship with Kate is not harmful to her. Johann offers her a more independent, traditional life but still makes it clear that if she marries him, she would have to be content to live in a beautiful but remote mountain region. The end of the tale finds Kate finally exerting her own will and finding a determination to pursue her own destiny.
"Five Days One Summer" is barely remembered, let alone discussed, in evaluations of Sean Connery and Fred Zinnemann's careers. However that shouldn't negate its many merits. I liked the film far more today than I did upon its initial release. The Warner Archive has released the film on DVD. The transfer is a bit problematic. Some of the sequences in the lush mountain areas do justice to the magnificent cinematography but certain other scenes have excessive grain. Additionally, interiors are over-saturated to the point that characters who are seen in dimly lit rooms are sometimes reduced to shadowy blobs. The film is a prime candidate for a Blu-ray, remastered edition. The only bonus extra is the original trailer. It is a region-free release.
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A controversy over the style of drapes for a mansion's library would not seem to be the fodder for a sizzling screen drama but it is the catalyst for the events that unwind in The Cobweb, a 1955 soap opera that involves the talents of some very impressive actors and filmmakers. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and produced by John Houseman, based on the bestselling novel by William Gibson. The cast features an impressive array of seasoned veterans as well as up-and-comers. Among them: Richard Widmark, Lauren, Bacall, Charles Boyer, Gloria Grahame, Lillian Gish, Oscar Levant, Susan Strasberg and John Kerr. The action all takes place in a psychiatric institute called "The Castle". It's actually a mansion house and the patients are seemingly there voluntarily. They are an assortment of eclectic types ranging from elderly eccentrics to young people with severe problems interacting with others. The nominal head of the institute is Dr. Devenal (Charles Boyer), an erudite, once-respected professional who long ago ceded actual power to his second-in-command, Dr. Stewart MacIver (Richard Widmark), who has implemented very progressive and controversial theories about patient treatment that involve giving those afflicted with psychiatric disorders a voice in the policies and events pertaining to the institute. He's routinely criticized for going too far in trying to build patient self-esteem but MacIver is convinced that such programs are the only way to ensure that those in his care can become self-sustaining members of society. The Castle is hardly the kind of loony bin depicted in most Hollywood films of the era. In fact, it looks more like an upscale bed and breakfast. Everyone is nattily dressed, exceedingly polite and indulges in social activities. MacIver is the one who seems closest to a complete breakdown. His marriage to his sultry young wife Karen (Gloria Grahame) is on the skids. She accuses him of being a workaholic who puts his career before the needs of his wife and young son (Tommy Rettig). On a more personal level, she makes it clear that she is sexually frustrated, as MacIver has moved into a separate bedroom, telling Karen that she is a self-obsessed party girl. There is truth in both accusations. The chain smoking MacIver does seem to be married to his job. Predictably, things get more complicated when MacIver has an affair with a co-worker at the institute (Lauren Bacall) and Karen's ill-conceived flirtations with the perpetually horny Dr. Devenal backfire and cause distress for both of them. The fragile tranquility among the patients also becomes strained when a controversy erupts over MacIver's plan to allow them to design and create new draperies for the library. This inspires the most problematic inmate, a young man named Steve Holte (John Kerr) who is traditionally anti-social but who comes alive by using his creative talents for the project. However, the institute's busy-body secretary, Victoria Inch (Lillian Gish) has already ordered expensive draperies from a company and she objects to using the patients' creations. This sets in motion a series of dramatic circumstances that has major consequences for all the main characters.
The premise of the screenplay reads like something out of a Monty Python sketch and critics at the time of the film's release pointed out the absurdity of having draperies serve as the catalyst for such dark goings-on. The film was considered a major disappointment and has largely been forgotten. However, looking at the movie today, one is impressed with the sheer amount of talent involved in the production. It should also be pointed out that saying the movie is about curtains is as inaccurate as saying The Titanic is a movie about icebergs. In fact, The Cobweb is a reasonably compelling drama that sustains interest despite an "everything but the kitchen" sink formula for introducing crisis after crisis for the main characters and a tacked on happy ending that deviated from the book. Widmark is a commanding screen presence and Gloria Grahame excels as his sex-starved wife. Grahame completely overshadows the presence of Lauren Bacall, who underplays to the point of invisibility. There is also a scene-stealing performance by Lillian Gish as an insecure administrator with no life outside of her office duties and who is immediately threatened by any incursion into her spheres of influence. Charles Boyer is an odd but inspired choice as the institute's director, a man who has sold out in terms of his professional ethics simply to enjoy a cozy life and a fat pay check. John Kerr and Susan Strasberg also impress as anti-social young people who predictably become attracted to each other.
The Cobweb is a potboiler, pure and simple. While it's not a "lost classic" by any means, it seems the film does deserve to be re-evaluated for its many merits.
The movie is available on DVD through the Warner Archive and is region-free. The transfer is very good and includes the original theatrical trailer.
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seventh grade English teacher was an interesting character. From 1981 to 1982 he
encouraged us to write our own stories and introduced us to collections of macabre
short stories in paperback format (he even read us a story that he wrote
himself, about a man who cooks and eats his wife!) The names Richard Matheson,
George Clayton Johnson, Charles Beaumont and the like became household names to
me, just a few years before I dove head first into Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone as these masters of
storytelling frequently adapted these stories from Alfred Hitchcock paperback collections
into episodes of that extraordinary series. They were classy, spooky, and
bereft of violence and gore and sent a chill down one’s spine.
you mention the character names of Julie, Millicent, Therese, and Amelia to
die-hard horror film fans over the age of forty, they will no doubt recognize
them as the characters portrayed by the late actress Karen Black in what is
unquestionably one of her most famous horror outings, Dan Curtis’s made-for-TV
movie Trilogy of Terror. Originally
aired on the ABC Movie of the Week on Tuesday, March 4, 1975, the film was
presented with the warning, “Due to mature subject matter, parental discretion
as the title tells us, there are three stories, or segments. The first is
“Julie,” adapted by author William F. Nolan from the short story “The Likeness
of Julie” by the late-great author Richard Matheson which first appeared in the
Ballantine Books collection Alone by
Night: Tales of Unlimited Horror in 1962. A college student, Chad Foster (Robert
Burton, Karen Black’s then-husband whose casting in the film compelled Ms.
Black to sign on to the three-segment project) cannot help but notice his English
teacher’s thigh, and wonders what she must look like under the minimal war
paint and her plain-Jane clothes. He watches her through a window as she undresses
and then gets the idea to ask her out on a date but Julie initially refuses,
then later accepts. They go to a drive-in movie and Chad spikes Julie’s drink
which puts her to sleep. Chad drives her to a motel and photographs her in
various sexually suggestive positions. He develops the photos in a darkroom and
shows her the photos. Julie is furious, and the story ends with a strange
twist. “Julie” is elliptical in a way, the structure calling to mind John
Fowles’s The Collector (1963). Actor
Gregory Harrison has a small cameo in this segment.
second story, “Millicent and Therese”, adapted also by Mr. Nolan from Mr.
Matheson’s story “Needle in the Heart” which was originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in October
1969, is arguably the weakest of the three. Millicent is a sexually repressed
woman with dark hair who fights with her twin sister Therese who is sexually
free and blonde. Millicent truly believes that Therese is evil and creates a
voodoo doll with the desire to kill her. Dr. Ramsey (George Gaines of Punky Brewster), Millicent’s
psychiatrist, does his best to help her, although the ending can be sensed from
a mile away. In lieu of “Millicent and Therese”, I would have liked to
have seen a version of Mr. Matheson’s “The Children of Noah” appear in this
collection, a short story that I read in that classroom in 1982. It left quite
an impression on me.
third and final segment is called “Amelia” and is based upon Mr. Matheson’s
short story “Prey”, originally published in the April 1969 issue of Playboy
Magazine. Mr. Matheson wrote the teleplay adaptation of his own source material
and it is this segment that has given Trilogy
of Terror its notoriety as being one of the scariest TV-movies of all-time.
Ms. Black plays the titular woman, Amelia, who has finally gotten away from her
physically overbearing mother. After spending a few hours shopping, Amelia
returns to her new apartment with a package containing a horrifically scary
wooden doll of an aboriginal warrior that possesses sharp teeth, a spear and a gold
chain that, according to the paper that accompanies it, must remain intact on
the doll in order to prevent it from coming to life. It is just the sort of
thing that any single woman would want to bring into their home.
mother still holds a sway over her and a one-sided telephone conversation
reveals that despite moving out, Amelia still feels guilty about her renewed
independence. Unfortunately, the chain on the Zuni hunter doll falls off, and
Amelia becomes embroiled in a life and death struggle against the crazed
spirit. Director Curtis employs many effective cinematic devices that make this
episode truly frightening, including low-to-the-ground P.O.V. shots of the doll
chasing Amelia, screaming and brandishing its spear. The creepy ending and
terrifying final shot make this segment the hands-down winner in a rather
uneven overall film. Try to imagine seeing this segment in 1975. The violence
and bloodletting alone was unprecedented for its time. The nightmares that this
segment must have induced in children no doubt still linger to this day.
Matheson, who is most famous for his short story “Duel” which appeared in the
April 1971 issue of Playboy Magazine and inspired the television movie of the
same name, directed by Steven Spielberg, collaborated again with Mr. Curtis in
1976 on Dead of Night (1977), another
creepy TV-movie that consists of three segments.
Cobert brings his own special brand of musical spookiness to the film. He and
Mr. Curtis certainly made quite a team! Perhaps not on the order of Hitchcock
and Herrmann, but very close.
"The Shakiest Gun in the West" was one of the feature film Don Knotts starred in for Universal after leaving his role as Deputy Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show"- a role that saw him win multiple Emmy awards. Released in 1968, the comedy is as plain vanilla as all of Knotts's Universal flicks, as it's family friendly throughout. There is one unusual aspect to this production, however, in that it is a remake of the 1948 Bob Hope comedy hit "The Paleface". Directed by Alan Rafkin, who helmed Knotts's first film for Universal, "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken", "Shakiest" follows the formula that Knotts knew his fans wanted to see. He always played essentially the same character- a likable nerd with a lack of self-esteem who blunders into becoming a local hero only to be discredited and shamed. The conclusion of every Knotts film finds him performing some act of extraordinary courage that results in him becoming a legitimate hero and winning the girl, as well. Oh, yes, there's usually a scene in which Knotts's character ends up getting very drunk, thus allowing Knotts to slip and slobber, much to the delight of his audience. Although the original film was written for Bob Hope, a few tweaks by long-time "Andy Griffith Show" screenwriters Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum easily convert the story into a suitable vehicle for Knott's signature nervous guy persona. Both Hope and Knotts excelled at playing cowards. Hope would respond to dangerous situations with a string of quips delivered with the rapidity of a machine gun. Knotts, however, would fall physically and mentally into a virtual nervous breakdown. The result was always amusing and Knotts lived by the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Audiences- especially in rural areas- made his modestly-budgeted feature films very profitable.
"Shakiest" opens in Philadelphia in 1870. Knotts plays Jesse Heywood, a dental student who must complete an examination on a patient in order to get his degree in dentistry. Unfortunately, the patient is a woman who refuses to open her mouth. Jesse tries to cajole her with childlike sweet talk but when she still refuses, the situation turns into a physical battle royal with both of them engaging in a knock-down wrestling match that starts the film off on a very funny note. Jesse then decides to follow the advice of Horace Greeley and "Go West, young man." Presuming there is a dearth of available dentists in the newly-settled territories, the meek city slicker joins a wagon train (after being bilked by used-wagon salesman Carl Ballantine). A simultaneous plot line revolves around Penelope Cushings (Barbara Rhoades), a vivacious redhead who also happens to be a notorious bandit. When federal agents catch up to her, she is offered a deal: she can avoid a jail sentence if she acts as an undercover agent for the government and joins the wagon train to find out who among the passengers are intending to smuggle a cache of rifles to the Indians. At the last minute, the agent who was to pose as her husband is shot dead, leaving her with a dilemma: no single woman can be unaccompanied on the wagon train. Desperate, she uses Jesse as a pawn, fawning over the incredulous newly-minted dentist who can hardly believe his good fortune. Within hours they end up getting married but the minute the ink is dry on the license, Penelope gives a cold shoulder to her new husband. (The only sexually suggestive aspect to the film revolves around a running gag of Jesse being increasingly frustrated by his wife's stalling techniques when it comes to consummating their marriage.)
Once the wagon train is on the move, Penelope snoops around for the gun smugglers, who turn out to be a phony preacher (Donald Barry) and his partner (Jackie Coogan) who are secreting the weapons inside cases marked as containing bibles. Along the way, Jesse allows his wagon to fall behind the others and it is attacked by Indians. In mounting a seemingly futile defense, he is shocked to find that he has killed a dozen of his attackers, not realizing that the deadly shots were actually fired by Penelope. When word gets out of his achievement, Jesse is hailed and feted as a hero. The legend is reinforced when he is challenged by a notorious outlaw, Arnold the Kid (Robert Yuro), who is also slain in a gundown with Penelope secretly firing the fatal shot. (Shades of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"!) Ultimately, Jesse learns the truth and courageously admits to his fellow travelers that he really isn't a hero. He is rewarded for his honesty by being shunned and mocked. His misfortune continues with the admission by Penelope that she was only using him as part of her cover operation. The dejected Jesse is at a low point in his life when Penelope is kidnapped by the gun smugglers and brought to the Indian camp. Determined to save her, Jesse manages to locate the camp and infiltrate it while dressed as an Indian maiden(!). Needless to say, he finds his inner strength and in acts of courage saves the day and redeems his reputation.
Sam Peckinpah’s “The Ballad of Cable Hogue,” (1970)
recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection, is a movie that
doesn’t fit neatly into any specific category. Peckinpah, more notable for his
violent action pictures about outlaws who’ve run out their string and go down
in a blaze of glory, maintained that “Hogue” is a comedy. But co-star Stella
Stevens, in an interview included on this Blu-Ray release, disagrees. She claims
it’s a love story—a tragic love story. The answer, in my opinion, is that it probably
falls somewhere in between.It’s both a
comedy and a love story, and as such, is probably the most honest film about
the human condition the hard-nosed Peckinpah ever made.
The story is a simple one. Jason Robards plays the
titular character, a man left to die in the Arizona desert by two disreputable
partners, Taggert (L. Q. Jones) and Bowen (Strother Martin). Hogue swears he’ll
survive somehow and someday get vengeance on the double crossers. He wanders in
the desert for 4 days without water, occasionally raising his eyes heavenward, to
address the Almighty.“Ain’t had no
water since yesterday, Lord,” he says at one point. “Gettin’ a little thirsty. Just thought I’d mention it. Amen” Just when
he’s about finished he discovers a spring, the only water for 50 miles either
way along a stagecoach road. He builds a house there and calls the place Cable
A wandering preacher by the name of the Rev. Joshua
Duncan Sloan (David Warner) rides in. The Reverend claims to be the head of a
church of his own revelation. As dubious as he appears he reminds Cable that he
had better file a claim on the land he’s on if he wants to keep it. Cable takes
the preacher’s horse and rides into the town of Dead Dog. One of the first
things he catches sight of is Hildy (Stella Stevens), the town prostitute.
After he files his claim and secures a loan from a bank, he pays a visit to
Hildy, who lives in a room on the second floor of the town saloon. He’s
immediately smitten with her but when he tries making love to her, the sound of
a preacher holding a Bible meeting next door reminds him of Rev. Sloan, who at
this very moment might be trying to jump his claim. He runs out on Hildy, promising
he’ll be back soon as he can.
The rest of the film is about the Cable/Hildy
relationship in which Peckinpah presents about as honest a portrayal of human
beings and their struggle to survive and find comfort in one another in a
brutal world as has ever been put on film. At one point Hildy asks Cable if her
being a prostitute bothered him.
“Hell no, it never bothered me,” he answers. “I enjoyed
it. Now what the hell are you? A human being? Trying the best you can. We all
got our own ways of living.”
“And loving?” Hildy asks.
“Gets mighty lonesome without it.”
Despite the hard-boiled attitude both characters profess
to adopt, after they’ve spent some time living together in his house, in one
brief moment it all comes down like a house of cards. They’re having dinner
with the Rev. Sloan and talk turns to Hogue’s penny pinching ways, charging
everyone for water and food when they stop at the Springs. The reverend says
he’s surprised Cable doesn’t charge Hildy for supper. “Why would I charge you?”
Cable tells her. “You never charge me.” And, because of that one thoughtless
sentence, suddenly you see a dream die on Hildy’s face. It’s the end of their
relationship. The scene -for all its subtlety - has a devastating emotional
There’s more to the story, including Hildy’s return after
living in San Francisco, and the long- awaited showdown between Cable and his erstwhile
partners, Taggert and Bowen. Strother Martin and L. Q. Jones, who were part of
Peckinpah’s informal stock company, having appeared in several of his films,
are perfect here. Nobody took a bullet and died on film better than L. Q.
The ending is not comedic at all. It is filled with a sad
irony that shows as simply and as understatedly as possible, what a puzzling
thing life really is.
As with any major film star who dies young, Jean Seberg has become a cult of personality to some film fans, partly due to the fact that she died in Paris from an overdose of barbiturates at age 40 in 1979. Her death was ruled a suicide but conspiracy theories still abound because she was deemed a political radical by the FBI due to her association with far left wing causes and her support of the Black Panther party. On screen, however, Seberg's characters were generally not radical, although her breakthrough film did find her as the female lead in Godard's classic 1960 crime flick Breathless. Still, there were some hints of Seberg's liberated woman persona in her early career. One such film was In the French Style, a largely forgotten 1963 production based on Irwin Shaw's novel. Shaw wrote the screenplay and the film was directed by Robert Parrish, a respected veteran of the movie industry who never enjoyed a career-defining major hit. (The closest he came was directing segments of the bloated 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale.) The movie opens in Paris with Seberg as Christina James, a 19 year old free spirited girl from Chicago who has come to the City of Light to hone her skills as a painter. In the process of trying to acclimate herself to the metropolitan lifestyle, she meets Guy ((Philippe Forquet), a headstrong, sometimes arrogant 21 year-old who is nonetheless charismatic and quite handsome. He woos Christina and before long, they are a couple swept up in a whirlwind romance. However, it isn't long before there are strains due in part to their impoverished lifestyle. Guy, being a typical guy, tries to get Christina into bed, but she says when it happens, it will be on her terms and conditions. When the big moment arises, Guy's romantic evening turns into a disaster because he only has enough money to rent a room at a flophouse hotel without heat. In the course of the strained evening, Guy confesses to Christina that he cannot perform sexually because he is too nervous. He makes a shocking confession: he is actually a 16 year old high school boy and a virgin at that. While this does bring the story into a completely unexpected direction, it's the one element of the film that strains credibility largely due to the fact that Forquet was actually 23 years old at the time and looks it. Nevertheless, this plot device takes us away from what was shaping up as a conventional "boy meets girl" romance and plunges the viewer into unknown waters.
The story then jumps ahead in time and we find Christina now in her early twenties and very much in step with the Parisian lifestyle. She is the toast of her neighborhood's social scene and the belle of the ball in terms of attracting male suitors. In a rather progressive depiction of a single woman for the year 1963, it is made abundantly clear that Christina has her pick of lovers and routinely engages in short-term sexual affairs. Every time she meets the "right man", it turns out that differences in their lifestyles prevent them from enjoying a traditional relationship. Her father (very well played by Addison Powell) visits her from Chicago and, again Shaw's script goes against the conventional depiction of father and daughter relationships generally seen in movies during this era. Instead of being a square old fuddy duddy, Dad is actually amused by his daughter's somewhat hedonistic lifestyle and he asks her how many lovers she has had. "A couple", she replies, but it becomes clear that both of them regard that as a drastic understatement. When her father asks to see the paintings she has been working on for years, he gently informs her that they are below the quality he had expected. He cautions her that her party-filled lifestyle may be compromising her potential. Christina objects and two part company under a strain, but it becomes clear that her father's words have resonated with her and that it might be time to develop plans for a more productive career path.
All of that changes when she has a chance encounter with Walter Beddoes (Stanley Baker), a hard-drinking international newspaper journalist. They enjoy a torrid affair and fall in love but, alas, fate rears its ugly head once again when Walter's requirements to travel extensively takes him away from Christina for months at a time. He confesses to her that, while abroad "I don't live like a monk". Christina says she accepts that he will have other lovers but makes it clear that she will, too. Such behavior from a young couple was rarely depicted so honestly on screen in 1963, an era in which sexually assertive women were generally painted as floozies. By the time Walter returns from a three month stint in Africa, he finds Christina has a new boyfriend, an American doctor from San Francisco (James Leo Herlihy), who she says she intends to marry. She has a civilized lunch with both men, as Walter tries to persuade her to resume her affair with him. She confesses that she has seen her share of former lovers ultimately drop her to marry the girl of her dreams, a status she somehow never attains in their eyes. This climactic sequence left me a bit disappointed because in the end, Christina- that most liberated of young women- decides to throw in the towel to become a doctor's wife and live in San Francisco. However, director Parrish does afford us the nagging possibility that she knows she is selling out by doing so.
In the French Style is a very worthwhile experience. The Parisian locations add immeasurably to its pleasures and the crisp B&W cinematography Michel Kelber is impressive, as is the Joseph Kosma's atmospheric score. Not much happens dramatically in the film. You keep waiting for some earth-shaking development to emerge but it never does. However, that's part of the movie's charm. It recalls an era in which studios routinely backed small films with fine actors (they are all wonderful here) and gave them intelligent dialogue and direction.
Twilight Time has issued an impressive limited edition (3,000) Blu-ray edition that does justice to the fine B&W cinematography. The bonus extras include an isolated score track, informative commentary by film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, a theatrical trailer and a collector's booklet with liner notes by Kirgo.
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Some of the best private eye thrillers tend to be complex and sometimes incomprehensible affairs. Howard Hawks' "The Big Sleep", for example, had a plot that could not be comprehended even by the people who made the film, but it ranks as one of the great movies in the crime genre. Similarly, director Arthur Penn's 1975 mystery "Night Moves" (the title is- appropriately enough- a metaphor) sat on a shelf for over a year before it went into general release, only to be greeted by an apathetic public. There were some prescient critics like Roger Ebert who foresaw the film's enduring qualities but, for the most part, "Night Moves" didn't get much attention in a year in which the likes of great films like "Jaws", "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Barry Lyndon" were in release. The movie began to gain steam over the decades with the critical establishment and is now considered to be a classic by many, thus its arrival on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive is much appreciated by retro movie lovers.
The film reunited Gene Hackman with Arthur Penn after their triumphant work on "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967). Hackman was a supporting character in that film but received an Oscar nomination. In "Night Moves" he is the front-and-center star, in almost every scene and he dominates the movie with a superb, laid-back performance that is so natural that it reminds us of how Hackman's genius was to make you think you are watching a real-life person. He plays Harry Moseby, an L.A. private eye who isn't down-and-out like most of his cinematic counterparts, but is not setting the world on fire, either. He's a complex man haunted by bad childhood memories and he's got some contemporary problems, as well. His wife Ellen (Susan Clark) is bored and frustrated that Harry is too remote and spends far too much of his time on low-paying cases. He catches her having an affair but it's clear her lover (Harris Yulin) is more of a distraction than a passion. While Harry is trying to reconcile with Ellen, he's hired by Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward), a one-time minor starlet with a knack for marrying rich men. She wants Harry to find her wayward, runaway 16 year-old daughter Delly (Melanie Griffith), with whom she has a terrible relationship. Seems Arlene is dependent upon the funds from a trust that her late husband set up for Delly. As long as Arlene lives with the girl, she can continue residing in a mansion and enjoy a lavish lifestyle. However, once Delly turns 25, the spigot is turned off and Delly gets control of her fortune. The case leads Harry to the Florida Keys where Delly's stepfather, Tom Iverson (John Crawford) (divorced from Arlene) runs a charting plane service. He's surrounded by plenty of unsavory types, some of whom are employed as stuntmen in the movie business. At least two of them- Marv Ellman (Anthony Costello) and Quentin (James Woods)- have had sexual flings with the free-spirited Delly. Harry discovers Delly living openly with Tom Iverson and she resents having to be brought back to L.A. by Harry. She tells him her mother only views her as a source of income. While at Tom's place, Harry also becomes involved with another female with a troubled past, Paula (Jennifer Warren), who had once been both a stripper and a hooker before latching onto Tom and helping him with the plane charter business.She speaks in riddles and her dialogue with Harry is marvelously coy. (When she asks him where he was when Kennedy was assassinated, he replies "Which Kennedy"?).
Alan Sharp's terrific screenplay is witty and complex and chances are that when some of the mysteries are resolved, you'll end up scratching your head wondering what it all meant. "Night Moves" is a film that requires a few viewings before it all makes sense but that's part of the delight in seeing it for the first time. The dialogue crackles with bon mots and there are numerous intriguing sub-plots that sometimes overshadow Harry's primary mission, which, it turns out is explained in part by a MacGuffin. Hackman is superb, as is Arthur Penn's direction. The film has a moody, menacing atmosphere throughout, aided considerably by Bruce Surtees' typically dark cinematography. The supporting cast is letter-perfect with Jennifer Warren outstanding in an early screen role (she should have become a much bigger star, though she has found success as a director.) Also seen in an early role, James Woods impresses substantially in his limited screen time. Susan Clark (long underrated as an actress) is very good indeed, as is veteran character actor Edward Binns and Janet Ward. Young Melanie Griffith also impresses, though, ironically she played essentially the same role in another gumshoe flick that same year, "The Drowning Pool". I also admired the jazzy score by Michael Small. The finale of the film is most memorable. It's not only suspenseful and exciting but also intriguingly ambiguous with Harry on a boat literally spinning in circles, as the viewer may well be in terms of comprehending what has just occurred.
Because the original film elements of "Night Moves" were in decline, the Warner Archive spent a good time of time and money to restore the movie to its initial grandeur. The results paid off with an excellent transfer that does justice to Penn's artistic vision. Kudos to all involved. There are also some bonus extras: an original trailer and a vintage featurette, "The Day of the Director" that provides some very good behind-the-scenes footage of the movie in production. However, the Blu-ray cries out for an audio commentary to allow analysis of the film's many complex aspects. Perhaps a future release will include one. For now, this is a "must-have" for your video library.
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Two years before "Bonnie and Clyde" revolutionized the American crime movie genre a far more modest production centered on a star-crossed pair of lovers who were young, in love and killed people. "Young Dillinger" starred Nick Adams in the titular role, playing notorious gangster John Dillinger who was among the "Most Wanted" criminals of the Depression era. Although the real Dillinger had a hardscrabble life and a dramatic death (ambushed by police when benignly exiting a movie theater), any resemblance to the historic figure and the character portrayed by Adams on screen is purely coincidental. The film was distributed by Allied Artists, which would go on to release some top-shelf hits in the 1970s including "Cabaret", "Papillon", "The Man Who Would be King" and "The Wild Geese". However, in 1965 Allied was strictly a Poverty Row studio that churned out low-budget movies for undiscriminating audiences in hopes of making a quick, modest profit. Shot in B&W, "Young Dillinger" opens with "Johnny" and his girlfriend Elaine (former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley) necking in a car and bemoaning the fact that they are too broke to get married. Elaine must still live at home under the rules set by her mother and father, an inconvenience that intrudes on her not-inconsiderable sex drive. She spontaneously comes up with a plan of action: they can break into her father's office and steal a load of cash that he keeps in the safe. Dillinger is all in immediately but the plan goes awry when they are spotted by a watchman. Still, they get the loot and head off on a cross-country spending spree, indulging in expensive meals, liquor, gambling and hotel rooms. It all comes to an end when the cops track them down and arrest them. Dillinger makes a deal: he will plead guilty if Elaine is not charged. Consequently, he is sent to jail for several years, an experience that leaves him even more cynical and disillusioned. Sure enough, Elaine is waiting for him when he emerges and they immediately take to crime again. Dillinger is hired by professional gangsters to carry out an audacious plan to spring 'Pretty Boy' Floyd (Robert Conrad) and 'Baby Face' Nelson (John Ashley) from a prison farm. When he succeeds in carrying out the plan, Floyd invites him to join him and 'Baby Face' in their newly-formed gang. With Elaine along for the ride, the group terrorizes the Midwest through small-time robberies that eventually lead to daring bank jobs. Before long, Dillinger is on the F.B.I's "Most Wanted" list.
Directed by Terry O. Morse, who was primarily known as an editor, the movie breezes along at a brisk pace even if the style is quite unimpressive and pedestrian. In fact, the film looks like a standard TV episode of "The Untouchables" in terms of production values. Even a fleeting glimpse at Dillinger's biography will make it immediately apparent that story is almost entirely fictionalized. The performances are adequate, nothing more. Adams, who was a seasoned actor, tries to bring some intensity to the role but the script presents Dillinger as a superficial gangster type with no effort expended to provide some of the more interesting aspects of his background. Similarly, we know nothing about Elaine aside from the fact that this "girl next door" type can turn into a hardened criminal on a whim. Why? We never learn anything about her background, either. The supporting actors don't fare much better. Robert Conrad, who would soon find stardom with the hit TV series "The Wild, Wild West" is given little to work with as 'Pretty Boy' Floyd and is mostly seen shooting at the cops. One exception is the inimitable and delightful Victor Buono, who makes a couple of cameos as "The Professor", an eccentric mastermind who provides the gang with operational plans for bank jobs. Equally good is John Hoyt as a mob doctor who Dillinger hires to undergo some plastic surgery (a rare instance of the film depicting an actual event). The doctor botches the surgery but while Dillinger is lying helpless in bed in terrible pain and his face wrapped up like The Mummy, the surgeon takes advantage of the situation by trying to rape Elaine. She has to keep him at bay with a loaded gun while not alerting Dillinger to the crisis when he's helpless to assist her. It's the best scene in the film and the only one that provides a bit of suspense. It also allows Mary Ann Mobley to display her acting chops instead of being presented as Gidget as opposed to a Depression-era gun moll.
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.
Douglas plays Jack Andrus, a washed up, one-time screen legend who is
driven to the brink of insanity by the philandering nature of his
Italian wife (Charisse), who ended up having an affair with Douglas'
friend and collaborator, screen director Maurice Kruger (Robinson).
Years later, Andrus is contacted by Kruger, whose career is also in
decline, to reunite for a Rome-based major film that could revive their
reputations and popularity. When Andrus gets to Italy, he discovers
there is no part for him in the picture, but Kruger felt it would be
therapeutic to have him assist in the dubbing of the film. Before long,
the love/hate relationship between the two men sparks jealous and anger,
with Kruger's Lady MacBeth-like wife (Trevor) constantly finding ways
to cause friction. Adding to the soap opera aspects of the story is the
presence of an Italian screen diva (Schiaffino), whose temper tantrums
have everyone on edge. Andrus does find solace in the arms of a young
lovely (Lavi) but before long is embroiled in enough personal intrigue
and frustration to once again threaten his sanity.
The film is certainly not high art. Douglas dominates the landscape
with the type of eye-popping antics that made him a favorite of
impressionists during the era. Robinson is far more understated and it's
great fun to watch the two conflicting acting styles in the same
scenes. The film benefits from some good location scenery including rare
glimpses of fabled Cinecitta Studios during its heyday, but Minnelli
relies far too often on cheesy rear-screen projection shots that
distract from the byplay among the actors. The story is often overly
melodramatic and somewhat confusing, with the vast number of characters
intertwined in each other's scandals. However, it never reaches the
so-bad-it's-good status the similarly- themed The Oscar, which is
somewhat of a mixed blessing. With a few more "over-the-top" elements,
Minnelli could have created a trash classic. As it stands, 2 Weeks in Another Town is
too campy to be called a truly good film, and not campy enough to
emerge as a cult movie. Still, with all the powerhouse talent involved,
it never commits the cardinal sin of being dull.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray features a very good transfer and includes the original theatrical trailer.
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I've long had admiration for the work of actor Robert Shaw ever since he impressed me at age 8 with his chilling interpretation of the SPECTRE psychotic killer Red Grant in "From Russia With Love". Shaw could always be counted on to deliver a fine performance even if the material he chose was sometimes underwhelming. Shaw was also a talented writer and playwright, having won acclaim for his play "The Man in the Glass Booth", which was inspired by the war criminal trial of Adolf Eichmann. Shaw, like many actors, participated in many questionable films in order to enable his real passion, which was to bring avante garde movie projects to fruition, even if they only appealed to the art cinema crowd. One of Shaw's most interesting vehicles is one of his least seen. "Figures in a Landscape" was his 1970 adaptation of an allegorical novel by Barry England that abounded with reference to the (then) on-going Vietnam war. Shaw dispensed with that aspect of the novel and instead played up its more opaque aspects, particularly those that concern the two protagonists in what is basically a two-character adventure. The film opens with Shaw and co-star Malcolm McDowell on the run in an unnamed country being pursued by unnamed forces (presumably the police and/or military) for unspecified crimes. One senses they are political prisoners in a totalitarian state but this is never addressed directly. Shaw is MacConnachie ("Mac"), a middle-aged man with a colorful past that often found him on the opposite side of the law. McDowell is Ansell, a twenty-something free spirited type from London whose social values are the polar opposite of Mac's old fashioned values. When we first see the men, they are running at a high rate of speed and have to contend with the major obstacle of having their hands bound behind their backs. We never learn how they effected their escape and from whom but these are just several key questions that Shaw's screenplay goes to lengths in terms of not filling in the audience on the details. The two men, bound by their mutual need for one another, bicker and bark at each other like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones" with Mac channeling his future performance as Quint in "Jaws" by constantly attacking the younger man for being the product of a soft generation. As these types of films generally play out, Mac and Ansell are able to win some small victories through mutual efforts and begin to develop a grudging but sincere admiration for each other. (In one of the script's few instances of humor, we learn that Mac is somewhat of a prude by the way he chastises the younger generation for the sexual promiscuity afforded by "The Pill".) They finally figure out a way to free their bonds and obtain food, water and arms. However, they find themselves relentlessly pursued by a helicopter piloted by faceless, nameless men who coordinate a widespread army of pursuers on the ground The image of the helicopter haunts Mac and Ansell throughout their desperate race across a harsh landscape that contains both deserts and high, snow-covered mountains. Throughout their ordeal, the men come to know each other better though Shaw's screenplay, perhaps not coincidentally, gives his character far meatier material than McDowell gets to work with. Shaw is at his best in the quiet sequences, reminiscing about his beloved wife who waits for his return home.
The film falls short of its Kafkaesque pretensions but is never less than engaging, thanks in no small part to the skill of director Joseph Losey in keeping the bizarre aspects of the scripts from becoming too alienating for the audience. There is also superb cinematography that does justice to the magnificent, if sometimes foreboding, Spanish landscapes and a fine score by the estimable Richard Rodney Bennett. It's unclear what Shaw was trying to say in this sometimes puzzling film that at times evokes aspects of Patrick McGoohan's classic TV series "The Prisoner". This jumbled aspect of the story robs the film of some of its potential dramatic payoffs but there is real satisfaction in watching Shaw and McDowell in parts that are this meaty. We only learn enough about each character to tantalize us even further regarding how they ended up in this dilemma and it's probably best that Shaw never provides any easy answers. However, some of the men's actions and interactions cry out for a bit more clarification especially in the exciting climax when Mac is motivated to take on downing the hated helicopter even at an unnecessary risk to his own life.
"Figures in a Landscape" has been released by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray. As with most of the company's titles, this one boasts a superb transfer that does justice to the impressive filming locations. Unfortunately, no extras are included. A pity because this film cries out for a commentary track that could have covered not only the movie itself but also Shaw's remarkable career, one that never completely fulfilled its potential because of his own personal demons.
"Saturday Night Live" spawned many a memorable comic character, some of whom were exploited in feature films. While "The Coneheads" proved to be popular on the big screen, other TV-to-cinema transfers of iconic "SNL" pop culture figures proved to be duds. Al Franken's memorable incarnation of Stuart Smalley was the subject of "Stuart Saves His Family", a 1995 production directed by Harold Ramis that received some surprisingly favorable reviews but ended up with a North American boxoffice gross of less than $1 million. That ranks as a major success compared to "It's Pat: The Movie", released the prior year and starring Julia Sweeney as the androgynous character that proved to be a popular staple of "SNL" during this period. Pat was a visually unattractive figure with an obnoxious manner of speaking that repulsed his/her coworkers, who were constantly striving to discover whether Pat was a male or female. Inevitably, Pat would provide unintentionally ambiguous answers to leading questions that would only heighten the mystery and thwart those who were seeking to unveil Pat's genetic makeup. As the subject of five-minute comedy sketches the concept worked great and Sweeney's Pat became a popular staple of the show. Then Hollywood came knocking. Fox approached Sweeney to turn the concept into a feature film. Sweeney admitted she couldn't envision how Pat could remain interesting to viewers in any format other than TV skits. After putting some development money into the film, Fox agreed and backed off only to have Disney's Touchstone Pictures ride to the rescue and give the production the green light. The result was a disaster. The film was given some sporadic openings only to be pulled within a week due to complete rejection by audiences. The movie's boxoffice gross in North America stands at $61,000. Although modestly-budgeted, the movie still had cost more than $10 million to make. Time has not been kind to dear Pat, as it boasts a Rotten Tomatoes score of 0%. Now those brave souls at Kino Lorber have released a Blu-ray of "Pat: The Movie" and, consequently, it's time to revisit the film.
The plot (such as it is) opens with Pat alienating everyone in his/her orbit with obnoxious behavior. A local store owner gives Pat items for free just to expedite his/her departure. Pat tries various career moves but inevitably loses every job due to ineptness. Just when things seem hopeless, Pat finds love with Chris (Dave Foley in a role originated by Dana Carvey on "SNL"), another androgynous individual. The two set up house together and live as a normal couple, though both seem blissfully unaware that their sexuality is a mystery to those around them. Are they a straight couple? A gay couple? Two men? Two women? A subplot is introduced in which a hunky new neighbor, Kyle (Charles Rocket) and his wife Stacy (Julie Hayden) find their lives disrupted by Kyle's increasing obsession with Pat. He is sexually attracted to him/her, much to the alarm of Stacy, and that attraction turns into a psychological mania that finds Kyle dressing like Pat and even stroking a doll that resembles him/her. Meanwhile, the hapless Pat blunders into some successful career steps by making an appearance with a rock band that leads to him/ her becoming a media sensation. When he/she drops by a radio station to visit a friend, Kathy (Kathy Griffin), who hosts a popular romantic advice show, Pat unintentionally upstages her and gets the hosting gig. Pat's success has alienated Chris, who breaks up the relationship and decides to move abroad. The finale finds Pat coming to grips with his/her faults and making a mad dash to a cruise ship line to prevent Chris from leaving the country.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
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came to fame with his trademark comedy style of portraying a meek, excessively
nervous character. He was Woody Allen before Woody Allen was Woody Allen.
Knotts honed his skills on Steve Allen's show in the 1950s, with his "man
on the street" Nervous Nellie routine sending audiences into fits of
laughter. He co-starred with fellow up-and-comer Andy Griffith in the hit
Broadway production of "No Time for Sergeants" and the subsequent
film version. When Griffith landed his own TV series in 1960 in which he played
the sheriff of fictional small town Mayberry, Knotts imposed upon him to write
a small, occasional part he could play as Barney Fife, Griffith's inept but
loyal sheriff. Griffith complied and the role made Knotts an icon of American
comedy, allowing him to win an astonishing five Emmys for playing the same
character. Five years into the series, Knotts was offered a multi-feature deal
by Lew Wasserman, the reigning mogul of Universal Pictures. Knotts took the
bait and enjoyed creative control over the films to a certain degree. He could
pretty much do what he wanted as long has he played the same nervous schlep audiences wanted to
see. The films had to be low-budget, shot quickly and enjoy modest profits from
rural audiences where Knotts' popularity skewed the highest. His first feature
film was The Ghost and Mr.
Chicken, released in 1966 and written by the same writing team from
the "The Andy Griffith Show". (Griffith actually co-wrote the script
but declined taking a writing credit.) The film astonished the industry,
rolling up big grosses in small markets where it proved to have remarkable
staying power. Similarly, his next film, The
Reluctant Astronaut also proved to be a big hit, as was his
1969 western spoof The
Shakiest Gun in the West. Within a few years, however,
changing audience tastes had rendered Knotts' brand of innocent, gentle humor
somewhat moot. By the late 1960s audiences were getting their laughs from the
new film freedoms. It was hard to find the antics of a middle-aged virgin much
fun when you could see Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice cavorting in the same
bed. Still, Knotts soldiered on, providing fare for the drive-in markets that
still wanted his films. In 1969 he made The
Love God?, a very funny and underrated film that tried to be more
contemporary by casting Knotts as an innocent ninny who is manipulated into
fronting what he thinks is a magazine for bird watchers but, in reality, is a
cover for a pornography empire. Knotts' traditional audience balked at the
relatively tame sex jokes and for his final film for Universal, How to Frame a Figg, he
reverted back to his old formula.
1971, Figg casts
Don Knotts as the titular character, Hollis Figg, a nondescript wimp who toils
as an overlooked accountant in a basement of city hall. The film is set in a
Mayberry-like small town environment but any other similarity ends there. In
Mayberry, only the visiting city slickers were ever corrupt. The citizenry may
have been comprised of goofballs and eccentrics, but they were all scrupulously
honest. In Figg's world, however, the top government officials are all con-men
and crooks. They are ruled by the town's beloved paternal father figure, Old
Charley Spaulding (Parker Fennelly), a decrepit character who hands out pennies
to everyone he encounters, with the heart-warming greeting "A shiny penny
for your future!" In fact, Old Charley has plenty of those pennies
stashed away. He and his hand-picked fellow crooks, including the mayor and
police chief, have been systemically ripping off the state by grossly inflating
the costs of local building projects and secretly pocketing the overages.
Concerned that the accountants might get wind of their activities, they
summarily fire them all except for Figg, who is deemed to be too naive to ever
catch on. They justify the firings by saying it's fiscally prudent and replace
the accountants with a gigantic computer that is supposed to be even more
efficient. Through a quirk of fate, Figg and his equally naive friend, Prentiss
(Frank Welker), the janitor for city hall, discover exactly what is going on.
Figg dutifully reports his findings to the mayor (Edward Andrews), who
convinces him to keep it secret while he launches his own investigation. Old
Charley, the mayor and their cohorts decide to make Figg the fall guy for the
corrupt practices. They give him a big promotion, a new red convertible and
even hire a private secretary for him. She's Glorianna (Yvonne Craig), a leggy
femme fatale who wears mini skirts and oozes sex. When her attempts to seduce
Figg leave him paralyzed with fear because of his allegiance to his new
girlfriend, the equally virginal waitress Ema Letha (Elaine Joyce), Glorianna
gets Figg drunk, takes some embarrassing photos of him and then proceeds to have
him sign a stream of incriminating documents that he has not bothered to read.
Before long, Figg is blamed for all the missing funds and faces a jail
sentence- unless he and the dim-witted Prentiss can figure out how to use the
computer to thwart the real crooks.
13 Hilarious Discs, Lovers of the Three Stooges Will Find Over
Incredible Hours of Content, Including All of the Columbia Pictures
(1934-1945), Four Feature Films, Vintage Animated Cartoons,
9-Part Documentary Series "Hey Moe! Hey Dad!," a Collectible,
Memory Book and More!
Nyuk Nyuk...Why I Oughta..."
over 50 years, The Three Stooges presented a brand of pie-throwing, eye-poking
and head-bonking routines that cracked up multiple generations. They were the
masters of mirth, merriment and mayhem, turning slapstick comedy into an art
form. And, with a body of work including over 300 films, television, stage
shows, cartoons and more - they're forever ingrained in popular culture. Now,
one of the greatest comedy troupes of all time is here to poke, smack, slap and
bonk their way onto your screens with THE BEST OF THE THREE STOOGES!
this riotous DVD set, Time Life has brought together the Stooges greatest hits
in one exclusive collection, priced at $99.95 and available only at
ThreeStoogesDVDs.com. Across 13 uproarious discs, viewers will yuk it up with
over 45 hours of knee-slapping content brought together for the very first
THE BEST OF THE
THREE STOOGES: COLUMBIA PICTURES SHORTS 1934-1945 -- These two
volumes feature 87 hilarious short films from 1934 to 1945. Witness the
rise of these comedy icons in this high-spirited collection containing the
first of the iconic Columbia Pictures Shorts. Watch as the Stooges hit
their stride and began to settle into their definitive roles- Moe as boss,
Larry the middleman, and Curly as their foil -- and experience what has
become regarded as the high point in the Three Stooges career - the Golden
Age! (8 Discs; 1496 mins)
THE BEST OF THE
THREE STOOGES: SHORTS, CARTOONS, & FEATURE FILMS -- From
feature-length films to rare cartoons and vintage shorts - this
collection is sure to leave a smile on your face and a bump on
the back of your noggin! It includes Shemp Howard Comedy Shorts (14
classics from the '30s & '40s); Joe Besser Comedy Shorts (10
side-splitters from the '40s & '50s), Joe DeRita Comedy
Shorts (4 smackers from the '40s), Feature Films (The
Three Stooges (2000, biopic); Have Rocket, Will Travel; The Outlaws Is
Coming and Rockin' in the Rockies; The Three Stooges Cartoons,
inludingBon Bon Parade (1935), Merry Mutineers (1936), A Hollywood Detour
(1942), as well as the bonus 9-part documentary series "Hey Moe! Hey
Dad!," which takes fans behind the scenes with the family of The
Three Stooges as they share never-before-seen footage and photos. (5
discs; 1309 mins)
Life is one of the world's pre-eminent creators and direct marketers of unique
music and video/DVD products, specializing in distinctive multi-media
collections that evoke memories of yesterday, capture the spirit of today, and
can be enjoyed for a lifetime. TIME LIFE and the TIME LIFE logo are registered
trademarks of Time Warner Inc. and affiliated companies used under license by
Direct Holdings Americas Inc., which is not affiliated with Time Warner Inc. or
1960s murder thrillers with Joan Crawford have been released by Mill Creek
Entertainment on single-disc Blu-ray.The cover sleeve bills the package as a “Psycho Biddy Double
Feature.”The films are “Strait-Jacket”
(1964), the first of Crawford’s three pictures with producer-director William
Castle, and “Berserk!” (1967), her first of two with producer Herman
Cohen.In using the possibly ageist and
definitely sexist phrase “Psycho Biddy,” Mill Creek’s marketing department
clearly hopes that audiences will have fond memories of the frenzied, middle-aged
Joan Crawford in 1981’s “Mommie Dearest,” shrieking “I told you!No . . . wire . . . hangers -- ever!” at her
terrified adopted child, Christina.Never mind that the belittling term “biddy” is problematic in the case
of Joan Crawford.There may be plenty of
biddies in the world, but the imperious Joan was never one of them.Never mind either that it was Faye Dunaway
impersonating Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest,” not Crawford herself.For most casual movie fans, the distinctions
are not likely to matter.
“Strait-Jacket,” scripted by Robert Bloch, prosperous farm owner Lucy Harbin
(Crawford) returns unexpectedly from a trip to find her younger husband (Lee
Majors -- his first film role) in bed with another woman.Enraged, Lucy seizes an ax and butchers the
pair as her young daughter Carol watches.Released from a mental institution twenty years later, Lucy is welcomed
home by her brother Bill and her sister-in-law Emily (Leif Erickson and
Rochelle Hudson), who have reared Carol in the meantime.Carol (Diane Baker) encourages her mother to
ease back into a normal routine by looking and dressing as she had, two decades
before.The gray-haired Lucy dons a
black, ‘40s-style wig and trades in her dowdy outfit for a tight dress.The tactic goes awry when Lucy, drinking too
much out of nervousness and getting tipsy, puts a move on Carol’s uptight
boyfriend Michael.More stresses
mount.Lucy hears things, sees things,
and dreads meeting Michael’s even stuffier parents, who are unaware of her
history.As they skip rope outside a
store where Lucy is shopping, two little girls appear to be chanting, “Lucy
Harbin took an ax . . .”Bill’s creepy,
disheveled hired hand, Leo (George Kennedy, almost unrecognizable at first
glance), asks if she wants to use his ax to chop the head off a chicken.Lucy’s therapist drops in for a visit and
observing how tense she is, gravely suggests that she’s at risk of a
relapse.Then one murder occurs,
followed by a second, and evidence points to Lucy.
the headlong pace and gruesome CGI of modern slasher movies, even older viewers
are likely to find “Strait-Jacket” quaint at best.A similar production today would probably
wind up as a made-for-cable, “my mom is a murderer” melodrama on the Lifetime
Movie Network.The film’s pacing is
deliberate, and the carnage is low-tech and mostly implied, despite the old
lobby poster’s promise in grand William Castle style that “Strait-Jacket
vividly depicts ax murders!”Although
the restrictions on movie violence had relaxed a little by 1964, and a
melodrama filmed in black-and-white like “Strait-Jacket” might tease the MPAA
standards on mayhem with slightly more success than one photographed in color,
studios were still careful not to push their luck too far.Of the three ax attacks in the film, only one
explicitly shows grievous bodily harm.Even so, with quick editing and minimal gore, the effect is more
impressionistic than realistic.These
days, grislier special effects routinely appear on prime-time TV crime shows.
movie censorship relaxed in the early 1970s, Mel Welles’ horror film “Lady
Frankenstein” added sex and nudity to the familiar Frankenstein formula of the
single-minded and arguably demented scientist who creates a monster and lives
to regret it.In the 1971 production,
now available in a handsome, fully loaded Blu-ray edition from Nucleus Films
encoded for Region B, Dr. Tanya Frankenstein (Rosalba Neri) returns home to the
family estate after completing medical school.Having inherited the family obsession, she is determined to help her
father (Joseph Cotten) realize his long-frustrated ambition of creating human
life in his laboratory.When Baron
Frankenstein and his associate Dr. Marshall (Paul Muller) balk at including the
refined young woman in their gory experiments, she fiercely overrides their
objections:“Stop treating me like a
child!I’m a doctor and a surgeon.”Frankenstein and Marshall successfully
reanimate a creature that they’ve stitched together from plundered cadavers,
but events take a turn for the worse, and soon a suspicious police officer,
Inspector Harris (Mickey Hargitay), begins nosing around the Frankenstein
Frankenstein” was filmed in Italy and independently marketed in Europe, where
Rosalba Neri, Mickey Hargitay, and Paul Muller were popular actors in genre
movies.In the U.S., it was distributed
by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.Inexplicably, New World billed Rosalba Neri as “Sara Bay” in the
American credits and promotional materials, and depicted the exotically
beautiful brunette actress as a blonde in the poster art.Like many other exploitation films from the
same period, notably New World’s own series of Women-in-Prison productions like
“The Big Bird Cage,” it professes to have a feminist message while at the same
time including a fair amount of female nudity to meet the expectations of the
grindhouse audiences to which it was pitched, here and abroad.
feminist aspect is clear when Tanya discusses the resistance she faced in the
conservative halls of higher learning.“Was it difficult, very difficult, being my daughter?” her father asks sympathetically.“Sometimes,” Tanya responds, “but mainly
because I was a woman.The professors
still have a lot of old-fashioned ideas about a woman’s place.”In the wake of recent news events, many of us
will sympathize with Tanya’s dilemma and reflect that things haven’t changed a
lot in the male-dominated corridors of power, either in the two hundred years
since the early-1800s setting of “Lady Frankenstein,” or indeed in the
forty-seven years since the film was made.
as the story progresses and Tanya takes center stage, she begins to employ sex,
seduction, and murder to achieve her ends.You may start to wonder:do her
ruthless and increasingly cruel methods invalidate the movie’s claim to advance
a feminist theme . . . or underscore it?When one character is murdered in cold blood at her suggestion while she
has sex with him to distract his attention, does the film idealize -- or
objectify -- Rosalba Neri’s bare breasts and ecstatic facial expressions?When the infatuated, middle-aged Marshall
professes his love for her, does Tanya practice gender bias in reverse by
suggesting that she respects his intellect, but she’d respect it more if
Marshall were also young and handsome? The answers, I suppose, depend on your
interpretation of female empowerment.
By the mid-to-late1970s, the legendary Henry Fonda was deemed all-but-through as a leading man. What was a screen icon to do in an industry that no longer appreciated his talents? In Fonda's case, he began farming out his services in cameo roles, often playing scientists or presidents and bringing a bit of gravitas to such decidedly underwhelming productions as "Tentacles", "City on Fire", "The Swarm", "Wanda Nevada" and "Meteor", along with the hit WWII film "Midway". Clearly, Fonda was frustrated by being relegated to cinematic window dressing, which probably explains his participation in "The Great Smokey Roadblock", which went into production in 1976 and which received a spotty release the following year. Fonda probably disapproved of the fact that the studio had changed the title from the more appropriate "The Last of the Cowboys" in order to cash in on the CB radio craze and the unexpected success of "Smokey and the Bandit". It is rather shocking to see Fonda starring in this bare bones production shot entirely in rural California. But he brings dignity to his performance as "Elegant John", a well-known aging trucker who is revered by his peers for his record of reliability. Seems he's never missed a scheduled delivery and is known as a true professional. However when an illness confines him to a hospital, John falls behind on his truck payments and the vehicle is confiscated. Facing bankruptcy and the loss of his livelihood, John steals his own big rig and immediately becomes a wanted man. Low on cash and resources, he gives a lift to a young hitchhiker, Beebo Crozier (Robert Englund), a naive and shy young man who possesses enough cash to fill up the gas tank at least once. The pair hightails it to a bordello run by John's old friend Penelope Pearson (Eileen Brennan), who presides over a group of happy young hookers. However, they have just been busted by the cops and face arraignment. They concoct a daring scheme to move their possessions into the back of the big rig and take off for South Carolina, where for some vague reason, everyone feels they can safely start a new life. (Apparently, they have never heard of extradition laws.) John states that he may be doomed but he wants to make one last, big successful run.
No corn pone trucking comedy would be complete without a buffoonish lawman and in this case he's played by the inimitable and always amusing Dub Taylor. The plot finds the group arrested by Taylor and his equally dopey deputy but they turn the tables on them by using sex as a temptation. The big rig then takes off at high speed but now inter-state warnings are out and John and the girls are becoming the stuff of popular legend. Along the way, the rag tag group attracts more lovable misfits including a down-and-out DJ played by master impressionist John Byner and a crazed hippie from New Jersey played by Austin Pendleton, who seems to be channeling the future performance of Dennis Hopper as the whacky photographer of "Apocalypse Now". Soon, the entourage of counter-culture types forms a nomadic family that is perpetually one-step ahead of their pursuers. (Picture "The Outlaw Josey Wales" with motorcycles and a big rig.) The only action set piece in the film comes during the climax when police have set up the titular roadblock that Elegant John and his followers are determined to smash through on their way to a new life. The scene itself is well staged and features the requisite amount of crushed police cars for a film of this peculiar genre.The movie borrows heavily from director Richard C. Sarafian's 1971 cult flick "Vanishing Point". Both films center on outlaws who become populist legends by avoiding capture by the police. The film even has John Byner blatantly imitate the DJ from "Vanishing Point" played by Cleavon Little by having him broadcast propaganda to the masses on behalf of the outlaws.
Kino Lorber continues its welcome habit of unearthing cinematic rarities and making them available to retro movie lovers. Case in point: "Tiger by the Tail", a long-forgotten crime thriller filmed in 1968 as an independent production but not released until 1970. The film is the epitome of a good "B" movie from the era: lean, fast-moving and efficiently made with an impressive cast. The movie is typical of low-brow fare from the 1960s. It's primary purpose was to shot quickly and turn a modest profit. Many of these films, which often played as the second feature on double bills, had the asset of affording leading roles to actors and actresses who rarely had the opportunity to get top billing. Such is the case with this film which features Christopher George in the leading role. He plays Steve Michaelis, a recently discharged U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran who is returning home to New Mexico. However, he makes a nearly fatal pit stop in Mexico and the opening scene is a bit of a shocker. He's a about to bed a local beauty when two thugs enter the room and a brutal fight ensues that he barely escapes. This seems like an irrelevant scene, given all that follows, but we find out later its pertinent to his fate. Steve arrives in New Mexico where he reunites with his older brother Frank (Dennis Patrick), who raised him after their parents died. While Steve is down-and-out and broke, Frank has prospered as the majority share holder in the local horse racing track which fuels the local economy. The two men have a frosty reunion that is strained even further when Steve discovers that his former girlfriend Rita (Tippi Hedren) is now romantically involved with Frank. Nevertheless, the two men reconcile and things appear to be heading in the right direction. However, fate takes a tragic turn when the racetrack is robbed and Frank is murdered in cold blood. This sets in motion a complicated series of events. Steve learns he will inherit his brother's share of the racetrack stock, something that doesn't sit well with Frank's partners who inform Steve they intend to use a legal loophole to pay him off at a bargain basement price and assume total control of the operation. Steve soon discovers that he may not even get that money, as it becomes apparent someone has ordered him to be killed. Worse, he is being framed for the murder of his brother. The film follows the formula of old film noir crime thrillers and that isn't a bad thing. We see him use his wits and considerable fighting ability to thwart attempts on his life as he tries to find out who is out to get him. The logical suspects are the racetrack shareholders, a group of greedy elitists who don't want to be in business with him. Red herrings abound and Steve learns he can't trust anyone including Rita who informs him she wants them to resume their relationship now that Frank is in his grave.
"Tiger by the Tail" feels and looks like a TV movie of the era and that isn't a coincidence. Director R.G. Springsteen was best known for his work in television where he excelled in directing episodes of classic western series, and his colleague on those shows, writer Charles A. Wallace wrote the screenplay for the film. (This would prove to be Springsteen's final work in the film industry before his death in 1989.) Springsteen's direction is workmanlike in some areas but more inspired in others. He milks a good deal of suspense from the plot and keeps the action moving at a brisk pace across the movie's 99 minute running time. Springsteen, perhaps because of budget limitations, shoots virtually every scene in a real location which adds authenticity to the production. The film boasts a good cast of supporting actors, all in top form: Lloyd Bochner and Alan Hale as the greedy stockholders, Dean Jagger as a Scrooge-like banker and most intriguing, John Dehner as the local sheriff (in an excellent performance) with a penchant for using twenty dollars words in his vocabulary and who, along with his hot-headed deputy (Skip Homeier) may be complicit in working with the bad guys. Steve's only friends are Sarah Harvey (Glenda Farrell), the perky owner of a gun and souvenir shop who performs ballistics tests in the shop and New Mexico State Trooper Ben Holmes (R.G. Armstrong) who offers Steve whatever limited advice and support he can. The singer Charo (yes, that Charo) is cast in a superfluous role to provide a couple of songs in a local bar and to add a bit of additional sex appeal when we aren't gawking at Tippi Hedren sunning herself poolside in a bikini. As a leading man, Christopher George is top-notch. He's handsome, rugged and capable with fists and a gun as he takes on seemingly insurmountable odds. George should have been a success on the big screen. He was coming off a run in the hit TV series "The Rat Patrol" but never quite got his opportunity to shine on the big screen. "Tiger by the Tale" represents one of his few leading roles in a feature film, though he impressed as villains in the John Wayne westerns "El Dorado" (1967) and "Chisum" (1970). He died in 1983 at only 51 years of age from heart complications.
The Kino Lorber transfer is impressive, as usual, though there are some occasional speckles and artifacts. However, it's doubtful that there are many pristine prints of the film floating around, given its lowly stature. The Blu-ray features a very good commentary track by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, both of whom show a good deal of respect for the movie and all involved in its production. They are especially kind to Tippi Hedren, pointing out that she was long underrated as an actress. (She unfairly took most of the blame for the failure of Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie" in which she starred.) The release also includes a gallery of other action films and mysteries available from KL, though no trailer is included for "Tiger by the Tail". I don't want to overstate the movie's merits. It certainly isn't a lost classic but I suspect you'll find it far more impressive than you might have suspected. Recommended.
those sage words of advice, 15 year-old Fannie Belle Fleming leaves her home in
the backwoods of West Virginia in 1950 to pursue a career in show business.What happens next is not exactly what the
aspiring country singer had in mind.
(1989 Touchstone/Disney), recently released on Blu-ray by Kino-Lorber, is based
upon the true story of the vocalist- turned- stripper who changed her name to
Blaze Starr and became scandalously involved with Governor Earl Long of the
Great State of Louisiana.
played by Lolita Davidovich (Raising Cain, Leap of Faith, Cobb), is persuaded
by sleazy club owner Red Snyder (Robert Wuhl) to try stripping, which he
assures her is a form of dancing.“Trust
me,” he tells her.After a timid start,
Blaze becomes a star on the Burlesque circuit moving from New York to Baltimore
and finally landing in New Orleans in 1959.
is there in the Big Easy that Blaze encounters the colorful Earl K. Long,
portrayed in bigger than life fashion by Paul Newman.One night Earl stumbles into a Bourbon Street
establishment where he apparently knows most of the strippers on a first name
basis.Immediately taken with her beauty
and figure, Long asks if he may take Blaze to dinner.Remembering her mother’s words, a sadder- but
-wiser Blaze asks the Governor “Can I trust you?” and is quite pleased when he
answers “Hell no!”Their brief, but
passionate affair was the stuff of legend in a state not unfamiliar with
political shenanigans.While not
addressed in the film, both the Governor and Ms. Starr were married to others at
Ron Shelton’s film follows a late ‘80s trend of comedy-dramas from south of the
Mason-Dixon Line, featuring a quotable script and likeable characters who are
anything but the backwoods stereotypes we are accustomed to seeing.Much like Steel Magnolias, Fried Green
Tomatoes and Shelton’s own Bull Durham, this movie gives us another strong
female lead, confident in choosing her path in life without relying on the support
or approval of men.Ms. Davidovich’s
portrayal of Blaze is both comic and intelligent in that she is able to partner
with Governor Long and guide him through his campaign for Congress.
Newman chews his way through Shelton’s script as a conflicted, progressive
politician caught in a system that still sees women and minorities as
second-class citizens.On the one hand
he supports a civil rights act that will guarantee voting and equal employment
opportunities for blacks in 1960 Louisiana, but at the same time he still holds
some of the racist beliefs of many in his own political party. “We can’t keep sleeping with them at night,
and kicking them during the day” he says during a raucous meeting with state
Lorber Studio Classics has released “A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die!,” a 1968
Italian Western, in a Blu-ray edition.In the movie, Gov. Lem Carter (Robert Ryan) offers amnesty to outlaws in
a bid to quell lawlessness in 1880s New Mexico.On the run from deputies and bounty hunters, desperado Clay McCord (Alex
Cord) decides to seek the governor’s clemency.McCord suffers from paralytic spasms of his gun hand.The attacks have become more frequent and
more severe, and he fears that they represent the onset of epilepsy, the malady
that disabled and eventually killed his father.But enemies on both sides of the law make it difficult for him to go
straight as he wishes to do.Bounty
hunters surround the town of Tascosa, where McCord must go to sign the needed
papers, and even if he can elude them, the cynical marshal, Roy Colby (Arthur
Kennedy), is disinclined to give him a break.The gunfighter is equally unwelcome in nearby Escondido, a haven for
fugitives, after antagonizing Kraut (Mario Brega), the brutal hardcase who
controls the rundown settlement.It’s
even money on who will bring McCord down first, Kraut’s pistoleros or Colby’s
deputies.Although I can’t find any
sources to either confirm or refute the speculation, I believe that Brega’s
dubbed English voice as Kraut belongs to American actor Walter Barnes, who made
several Italian and German Westerns in the 1960s.
an American executive producer, three high-profile ‘60s American actors in
starring roles, an Italian producer, an Italian director, and an Italian
supporting cast dubbed into English, “A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die”
straddles the divide between the earnest tradition of U.S. Westerns and the
violent, anything-goes approach of the Italian kind.It opens with a long (actually, too long)
outdoor sequence of McCord and a pal eluding a posse, like characters in “One-Eyed
Jacks” and any number of other classic Westerns.Then follows a scene of two sadistic gunmen
roughing up a frightened priest in front of an altar, and eventually shooting
him in the back.Try to find a situation
like that in a John Wayne or Roy Rogers movie.The two gunmen are played by Aldo Sambrell and Antonio Molino Rojo, who
-- like Mario Brega, the Ernest Borgnine of Italian Westerns -- are instantly
recognizable from Sergio Leone’s stock company of scruffy character
actors.An unsympathetic critic might
speculate that a respectable if unexceptional American Western could have
resulted had the moviemakers tightened the script, dialed back the film’s high
body count, and substituted homegrown character actors for Italian ones in the
supporting cast.On the other hand, for
those of us whose moviegoing tastes were formed in the Cinema Retro era, the
manic unevenness of the picture as it exists has a certain freewheeling charm
of its own.
Kino Lorber’s cover
notes advertise the Blu-ray as a new high-definition master from a 4K scan of
the original negative.Although the
daytime scenes have some graininess, the nighttime lights and darks are clear
and sharp.The label’s resident
Spaghetti expert, Alex Cox, contributes an informative, droll, but respectful
audio commentary.Those new to Italian
Westerns will learn a lot about the genre from Cox’s remarks, while fans will
have fun matching their knowledge against his in spotting familiar Italian faces
in the movie’s supporting cast.As
another supplement, the disc also includes the original ending from the
European print of the movie, transposed from an old, overseas VHS tape.This bleak denouement is stronger by far than
that of the U.S. cut.
Kino Lorber has released “Singing Guns” (1950), a
Republic Pictures “singing cowboy” western filmed in Trucolor. The film is
based on a western novel by Max Brand, and is pretty unremarkable except for
the fact that the cowboy anti-hero, Rhiannon, an outlaw with a long bushy beard
who has been robbing stagecoaches to the tune of over a $1 million, isn’t
played by Roy, or Gene Autry, Rocky Lane Rex Allen, or any of the other western
stars in Republic’s stable. Rhiannon, is played by a popular singer from that
era named Vaughn Monroe.
I remember Vaughn Monroe when I was a kid. I used to hear
him singing “Racing with the Moon,” on the radio. He had a rich baritone voice
and my mother would turn up the radio every time it came on and sort of stare
out into space with a funny look in her eyes. Monroe also had another big hit
with “Mule Train,” with lyrics like “clippity clop, clippity clop, Muuuuuule
Traaaainn.” Whips cracking. Well, it appears “Singing Guns “was made so that
Vaughn could have a chance to sing “Mule Train” in a movie. The song has
nothing to do with the story, but fits in with a scene where Vaughn drives a
wagon pulled by two mules--- not exactly a train, but close enough, I guess.
Monroe sings three other tunes in the film as well.
The script by the screenwriting team of Dorrell and
Stuart McGowan concerns the attempts by Sheriff Jim Caradac (Ward Bond),
doctor/preacher Jonathan Mark (Walter Brennan), and lady gambler Nan Morgan
(Ella Raines) to catch, reform, and fall in love with the aforementioned stagecoach
robber, respectively. The movie has a real corkscrew of a plot, starting with
Rhiannon holding up the stage occupied by Nan and Sheriff Mark. When Rhiannon
finds out the sheriff outwitted him by making sure there was no gold on this
trip, he humiliates him making him march into town wearing a pair of Nan’s
bloomers and a hat that looks like a flower pot. The sheriff, furious, gets to
his office, grabs his other guns and chases Rhiannon out into the desert.
Rhiannon gets to his mountain hideout and shoots the sheriff off his horse. He
later goes down to bury him (he’s a decent sort of outlaw) but the sheriff was
faking it and gets the drop on him.
He’s about to take Rhiannon in, but in another twist,
Rhiannon jumps him and shoots him. In another weird turn, he decides to take
the sheriff to town so the doctor can patch him up (like I said he’s a real
decent sort of outlaw). Doc Caradac tells Rhiannon the sheriff needs a
transfusion. The outlaw rejects his call for help (he’s not that decent, he’s gotta get out of
town), forcing the doctor to slip him a mickey and perform the transfusion
while he’s unconscious. (Aren’t there ethics rules being violated here?) Even worse
than taking his blood, the doc also shaves off Rhiannon’s beard! When he wakes
up he’s not only a quart low, he’s clean shaven!! And here comes the most
unbelievable plot element. Without the beard, when he wakes up, nobody
recognizes him. He’s just some guy who saved the sheriff’s life!!!
The story goes on like that with the plot switching back
and forth, with the sheriff sometimes wanting to help Rhiannon and other time
wanting to jail him, and Nan sometimes hating Rhiannon and sometime loving him,
and Doc Caradac saying he’s just as interested in saving his patients’ souls as
he is healing their bodies, and just wants everything to be okay.
Ignoring the ridiculous plot, perhaps the best thing
about “Singing Guns” is the way it looks. It’s a brand new master by Paramount from
a 4K scan of the original 35mm Trucolor nitrate negative. It’s sensational
looking. And for the first time I’m aware of, “Singing Guns” shows how
beautiful Ella Raines’ eyes were. The film she’s remembered for most is
“Phantom Lady” (1944), the noir thriller based on Cornell Woolrich’s novel. It
was shot in black and white, so you couldn’t see what color her eyes were. Film
historian Toby Roan in his highly informative audio commentary said that
cinematographer Reggie Lanning had trouble getting the color right; sometimes her
eyes looked green, sometimes blue, sometimes yellow. Roan says he thinks
they’re turquoise. Whatever they are they’re fascinating to look at, so much so
I found myself having to reverse the disc in several places because I’d lost
track of what she was saying. Maybe I was hypnotized. Raines only made 20 films
in her lifetime. It’s a pity she didn’t make more..
“Singing Guns” is directed by R. G. Springsteen, who also
directed Monroe’s only other western, “Toughest Man in Arizona.” The film is
also notable for the number of familiar faces in the cast, including Jeff
Corey, Harry Shannon, Rex Lease, and Jimmy Dodd (as well as Eleanor Donahue,
and Billy Grey, who would later play Robert Young’s kids on “Father Knows Best”).
Bonus features include the aforementioned audio commentary and several trailers
for other KL Blu-rays. It’s another one of those discs that astonish you in
regard to how good an old movie can look and sound when it’s done right. They
can’t release enough of these to satisfy me.
Samuel Fuller is today regarded as a revered name among directors. Unlike his peers- John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Howard Hawks, to name but a few- Fuller didn't get much respect when he needed it, at least from critics and studio heads who regarded his talents as workmanlike. Consequently, this talented director, screenwriter and occasional novelist and actor, toiled under meager budgets and scant support from studio executives. Fuller was typical of directors of his generation who had come of age during the Great Depression and World War II. He had a tough guy persona and had learned to survive on the mean streets of Manhattan where he worked as a crime reporter in the 1930s. Fuller could have landed a cushy job in the military during the war but eschewed the opportunity in favor of volunteering for combat duty in the European campaign. His scripts were tightly-written, no-nonsense affairs and his direction was direct and to-the-point. Fuller cut a larger-than-life figure with an out-sized personality and his penchant for indulging in cigars that were so large they looked as though they were inspired by cartoons. Despite the budgetary limitations on his films and the fact that he never enjoyed a career-defining breakaway hit, Fuller's movies have stood the test of time and before he died in 1997, he had witnessed his work being favorably reassessed by a new generation of directors and critics.
"Underworld U.S.A." is one of Fuller's true gems. A 1961 film noir crime story, the movie gave an early career boost to Cliff Robertson but its significance goes much deeper. Although viewed as a typical low budget crime thriller back in the day, the movie is a a true classic of the genre. The film opens with 14 year-old Tolly Davlin (David Kent), a street-wise product of a crime-infested unnamed big city, witnessing the beating death of the father he idolized by a pack of enforcers from a mob syndicate that he had crossed. Tolly's dad, himself a low-life who was teaching his son how to survive in the urban jungle by being more cunning and ruthless than the competition. Tolly, now orphaned, finds the only friend he has is Sandy (Beatrice Kay), a tough-as-nails saloon owner who takes a maternal interest in Tolly, though he rarely heeds her advice. Tolly is consumed with avenging his father's death. He arranges intentionally builds up a criminal record leading to him being incarcerated in a juvenile detention center- but all the while he is painstakingly following leads about who his father's murderers were and who employed them. The story jumps ahead and we find Tolly now a young man in his late twenties (played by Robertson) having been incarcerated in a prison that houses one of the killers, a man who is literally on his death bed in the hospital ward. That doesn't stop Tolly from smothering him with a pillow and making it look like natural causes. When Tolly is released from jail, he reunites with Sandy and has a chance encounter with a sexy gun moll who is nicknamed Cuddles (Dolores Dorn) who has been marked for death for having failed to carry out a mission for the mob. Tolly saves her life and secretes her in Sandy's apartment while he begins his pursuit of two other men who killed his father that fateful night. Having succeeded in getting his street justice, he goes for bigger game: the syndicate bosses.
Fuller's film is somewhat unique in that he avoids the cliche of showing the mob echelon as seedy, Al Capone types. Instead, they are elite, sophisticated and corrupt businessmen and elected officials who run a major complex called The National Projects which ostensibly benefits the poor because periodically the Olympic-sized swimming pool welcomes neighborhood children. In reality, the top bosses live in splendor in penthouse apartments there and ruthlessly oversee their crime organization. In a clever plot device, Tolly works with the local crime-busting city official (Larry Gates) and volunteers to go undercover and work with the mob in order to bring them to justice. He then tells the mob he's a double agent, so to speak, and really working for them. Ultimately, he devises an inspired scheme by which he places circumstantial evidence to convince the crime lords that their partners are out to betray and kill them, thereby leading them to "off" each other and ensuring that Tolly's hands are clean. It's a plot device that was used in "The Godfather Part II" when the mob boss Frankie Pantangeli becomes mistakenly convinced that Michael Corleone tried to have him assassinated and tries to do the same to him. Similarly, in the 1989 James Bond film "Licence to Kill", 007 infiltrates a major drug gang and convinces the big boss that his key people are betraying him, thus leading to their murders.
Universal has released a superb boxed set of their horror classics. Here is the official press release:
City, California, August 22, 2018 – Thirty of the most iconic
cinematic masterpieces starring the most famous monsters of horror movie
history come together on Blu-ray™for the first time ever in the Universal
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection on August 28, 2018, from
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Featuring unforgettable make-up,
ground-breaking special effects and outstanding performances, the Universal
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection includes all Universal
Pictures’ legendary monsters from the studio that pioneered the horror genre
with imaginative and technically groundbreaking tales of terror in
unforgettable films from the 1930s to late-1950s.
the era of silent movies through present day, Universal Pictures has been
regarded as the home of the monsters. The Universal Classic Monsters:
Complete 30-Film Collection showcases all the original films featuring
the most iconic monsters in motion picture history including Dracula,
Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf
Man, Phantom of the Opera and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Starring
some of the most legendary actors including Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon
Chaney Jr., Claude Rains and Elsa Lanchester in the roles that they made
famous, these films set the standard for a new horror genre and showcase why
these landmark movies that defined the horror genre are regarded as some of the
most unforgettable ever to be filmed.
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collectionincludes
a 48-page collectible book filled with behind-the-scenes stories and rare
production photographs and is accompanied by an array of bonus features
including behind-the-scenes documentaries, the 1931 Spanish version of Dracula,
Featurettes on Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., and Jack Pierce, 13
expert feature commentaries, archival footage, production photographs,
theatrical trailers and more. The perfect gift for any scary movie fan, the
collection offers an opportunity to experience some of the most memorable
horror films of our time.
Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection includes Dracula
(1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible
Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Werewolf of London (1935),
Dracula's Daughter (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The
Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman (1940), The
Mummy's Hand (1940), The Wolf Man (1941), The Ghost of
Frankenstein (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1942), The Mummy's Tomb (1942),
Invisible Agent (1942), Phantom of the Opera (1943), Frankenstein
Meets the Wolf Man (1943), Son of Dracula (1943), House of
Frankenstein (1944), The Mummy's Curse (1944), The Invisible
Man's Revenge (1944), House of Dracula (1945), She-Wolf of London
(1946), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), Abbott and
Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954,
and includes a 3D version), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), Revenge
of the Creature (1955 and includes a 3D version) and The Creature Walks
Among Us (1956).
3D Versions of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the
Spanish Version of Dracula
on Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., and Jack Pierce
Expert Feature Commentaries
Not mentioned in the press release is the impressive collector's booklet packed with rare photos and movie poster artwork.
One caveat to note: the set was accompanied by a letter from Universal explaining that some of the Blu-ray discs containing the 3-D version of "Revenge of the Creature" and the 2-D version of "The Creature Walks Among Us" had some manufacturing snafus and customers might experience some playback problems on this one disc. If that occurs, Universal will send you a corrected disc if you E mail them at: USHEConsumerRelations@visionmediamgmt.com
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" has long posed a conundrum for film critics and historians. How do you assess a film that is brilliantly made but which promotes a hateful message? The 1934 production which was created as a love letter to Adolf Hitler and his rapidly-rising National Socialist movement has been relatively shunned at film festivals and the art house circuit over the decades. It's undoubtedly been most widely seen in classrooms and on home video. Yet the passing of time has allowed the film to be more actively shown in recent years and it is nearly always accompanied by an introduction that rightly explains its relevance both to the period in which it was made but also as it pertains to today's world. Director Riefenstahl had been a popular actress in German cinema who had caught the eye of Adolf Hitler, who was quite the movie fan (his favorites included "Gone With the Wind" and Laurel and Hardy.) Riefenstahl had recently become a pioneer as one of the first women to enter directing in the era of sound films. Hitler commissioned her to film the Nazi party's annual meeting in Nuremberg in the expectation that it would bolster the movement as well as increase the fanatical cult of personality that was already attached to him. Hitler had tried to overthrow the German government a decade earlier but ended up in jail. He turned this to his advantage by becoming a martyr to the cause and writing his personal bible Mein Kampf from his jail cell. By the time he was released, even those who had prosecuted him were trying to curry favor with the future dictator. Hitler ran for office and won the election to become Germany's chancellor. In reality he had most of the political power but was prudent enough to bide his time until the ceremonial head of state, Von Hindenburg, passed away from natural causes. Hitler knew that the public would not abide him disrespecting the beloved Von Hindenburg, who was regarded as a national war hero.As it had so many times in these early days of Hitler's rise, fate cooperated with his interests. Von Hindenburg passed away and Hitler went full throttle to establish himself as a virtual dictator. His first order of business was to eradicate Germany's fragile hold on democracy, first attacking the free press and then nationalizing it as a propaganda arm. The nation had come out on the losing side in WWI and was suffering terribly from onerous war reparations that had to be paid to the Allies, who were basically using Germany as a cash cow. Hitler quickly put to rest the last remnants of the loathed Weimar Republic and combined the offices of chancellor and president, thus giving himself unchallenged power over the country. He then persuaded the Reichstag to voluntarily cede most of their powers to him, thus making the series of checks and balances in the government a rubber stamp for Hitler's policies. Hitler still had important goals to fulfill. It was important to mobilize the nation as a fighting force in the expectation of war. However, he was bound by the Treaty of Versailles which mandated that Germany's armed forces number no more than 100,000 men. Hitler got around this by organizing numerous civic and political groups and turning them into paramilitary organizations. In this way he was able to train millions of Germans as soldiers even if they carried picks and shovels instead of rifles. Hitler also did some controversial "house cleaning" within his party by personally ordering the murders of SA head Ernst Rohm and his top lieutenants. The SA was Hitler's personal bodyguard but had grown to the size of an army. He worried that Rohm had political aspirations of his own and that he might orchestrate a coup. On the so-called Night of the Long Knives, the top echelon of the SA was systematically executed. Hitler appointed a more benign stooge, Viktor Lutze, as the new head of the SA. Hitler's biggest challenge was to ensure that he and Lutze could convince the rank and file SA men to stay loyal to the party and Hitler himself. This he intended to do at the Nuremberg rally, where he would give speech extolling his appreciation of the SA. The ploy worked and any dissension never spilled over into a threat to Hitler.
"Triumph of the Will" presents a sanitized picture of all these dastardly goings-on. What emerges is a nation that is completely behind Hitler and the Nazi cause. This was nonsense, of course. There were countless people who opposed the regime and over the course of the next few years they would pay dearly for their protests against the demise of German democracy. Nevertheless, as a propaganda piece the film is probably unrivaled in its impact. Although the movie was shown internationally, it didn't quite have the alarming impact one might have assumed. The Western democracies still thought of Hitler as primarily a quirky crank whose influence would be confined within Germany's borders. Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was a master of using cinema as a tool of manipulation. Not wanting to alarm the Allies before Germany had been rebuilt militarily, the film was given rather non-threatening sub-titles to accommodate its international showings. Meanwhile, within Germany, the messages were more ominous. When viewing the film even today one gets the feeling that Germany was an invincible power. One can only imagine the trepidation Allied troops must have felt when they finally had to go up against what had become a seemingly unstoppable war machine. The clues were in the film. The legions of robot-like paramilitary adherents are presented as fanatical loyalists to the new dictator. In fact the "real" armed forces were featured so slightly in the film that they raised protests. To appease them, Hitler commissioned a second film by Riefehstahl titled "Day of Freedom" (also included in this set). The movie has her trademark use of imaginary camera angles but it amounts to basically a sop to the armed forces by showcasing their prowess through military training exercises. More powerful are the scenes in "Triumph of the Will" that carefully showcase Hitler as a demi-god. He is seen traveling to Nuremberg by the small plane he favored for use in his political campaign stops. (Hitler was the first politician to eschew the traditional whistle stop train tours in favor of using a plane in order to cover more territory.) The images of his plane flying through the spectacular cloud formations are truly stunning. We also watch him as he stares down at the massive rally forming in expectation of his arrival. When Hitler does arrive at the rally he is preceded by a small army of his top officials who were being formally introduced to the German people through this film. In retrospect, they formed the perfect "Rogue's Gallery" and would go on to perpetrate some of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century. Most paid for their sins with their lives though others were sentenced to jail terms in the aftermath of the war. When Hitler takes to the podium he uses his trademark practice of starting his speech in a low voice but gradually rising in tone and emotion into a virtual scream. The most disturbing part of the film occurs when all of the countless thousands of participants march past the podium and pledge their loyalty, not to Germany, but to Hitler personally. The film then concentrates on the ancillary fanfare that took place during this seminal week in the nation's history as we watch torchlight parades march past Hitler's hotel balcony where he looks on approvingly. At all times Riefenstahl diminishes the notion of individualism in order to present Hitler in an almost superhuman manner. He is photographed from angles that make him seem literally larger than life.
The Synapse Blu-ray, which features a restoration by Robert A. Harris, contains some valuable extras, the most informative being a feature-length commentary track by Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, an expert on German history. Santoro's calm, laid-back manner is somewhat jolting at times, given the gravity of what we are viewing, but he provides excellent information regarding the nuances of these scenes and the fate of the individual Nazi top brass.Where the track falls a bit short is in Santoro's discussions of Riefenstahl and her legacy. He acknowledges her talents as a director but doesn't put much meat on the bone in regard to her personal life and legacy. (She lived until the age of 101 and never fully repented for her association with Hitler, nor was she ever prosecuted. She would defensively point out that she never actually joined the Nazi party, which is indeed surprising.) She would go on to make another important propaganda film for Hitler in 1938, "Olympiad", an equally whitewashed account of the 1936 Olympics that were held in Berlin and which also managed to elevate Hitler as a star attraction even though he was largely a bystander. Arguably, "Olympiad" was the more important and effective film as it was meant to appease foreign concerns about the atrocities that were just being implemented in Germany. Some of the slack from the commentary is addressed in excellent liner notes written by director and film historian Roy Frumkes, who delves deeper into Riefenstahl's fascinating life. Frumkes points out that the film should not really be considered a documentary because many of the "spontaneous" scenes were staged by Riefenstahl and some were shot repeatedly in order to get the desired footage. The new 2K restoration is impressive on all counts and does justice to Riefenstahl's astonishing camera angles. This presentation also boasts newly interpreted English sub-titles that accommodate the film's original German language version. It's beneficial to watch the film first then view it again with Dr. Santoro's commentary to provide context.
Compromised genius: Riefenstahl directing Triumph of the Will.
"Triumph of the Will" is indeed a major cinematic achievement- but tragically it promoted the greatest evil of the 20th century. The mind reels at what Leni Riefenstahl could have achieved had she not been compromised by her political beliefs. More importantly, the movie clearly illustrates that democracies are fragile states that can deconstruct under the influence and spell of one man.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
MURDOCH MYSTERIES: Home for the
DVD/Blu-ray Debut from Acorn TV on
September 18, 2018
Special feature-length episode of the
hit Canadian and Acorn TV period mystery series
Praise for Murdoch
haven’t seen it, you must.” —Globe & Mail
procedural police drama” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
Bisson is perfect as Murdoch.” —Deseret News
fast-paced fun” —The Globe and Mail
more than two dozen Gemini® nominations and the sole 2016 ‘Fan’s Choice Award’
at the Canadian Screen Awards for Yannick Bisson, MURDOCH MYSTERIES: Home for
the Holidays makes its DVD/Blu-ray debut on September 18, 2018 from Acorn TV. Set
in Toronto in the late 1890s and early 1900s during the age of invention, Murdoch
Mysteries (aka The Artful Detective) centers on Detective William Murdoch
(Bisson), a methodical and dashing detective, who enlists radical new forensic
techniques to solve some of the city’s most gruesome murders. This DVD/Blu-ray
1-Disc features a feature-length Christmas special from Season 11 and bonus
behind-the-scenes featurettes ($24.99, Amazon.com). Murdoch Mysteries: Home for
the Holidays made its U.S. debut in December 2017 on Acorn
TV. The series is currently in production on Season 12. Called a “glorious
streaming service… an essential must-have” (The Hollywood Reporter), Acorn TV
is North America’s most popular and largest streaming service focused on
British and international television.
detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson, Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye) must solve a
holiday whodunit in this feature-length special of the award-winning mystery
series set in Edwardian Toronto. Days before Christmas, Murdoch and his wife,
Dr. Julia Ogden (Gemini® winner Hélène Joy, Durham County), travel to Victoria,
British Columbia, to spend time with Murdoch’s eccentric brother. But instead of
a relaxing holiday with Jasper (Dylan Neal, Dawson’s Creek) and his family,
they end up investigating a murder at an archaeological site.
Toronto, Constables Crabtree (Jonny Harris, Still Standing) and Higgins (Lachlan
Murdoch, Copper) try to impress their sweethearts before a skiing outing, and
Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig, Where the Heart Is) and his wife invest in
a money-making scheme run by a man named Ponzi. Guest stars include Kate
Hewlett (The Girlfriend Experience), Jake Epstein (Degrassi: The Next
Generation), and Megan Follows (Reign, Anne of Green Gables).
September 18, 2018
Feature length episode – Approx. 89 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles – UPC
1-Disc: Feature-length episode – Approx. 89 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles –
If you trust the biographical sketch included on his 1963
LP As Long as the Grass Shall Grow (Folkways
FN 2532, 1963), the folksinger Peter LaFarge hailed from Fountain, Colorado, a
farming and ranching town settled ten miles south of Colorado Springs.If you trust the memory of his own mother,
Peter LaFarge was actually born Oliver Albee LaFarge on April 30th,
1931, in New York City.The
singer-songwriter was the son of the notable anthropologist, author and
historian, Oliver LaFarge.The senior
LaFarge’s 1929 novel documenting life on a Navajo reservation, Laughing Boy, would earn him a Pulitzer
Prize in fiction in 1930.
Though separated early on from his biological father due
to his parent’s divorce in 1935, Peter remained his father’s son in his
studious devotion of America’s indigenous people.His mother, with whom Peter remained, remarried
in 1940 to Alexander Kane, a rancher in aforementioned Fountain, CO.Through his stepfather’s business, LaFarge fell
in love with horses and roping and rodeo life, eventually dropping out of high
school to try his hand at saddle bronc riding.Though he had become a cowboy in vocation - suffering numerous injuries
during his brief association with rodeo life - he remained more absorbed by his
birth father’s scholarship into the folklore, art, history, and customs of the
LaFarge was a restless spirit, tending to drift in and
out of things.He served on the U.S.S.
Boxer during the Korean War, sparred as an amateur pugilist, studied acting at
the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago, and wrote several (as of yet) un-produced
plays.Befriending the folksinger Cisco
Houston, an occasional singing partner of and best friend to Woody Guthrie,
LaFarge’s existing interest in folklore ignited his enthusiasm for the folksong
revival of the late 1950s.Upon his
arrival in Greenwich Village with an intention of inaugurating a career in folk
singing, the young LaFarge seemingly burnished his credentials by telling
everyone he was the descendant of the Narragansett Tribe of the Rhode Island-
based Algonquians.One of his stories
was that once the Narragansett’s had been “wiped out,” he found himself adopted
by “the Tewa Tribe of the Hopi Nation, whose reservation is near Santa
Fe.”This appears to have been the tale
he chose to settle on.He would write in
a 1963 issue of the seminal folk music magazine Sing Out!, “The Pima Indians, whose reservation is just outside of
Phoenix, Arizona, are cousins of my people, the Hopi Indians of the New Mexico
If LaFarge’s assertions of a direct ancestral lineage to
indigenous Americans are suspect - as most music historians now believe - the songwriter
was certainly not alone in such self-mythologizing.Another recent Village transplant from the
Midwest, Bob Dylan, was also telling friends and colleagues a similar fiction.Dylan, ten years LaFarge’s junior, famously suggested
to a doubtful Izzy Young of Greenwich Village’s venerable Folklore Center that
he was of Sioux Indian descent.To be
fair, even Johnny Cash – who is, of course, more or less the central figure in
Antonio D’Ambrosio’s moving 2015 documentary We’re
Still Here: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited, now available on DVD
courtesy of Kino-Lorber, was not above such mythologizing.In an infamous letter to Billboard (published August 22, 1964), Cash would describe himself
as “almost a half-breed Cherokee-Mohawk,” whatever that means.It’s therefore somewhat perplexing that,
regardless of the best intent and justice-seeking goodwill of all involved, D’Ambrosio’sfilm makes not even a passing mention
to all of these innocent subterfuges.
Does any of this really matter?I suppose not.What does matter is that LaFarge, whether a
full, half or non-fledged ancestor of indigenous Americans, wrote some of the
most poignant, bitter and insightful songs somberly documenting the Indians’
experience in the United States.LaFarge’s
intimate knowledge of Indian customs and folklore were, ultimately, far more schooled
and convincing than either Cash’s or Dylan’s more clumsy appropriations which
were easier to dismiss.While Cash and
Dylan would, of course, both go on to be deserved long-standing totems of the
music industry, LaFarge remained a mostly obscure figure, one very much on the
fringe of the popular music scene.LaFarge
would productively wax new no fewer than six albums between 1962 and 1965, but only
“Ira Hayes” and Other Ballads
(Columbia CL 17995/CS 8595) had been recorded for a major label with pop-music
market distribution.It sold
poorly.His following five albums were
waxed for Moses Asch’s more austere and cerebral Folkways Records, whose eclectic
catalog included everything from educational LPs, to anthropological studies, to
early jazz and blues recordings.LaFarge’s addition to the Folkway’s roster was something of a more
comfortable – if less royalty generating – fit for the artist.Asch, a supportive “fellow traveler” of
left-wing causes, judiciously used his record label to provide an open
microphone to such genuine folk music artists as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly,
Cisco Houston and Pete Seeger.It was a
defiant gesture as well as a pragmatic one.The political climate made most labels in the late 1940s and early 1950s
wary of recording rabble-rousers armed with guitars and 5-string banjos.
One of the best WWII productions made while the conflict was on-going, "Destination Tokyo" is available on DVD through Warner Home Entertainment. The film was released in December, 1943 when the war was in full throttle. Cary Grant is well-cast and in top form as Capt. Cassidy of the U.S.S. Copperfin, a submarine that is being deployed on a top secret and highly dangerous mission to infiltrate Tokyo Bay in order to scope out key logistical data for the first planned bombing raid of the city by U.S. forces, historically known as the Doolittle Raid. The film's ample running time of 135 minutes allows the story to unfold in a leisurely manner and for supporting characters to be fully developed as distinct personalities. John Garfield is the co-star but he spends most of the time regaling his shipmates with tales (or perhaps tall tales) about his sexual conquests. Alan Hale provides additional comic relief as the vessel's cook and there are any number of other character actors who would go on to be mainstays in the film industry: John Forsythe, Tom Tully, Whit Bissell, Dane Clark and William Prince among them. The film marked an impressive directorial debut for Delmar Daves, who also co-wrote the script with Albert Maltz. Grant's Captain Cassidy is very much a populist officer, concerned about his men and well-acquainted with each one individually. Consequently, they'll do anything for him. That includes Garfield's character, who volunteers along with two other sailors to undertake a dangerous mission to leave the sub and use a rubber raft to land on Japanese soil where they can record vital statistics for the pending raid on Tokyo. In order to enter the bay, the Copperfin must deftly avoid mines and a submarine net, then escape detection while the volunteers spend the night on land recording their findings. Director Daves milks a good deal of suspense from this scenario, which of course delivers the pay-off war time audiences expected: a depiction of the actual Doolittle Raid, which is shown here as doing devastating damage to Tokyo. In reality, the raid only did minor damage to the city but the psychological effect on the Japanese population of having their seemingly invincible homeland penetrated scored a major coup for the U.S.
Some of the best scenes in "Destination Tokyo" don't involve violence. They explore the relationship between Capt. Cassidy and his men. In the most dramatic scene, a sailor suffers appendicitis. While fathoms below in the submarine, without an on-board surgeon, Cassidy must assist a pharmacist's mate in performing the life-saving operation with crude instruments. It's a tense and moving scene that was apparently based on a real-life incident. Although there are plenty of references to killing "Japs" as one might expect in a WWII era film, the screenplay also presents a more nuanced point-of-view with a discussion about how the Japanese people were hoodwinked by their militaristic leaders. It's an unusual instance of humanizing the enemy in a film that was made for propaganda purposes.
The DVD has a good transfer and contains the trailer and a 1934 musical comedy short "Gem of the Ocean" with French starlet Jeanne Aubert. There is also a Cary Grant trailer gallery beginning with "Bringing Up Baby" and culminating with "North by Northwest". Recommended.
Kino Lorber has released the 1992 British farce "Blame It on the Bellboy" on Blu-ray. The film is a fast-paced homage to old Hollywood screwball comedies that makes fine use of a very talented cast. Like all good farces, the script involves mistaken identities, extraordinary coincidences and an eclectic (and eccentric) collection of characters. The action takes place entirely in Venice where a nervous milquetoast, Melvyn Orton (Dudley Moore) is sent by a tyrannical boss to buy a villa. Simultaneously, a hit man with a similar name, Mike Lorton (Bryan Brown) arrives in the city to assassinate a local crime boss, Mr. Scarpa (Andreas Katsulas), who knows he has been marked for death but doesn't know the identity of his would-be killer. Scarpa and his men are determined to assassinate the assassin. Both Orton and Lorton are staying at the same hotel, so you can pretty much guess where this is going. Among the other guests is yet another man with a similar name, Maurice Horton (Richard Griffiths), the lord mayor of a small British city, who has told his wife Rosemary (Alison Steadman) that he is on a business trip to Boston. In fact, he has signed up with a tacky "dating service" that promises to arrange a meet-up with a woman who is also on holiday through the agency.She is Patricia Fulford (Penelope Wilton), a middle-aged lonely hearts who wants to find passion and love when she meets up with her mystery date. Meanwhile, local real estate agent Caroline Wright (Patsy Kensit) is awaiting a meeting with a prospective client to buy a white elephant of a villa on the Grand Canal so that she can collect an extravagant fee.
Through a mishap involving the hotel's inept bellboy (Bronson Pinchot), who delivers messages to the wrong rooms, there ensues a massive case of mistaken identities. Maurice thinks the sexy Caroline is his date, and a prostitute as well, whose "services" are part of his holiday package. Caroline thinks he is her client to buy the villa. Melvyn is mistaken by Scarpa as his assassin and is kidnapped and tortured. Meanwhile, the real assassin, Mike Lorton, is mistaken by Patricia as her mystery date. Adding to the zaniness is the unexpected arrival of Maurice's wife, who hopes to catch him in the act of cheating. What ensures is a wild, mind-spinning series of comedic events, all very deftly carried out at lightning speed by director Mark Herman, who makes the most of shooting on location amidst the eye-popping Venetian backgrounds. Herman, who also wrote the screenplay, ensures that this extraordinary mix of actors and characters never becomes too confusing for the viewer to follow, despite elaborate plot twists. There are chases on foot and by boat, people darting in and out of each other's bedrooms and it's all set to a jaunty score by Trevor Jones. "Blame It on the Bellboy" isn't a comedy classic but it's consistently funny with the impressive cast all in top form. Recommended, especially if you like a modern take on a Marx Brothers comedy. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has a very good transfer and includes a vintage video promotional trailer for the film as well as an assortment of other trailers for K/L releases.
MVD has released director Albert Pyun's 1997 thriller "Blast" as a Blu-ray edition. If you've never heard of the film, most of its cast members or director Pyun, you're not alone. But Pyun has a long-standing and enthusiastic fan base that credits him for being a pioneer in launching the cyborg sci-fi genre in the 1980s. His fans admire him for churning out independent films often under trying circumstances and very limited budgets. Despite having a few surprise hits at the boxoffice, Pyun has often been associated with films that were terminated or unreleased due to financing problems. Still, like the ultimate trooper, he continued to persevere and even today, while battling some significant health problems, Pyun remains determined to be a player in the indie film market. "Blast" enjoyed its "premiere" on home video, something that has apparently enhanced its reputation among enthusiasts for "direct to video" fare ("DTV" for those in the know...). While most movie lovers used to avoid DTV product on the assumption that it was deemed to be too bad to merit a theatrical marketing campaign, these fans enjoy making silk purses from sow's ears and claim that many underrated films have suffered the DTV syndrome. They are probably right, but "Blast" isn't one of them. The film was made when audiences were still obsessed with the blue collar working man hero generally played by the likes of Stallone, Willis, Van Damme and occasionally Schwarzenegger. The "grunt and punch" aspect of these heroes relegated them to limited dialogue, save for the precious "tag line" they will inevitably mutter in the course of the film in the hope that it will become the next "Make my day"-like catchphrase with the public.
"Blast" is set at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics games. The American women's swim team enters the pool area to practice even as the President of the United States and other world leaders arrive in the city for the opening of the games. Just as the women's swim team arrives, the complex is taken over by terrorists led by Omodo (Andrew Divoff) and his band of fanatical followers who have posed as workers for the Olympic organization. The terrified female swimmers under the guidance of their coach Diane Colton (Kimberly Warren) are verbally abused and one of the women is shot to death as a sign to the authorities that the terrorists mean business. Omodo is well-known to international authorities and is wanted by police throughout the world. Seems that Omodo's ego is bruised because his last two terrorist actions have fizzled even though they left behind a string of dead bodies. He is determined to regain his reputation by ensuring the Olympics operation is a success. (Apparently, when terrorists get together at their annual picnic, no one wants to be the butt of colleagues' jokes.) The terrorists quickly kill off any guards and begin operating the complex's security system, thus giving them views of any police attempts to enter the building, which they have made into a fortress by mining the entrances with bombs. Omodo's demands from the authorities must have been fairly mundane because minutes after he issued them, I forgot what they were. In any event, the only person in the complex left to combat the terrorists is Jack Bryant (Linden Ashby), a one-time Olympic star who has seen his life fall apart due to his own demons. He's now working in the building as a janitor. Omodo and his men can occasionally see him on the vast networks of security cameras but Bryant is a savvy guy and learns how to keep on the move and pick off the terrorists one-by-one. (Like most janitors, Bryant is also a world-class martial arts expert). For some melodramatic elements, we learn that Bryant and Diane had once been married but he lost her when his life went into a downward spiral. With the authorities virtually helpless, it's up to Bryant to thwart the terrorists...although he has a an ally in the Atlanta Police Department: Leo ((Rutger Hauer), a wheelchair-bound, eccentric detective who is an old nemesis of Omodo and who manages to provide Bryant with some helpful tips.
"Blast" is a storehouse of every action movie cliche from films of this era but it's not as bad as you might think. Director Pyun does the best he can to disguise the movie's limited budget (virtually all of it is shot in one location with a few exterior shots tossed in to break the monotony). Pyun keeps the action moving at a brisk clip and avoids at least a couple of anticipated cliches from coming to pass. However, the sheer monotony of seeing Bryant and the bad guys chase each other up and down very similar-looking hallways and staircases quickly grows wearying. The cast performs gamely, with Linden Ashby suitably hunky and capable of delivering the film's obligatory "tag line": "I'm coming to get you!!!!" Andrew Divoff brings some Bond villain-like qualities to his role but he's undermined by Pyun insisting that he imitate every vocal mannerism of Arnold Schwarzenegger imaginable. The gimmick proves to be distracting, though Divoff has a few standout moments. The musical score by Anthony Riparetti starts out well but becomes grating because it seems to consist of a constant repetition of the same few notes. The film is occasionally suspenseful and exciting but Pyun goes off the rails during the climax which sees a knock-down fight to the death between Bryant and Omodo that incorporates some ridiculous elements including a bomb explosion that is so poorly rendered that it looks like a frame from a Road Runner cartoon was utilized. Also puzzling are the brief appearances of Rutger Hauer as a potentially intriguing character but the role is drastically under-written.
MVD has released "Blast" as a nice-looking Blu-ray edition as part of their "Marquee Collection". The box art features a cringe-inducing rip-off of the main poster art for "Die Hard" including an exploding skyscraper, even though there are no skyscrapers in "Blast", exploding or otherwise. There is a bonus trailer gallery of other similarly-themed titles from MVD, although the trailer for Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Lionheart" looks like a poor VHS transfer.
Glenn is a down on his luck American boxer who gets caught in the middle of a
blood feud between Japanese brothers in “The Challenge” available on Blu-ray
and DVD. Glenn’s character Rick accepts a job smuggling a valuable sword into Japan
and is quickly swept up in intrigue as rival brothers seek ownership of the
sword which was taken from Japan at the end of WWII. Hideo (Atsuo Nakamura) is
a powerful businessman and convinces Rick to train under his brother, Yoshida
(Toshiro Mifune). This close proximity should enable him to steal the sword in
Yoshida’s possession and deliver it to Hideo. This is not a civil family feud,
as a half dozen people are murdered within an hour of Rick’s arrival in Japan.
honors the traditional samurai traditions and runs a school for practitioners
of these teachings. Rick is a reluctant participant in the deadly feud and his
loyalties are challenged as he is attracted to Yoshida’s daughter, Akiko (Donna
Kei Ben), as well as to the traditional samurai philosophy and her father’s
cause. Rick is skeptical of the training, but goes through the standard ordeals
we’ve come to expect from this genre such as eating exotic foods including live
lobsters and octopi with tentacles slithering on plates. He’s also reduced to performing
seemingly mundane tasks like sweeping floors and cleaning up only to discover it
was a test of his commitment and resolve.
one point, Rick spends days buried up to his neck in a pit as ants and bugs
crawl on his face while being denied food and water. He complains throughout
the training, backing out and returning several times, and even steals the
sword at one point, only to return it and learning this too was a test. He
finally pledges his obedience to the samurai order under Yoshida and completes
his training. Sound familiar? Yes, but it’s all part of the central trope of
this genre and it works very well to further the story.
by John Frankenheimer, the film is exciting with plenty of action and the
climactic sword fight in the office complex is very well staged. While not
quite a martial arts movie, the film offers a veritable buffet of combat techniques
with fists, samurai swords, bow & arrows and knives. The location shooting
in Japan and the action scenes kept my interest and the film culminates in a
battle at Hideo’s office headquarters as Rick, Yoshida and Akiko sneak in and fight
their way to Hideo and the inevitable confrontation between him and Yoshida.
movie features familiar American television character actors Calvin Jung, Clyde
Kusatsu and Sab Shimono in supporting roles and was the first starring vehicle
for Glenn with a script by John Sayles and Richard Maxwell. Sayles was brought
to Japan to make changes to the story which was radically altered after Glenn
accepted the role. Disappointed, Glenn was persuaded by Mifune to take it in
stride and enjoy the experience. This was the final of three collaborations
between Frankenheimer and Jerry Goldsmith who provides a terrific score. Steven
Segal also worked as a technical advisor and stunt coordinator for the movie. I
enjoyed the movie a great deal and so should fans of action and martial arts
in July 1982 by CBS Theatrical Films, the movie was a modest success for
Frankenheimer and it has grown in status over the years with a solid fan base
due to broadcast television and home video release. The movie clocks in at 110
minutes with a great looking transfer and sound quality. Bonus features on the German
Blu-ray/DVD two disc set release by Explosive Media include the theatrical
trailer, TV trailers, a poster gallery and the cropped TV version on the DVD.
The set also includes a photo-filled 24-page booklet featuring poster art,
lobby cards and an essay by Andreas Volkert of All About Movies Bayreuth.
(Note: this region-free title is available through Amazon Germany. However, Explosive Media titles often surface through third party dealers on other Amazon and eBay sites.)
Twilight Time has released the 1965 action adventure film "Genghis Khan" as a limited edition (3,000) Blu-ray. The film was released almost ten years after Howard Hughes produced the notorious clinker "The Conqueror" starring John Wayne as the legendary Mongol leader. A decade later, producer Irving Allen ensured he did not make the mistake of laughably miscasting the leading man. Omar Sharif, then a red-hot up-and-coming star, was cast in the title role, and while an Egyptian actor might not seem to be an obvious choice, Sharif possessed an exotic international appeal that saw him convincingly play characters of many different ethnic backgrounds. Ironically, while Allen had successfully hired a leading man, his judgment did not extend to the key supporting roles. If you want to enjoy "Genghis Khan", there are many positive aspects to the film- but you will have to overlook some jaw-dropping casting errors. That feat is a bit like trying to calmly peruse a newspaper in your living room while ignoring the 800-pound gorilla who is sitting across from you, but more about that later.
The film opens with a brutal raid on the tribal home of the young Mongol Temujin and his family. The raid is led by a rival Mongol tribe headed by the merciless Jamuga (Stephen Boyd), who murders Temujin's father and enslaves the women of the tribe. The story then jumps ahead a number of years and we find Temujin (Omar Sharif) has now grown to manhood and is still a captive of Jamuga. He's forced to wear a giant wooden yoke around his neck as a reminder of his humiliation. Ultimately, Temujin escapes captivity with the help of holy man Geen (Michael Hordern) and a mute Mongol warrior named Sengal (Woody Strode.), much to the chagrin of the infuriated Jamuga. Temujin vows to bring the warring Mongol tribes together so that they can form an unstoppable army capable of conquering the known world. How he achieves this is never shown but before long we see he has indeed amassed a devoted army intent on uniting the remaining Mongol tribes, one of which is headed by Jamuga.One of Temujin's obsessions is to humiliate Jamuga, which he does by kidnapping his woman, Bortei (Francoise Dorleac), who he then makes his own wife. As played by the gorgeous but ill-fated Dorleac (she died in a car crash in 1967), Bortei sports a modern hair style and the latest trends in makeup. She's a Mongol by way of the emerging mod scene on Carnaby Street. Dorleac is miscast but at least her performance isn't embarrassing. The same cannot be said of some of her otherwise revered cast members.
Since the film is designed to entertain, not enlighten, we are presented with a truncated historical record of Temujin's conquests. In short order, he and his army become feared as they relentlessly conquer seemingly any land they want to occupy, either by having the inhabitants willingly accede to their demands or face defeat in battle. The script boils down these tumultuous events into a Cliff Notes adaptation of a Classics Illustrated comic book. Temujin next sets his sights on the legendary land of China, and are admitted entrance through the Great Wall. Here they are guided by Kam Ling, a wise man who serves as chief adviser to the Emperor. The role is played by James Mason and if you thought, as I did, that this great talent was incapable of presenting a bad performance, be prepared to be enlightened. Mason sports a sem- Fu Manchu mustache and seems to be foreshadowing those now cringe-inducing Chinese detectives that would be played by Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov. But wait! Mason's performance seems positively inspired compared to that of Robert Morley as the Emperor. Yes, that Robert Morley, the rotund and usually delightful British character actor who played every role in precisely the same manner. Thus, we have the Emperor of China depicted as a prissy, comical figure. (Presumably, Paul Lynde was not available for the role.) The miscasting of these two pivotal roles makes it difficult to concentrate on the otherwise compelling script by Clarke Reynolds and Beverly Cross. Fortunately, events move quickly. The Emperor treats Temujin and his army with great reverence and respect- and Temujin is even giving the honorary title of Genghis Khan ("Great Conqueror"). But Temujin correctly suspects that they are being held as captives in a gilded cage. Seems the Emperor realizes that Temujin suspects that the Chinese military is a paper tiger and that he would be tempted to gather an even bigger army and take the nation by force. In a creatively-staged scene, the Mongols use the Chinese fascination with fireworks as an elaborate method to affect a daring escape. Armed with the advanced military technology they have secured from China, the Mongols' ever-growing armies continue to sweep through kingdoms far and wide. Jamuga, who had been held captive by Temujin but managed to escape, refuses an offer to join Temujin's forces- and even insults him by implying that Temujin's young son had been fathered by him. This results in a "Mongol Duel" in which both men go mano-a-mano, with the surviving winner taking control of the armies. The sight of two sweaty, hunky shirtless men grappling with each does have an unintended and amusing homo-erotic aspect but the scene is quite suspenseful.
Watch the original U.S. TV spot for Milos Forman's superb (but underrated) 1981 drama "Ragtime", the adaptation of E.L. Doctprow's bestselling novel. The film brilliantly interweaves the sagas of disparate characters in a grand, lushly produced production that marked the final feature film appearance of James Cagney, who was lured out of retirement after twenty years. If you've never seen "Ragtime", make sure you do. (By the way, the DVD is out of print in America and has never been issued on Blu-ray. Are you listening, Paramount?)
name Sergio Martino will strike a chord with anyone who has even a passing
interest in Italian exploitation pictures of the 70s and 80s. Once seen, who
can forget The Great Alligator or The Island of Fishmen – both of which are
favourites of this writer in their showcasing of Barbara Bach at her most
radiant – or premium Suzy Kendall giallo Torso, or for that matter once ‘video
nasty’ and Ursula Andress headliner The Mountain of the Cannibal God? Marking Martino’s
second giallo, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (o.t. La coda della scorpione),
was released in 1971, sandwiched between a couple of his most highly regarded
titles, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and All the Colours of the Dark. Scorpion’s
Tail isn’t quite on a par with either of those, but it’s still a respectable
entry in the sub-genre.
her husband is killed in a plane accident on a business trip to Greece, his
unfaithful wife (Evelyn Stewart) is informed she’s beneficiary to a $1 million
inheritance, with the one caveat that she has to travel to Athens to finalise
her claim. However, there are a number of people intent on getting their hands
on the not insubstantial sum, and at least one of them will remorselessly
resort to murder to do so. A turn of events results in the arrival of an
insurance investigator (George Hilton), who hooks up with a reporter (Anita
Strindberg) to check out some irregularities, and they inadvertently set
themselves up as targets for the killer.
enjoyable enough, if not particularly remarkable giallo then, touting a
convoluted plot loaded with sufficient a measure of misdirection to keep things
unpredictable. Opening in a very clean looking London and moving on to various
Greek locales, the travelogue location work certainly functions in the film’s
favour, lending it production value that eclipses the slightly ponderous
narrative of the screenplay (a collaborative affair from Eduardo Manzanos,
Ernesto Gastaldi and Sauro Scavolini). Most of – if not quite all – the
standard giallo trappings come into play, primarily there are a number of
graphic murders perpetrated by a fedora-wearing, razor-wielding maniac attired
in black (who’s not averse to donning a scuba wetsuit when the moment is
propitious). Some of them are pretty nasty too, including a startling– if not
particularly realistic – moment of eye-violence (squeamish viewers be warned!).
However, there’s a conspicuous dearth of nudity, in fact it’s about as coy as
they come that department; of course, nudity is seldom (if ever) pertinent, but
it’s standard enough a constituent within this sub-genre as to be noticeable
when it’s missing. The showdown on a forebodingly rocky stretch of desolate
Grecian coastline is fantastic, combining vertiginous camera angles and
suspenseful POV to maximum dramatic effect.
up a strong cast – which includes Alberto De Mendoza, Ida Galli (aka Evelyn
Stewart), Janine Reynaud and Luigi Pistilli – are George Hilton and Anita
Strindberg. Hilton also starred for Martino in the aforementioned pair, The
Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and All the Colours of the Dark. His rugged good
looks found him top billing in a slew of spaghetti westerns – he was a one-spin
Sartana – as well as a run of crime and gialli pictures such as The Case of the
Bloody Iris, My Dear Killer and The Two Faces of Fear... though 1965’s spoof
Bond caper Due mafiosi contro Goldginger (in which he played Agente 007) can
probably be safely disregarded! He’s on top form here and rubs along well with
the very lovely Anita Strindberg. This writer first became aware of her in Who
Saw Her Die?, in which she appeared alongside George Lazenby and Adolfo Celi.
She didn’t enjoy as prodigious a career as Hilton, but she did score a lead
role in Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key for Martino, as well
as featuring in such renowned fare as Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and Women in
Cell Block 7. Her performance in Scorpion’s Tail is among her finest and there’s
no denying that the scene she spends clad in a sheer, clingy wet shirt affords the
audience a prurient bonus treat.
The James Bond films may represent the longest-running movie series produced by the same company, but ol' 007 doesn't hold a candle to the longevity of Sherlock Holmes as a big screen hero. Holmes has been a cinematic staple since the silent era and though his popularity has soared and waned over the decades, he has remained a presence in popular culture throughout the world. In recent years, younger people have embraced Holmes as a hero thanks to hip, updated interpretations of the character on television and the big screen. However, there were long periods in which Holmes had disappeared from motion pictures. The films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were enormously popular from their first appearance in 1939 through their final cinematic adventure in 1946. Holmes and Watson would not re-emerge on the big screen again until Hammer Films produced the first color Holmes movie, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in 1959. The plan was to launch a Holmes series for the studio starring Peter Cushing and Andre Morrell. Although the film is very well regarded today, it was not a financial success and the series never materialized. The next major studio release of a Holmes adventure was "A Study in Terror", which has been released on Blu-ray by Mill Creek. The movie starred John Neville as Holmes and Donald Houston as Watson- and both of them performed admirably in the handsomely-mounted 1965 production. The concept of Holmes facing off against Jack the Ripper has been done numerous times to date both in literature and on the screen, but "A Study in Terror" was the first Holmes property to exploit the duel-of-wits between the fictional detective and the real-life serial killer.
"A Study in Terror" has the look and feel of a Hammer Studios film of the period and one expects Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee to pop up somewhere along the line, but we must console ourselves with a very fine cast of character actors, each of whom is used well thanks to the intelligently-written screenplay by Donald and Derek Ford and the assured direction of James Hill, who would go on to direct "Born Free". Among the standout appearances: John Fraser, Barbara Windsor, Adrienne Corri, Anthony Quayle as a seemingly devoted surgeon who might just be the killer, Georgia Brown as a beer hall singer, Peter Carsten as a shady pub owner, Robert Morley as Mycroft Holmes- and keep an eye out for young Judi Dench. Frank Finlay appears as Inspector Lestrade, but his role is frustratingly underwritten. The film has a lush production design that masks the fact that virtually all of it is shot in the studio, with the exception of some exteriors of stately mansions, and the score by John Scott is appropriately atmospheric. The story opens with the horrendous murders of prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London, a seedy place in the Victorian era where pollution was often so bad that one could barely see across the street, a factor that aided Jack the Ripper in escaping justice for his crimes. When police can't solve the string of murders, Holmes and Watson take up the cause and, as one might expect, the list of suspects includes a number of red herrings. This was the first Holmes movie to benefit from the new-found screen liberties. Thus, there is a blatant sexual element that would have been unthinkable a decade before. In addition to plenty of heaving bosoms and boisterous bar girls, there is also more violence and gruesome elements than had ever been seen previously in a Holmes feature film. It also features Holmes and Watson demonstrating their prowess with fisticuffs. As with most Holmes mysteries, the fewer details divulged, the better the element of surprise for viewers. Suffice it to say that the story moves at a brisk pace and that Neville and Watson both give spirited performances that should have led to sequels. Alas, "A Study in Terror" was not a boxoffice hit. The lack of marquee names along with a preposterous marketing campaign that emulated the "Batman" TV series (referring to Holmes as "The Original Caped Crusader!") seemed to ensure that the film would not be a popular success. However, that doesn't dilute its many qualities. The Mill Creek Blu-ray has an excellent transfer that does justice to the rich color schemes and fine set designs. Unfortunately, there are no bonus extras. Do we recommend it? The answer should be elementary: of course.
The early-to-mid 1970s was the heyday of grungy cop thrillers. Films exploring the seamier side of police work arguably got its biggest boost from the 1968 release of "Bullitt", which dared to show cops intertwined with ethically-challenged politicians in their common quest for career advancement. With the release of "The French Connection" and "Dirty Harry" in 1971, the genre kicked into high gear. In these films, the anti-hero disregards constitutional protections to take the law into his own hands. With America reeling from soaring crime rates, audiences cheered on these dubious symbols of our justice system. It's safe to say that watching these films from today's standpoint, one might have a different reaction to the tactics used by Popeye Doyle and Harry Callahan. However, there were more nuanced looks at modern urban police departments in films that explored corruption without the benefit of an superhuman anti-hero. Sidney Lumet's "Serpico" certainly exemplifies this type of film, with the protagonist being an every day cop who suffers terribly for calling out the blatantly criminal acts being committed by his peers. Similarly, a lesser-known film dealing the same subject matter- "Report to the Commissioner"- took a cynical look at the NYPD and found a nest of bribery, payoffs and other illegal methods used by many cops. This was not just some left-wing fantasy. The experience of Frank Serpico and fellow whistle-blower cop David Durk had blown the lid off massive corruption in the NYPD. The result was the formation of the Knapp Commission which uncovered widespread graft in the department and instituted radical changes to clean up the NYPD. A number of criminal indictments were handed down. "Report to the Commissioner" was released in 1975, well after the Knapp Commission had released its findings but during a period when faith in the NYPD remained weak among the citizens, who were shocked at the level of corruption unveiled in the Knapp probe. Adding to the public paranoia was the recent Watergate scandal. The film went into production shortly after President Nixon resigned in disgrace just two years after being re-elected in the biggest landslide in American history.
The story centers on the experiences of rookie undercover cop Bo Lockley (Michael Moriarty), who from the get-go seems too naive and sensitive to fit in with the hard-boiled detectives he's been assigned to work with. They cruelly subject him to hazing and never stop mocking him for looking like a hippie, even though he's not supposed to look like a cop since he works undercover. Lockley is shown the ropes around the Times Square district by fellow officer "Crunch" Blackstone (Yaphet Kotto), a hard-bitten veteran who strolls through the grimy neighborhood like a king, routinely abusing its denizens by words and physical actions. Lockley is appalled but Crunch warns him that survival in this part of the city depends on being feared, not being admired. The script introduces a parallel story line in which a young female undercover cop, Patty Butler (Susan Blakely) comes up with a dangerous plan to bring down local crime kingpin "Stick" Henderson (Tony King), who has evaded being arrested despite being the area's most feared pimp and drug dealer. Patty requests permission to pose a teenage runaway, seduce Stick and ultimately become his "old lady" with the intent of being able to witness his day-to-day operations and gather enough evidence to arrest him. The plan obviously violates departmental regulations but both Patty and her two superiors are eager for the promotions that would result from bringing Stick to justice so they approve her plan. Patty makes good on reeling in Stick and before long she's shacking up with him. Lockley, doggedly trying to find and rescue her on the assumption she is a runaway in distress, manages to trace her to Stick's apartment where the two men engage in a gun battle. Patty is tragically killed in the incident, and Lockley pursues Stick in a wild foot chase that includes Times Square before culminating in the men encountering each other inside an elevator in Saks Fifth Avenue. This is the most suspenseful sequence in the film. The police shut the power off, stranding Lockley and his prey in a sweltering, confined space with both men pointing guns at each other. Over time, they engage in a conversation in which Stick tries to persuade Lockley that they are both doomed because if they are allowed to live, their stories will bring disgrace to higher-ups in the NYPD. The conspiracy aspects of the script reflect the mood of the era. Nobody in the film is a traditional good guy except Lockley and he's treated like a fish-out-of-water.
"Report to the Commissioner" succeeds in presenting a gritty, realistic view of New York City during its decline in an era when crime was soaring, the streets were dirty and the future looked grim. Anyone visiting Gotham today would surely pronounce the city's turn-around as a miracle but there is no doubt that New York went through some difficult years and these were reflected in the movies of the era. However, the film is flawed in some key areas. Director Milton Katselas, who was revered as a playwright and academic more than a filmmaker (he directed only a handful of movies), is saddled with an erratic script by old pros Ernest Tidyman and Abby Mann, based on a novel by James Mills. The story isn't told in a linear fashion and instead jumps back and forth from present to past and vice-versa, making for an occasionally confusing experience for the viewer. Consequently, while some scenes are highly engaging, the film never gels satisfactorily as a whole. Not helping matters is the performance of Michael Moriarty as Lockley. We know he is supposed to be a naive rookie but at times Moriarty plays the part like he just stepped off a turnip truck and is seeing New York for the first time. His wide-eyed innocence often strains credibility. More convincing is Yaphet Kotto, who commands the screen in every scene in which he appears. Sadly, he vanishes from the middle section of the film, much to its detriment. Tony King is excellent as "Stick" and young Bob Balaban excels as a double-amputee who acts as a police informant. The scene in which he uses his crude, wooden wheeled "dolly" to hitch a ride on a speeding car makes for a thrilling experience. However, certain other cast members over-act and dilute the impact of their scenes. Even the great Elmer Bernstein's score seems unusually mediocre.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a very fine transfer that captures the glitter and the gutters of New York during this period. The Blu-ray includes the original theatrical trailer.
Like Marlon Brando, director John Huston was often considered to be a has-been during much of the 1960s into the early 1970s. He worked steadily, but- like Brando- it was assumed his glory days were behind him simply because most of his films during this period didn't generate sparks at the boxoffice. (The success of his 1975 film The Man Who Would Be King would temporarily restore his luster.) His acting career got a boost from his great performance in Chinatown, but even some of his directorial flops look far better today than they did at the time of their theatrical release. One major disappointment, artistically as well as financially, was the seemingly sure-fire hit The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, made in 1972 and starring Paul Newman fairly fresh from his triumph in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The movie is a whimsical tale that is nevertheless loaded with violence and gallows humor (literally). The story is (very) loosely based on the real Roy Bean, an outlaw who became a self-appointed judge who called himself the "only law West of the Pecos" at a time when parts of Texas were a no-man's land of thieves, murderers and swindlers. Bean became known as a hard-ass judge who dispensed lethal justice. In reality, he only sentenced two men to be hanged and one managed to escape. Nevertheless, his colorful background provides screenwriter John Milius with plenty of imaginative fodder for fictitious encounters and incidents. We first meet Bean when he ambles into a remote outpost where he is robbed and beaten mercilessly by the denizens. He returns shortly thereafter and single-handed kills them all, thus instantly making him a local legend among the peasants who live in the area. Bean becomes obsessed with studying the law and showing mercy on the poorest elements of society. He even takes a lover, a young Hispanic woman (Victoria Principal, in her screen debut). Bean appoints himself as a "judge" despite not having any legal authority to do so. He enlists a group of slovenly "deputies" to dispense justice in his courtroom, which is the bar in which he was robbed. Before long, Bean is holding kangaroo trials and routinely lynching anyone who incurs his wrath. Despite this, he gains a reputation for being fair and defending the defenseless. He adopts a bear and the movie presents some amusing sequences of Bean and his friends interacting with this over-sized "pet". The film traces his experiences over a period of years as the remote outpost becomes a bustling town. Bean is gradually sidelined as a force of influence. The death of his young wife during the birth of their daughter depresses him further and he rides off into oblivion. Twenty years later he returns to find that oil has been discovered on his property and that the corrupt mayor (Roddy McDowall) is using legally questionable methods to displace Bean's 20 year old daughter (Jacqueline Bisset) so he can control the oil on her land. Bean's reappearance causes a sensation as he rounds up his motley, aging group of former deputies to help his daughter fight for her rights. A fairly spectacular battle climaxes the film.
Bean offers many pleasures, not the least of which is a terrific supporting cast that includes cameos by Anthony Perkins, Tab Hunter (surprisingly good in an off-beat role), Anthony Zerbe, Stacy Keach (wonderful as a crazed, albino gunslinger), Ava Gardner as the legendary Lily Langtree, the object of Bean's romantic obsession even though he never meets her, and John Huston himself in an amusing appearance as Grizzly Adams. There are also plenty of familiar faces in the supporting cast including Ned Beatty, Bill McKinney (reunited from Deliverance with happier results) Richard Farnsworth and stuntmen Dean Smith and Neil Summers. The attempt to capitalize on the success of Butch Cassidy is fairly apparent, as evidenced by a fairly sappy love song and romantic montage that is obviously meant to emulate the famed Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head sequence from the former film. Nevertheless, Bean is a consistently enjoyable, rousing Western that probably plays much better today, when we can realize just how special acting ensembles like this truly are. Maurice Jarre's fine score adds immeasurably to the the enjoyment of the experience.
The Warner Archive has released the film as fine-looking Blu-ray. The only bonus extra is the amusing original trailer.
Paramount has issued a 10-DVD collection of Jerry Lewis films, all but one of which pertain to his solo career. ("The Stooge" co-stars Dean Martin). The set is packed with 90 minutes of bonus materials including trailers, commentaries by Lewis and rare archival films and materials. Here is the official press release:
Paramount Home Entertainment has issued a repackaged DVD set containing ten Jerry Lewis feature films. Here is the official press release:
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Relive some of the greatest
film moments from comedy legend and Hollywood icon Jerry Lewis with the
new JERRY LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION, arriving on DVD June 12, 2018 from
Paramount Home Media Distribution. Celebrated for his remarkable range of
characters, outlandish antics, and uninhibited physicality, Jerry Lewis’ work
continues to delight audiences around the world and inspire new generations of
Featuring 10 of Lewis’ most beloved comedies, the JERRY
LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION is headlined by 1963’s enduring classic The
Nutty Professor, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this year.
Considered by many to be Lewis’ finest and most memorable film, The Nutty
Professor was included on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100
funniest American films of all time and was selected for preservation in the
U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004.
The 10-DVD set includes the following:
Stooge (1951)—Features one of Lewis’ earliest pairings
with Dean Martin as a musical-comedy duo
Delicate Delinquent (1956)—A “teenage terror” is recruited
for the Police Academy
Bellboy (1960)—Lewis plays a friendly but clumsy bellboy in
this slapstick classic
take on the classic Cinderella story
Errand Boy (1961)—Paramount enlists a bumbling Lewis to spy on
their productions in this hilarious film studio comedy
Ladies Man (1961)—A girl-shy man finds work in a women-only
hotel with uproarious results
Nutty Professor (1963)—A socially awkward professor
invents a serum that turns him into the handsome but obnoxious Buddy Love
Disorderly Orderly (1964)—Lewis wreaks havoc in a private
Patsy (1964)—Lewis directs and stars as a novice
recruited to replace a big-time comedian
Family Jewels (1965)—Lewis directs and plays seven
distinct roles in this family inheritance farce
was arguably the success of A Fistful of Dollars that really set the ball
rolling on the slew of shameless spaghetti western rip-offs and cash-ins that
proliferated throughout the 1960s, as film-makers jostled to get a taste of the
sauce and chow down on a cut of the rewards from what quickly became a very
profitable arena in which to be operating.
rode into town a little later than popular gunslingers such as Sabata, Django
and Ringo, but he made enough of an impression to warrant a number of official
sequels – and several unofficial ones too. Just five legitimate Sartana films
were lensed, with Gianni Garko (billed as John Garko) headlining in four of
them and George Hilton just one. Cucumber cool antihero Sartana was notably
more dapper than most of his mud-spattered box office rivals, a real snappy
dresser in fact; with his black cape lined in red silk, sharp matching cravat
and crisp white shirt, he cut a fine figure riding through desolate wasteland,
deck of cards in one hand, natty miniature four-shooter in the other, always
ready to spit out a death sentence when the moment was called for. In the first
film he even retrieved a musical pocket watch from a corpse and proceeded to
use its tinkly chime to taunt his nemesis.
fabulously contrived titles of the five films belied a series of enjoyable
enough but not exactly top-tier western actioners. Dripping with all the
requisite tropes of the genre, and occasionally sprinkling a few unexpected
condiments into the pot, they’re perfectly watchable fare, but it’s unlikely many
would favour any of them over a Sabata instalment or, indeed, an Eastwood
classic. If, for this writer, there’s any problem at all with the Sartana
series – and it’s one that prevents them from residing up there among the
genre’s finest – it’s that in every instance a plot suited at best to the
50-minute TV episode format was, out of necessity, stretched to feature length,
the resultant slightness of narrative rendering them all far too leisurely
five official Sartana films have now been issued on Blu-ray by Arrow Video in
an impressive collectors’ box set. Accompanied by an illustrated book, each
film is individually packaged and boasts reversible sleeve art, and the entire collection
is housed in an attractive slipcase.
series kickstarter was 1968’s If you meet Sartana pray for your eath (O.T.
Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte), directed by Frank Kramer, a.k.a.
Gianfranco Parolini. (Note: in Italian film titles, only the first word is
capitalised.) Among the most enjoyable of the quintet, the plot concerns a pair
of dodgy bankers who hire a group of Mexicans to steal a strongbox filled with
gold, subsequently allowing them to claim on the insurance. In fact, the
precious cargo has been substituted with rocks, the valuable contents having
already been squirrelled away in a coffin. Following the heist, the Mexicans
are quickly eliminated to wipe out any evidence of the scam. It’s up to Sartana
to uncover the truth and retrieve the gold. Any anticipation engendered by the
opening credit “with the special participation of Klaus Kinsky” (sic) is
swiftly quelled; it’s anything but special, for the A-class actor – who
possessed one of cinema’s most expressive faces (and intimidating grimaces!) –
is relegated to sideline status for much of the action. At least any
disappointment on that score is appeased by the presence of a satisfyingly
formidable bad guy in the shape of wild-eyed, buttercup-chewing William Berger
as Lasky, who, when he’s not gleefully massacring bandits with his hand-cranked
Gatling gun, proves to be a single-shot marksman, planting bullets
centre-forehead in more unfortunates than it’s possible to keep tally of. An
ace cardsharp, Sartana makes a fast enemy of Lasky when he cleans him out at the
poker table. Despite the paucity of plot, director Kramer manages to sustain
interest, layering in double and triple crosses as Sartana gently manipulates
the wrong-doers into turning on each other. There’s a stab at comic relief too
in the form of Franco Pesce as the town’s undertaker, but for this writer his
theatrical gurning and cartoonish mannerisms eclipse the intended amiable
quirkiness to become distractingly irksome.
2K restoration from the original film materials displays a fair amount of
grain, but aside from one brief moment of picture damage at the outset and a
slightly protracted patch of vertical scratching further along, the print is in
very respectable shape. The film can be viewed in either an English dub or its
original Italian with newly translated English subtitles. Supplements comprise
a commentary from film historian (and Cinema Retro contributor) Mike Siegel, an
interview with director Kramer, a helpful guide to the characters in the
Sartana universe, and a gallery of artwork and stills.
year later, in 1969, I am Sartana, your angel of death (O.T. Sono Sartana, il
vostro becchino) was unleashed. In this one our man (Garko again) appears to
have been involved in a bank robbery and finds himself at the top of the most
wanted list, with a $10,000 dead or alive price on his head. He didn’t do it,
of course, so has to hunt down the real perpetrator to clear his name, whilst
evading bounty hunters hot on his trail and intent on bagging the reward. It’s
a decent enough follow-up from director Giuliano Carnimeo (credited as Anthony
Ascott), which showcases another fine Garko performance (with Sartana now
displaying a knack for sleight of hand card tricks) and the return of Klaus
Kinski (spelt with the “I” this time) in a meatier, albeit less threatening
role, that of a gambler-cum-bounty hunter with the best character name of
anyone in the entire run of Sartana pictures: Hot Dead. Unfortunately, Franco
Pesce (uncredited this time) is also back, now promoted to town mayor,
fortuitously only briefly on screen but every bit as annoying. The story
unfolds at a sedate price, but Ascott and cinematographer Giovanni Bergamini
keep things percolating with some stylish set-ups, the camera lurching sideways
whenever bodies spin and hit the dust. One brief scene stands out for this
writer, if not for the right reason; when Sartana dodges a spray of bullets
from a trio of pursuing gunmen by zigzagging left and right, any sense of
suspense is undermined by spurred memories of the amusing Peter Falk/Alan Arkin
‘serpentine’ sequence in 1979’s The In-Laws!
had access to the original camera negative for this one and the 2K restoration
is very nice indeed. Again sound options are English and Italian. Extras
comprise a commentary from historian and filmmakers C Courtney Joyner and Henry
Peake, interviews with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and stuntman Sal Borgese,
plus a gallery of European poster art and German lobby cards.
My only memory of "Swashbuckler" was seeing it for the first time when it was already in release for a year. The occasion was that this was an in-flight movie on my first trip to Europe in the summer of 1977. In those ancient times, films were still shown on 16mm projectors on pull-down screens in the main cabin. I remember being unimpressed with the film but the distraction of the (then) free liquor service might have affected my opinion. As Cinema Retro's latest issue features coverage of the 1977 film "The Deep" starring Robert Shaw, I decided to revisit "Swashbuckler" largely because it also stars the estimable Shaw, who never gave a bad performance. I found my opinion of the pirate tale had improved considerably since the first viewing. It's a raucous, old-fashioned yarn that perhaps too earnestly tries to recapture the vim and vigor of those old screen adventures that would star Errol Flynn or young Burt Lancaster. Ably directed by James Goldstone, who takes full advantage of the lush Mexican locations (representing old Jamaica), the film opens in the court of Lord Durant (Peter Boyle), the corrupt British governor of Jamaica who rules the island like a tyrant. When honest nobleman Sir James Durant (Bernard Behrens) runs afoul of him, Durant has him arrested and imprisoned to await execution of a death sentence. He also commands that Durant's wife (Louisa Horton) and daughter Jane (Genevieve Bujold) be evicted from the family estate and forced to live in a tenement. Durant's main nemesis is the pirate Ned Lynch (Robert Shaw), who- along with his merry men- acts as a sort of Robin Hood, stealing from the corrupt rich and dispensing much of their fortunes to the poor. Predictably, Jane has an encounter with Ned and professes to loathe him, but as these things inevitably play out, we know the two are attracted to each other. After much griping and fighting that literally includes a duel between Jane and Ned, she implores him to come to the aid of her father, who is facing imminent execution. Ned and his men launch a full-throttle attack on Durant and- if you haven't guessed it- save the day.
"Swashbuckler" is undistinguished on most levels except for the fact that it is exciting and lives up to its title by including an abundance of terrific sword fights. Kudos to all the actors, who performed these extended and exhausting duels with great professionalism, including Bujold, whose slight build must have certainly posed an obstacle in filming these scenes. The supporting cast includes some esteemed names including Geoffrey Holder (in full "Live and Let Die" Baron Samedi mode) and Beau Bridges as a bumbling British army officer appropriately named Major Folly. The action is impressively filmed by cinematographer Philip H. Lathrop and it's all set to a lively score by John Addison. Shaw seems to be having the time of his life in what must have been a physically taxing role for him. Although the stuntmen are in abundance, it's quite clear he did many of his own action scenes. (Shaw says in the production featurette on the DVD that the film was more physically challenging than "Jaws"). Bujold does well as the gutsy young woman who defies sexual stereotypes and Peter Boyle is a great deal of fun as the evil Durant, even if he is miscast as a British nobleman. James Earl Jones has a prominent role as Ned Lynch's right-hand pirate. "Swashbuckler" wasn't designed to win awards or become a boxoffice blockbuster. It represents the kind of modest production that was designed to entertain and make a quick profit in an era before every release represented a major financial risk for the studio.
The Universal DVD features a very nice transfer and some welcome extras including an interesting original production featurette about the making of the film, cast and crew biographies and production notes and the original trailer. Recommended.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
for the Very First Time at Retail, the 6-Disc Set Features 24 Complete,
Remastered Episodes Loaded with Classic Sketches and Incredible Guest Stars Including Raquel Welch, Steve Allen, Johnny Cash,
Bing Crosby, Gene Hackman, Rita Hayworth, Hugh Hefner, Bob Hope, Liza Minnelli,
Carroll O’Connor, Carl Reiner, John Wayne, Henny Youngman and Many More!
correctness met its match with Rowan
& Martin’s Laugh-In, NBC-TV’s groundbreaking variety series that became
a cultural touchstone and part of the fabric of ‘60s-‘70s era America.Every Monday night at 8pm from 1968-1973, straight
man Dan Rowan and wisecracking co-host Dick Martin led a supremely talented
comic ensemble through a gut-busting assault of one-liners, skits, bits and non
sequiturs that left viewers in hysterics and disbelief.ROWAN
& MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, from the award-winning TV
DVD archivists at Time Life, makes its retail debut on July 10 in an uproarious
set featuring all 24 re-mastered episodes from the fifth season (September
13,1971-March 20, 1972).
COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, after years of shameless name dropping, Dick finally
gets his wish when bombshell Raquel Welch kicks off the new season with her
first and only appearance on the show.Former
Hogan’s Heroes POWs Richard Dawson
and Larry Hovis escaped CBS to join the cast. And, along with alumni Judy
Carne, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Jo Anne Worley and Teresa Graves, they help to
celebrate Laugh-In’s landmark 100th
episode (September 1, 1971).THE
COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON also trots out many of the 20th century’s greatest
talents, including Steve Allen, Johnny
Carson, Johnny Cash, Carol Channing, Charo, Petula Clark, Bing Crosby, Tony
Curtis, Henry Gibson, Gene Hackman, Rita Hayworth, Hugh Hefner, Bob Hope, Arte
Johnson, Paul Lynde, Liza Minnelli, Agnes Moorehead, Joe Namath, Carroll O’Connor,
Vincent Price, Carl Reiner, Debbie Reynolds, Sugar Ray Robinson, Bill Russell,
Vin Scully, Doc Severinsen, Jacqueline Susann, Tiny Tim, John Wayne, Raquel
Welch, Henny Youngman, and more!
COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON also includes such classic features as “Cocktail Party,”
“Fickle Finger of Fate,” “Joke Wall,” “Gladys and Tyrone,” “General Bull
Right,” “Big Al,” Lily Tomlin’s legendary “Ernestine” and “Edith Ann,”
“Tasteful Lady,” and “Ruth Buzzi’s Hollywood Report”.Additionally, Mod, Mod World takes on sports,
toys and games, families, politics, nutrition, leisure, year’s end, Manhattan,
television, small towns, crazy people, and the theater, Robert Goulet, Charo,
and Three Dog Night perform the Laugh-In
news song and there’s a hilarious “Salute to Santa” and a very modern Christmas
Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Lily Tomlin, Ruth Buzzi, Arte
Johnson, Gary Owens, Alan Sues, Ann Elder, Dennis Allen, Barbara Sharma, Johnny Brown, Larry
Hovis, Richard Dawson
Format: DVD/6 Discs
Running Time: 1239 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
About Time Life
Time Life is one of
the world's pre-eminent creators and direct marketers of unique music and
video/DVD products, specializing in distinctive multi-media collections that
evoke memories of yesterday, capture the spirit of today, and can be enjoyed
for a lifetime. TIME LIFE and the TIME LIFE logo are registered trademarks of
Time Warner Inc. and affiliated companies used under license by Direct Holdings
Americas Inc., which is not affiliated with Time Warner Inc. or Time Inc.
Sam Spiegel was one of the most revered and accomplished producers in Hollywood history. His achievements included such classics as "On the Waterfront", "The African Queen", "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia". His body of work, though not nearly as extensive as that of some other producers, was notable in the sense that Spiegel thought big and shot for the moon when it came to bringing to the screen stories that spoke to the human condition. Following the triumphant release of "Lawrence" in 1962, Spiegel did not make another film for four years. When he did, the movie - "The Chase"- turned out to be a star-packed drama that won over neither critics or audiences. Spiegel had a more ambitious idea for his next production, a screen adaptation of the best-selling WWII thriller "The Night of the Generals" by Hans Helmut Kirst. Spiegel had the inspired idea of reuniting his "Lawrence of Arabia" co-stars Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. They were reluctant to take on the project, but they certainly owed him. Both were virtual unknowns until Spiegel gave them the roles that made them international stars. Spiegel also added to the mix an impressive cast of esteemed British actors ranging from veterans such as Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray to up-and-coming young actors Tom Courtenay and Joanna Pettet. He chose Anatole Litvak to direct. Litvak had been making films for decades and had a few notable hits such as "Sorry, Wrong Number", "Anastasia" and "The Snake Pit". Spiegel being Spiegel ensured that the production benefited from a large budget and an appropriate running time (148 minutes) that would allow the story to unfold in a measured process.
"The Night of the Generals" is certainly a unique spin on WWII films. There are no battles or major action sequences, save for a harrowing sequence in which the German army systematically destroys part of the Warsaw Ghetto. Instead, it's very much a character study populated by characters who are, indeed, very interesting. The film opens with a tense sequence set in occupied Warsaw. The superintendent of an over-crowded apartment building accidentally overhears the brutal murder of a local prostitute in a room upstairs. From a hiding place he witnesses the killer walk past him. He does not see the man's face but recognizes his uniform: he is a general in the German army. The man keeps this information to himself on the logical assumption that divulging it might mean his death sentence. However, under questioning from the army investigator, Major Grau (Omar Sharif), he tells the shocking details of what he witnessed. From this moment, Grau becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Grau may be a German officer, but he is a pure cynic when it comes to the Nazi cause and the brutal methods being employed to win the war. He can't control the larger picture of how the war is being waged but he can control what is in his jurisdiction: bringing to justice the man who committed this one especially savage murder. Grau soon centers on three suspects. The first is General von Seiditz-Gabler (Charles Gray, channeling his future Blofeld), an effete, well-connected opportunist who is in a loveless marriage to his dominating wife Eleanore (Coral Browne). Then there is General Kahlenberg (Donald Pleasence), a man of slight build and low-key personality who has some eccentric personal habits that may include murder. Last, and most intriguing, is General Tanz (Peter O'Toole), a much-loathed and much-feared darling of Hitler's inner circle whose ruthless methods with dealing with civilian populations disgust his colleagues. Tanz has been sent to control or obliterate the Warsaw Ghetto.
The screenplay (which includes contributions by an uncredited Gore Vidal) is a bit disjointed and cuts back and forth to the present day in which we see a French police inspector, Morand (Phillippe Noiret), investigating the case twenty years later as he tries to tie together Grau's findings with dramatic developments that occurred during his handling of the case. Morand also appears in the war era sequences, having befriended Grau, who does not seem at all disturbed when he learns that Morand is actually a key figure in the French Resistance. Grau becomes particularly intrigued by General Ganz. He is an elitist snob who is devoid of any humor or compassion. A workaholic with seemingly no human weaknesses, Tanz is ostensibly under the command of his superior officer, Gabler, but it becomes clear that his political connections make him the top general in Warsaw. Major Grau interviews all three suspects and finds that any of them could be the murderer. When he becomes too intrusive, he is conveniently promoted and transferred to Paris, presumably to shut down his investigation. However, as the fortunes of war decline for the Third Reich, the top brass is eventually moved to Paris and Grau resumes his investigation when he discovers that prostitutes are being brutally murdered there as well. There is a parallel story that accompanies that of the murder investigation. It centers on Corporal Hartmann (Tom Courtenay), a young soldier who has been reluctantly acclaimed to be a national hero. It seems he was the last surviving member of his unit after a bloody battle. The brass used him as a propaganda tool, bestowing medals on him for heroic actions. In fact, he is a self-proclaimed coward whose only goal is to stay alive through the war. Hartmann confesses this to his superior, General Kahlenberg, who is amused by his honesty. He assigns him to be General Tanz's personal valet and orders him to show Tanz the history and sights of Paris. Neither he nor Tanz wants to partake in the venture, but Gabler orders Tanz to take a few days vacation, largely because he despises the man's presence. The scenes in which Hartmann tries to appease the mercurial Tanz without making any missteps are fraught with tension and suspense. Tanz is a fascinating character, presumably devoid of the vices most men have. However, in the course of their time together, Hartmann realizes that Tanz is somewhat of a fraud. He surreptitiously drinks to excess and changes into civilian clothes in order to meet with prostitutes in seedy bars. Although Tanz chews out Hartmann for every minor infraction, he seems to come to respect the younger man's professionalism. This sets in motion another complex plot development that also involves Hartmann's secret romance with General Gabler's free-spirited daughter Ulrike (Joanna Pettet).
Just trying to summarize the various plot strands of "The Night of the Generals" in this space is fairly exhausting. Oh, did I mention that another subplot involves Field Marshal Rommel (a cameo by Christopher Plummer) and the July, 1944 plot on the part of rebellious German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler? Nevertheless, although the various story lines become quite complex, they are all tied together eventually in clever and compelling ways. The film is part "Whodunnit", part political statement and part war movie. The movie moves back to the present for its intense conclusion as Inspector Morand is finally able to solve the crime and attempt to bring the culprit to justice. When the killer is revealed it's about as shocking of a development as the revelation that the butler did it in one of those old British film noir mysteries. Still, director Litvak (who shares the producer credit with Sam Spiegel because he owned the screen rights to the novel) keeps the action flowing briskly running time and elicits outstanding performances from his cast. O'Toole, who would later capitalize on playing larger-than-life characters, was at this point in his career still very immersed in portraying introspective, quiet men. He is quite mesmerizing as General Tanz and quite terrifying as well. Sharif is, at least on the surface, badly cast. I'm not aware of any Egyptians who became prominent German officers. Sharif has the map of the Middle East on his face and lingering remnants of his native accent. It's to his credit that he overcomes these obstacles and gives a very fine performance as the charismatic investigator who doggedly pursues his suspects with Javert-like conviction. All of the other performances are equally outstanding, with Courtenay especially impressive- and one has to wonder why the very talented Joanna Pettet never became a bigger star. The international flavor of the cast gives the film a Tower of Babel-like effect. Some of the actors attempt to affect a quasi-German accent while others speak with British accents, and then we have the French and Poland-based sequences with even more diversity of languages. Still, if you could accept Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood speaking "German" in their native tongues in "Where Eagles Dare", you won't find this aspect of "The Night of the Generals" to be particularly distracting. I should also mention the impressive contributions of composer Maurice Jarre, cinematographer Henri Decae and main titles designer Robert Brownjohn (remember when films even had opening titles?) In summary, the film-which not successful with critics or the public- is a thoroughly intriguing experience and affords us the joy of watching some of the best actors of the period sharing the screen.
"The Night of the Generals" has been released as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The transfer is gorgeous, giving full impact to the impressive cinematography and lush production design. There is also an isolated score track, the original trailer and an informative booklet by film historian Julie Kirgo, who examines Sam Spiegel's attempts to rebuild his career in subsequent years only to find that he was out of place in the new Hollywood.
Lorber has released the obscure 1969 Western “More Dead Than Alive” in a
Blu-ray edition.Discharged from prison
in 1891 after serving an eighteen-year sentence for murder, legendary
gunslinger Cain (Clint Walker) determines to stay away from firearms, find
honest work, and save enough money to buy a ranch.But his reputation as “Killer” Cain precedes
him, and chances for employment are slim until he encounters conniving showman
Dan Ruffalo (Vincent Price).“People
would have something to talk about, if they could see you using this notched
Colt of yours,” Ruffalo chortles.He
encourages Cain to cash in on his notoriety and join Ruffalo’s traveling show
as its star sharpshooting attraction, relegating the show’s current marksman,
Billy (Paul Hampton), to a subsidiary role.Monica, a free-spirited artist (Anne Francis), strikes up a friendship
with Cain and thinks it’s a bad idea for him to pick up a gun again, however
limited his options.Meanwhile, the
reformed pistoleer’s old enemies hope to see him dead, including outlaw Santee
(Mike Henry), who carries a grudge from a botched jailbreak.
the sheer number of Westerns produced in 1969, it’s a sure bet that some
pictures released in the shadow of that year’s Big Four -- “The Wild Bunch,”
“Once Upon the Time in the West,” “True Grit,” and “Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid” -- deserve rediscovery and reappraisal.In the case of “More Dead Than Alive,” fans
will welcome the chance to see Clint Walker, Vincent Price, Anne Francis, and
Mike Henry again in prime form.Script
and direction, not so much.The
action-packed poster, reprinted as the sleeve art for the Kino Lorber Blu-ray,
would lead you to expect a gritty, violent movie along the lines of “A Stranger
in Town,” “God Forgives -- I Dont!,” and other Italian Westerns that were
beginning to play widely that year in the U.S., following the breakout success
of Sergio Leone’s three “Dollars” movies.Instead, the gunplay and blood squibs are confined to the opening scene
and two sequences near the end.Otherwise, it’s a plodding, talky production that ambles from one
situation to the next without building up much momentum, like an episode from
one of the sedate television Westerns of the late ‘60s.The direction by TV veteran Robert Sparr is
dutiful but listless.Characters are
introduced whom we think will have major roles in the story (like a lady saloon
owner played by Beverly Powers), only to have them soon drop out of sight,
never to be seen again.Mike Henry’s
Santee is a terrific bad guy who stacks up believably against big Clint
Walker’s hero in size and macho presence, but he’s missing in action for most
of the picture.Once the script
remembers to bring him back, a well-staged, knock-down fistfight between the
two characters near the end of the movie injects a welcome jolt of energy that the
rest of the film could have used.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray offers “More Dead Than Alive” in an acceptable, 1920x1080p
encoding.As a bonus feature, the disc
includes an interview with the late Clint Walker, recorded in 2014.In discussing the film, his colleagues, and
his career in Hollywood, Walker is modest, dignified, and thoughtful --
qualities sadly lacking in today’s media parade of rancorous politicians,
Reality Show exhibitionists, and Internet provocateurs.
Although I have a weak spot for Italian westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, most can be appropriately evaluated by paraphrasing Longfellow: "When they were good, they were very, very good, and when they were bad, they were horrid." "Blindman" is a curiosity from 1971 that I previously panned after viewing an allegedly "remastered" DVD edition that looked barely better than a VHS transfer. The film fits rather comfortably into the latter part of Longfellow's famous nursery rhyme. Although the movie has a devoted fan base, when I first reviewed it I call it "a pretty horrid experience and inexcusably amateurish in execution, given the well-seasoned people involved". The good news is that Abkco Films has released a truly remastered DVD version that considerably improves one's perception of the film. As the title implies, it's about...well, a blind man. He's played by Tony Anthony, who did rather well for himself as a sort of Clint Eastwood Lite character known as The Stranger in a series of Euro Westerns (Any similarity to Eastwood's Man With No Name must have been purely coincidental). Anthony went on to star in any number of lucrative, low-budget action films, the most notable being "Comin' At Ya!, a 3-D flick that has also built a loyal cult following. His co-star in "Blindman" is Ringo Starr. More about him later. The film was based on a Japanese movie titled "Zatoichi" about a blind samurai hero. As with "The Magnificent Seven", which was based on Kurasawa's "Seven Samurai", the story has been transplanted to the American west. When we first see the Blindman (whose name is never mentioned), he rides into a one-horse town and confronts his former partners. Seems they had a lucrative contract to deliver 50 mail order brides to some horny miners. However, a better offer was made from a Mexican bandito named Domingo (Lloyd Battista), who has exported them South 'O the Border to force them into prostitution. Blindman apparently has a sense of honor in terms of fulfilling the original contract. He manages to kill his former partners and sets off to Mexico to rescue the women, presumably so they can sold into another form of prostitution. At first the premise of this film intrigued me. How, after all, can you logically present a story about a blind gunslinger? The answer is you apparently can't. You could get away with it if the film was a satire, but there is surprisingly little overt humor in "Blindman". Yes, in true Eastwood fashion, the hero sometimes makes some snarky quips before, during and after dispatching his adversaries, but for the most part, the film takes itself far too seriously.
How does the Blindman find his way around? Well, he has his own "wonder horse" who seems more like a companion than a beast of burden. The hoofed hero is always at his disposal and seems to be able to do everything but read a map for him. Speaking of maps, Blindman gets to various destinations by running his finger over maps that engraved in leather...sort of a braille system. Given the fact that he has to navigate the state of Texas, then Mexico, one would think he would require maps the size of rolls of kitchen linoleum, but somehow he gets by with navigational tools that fit neatly into his pocket. When Blindman arrives in Mexico, he has numerous confrontations with the brutal Domingo and his army of thugs. He suffers the ritualistic beatings of any hero in the Italian western genre, but always manages to get the better hand by his deadly use of the rifle that he uses as a walking stick. Somehow the Blindman can use instinct and an uncanny hearing ability to gun down his would-be assassins with uncanny precision, though occasionally he does impose on some allies for advice. He also confronts Candy (Ringo Starr), Domingo's equally sadistic brother, who is keeping a captive woman as his mistress. What follows is a seemingly endless series of chases, confrontations and the obligatory imitation Morricone score, all of it under the pedestrian direction of Ferdinando Baldi, who has a revered reputation with some fans of the genre and does manage to set off some impressive explosions. (Amusingly, the concept of showing the "50" mail order brides must have taxed the limited budget so we only get to see them in small clusters.). There are a couple of sequences that stand out in terms of creativity. One involves the surprise slaughter of a barroom filled with Mexican soldiers. The other has a bit of suspense as the Blindman is served a food bowl that he doesn't realize contains a deadly snake. The finale of the film finds Blindman wrestling with Domingo, who has been blinded by a cigar! (Don't ask...) It's supposed to be a tense confrontation, but the sight of the two blind guys rolling around in the dirt looks like an outtake from a Monty Python sketch. The most intriguing aspect of the film is what led Ringo Starr into appearing in it. He had considerable on-screen charisma that he parlayed into a successful acting career. Here, however, his role is colorless and bland. He doesn't even play the main villain, but rather a supporting character who disappears from the story before the movie even reaches the one-hour mark. Starr supposedly was looking to jump-start his film career and worked with Tony Anthony to develop this production. While he acquits himself credibly, he might have at least given his character some memorable lines or characteristics.
The previously reviewed version of the film pointed out that the packaging had indicated the film had a running time of 105 minutes, which matches with the original timing cited on on the IMDB site. However, the screener we reviewed ran only 83 minutes and it looked like it had been edited with a meat cleaver. The ABCKO version is the actual 105 minute cut and the transfer is excellent, a vast improvement over the muddy mess we had previously reviewed. Seeing "Blindman" again under these conditions has allowed me to reevaluate my opinion of the film. While it certainly never rises to the standards of a Sergio Leone production, the movie's quirky premise and the amusing performance by Tony Anthony made the experience far more enjoyable the second time around.
Earlier this year, Acorn Media Enterprises with Free@Last TV
announced Acorn TV’s first sole commission with the return of Agatha Raisin,
Series 2 starring Ashley Jensen (Love, Lies & Records, Catastrophe), which
begins filming this summer.
“Lonely Boy: The Benny Hill Story” is an original drama that
spans the life and times of Benny Hill from his early days as a part of a
double-act to his heady height of fame as the most-loved British prime-time
comedian lauded on both sides of the Atlantic. The series will chart his tragic
decline and fall in the late 80’s as a new generation of rising stars usurped
Lonely Boy will follow the journey of a cripplingly insecure
young lad with a single-minded desire to make people laugh, through the dying
last days of variety and who is ultimately saved from obscurity by television. The
series will also examine the double-standards of the tabloid press.
Helping him achieve his goal will be a surrogate family; a
‘brother’ in comedy writer and lifelong friend Dave Freeman and a ‘father’ in
producer/director Ken Carter – and later Dennis Kirkland. These men believe in
Benny when no-one else does. They help him, hone him – emotionally and
An uplifting, deeply moving story with a universal truth at
its core; how our parents, for good or bad, shape who we are.
‘Lonely Boy’ takes
its name from one of Benny Hill’s classic 1960’s hits and was developed by
Free@Last TV’s David Walton in partnership with writer Caleb Ranson.
The series consultant is Hilary Bonner who was the co-author
of the Benny Hill biography 'Benny & Me' with Benny's long-term TV
collaborator Dennis Kirkland.
Barry Ryan, Creative Director of Free@Last TV noted, “Benny
Hill is a lost national treasure and a much-misunderstood man. Our drama will
reignite his legacy and address some of the misconceptions about the man and
his material while also chronicling the dying days of variety entertainment and
the birth of television”.
Writer Caleb Ranson said, “When I was a kid growing up in
the 70s and 80s I loved Benny Hill, his skits and wordplay and especially his
songs. Then as I got older, like the rest of the country, I fell out of love
with him. Why was that? What happened? Around the world he’s still revered but
here in the UK, he’s all but forgotten. A punchline to a bad joke. I want to
reclaim him from the comedy dustbin of history, to explore the Benny nobody
knows, the ahead of his time comedy genius of the 50s and 60s and why in his
twilight years he fell so hard and so quickly out of favour”.
Free @ Last TV was founded in 2000 by Barry Ryan and David
Walton. The company has produced over 450 hours of television for a variety of
channels including Gina Yashere: Gina Las Vegas, Martina Cole’s Lady Killers
and the comedy-drama Agatha Raisin. The company has a full development slate
including Reginald Hill’s thriller ‘Death of a Dormouse’, ‘The Charles Paris
Mysteries’ and ‘Spilsbury’ written by award-winning writer and actress Nichola
Acorn Media Enterprises commissions, co-produces and
acquires a diverse slate of international dramas for Acorn TV, North America’s
most popular streaming service for British and international television. This
news follows Acorn Media Enterprises and Acorn TV’s recent commission
announcements for the straight-to-series order of British drama London Kills Series
1 and 2 as well as a co-production announcements for Aussie comedy Sando and Irish
comedy Finding Joy from Amy Huberman, as well as the licensing of hit British
police procedural No Offence, Jack Irish, Season 2 starring Guy Pearce, and
Welsh drama Hidden. Read recent announcements at https://www.rljentertainment.com/press-room/
In 2018, Acorn Media Enterprises has already featured five
North American co-productions and Acorn TV Originals with Series 3 of
universally adored BBC comedy Detectorists starring Mackenzie Crook and Toby
Jones; Kay Mellor’s ITV drama Girlfriends starring Phyllis Logan (Downton
Abbey), Miranda Richardson (Stronger, And Then There Were None), and Zoe
Wanamaker (Agatha Christie’s Poirot); Irish legal drama Striking Out, Series 2
starring Amy Huberman; record-setting Welsh thriller Keeping Faith starring Eve
Myles (Torchwood, Broadchurch); and Aussie family comedy Sando.
Called “Netflix for the Anglophile” by NPR and featuring “the
most robust, reliable selection of European, British, Canadian and Australian
shows” by The New York Times, Acorn TV
exclusively premieres several new international series and/or seasons every
month from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, and other
from a youth spent shooting their own movies on 8mm – the heartfelt intent and
burning enthusiasm for which sometimes (but not always) rendered the
made-for-pennies mini-epics amusingly watchable today – in 1987 the
enterprising Chiodo brothers finally got to stage their first feature film
production, which was released to decent acclaim in 1988. Produced and
co-written by Charles, Edward and Stephen Chiodo, with the latter occupying the
director’s chair, that film is every bit as bizarre as you’d expect of one
bearing the title Killer Klowns from
of Crescent Cove is under assault by alien beings, which appear in the form of
freakish clowns and whose spaceship adopts the facade of a circus tent. These
aliens are abducting the populace and cocooning them in a flesh-eating
substance resembling candyfloss. It’s up to local cop Dave Hansen (John Allen
Nelson), clean-cut lad Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) and a pair of simpleton ice
cream vendors – the Terenzi brothers (Michael Siegal and Peter Licassi) –
to rescue Mike’s girlfriend Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) from a horrible fate and
save the town.
hyperbolic to say that Killer Klowns from
Outer Space is a comic-horror caper like no other. A kooky, colourful
confection of chuckles and gore, the Chiodos lay on the (pop)corny gags and
cheesy SFX with unrestrained relish. How much fun there is to be found in
balloon animals coming to life, pieces of ‘living’ popcorn mutating into
aggressive clown-headed snake-creatures, human ventriloquist dummies,
acid-laced cream pies, and giant shadow puppets eating spectators is, of course,
entirely subjective. For this viewer it has to be said that by the time the
final reel unspools the silliness overload runs out of fizz, but there’s
certainly no faulting the imagination and passion at play here. And it’s hard
not to enjoy something that gifts John Vernon with a frothy bad guy role; although
for many (myself included) he’ll always be Animal
House’s Dean Vernon Wormer, he’s on good form here as a bully-boy cop who
gets his just desserts. Coulrophobics
should unquestionably avoid this one, for the titular Klowns are the ugliest,
most rotten-toothed bunch you’ll find this side of a Billy Smart’s Circus OAP
reunion. But for everyone else, as daft as the whole shebang may be, this is
post-pub Friday night fodder of the highest order.
Video has issued the film on Blu-ray with a Big Top’s worth of supplemental material,
though it’s as interested in the careers of the Chiodo brothers in general as
it is Klowns-specific. The key lure
is a documentary about the Chiodo’s passion for the home movies mentioned at
the start of this review, and HD transfers of the half a dozen titles shot
between 1968 and 1978 are included, technically proficient and evidencing their
love of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion monster animation. There’s also a tour of
Chiodo Bros Productions in the company of Stephen. Tied to Klowns itself there’s a feature-accompanying Chiodo commentary.
Interviews with actors Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder, along with theme song
performers The Dickies, are appended by archival pieces from Charles Chiodo,
effects supervisor Gene Warren, creature creator Dwight Roberts and composer
John Massari. There are 2 deleted scenes (with optional commentary), bloopers,
Klown auditions footage, a vintage trailer and a gallery of artwork,
storyboards and stills. It’s so par for the course now that it scarcely needs
mentioning, but the usual Arrow sugar-coating of a reversible sleeve is present
Jack London was an American literary phenomenon. He had a
rough and tumble childhood, but was always a voracious reader. Lacking the
money for college, he was basically self-educated. On his own he read Spencer,
Milton, Nietzsche, and Darwin and lived a life you only read about in story
books. He was a sailor, a hobo, a gold prospector in the Yukon, worked in a
Chinese laundry, and before he died at age 40, was the author of 50 books, at
least two of which are considered literary masterpieces: Call of the Wild, and The Sea
It was in The Sea
Wolf that he created one of fiction’s most unforgettable characters—Wolf
Larsen, the larger-than-life captain of a three-masted seal-hunting schooner,
who was London’s idea of the Nietzschean Superman. Many critics thought The Sea Wolf was written in praise of
Nietzsche’s ideas, but London maintained it was actually the opposite, and felt
that the public just didn’t get it. That may be the case, but there is no
ambiguity in Robert Rossen’s screenplay for Michael Curtiz’s 1941 film adaption
of the novel. In this version (one of about a dozen going back to the silent
era), Larsen (Edward G. Robinson) is portrayed as a sadistic monster, admirable
only for his ability to overcome storms at sea and mutiny by the sheer force of
In the novel the story is told through the eyes of Humphrey
Van Weyden (Alexander Knox), an effete intellectual, and an idealistic, or as
they called them in those days an altruist. His viewpoint is thrown into sharp contrast
with Larsen’s “might makes right” philosophy. In the film, George Leach (John
Garfield), a man on the run from the law, becomes the point of view narrator,
giving the story a slightly different angle. Thrown into the mix is Ruth
Brewster (Ida Lupino), a girl from the Barbary Coast who’s got a police record.
The film is set almost entirely on board the schooner, while the novel covers
more territory, including an island where Van Weyden and the girl are washed up
Rossen’s screenplay is a bit more sharply focused than
the novel. In a scene between Larsen and Van Weyden that takes place in the
captain’s cabin, we learn that Larsen is widely read, much like London himself.
He adopts a line from Milton’s Paradise
Lost as his motto, the words of Lucifer: “It is better to reign in hell,
than to serve in heaven.” In both book and movie, Larsen gets his kicks by
setting up his victims with what at first appears to be praise, only to turn it
into brutal humiliation. There is some discussion of morality and man’s place
in the universe, with Larsen maintaining aboard the ship he has the power of a
god over everyone on board and can make them do anything he wants. To which Van
Weyden replies: “But there is a price no one will pay to go on living.”
“The Sea Wolf” was made at a time when fascism was
sweeping over Europe. Nations were learning the price they had to pay in order
to survive in a world threatened by a brutal dictator. That message may be just
as pertinent today with similar political currents “infesting” world politics.
Robinson, Lupino, Garfield and Knox give first rate
performances, with Robinson especially good as the megalomaniac captain. He
manages to conjure up some sympathy for Larsen who suffers from headaches that
eventually make him blind, and as in the novel, you have to admire his ability
to overcome and dominate his environment as few men can.
Even though “The Sea Wolf” was once a staple on TV Late
Shows back in the Sixties, it never really got much attention when it aired.
One reason for its neglect was the fact that after its initial 1941 release the
movie was re-released in 1947 in a shorter version, with 14 minutes edited out
of it. For 70 years that was the only version available. Film archivists
searched for the lost footage for years and only recently discovered a 35 mm
nitrate element in a storage unit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The
Warner Archive disc presents the full length version in 1080p high def. Picture detail is sharp and clean. Sol
Polito’s (“The Sea Hawk”) cinematography hasn’t looked this good since the
film’s original run. The 2.0 DTS mono soundtrack is first rate. Every word of
dialog is clear and every note of Eric Korngold’s dark, brooding score is heard
to full advantage. Extras include a theatrical trailer and the audio of a 1950
radio broadcast of Screen Director’s Playhouse’s truncated version of the film
starring Robinson.Highly recommended.
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John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)