By the early 1970s there had been a revival of interest in the format of anthology suspense/horror stories. This genre had been all the rage in the late 1950s and early 1960s with shows like "The Twilight Zone", "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "Thriller!" (hosted by Boris Karloff) attracting loyal audiences. "Twilight Zone" creator and host Rod Serling had two bites at the apple when he introduced "Night Gallery" as a TV movie in 1969 (giving young Steven Spielberg his first major directing gig) and then spun it off into a moderately successful weekly TV series. The early to mid-1970s also saw a major resurgence in horror-themed anthology feature films. The concept was hardly a new one for the big screen as the first major film of this type was "Dead of Night", released in 1945. Roger Corman oversaw some similarly-themed big screen anthologies in the early to mid-1960s, many of which were inspired by classic horror stories based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Not to be outdone, Amicus Films, a rival of Hammer Studios, debuted their anthology concept with the 1965 release of "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors". By the early 1970s we had "Tales From the Crypt", "Vault of Horror", "The House That Dripped Blood" and many others. All of the short stories were based on the same theme: a bunch of disparate characters encounter some supernatural occurrences with the less savory people ending up getting their just desserts through ironic circumstances. In 1983 producer Andrew Mirisch decided to give the anthology concept a try by teaming with producer/screenwriter Christopher Crowe and pitching the concept to Universal. Mirisch had found success in recent years with two popular TV series: "The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries" and "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century". Universal gave the green light for McCarthy's proposed series "Nightmares". The concept was to feature a self-contained horror tale within a half-hour format. For various reasons, including the possible demise of a similarly-themed show titled "Darkroom", the idea for a weekly series was nixed. However, Universal liked what they had seen and decided to morph the concept into a feature film, retaining the title "Nightmares". It consisted of four individual tales and the film was directed by the esteemed Joseph Sargent, who had some high profile TV series and feature films to his credit. The result was an unremarkable but consistently entertaining film that is not as sharp or memorable as some of the best anthology films but superior to some of the weaker ones.
"Nightmares" dispenses with a gimmick used in many anthology films: having a creepy host reveal each of the stories. These just open "cold" without any attempt to link the plots or characters. First up is "Terror in Topanga" which finds Cristina Raines as a young mother who is hopelessly addicted to smoking. One evening she discovers she is out of cigarettes and decides to make a drive into town from her rural home in order to get a pack. Her husband admonishes her and insists that she stays home. Seems there is a manhunt on for a homicidal maniac who has butchered a police officer and who has been terrorizing other residents. Naturally, Raines ignores the advice and sneaks out of the house. The ride to town proves to be ominous with a few red herrings thrown in to mislead the audience, including her encounter with a hitchhiker on a lonely road. When she does make it to the store, it's manned by a wacko clerk (played the inimitable Anthony James) who is somehow more frightening than the maniac. By this point, Raines regrets her decision and is eager to race home. Despite the fact that there is a murderer on the loose, she refuses to lock the doors to her car, even when she leaves it to enter the store. This leads to a predictable development that comes about when she (in true horror movie crisis cliche mode) discovers she is coincidentally almost out of gas. Every major gas station is closed but she eventually finds a lone station on a foreboding mountain road. She has a tense encounter with the sole employee on duty who looks at her menacingly even as he pretends to pump gas. The payoff is based on one of the oldest urban horror legends but the tale is briskly paced and highly entertaining with Raines giving a fine performance as the increasingly nervous victim-to-be.
"Bishop of Battle" goes in an entirely different direction. It eschews dark, foreboding places in favor of a bright suburban home and a crowded game center at a shopping mall. Emilo Estevez is J.J. , an obnoxious high school kid with a mad passion for playing the titular game. He becomes so obsessed with reaching the "13th level" (something few have supposedly ever been able to do) that he begins to withdraw from his parents and friends. His attempts to reach his goal become the stuff of local legend and big crowds gather to watch his attempts- but he always falls a bit short of his ultimate victory. Goaded on by the graphic of the Bishop of Battle, who constantly tempts him to keep trying, J.J. ends up defying his parents, who have ordered him to cease and desist from game-playing. One night he breaks into the arcade and begins his final battle with the Bishop. It leads to a disastrous but predictable conclusion. This segment is well-acted by Estevez and, despite the fact that we can predict the "shock" ending, it plays out well enough. Most of the enjoyment, however, comes from seeing how positively archaic "state-of-the-art" gaming was back in the early 1980s.
"The Benediction" features Lance Henriksen as a priest serving in a tiny desert parish who undergoes a crisis of faith. Having witnessed so many terrible things happen to good people, he decides to hang up his frock and leave the priesthood. His fellow priest tries to talk him out of it, but he is determined to go his own way and start a new life. A big clue as to what awaits him comes with the rather awkward plot device of his being given a gift of holy water to keep him safe on his travels. This promising concept of a priest at odds with his faith is soon abandoned for a ludicrous scenario in which he becomes menaced by a black truck with an unseen driver that keeps appearing out of nowhere and smashing into his car, rendering it inoperable. The demonic vehicle then attempts to kill the priest in a series of spectacular attacks. One of the more ridiculous aspects of a tale that borrows shamelessly from the classic TV movie "Duel", the God-awful Universal cheese fest "The Car" and Stephen King's novel "Christina", is the fact that throughout this entire ordeal not a single other vehicle is anywhere to be seen. We know we are in a horror flick but there still has to be some semblance of reality. Henriksen gives a good performance but "The Benediction" is the weakest of the four stories in "Nightmare".
"Night of the Rat" is the best-remembered segment of the film because of its outrageous premise. Veronica Cartwright and Richard Masur are a young couple with a cute little girl (Bridgette Andersen) who live a normal life in a suburban neighborhood. Mysterious sounds begin to occur and lead them to believe that rats are in the house. The headstrong husband insists he can handle the problem and indeed he does catch and kill the critter. However, this only leads to an escalation of terrors as inexplicable destruction begins to take place all over the house. Absurdly, the husband still insists he can solve everything but when cabinets start falling and dishes crashing, the wife calls in an exterminator who tells her that it appears the house is possessed by something of old German horror legend: a seemingly indestructible giant rat who is out to get revenge for the killing of her baby. The crazy premise actually works better than you might think thanks to the superior performances of the three leads who manage to keep straight faces even when confronted with a five foot rodent who invades their daughter's bed. The special effects of the rat itself look a bit laughable by today's standards but are admirable if one considers the technology of the era and the limited budget. The segment is the most enjoyable of the four and does contain some genuine chills before it's over-the-top finale. As with "The Benediction", there is a gnawing lack in credibility in that, despite the virtual wholesale destruction of this neighborhood home in the dead of night, apparently not one neighbor is aware of the situation.
Shout! Factory's horror label Scream! Factory has released "Nightmares" as a Blu-ray special edition. The main bonus feature is a highly enjoyable commentary track with Andrew Mirisch and Cristina Raines, who appears throughout the track even though she is only in the first segment. Seems she and Mirisch are old chums and had worked together on other projects. Their memories of this particular film get very spotty occasionally but the commentary rolls smoothly thanks to the moderator, film historian Shaun K. Chang, who runs the highly addictive retro film blog Hill Place (click here to access). Chang keeps the conversation light in tone and, not unusually for film historians, seems to have more facts about the making of the film than the people who actually made it. There is plenty of interesting discussion about the background of the movie as a TV project and some very amusing conversations with Mirisch about how "Nightmares" looks a lot richer in terms of production values than the notoriously cheap Universal productions of the era. (Mirisch notes that he was determined to avoid using the same staircase that appeared in seemingly every Universal TV show.) Chang also brings up a more disturbing and poignant fact: that actress Bridgette Andersen, one of the most prolific child actors of the time, died in 1997. Although he doesn't discuss the cause of her death of out respect for her memory, research shows she died at age 17 due to a heroin overdose. In terms of other aspects of the commentary, none of the three participants engage in pretentious analysis of the film and all seem content to regard it as a fun, if not overly significant entry in the horror film canon of the 1980s, though Mirisch concedes at the end of the commentary track that, having seen the film for the first time since 1983, it has aged better than he had expected. The special edition also contains a well-made original trailer and two ominous radio spots. (Remember when they advertised movies on the radio?) In all, a highly impressive Blu-ray release- but with one caveat. The packaging notes that there is a commentary track with Andrew Mirisch and Cristina Raines but doesn't even mention Shaun K. Chang, who does most of the heavy lifting in terms of setting the relaxed tone and getting Mirisch and Raines to reflect on long-forgotten aspects of the film. C'mon, Scream! Factory- how about giving credit where it is due?
“Do you like being filmed and talking about yourself,” director
Agnès Varda asks star and subject Jane Birkin in the 1987 film Jane B. for Agnès V. “Yes and no,” comes
the fittingly ambiguous answer. This fascinating film, recently released on a
Cinelicious Pics Blu-ray alongside Kung-Fu
Master! (1987), the purely fictional feature born from the
quasidocumentary’s unique study of Birkin as an actress and the art of
performance in general, is a movie made of memories, fantasies, and the hazy
area where the two coalesce. Essentially derived from Birkin’s stated fear of
turning 40, Jane B. for Agnès V. is a
ruminative examination of Birkin’s life and work, but it is just as much a
revealing look at Varda as an inventive filmmaker. “I'm filming your
self-portrait,” Varda says to Birkin, setting up the blurring of authorial
lines and not for the first time calling attention to the film’s self-conscious
formation. Constructed from a series of explicitly stylized situations, direct
to camera addresses, rigidly arranged tableaus, and further formal variations, Jane B. for Agnès V. is a cleverly
affected film on the part of both Varda and Birkin. Complicating matters even
more, when Birkin expresses trepidation about being chronicled, saying
specifically she is reluctant to look at the camera, Varda tries to alleviate
the discomfort by telling Birkin to think of the lens as if it were her (Varda)
that she (Birkin) was looking at instead. Of course, by doing so, she is
actually looking at us (the viewer), developing an additional layer of composed
artificiality. Jane B. for Agnès V.
is this kind of film.
There is sometimes purely sincere behavior from Birkin and those
captured by Varda’s probing camera; other times, the action is clearly staged
and simulated, to make and thematic point or strictly for aesthetic purposes.
To Birkin’s credit, her capacity for naturalism is evident—she is a great
actress—but just as the comfort of credibility begins to settle, Varda switches
gears and creates painterly reproductions and stunningly synthetic set-pieces.
There are about a dozen distinct segments through the course of Jane B. for Agnès V., and these brief
skits span a variety of genres and stories, each enabling Birkin to approach an
array of emotions and characterizations. The scene-by-scene randomness does
eventually shape into a larger portrait of an actress and her art, though there
is often no immediate connection between the scenarios—one may suggest a
correlation to a prior scene or a comment Birkin makes, others arbitrarily
Both Jane B. for Agnès V.
and Kung-Fu Master! are visually
heightened by the fabulous transfer for this Cinelicious Pics release (Varda
herself supervised the restoration), but these enhancements are most evident with
the former title. The film’s imagery is a layering of textures, colors,
production design, and camera angles. Its patchwork portrait covers diverse
narrative territory as well, from slapstick to historical drama. The string of
fictitious scenes give Varda and Birkin the opportunity to realize a variety of
genres, as a showcase for their complimentary directorial and acting skills. In
an interview on the Jane B. for Agnès V.
disc, Varda says as much, noting the film allowed Birkin to explore different
aspects of her talent (though Varda also says, in the actual film, that the
actress is the “queen of paradox,” with her desire to be a “famous nobody”).
One is inclined to take the various documentary-type situations as
truth, with no reason to assume they are otherwise. But therein lies another
element of this byzantine film: the obfuscation of the line between fiction and
reality. While some sections appear to be candidly caught on the fly, other
sections are created by Varda explicitly egging them on. Deconstructing the
illusion of filmmaking itself, Jane B.
for Agnès V. is a behind-the-scenes reflection and literal depiction of the
creative process. Near the end of the film, Birkin asks, “What now? Where do we
go?” “We agreed the film would wander, we’d set off someplace and stop along
the way,” replies Varda. “What if we lose our way?” questions the actress. “I
like mazes,” says Varda. “I like finding out where I've been at the exit.” This
awareness of the film’s development is followed by about 30 minutes of a
fictional film being made with Birkin, one in which Varda’s son, Mathieu Demy,
plays a part in the proposed story, which we see simultaneously realized before
Jane B. for Agnès V. then veers off down
This is the initial genesis that shaped Kung-Fu Master! Birkin gets story credit for the second film in
this Blu-ray set, as it was from her suggestions during the making of Jane B. for Agnès V. that Kung-fu Master! was created. Just as the
earlier film dealt with themes such as family, life, loss, and sexuality, so
too is this complementary picture informed by these concerns.
With a cast consisting partially of members from both Varda and
Birkin’s family—to the young Demy as Julien add Birkin’s daughters Charlotte
Gainsbourg, as Lucy, and Lou Doillon, as Lou—Kung-Fu Master! gets off to an upbeat start, with a stuttering
video game introduction to Julien. At a party for Lucy, where she and others of
her age are drinking and smoking and generally acting older and wiser than they
perhaps should, Birkin, as Lucy’s mother, Mary-Jane, first encounters Julien…as
he drunkenly vomits into a toilet. Mary-Jane finds the boy “pathetic” yet
“superb,” and wants to see him again, which she does when she literally runs
into him in her car. To make amends, she treats Julien to a coke and a video
game, the eponymous “Kung-Fu Master.” “Boys are curious and vulnerable,” says
Mary-Jane. “I find it touching.”
This is the start of a fleeting romance that was taboo enough in
1987 to greatly limit the film’s international release. As the courtship
progresses, Julien shows up with flowers and food for his friend’s mother,
while Mary-Jane picks up the boy’s homework when he is home sick from school,
just so she has an excuse to see him. Before long, they are setting dates for
just the two of them alone, where she tries to connect to his youth by playing
the video game and he tries to match her maturity by slipping his hand under
her shirt. The uneasy physicality of the relationship, to say nothing of the
moral quandary (Mary-Jane justifies it to Lucy by noting she herself was with a
man 15-20 years older when she was her daughter’s age), produces an
The Warner Archive has released director Lewis Gilbert's excellent WWII espionage thriller Operation Daybreak.The 1975 film is largely unknown despite the fact that it's one of Gilbert's most ambitious and artistically successful movies. The story is based on fact. Allied Intelligence convinced three Czechs serving in the British army to parachute into their occupied homeland to assassinate Reinhold Heydrich, one of Hitler's most trusted commanders and the man he cynically appointed "protector" of the conquered nations of Europe. Heydrich was considered even more brutal than Hitler and the Allies feared the worst if a scenario came about in which he would have been appointed fuerhrer. As Reinhold was heavily guarded at all times, the commandos were left to their own devices to concoct the assassination plan. After an initial attempt went awry, they opted to boldly approach his car in the middle of the street and spray it with machine gun fire. It will not spoil the film to relate the historical fact that the plan ultimately succeeded, but Operation Daybreak is as much about the aftermath of the incident as it is about the mission itself.
Incredibly, the principal assassins and their network of partisans survived, at least initially. However, on the verge of rescue, elements of betrayal and carelessness led to tragedy. In reprisal for the assassinatin, Hitler ordered that the entire village of Lidice be razed to the ground and every citizen murdered or sent to concentration camps. Gilbert shot the film on location in (then) communist Czechoslovakia. The locales add immeasurably to the sense of authenticity. The film also boasts a sizable budget and there are impressive sequences featuring large numbers of German soldiers parading in the streets - a sight that must have been chilling for residences who lived through the actual occupation. Ronald Harwood's screenplay, based on the novel Seven Men at Daybreak by Alan Burgess, is consistently gripping- and the final battle between the conspirators and a large force of German troops takes place inside a magnificent church. Gilbert ensures this sequence is superbly staged on every level.
If there is a weak link in the film it is the casting of Timothy Bottoms in the lead role. Bottoms is competent enough, but makes for a bland and colorless hero. He is out-shown by fellow cast members Anthony Andrews, Martin Shaw, Joss Ackland and Anton Diffring, who makes a coldly majestic Heydrich. Curiously, the film contains many extended sequences involving Heydrich in which German is spoken without the benefit of sub-titles. Whether this was the case in the original film, I can't say, but it does make for some irritation on the DVD version. Also, the Czech characters all speak English, but as they are portrayed by American and British actors without any attempt to form a common accent, it gives the film's dialogue a Tower of Babel effect. Nevertheless, Operation Daybreak is a memorable movie about real-life heroes that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. Hopefully, the Warner Archive release will achieve just that.
(Lewis Gilbert discusses Operation Daybreak and his other war movies in an exclusive interview with Matthew Field in issue #18 of Cinema Retro)
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I’ve always viewed “Cocoon” as the type of film that
Steven Spielberg would have been very happy to have made. It has all the
hallmarks of a Spielberg movie: a light hearted, warm, science fiction fantasy
that is also extremely enjoyable and a perfect piece of innocent entertainment.
It was, of course, Ron Howard who picked up the project, a relative newcomer in
directorial terms. However, his stock was rising based on the very popular
romantic comedy/fantasy “Splash” (1984) with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. It was
certainly enough to attract the attention of producers Richard Zanuck and David
Brown at 20th Century Fox who were happy to take on the ambitious Howard and
his vision for the film.
Given that the film was targeted at teenage audiences amid
the mid-80s trend for special effects-
laden spectacles, “Cocoon” managed to capture the imagination of a much wider
audience. At the centre of “Cocoon” was a senior cast, set in a retirement home
- elements of which may not at first appear to be particularly appealing to
teenage audiences. However, at its core there is a genuine heart, a story that
raises questions about life, death, existence and destiny. It is a
heart-warming tale that successfully blends a touching story of life with
fantasy, and as a result, managed to capture the hearts of audiences young and
Approximately 10,000 years ago, a peaceful alien species
from the planet Antarea set up an outpost on Earth, an island later to be known
as Atlantis. When Atlantis was submerged by the ocean, a number of aliens were
left behind and kept in hibernation within cocoons at the bottom of the
Atlantic Ocean. The story begins as a group of Antareans returns to Earth to
collect them. Disguising themselves as humans, their leader Walter (Brian
Dennehy) rents a house with a swimming pool, and charges the water with a life
force to give the cocooned Antareans enough energy to survive the trip home.
They charter a boat from a local named Jack (Steve Guttenberg) who helps them
retrieve the cocoons. After the aliens reveal themselves to him and explain what's
going on, he decides to help them.
Next door to the house the Antareans are renting is Sunny
Shores, a retirement home. Three of its residents, Ben (Wilford Brimley),
Arthur (Don Ameche) and Joe (Hume Cronyn), often trespass to swim in the pool
next door, thinking the house to be unoccupied. They absorb some of the life
force, making them feel younger and stronger and with their youth seemingly revitalised.
“Cocoon” boasts a wonderful cast lead by the three senior
citizens residing at the Sunny Shores retirement home: Brimley, Ameche and
Cronyn. Maureen Stapleton, Gwen Verdon
and the beautiful Jessica Tandy are also wonderful as their wives and partners
respectively, each of whom delivers a measured and memorable performance. Brian
Dennehy as Walter is a perfect piece of casting, a subtle and touching
performance which proves that underplaying a role can also be very effective. Guttenberg
also puts in a nice little turn as Jack, who again delivers a nicely balanced, humorous
performance without ever allowing his delivery to run wild.
Eureka’s Special 30th Anniversary Blu-ray is presented in
a new high definition transfer and looks very nice indeed. Framed in its
original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the film has never looked better. Previous
editions have often appeared a little soft and grainy, but Eureka’s
presentation (whilst preserving a fine amount of natural grain) is smooth,
clean and nicely detailed. Night scenes in particular, almost all of which were
shot on location, are not drenched in deep blacks, but nevertheless look vastly
better. The colour grading procedure has certainly enhanced its look and the
film benefits hugely from the process and the time afforded it. The picture
does (perhaps naturally) spring to life in far more vivid detail during the
sunny Florida daylight scenes and the ocean bound journeys aboard Jack’s boat.
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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The name James A. Fitzpatrick might be meaningless to all but film scholars today but decades ago his popular travelogues provided movie-goers valuable glimpses of exotic sights around the globe. Fitzpatrick broke into the movie business in the silent era and occasionally produced feature films but he's primarily known for his hundreds of travel shorts that were screened in movie theaters prior to the main feature. In the era before television, Fitzpatrick's productions represented a rare opportunity for the general public to see actual footage of historic places and different cultures. Best of all, Fitzpatrick had the foresight to film these excursions in Technicolor, a process that ensured that the film stock never faded. Thus, the shorts look as impressive today as they did decades ago. It should be noted that some of these shorts were filmed by cinematographers who would become legendary including Winton C. Hoch and Jack Cardiff. The Warner Archive has released thirty of Fitzpatrick's "Traveltalks" shorts as a three DVD set. The years covered range from 1935 through the mid 1940s. Fitzpatrick himself provided the narration for each film, immodestly billing himself as "The Voice of the Globe". He also employed a full orchestra to enhance the films with lush musical scores and occasionally laughably corny vocal renditions of old standards. Nevertheless, there is a timeless quality to the facts and sights unveiled in the shorts and modern audiences can still learn much from them. However, there is a far more poignant value to them. Fitzpatrick shot these films when the world was gearing up for the unthinkable: a second world war. Although Fitzpatrick deftly tiptoes between the international tensions (who wants to see a depressing travelogue?), the back story to what he had to ignore is rather fascinating. A 1935 short dedicated to modern Tokyo presents the city as a booming metropolis filled with serene scenes and an innocent population. However, the film was shot when the militaristic government of Japan had already invaded China and was committing genocide and other horrendous atrocities. Other shorts present peaceful scenes of great countires in days prior to the coming war. We see Czechoslovakia and Austria immediately prior to their takeover by Hitler's hordes. The World's Fair Exhibition in Paris is shown as a symbol of international brotherhood and cooperation even as war clouds were building over Europe. Within a year of this film being shot, France and England would be at war with Germany and shortly thereafter, "The City of Light" itself would be occupied by German troops. There is a poignancy in watching the innocent people depicted in these films today and one can't help but wonder just how many of them didn't survive the coming conflict. France alone would lose 250,000 military personnel in the battle against Nazism. Japan would lose hundreds of thousands of civilians before the war ended. On a more cheerful level, the set presents many travelogues of areas not affected by war: the mainland USA and South America, primarily. (Once the war broke out, Fitzpatrick seemed to restrict his films these geographic areas.) A 1935 short about Los Angeles is striking if only because of the lack of congestion and traffic. A short dedicated to southern Florida decades before Disney's influence emphasizes Miami Beach and such quaint sites as the Everglades and Silver Springs. Those films shot in the USA during the war years only reinforce that America largely escaped the horrors inflicted on other parts of the globe. Although 400,000 American servicemen would die in the conflict, the mainland remained isolated from invasion and day-to-day life largely carried on as normal, as illustrated in these shorts.
The DVD set is a remarkable time capsule that will appeal to anyone with an interest in history and travel. Well done, Mr. Fitzpatrick.
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It may seem hard to believe in an era in which every personality on screen seems to be wearing a cape and tights but there are some intelligent films still being made for discriminating, mature viewers. The problem is that you often have to search to find them. Case in point: "The Lady in the Van", a 2015 British comedy/drama that found its intended audience but was relegated largely to the art house circuits in big cities. The movie is about as off-beat as you can imagine in terms of the central premise but we are told that it is mostly based on fact. Alex Jennings plays the film's real-life British playwright Alan Bennett, on whose experience the screenplay is based. Jennings was an aspiring playwright in 1974 when he moved to a relatively upscale neighborhood in London's Camden Town section. Bennett was enjoying some success with a show on the West End and was leading a fairly comfortable existence, though - at least in the film- he was frustrated by the fact that he no significant other. As a gay man, his unease was understandable- until 1969 homosexuality was a felony crime in Britain. Coming out of the closet was not something most gay people felt comfortable doing. The film presents Bennett creating his own live-in companion- an imaginary alter-ego with whom he trades barbs and discusses problems ranging from writers block to everyday household chores. His life takes an unexpected turn when a homeless woman arrives on his street driving a barely operable old van. She identifies herself as Mary Shepherd and is about as lovable as a tarantula. Mary becomes the talk of the posh neighborhood, moving her van occasionally to park in front of various houses. Some of the locals are kindly to her while others clearly disdain her, but all of them tolerate her presence and gets used to her. Mary keeps her "alternate side of the street" lifestyle going for several years. The van is her abode and she defends it with pride. She accepts handouts from neighbors but her prickly nature never results in her uttering the words "Thank you". Alan, like most of the locals, regards her with a bit of frustration as well as fascination. When a parking ordinance forces her van off the street, Alan offers his driveway as a place she can park "temporarily". You know how these things go. Before long, Mary has not only established the driveway as a permanent residence but is also making various demands on Alan to allow more privileges. Slowly, the months turn into years and both become accustomed to the bizarre living arrangements.(Mary never enters his home and the resulting effect on her hygiene is played for laughs). The two have a sometimes uneasy relationship but the gentle, meek Alan begins to care about her more than he will even admit to his alter-ego. He is wracked by guilt because his own aging mother is slowly deteriorating both mentally and physically and he feels guilty about having to have her committed to a nursing home. He uses Mary has her proxy so that an act of kindness towards her might help Alan alleviate some of his guilt about his mother.
Ultimately Alan's relationship turns to caregiver. Some of Mary's demands are reasonable (jury-rigging wires from his house so she can watch TV in her van) while others are too extravagant to comply with (constructing a tent so she can indulge in more hoarding of useless objects.) He also learns what the viewer has known from the opening, shocking frames: that Mary is hiding a terrible secret and lives in constant fear of being arrested. She, too, is wracked by guilt because she once killed a motorcyclist in an accident and fled the scene. We also learn that she is being blackmailed by an eyewitness (Jim Broadbent) to the event. Gradually, Alan sees her as a source of material for a writing project. He tracks down her only living relative, a brother who is somewhat estranged from her. He relates some remarkable details about her once-promising life and how it all went wrong when she sacrificed a musical career in order to join a convent. (The Catholic Church and religion play key roles in her life.) Nothing overly dramatic takes place in the leisurely-paced story but there is something remarkable the fact that Alan Bennett allowed this eccentric woman to spend a full 15 years residing in his driveway until her death in 1989.
Bennett published a journal about the experience titled "The Lady in the Van". In 1999, he adapted it into a play starring Maggie Smith. It was a major hit, running over 900 performances on the West End. The play's director, Nicholas Hynter, is a frequent collaborator of Bennett's, having worked with him on adapting Bennett's plays "The History Boys" and "The Madness of King George" for the screen. In 2015 they finally brought "The Lady in the Van" to the screen as well with Maggie Smith reprising the title role. Smith was now of an age where she could be even more convincing as the elderly eccentric and Bennett ensured that the movie was shot in the very house in Camden Town where the actual events took place. For all its charming aspects and the fact that the production presents two extraordinary performances by Smith and Alex Jennings, the end result is a mixed bag that you expect to move you in a more emotional way than it actually does. This is largely because Smith's character remains crusty, self-centered and pretty much an ingrate throughout. In the film's final moments, which details her death, Bennett and Hytner do manage to convey a softening of her persona in the final moments of her life but they then attempt to make her more lovable with an ill-advised funeral sequence in which we see the ghost of Miss Shepherd assuring us that she has found happiness in Eternity. The scene smacks of being a well-intentioned gimmick and seems somewhat out of place with the rest of the film. Jennings, known primarily as a stage actor, gives a marvelous performance as Bennett and manages the considerable achievement of not being overshadowed by the great Dame Maggie. The film starts off rather weakly but becomes more engrossing and satisfying if you stick with it. This is largely due to Bennett slowly unveiling key details about Miss Shepherd's challenges in life and the fact that she missed out on a promising musical career. Although Smith is very amusing in the comedic sequences, she is even more impressive in these dark, dramatic scenes. The end result is a mixed bag. The film is to be commended for presenting that rarest of screen experiences nowadays: an intelligent story aimed at adult audiences who seek fine performances and dialogue rather than mindless explosions. There are uneven and unsatisfying patches throughout but the performances alone merit it for recommended viewing.
Sony has released an impressive special edition Blu-ray of "The Lady in the Van". There are numerous featurettes including extensive interviews with Maggie Smith, Alan Bennett, Alex Jennings and Nicholas Hytner that give some interesting perspectives on the long history of the real life events that inspired the play and film. There is also a director's commentary with Hytner and some deleted scenes, some of which clearly show that Miss Shepherd is actually nt only extremely eccentric but is also suffering from dementia, as evidenced by her belief that she can be elected Prime Minister.
We've extended kudos to Impulse Pictures for their dedication to rescuing obscure adult films from bygone eras and giving them first-rate DVD presentations. As we've said many times previously, whether you love or hate these productions, they did play an important role in American pop culture from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, when adult filmmaking largely switched to made-for-video mode to accommodate the overwhelming desire for porn in the era when VCRs became standard household fixtures. While many of the Impulse releases offer some surprising signs of talent and even occasionally impressive production values, the 1972 biker flick "Bad, Bad Gang" is about as erotic as one of those high school "health" films we were all forced to watch in days of old. There's plenty of sex, to be sure, but there is virtually no other reason for the movie to exist. Much of it appears to have been shot in a hurry perhaps because the use of outdoor locations might have resulted in passersby reporting the goings-on to the police. The problem begins with the bizarre, childlike title. "Bad, Bad" might be acceptable if you're referring to ol' Leroy Brown, but for the title of a movie, it's downright bizarre. The film starts off with its one impressive aspect: well-filmed sequences of a sleazy biker gang racing down desert highways, with some effective shots due to cameras being mounted on cycles. Things deteriorate rapidly as the bruisers in the gang stop to pick up two teenage girls who are hitchhiking. They are no shrinking violets and seem downright enthused about being whisked away to parts unknown for activities that almost certainly won't involve lessons in decoupage. The bikers end up going to a remote location only to stumble upon a small camper with two young married couples who are enjoying a picnic. The bikers beat up the guys and kidnap the girls, who they subject to all sorts of sexual deprivations. The men rally and attempt to rescue them but are quickly overcome and are held captive and sexually abused by the biker women. Absurdly, two of the women take the two male captives off to another location by threatening them with tomahawks. However, the weapons soon disappear but the "captives" seem unaware of this, as they engage in sexual activities with their two tormentors- all the while neglecting the fact that they could easily overcome the two girls and rescue their wives, who are still being subjected to the whims of the sleazy male bikers.
"Bad, Bad Gang" is crudely shot and features editing that appears to have been achieved in a blender. Apparently, the film had been available previously in a badly cut version and this is the most complete its been seen on video. However, it seems likely that at least a couple of key scenes might still be missing. The Impulse transfer is appropriately gritty and grimy and the sex scenes (which include the requisite lesbian encounters) are badly shot and notably non-erotic despite being hard-core. The only "name" in the cast is Rene Bond, who built a following in adult movies. The DVD package includes some liner notes about the film that extol its alleged virtues in print so microscopic you'll need a telescope to read them. There are also excerpted sequences from the company's latest "42nd Street Forever" collection of silent grindhouse shorts from the 1970s.
The Warner Archive has released a slew of worthwhile 60s spy movies and TV series lately. Among the under-rated gems is The Double Man, a 1967 Cold War thriller starring Yul Brynner, who gives a powerful performance as American intelligence agent Dan Slater. His teenaged son is killed while skiing in Switzerland and Slater suspects it was actually murder. He finds he's been lured to Alps as part of a complex plot to kill him and replace him with an enemy agent with his identical facial features and characteristics. The plot was covered with moss even at the time since it formed the basis of a two-part Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Double Affair, that was released theatrically the previous year as The Spy With My Face. Still, this is a highly intelligent, gritty film with Brynner as the most hard-ass hero imaginable. Devoid of any humor, Slater suspects both friend and foe as he leaves no stone unturned in trying to thwart the plot. The film benefits from a good supporting cast including future Bond girl Britt Ekland who finds herself unable to distinguish between the two Slaters. Clive Revill and Anton Diffring are excellent in supporting roles. There are some spectacular aerial sequences photographed by the late great cameraman Johnny Jordan, whose work on On Her Majesty's Secret Service bears a strong resemblance to this film, though both movies suffer from the shoddy rear screen projection technology of the time. The score by Ernie Freeman is sometimes overly-bombastic, but in the aggregate, this is one of the better spy films of the era thanks in no small part to the direction of Franklin J. Schaffner, who would win the Oscar several years later for Patton.
The transfer is crisp and clean and the DVD features the original theatrical trailer.
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Turner Classic Movies has released three Alan Ladd titles in a set titled "Alan Ladd: The 1940s Collection". Here is the official press release:
Handsome leading man Alan Ladd found success in the 1940s
and ‘50s, first as the tough guy in several films noir co-starring Veronica
Lake and then as the stoic hero in Westerns such as Shane (1953). Turner
Classic Movies and Universal are proud to present this three-film collection
that showcases Ladd’s talents in a range of genres from thriller to adventure,
as well as the work of such directors as Irving Pichel and Frank Tuttle, and
writers the likes of Richard Maibaum and Seton I. Miller. LUCKY JORDAN (1942)
Directed by Frank Tuttle (who also directed Ladd’s breakthrough film This Gun
for Hire the same year), LUCKY JORDAN stars Ladd as a racketeer who gets
drafted into the US Army and will do anything to get out of it—even go AWOL. As
he tries to escape, he soon finds himself dealing with a backstabbing
second-in-command, a patriotic WAC who wants him to change his ways and enemy
spies in this comedic crime thriller co-starring Helen Walker. TWO YEARS BEFORE
THE MAST (1946) Ladd takes to the high seas in this adventure film based on the
1834 travel book by Richard Henry Dana Jr. that exposed the conditions of
sailors aboard merchant ships. Ladd stars as Charles Stewart, the spoiled son
of a ship magnate who gets shanghaied onto one of his father’s ships. He spends
the next year under the tyrannical rule of the ship’s captain and eventually
finds the courage to lead the crew to mutiny. The film was directed by John
Farrow and costars Brian Donlevy, William Bendix and Howard Da Silva. O.S.S
(1946) Writer Richard Maibaum is most famous for his work on the James Bond
series (he wrote 13 of the franchise’s first 15 films), and his ability to
write taut spy thrillers is on display in this film starring Ladd and Geraldine
Fitzgerald. Set during World War II, Ladd and Fitzgerald play members of an
American spy ring who are sent into France with the objective of destroying the
French railway system. But as their mission gets more complicated, Ladd must
decide between obeying his commands and being a hero.
My Name is Nobody is many things: a 1973 spoof of the “young and old gunslingers” sub-genre that began with For a Few Dollars More; Henry Fonda’s
last Western (and Sergio Leone’s to an extent); and even a eulogy on the dying
of the Spaghetti Western itself. Spearheaded by Sergio Leone himself, Nobody was directed by Tonino Valerii (Day of Anger) and teams Once Upon a Time in the West’s Henry
Fonda with They Call Me Trinity’s
Terence Hill. As a combo of Leone’s straight westerns and Hill’s “Beans
Westerns” (a slang term for comedic Spaghettis) it amounts to quite the
crossover film and could’ve easily been called “Once Upon A Time in the West
They Called Me Trinity.” While it is never as funny as Hill’s two Trinity films or as epic as Leone’s
“horse operas” it is none the less a whimsical delight and a classic of the
Nobody has been released
from Image Entertainment (who previously released the DVD) on Blu-ray at a
suggested retail of $24.98. This pricey “40th Anniversary Edition”
unfortunately boasts no extras of any kind, not even a trailer. The big
question for collectors then becomes: without any special features is it worth
the upgrade? The beautiful transfer and crisp audio make it a resounding “Yes!”,
as both easily outclass the DVD. Thanks to the clear print I was able to notice
several details that escaped me during previous DVD viewings. For clarity, the
print does have its fair share of scratches, but for some of us (myself
included) the scratches aren’t always unwelcome and add a little nostalgia. On
the surface it may appear that there is no difference between this and the old
DVD release due to virtually identical packaging, but Image did use an original
Italian print for this release as the title credits on the Blu-ray are all in
Italian rather than English, as was the case with the DVD. Like the DVD it also
runs the full 116 minutes rather than the cut 112 minute version which also
exists. Though pricey and devoid of extras the excellent transfer makes it a
worthy Blu-ray for Spaghetti Western fans.
It’s night and a ship moves in the water through a dark
curtain of fog. We see George Raft as Captain Johnny Angel on the bridge
peering out into the pea soup as another vessel looms ahead suddenly in the
darkness, abandoned and drifting in the water. Raft sounds the foghorn but there’s no
response. He boards the derelict with several of his crew to search for clues
as to what happened. They go below to the captain’s quarters and finds it
wrecked. A picture lies on a desk in a shattered frame. Raft picks it up and we
see it is a picture of him as a younger man standing next to an older one. A
crew member enters the cabin and says there is blood below, and water in the
hold, but no signs of life.
“Maybe your father’s okay,” the crewman says. “Maybe—“
“He’s dead,” Raft replies tersely.
These first six-minutes of RKO’s “Johnny Angel” (1945), consisting
mostly of image and sound, set up the mood, tone, and basic plot and characters
with barely any exposition at all. Everything we need to know is shown, not
told—classic noir moviemaking. The lean, mean script for “Johnny Angel” was
written by pulp fiction veteran Steve Fisher, who also wrote other film noir classics such as “I Wake Up
Screaming” (1941) (he also wrote the novel), “The City that Never Sleeps”
(1953), “I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes” (1948), and “Lady in the Lake” (1947). He
wrote taut, tense, dramatic stories where not a word was wasted. Director Edwin
L. Marin was known primarily for westerns and movies like “A Christmas Carol.”
But earlier in his career he had turned out Philo Vance mysteries. Like Fisher,
he knew his way around a crime story.
After the opening scenes, Captain Angel learns that not
only is his father dead, but a shipment of gold bullion smuggled aboard the
ship has been hijacked. The bulk of the story takes place in New Orleans’
French Quarter, where Angel tails a mysterious French woman named Paulette (Signe
Hasso) who stowed away on his father’s ship and may be the only person who
knows what happened. He’s assisted in his search by an offbeat character played
by songwriter Hoagy Carmichael in the role of a cab driver named Celestial.
It’s a role somewhat similar to the one he played in Howard Hawks’ “To Have and
Have Not” (1944). Of course, Hoagy managed to get a scene into the film where
he sings one of his songs, “Memphis in June.”
There is a wide assortment of other strange characters.
George “Gusty” Gustafson (Marvin Miller) is the owner of the ship line Angel works
for. Gusty is an emotional cripple dominated by the female nurse (Margaret
Wycherly) who raised him and the glamorous wife (Claire Trevor) who’s cheating
on him with night club owner Sam Jewell (Lowell Gilmore). Miller and Trevor
turn in first rate performances. Miller seems creepier than usual while being
manipulated first by the domineering mother figure and then the wily blonde
femme fatale. Trevor seems even more hard-hearted than usual in this role. In
contrast to these weird characters, Raft appears as the one upright, honest guy
in town. His father has been killed, a gold bullion shipment has been stolen
from his ship and Angel wants justice.
Raft, over the years, got his share of criticism as an
actor of limited talent, who usually turned in a stiff, wooden performance. But
what he really did in all his films was play George Raft. He perfected the role
of the coin-tossing tough guy— stoic, cynical, a man of few words. He did what
Alan Ladd and John Waybe did. He created an image, found a niche, and stuck
with it. “Johnny Angel” is one of his better roles.
The plot follows Angel’s search for the French girl, the
development of a romance between Angel and Paulette, and a final showdown with
the person behind the murder and hijacking. The film moves along somewhat
leisurely and might have been improved if Marin had stepped up the pace a bit.
But there’s something to be said for a film that takes its time, savors the
atmosphere, and seems to enjoy itself, in contrast to the mind-bending, ultra-violent
crime films made today.
Harry Wild’s wonderful black and white cinematography
really stands out in this production. Wild is credited with other noir classics
such as “Murder My Sweet” (1944), “Cornered” (1945), “The Big Steal” (1949),
and many others. His work here in the night scenes on the waterfront and in the
Latin Quarter are excellent. The few contrasting daylight scenes in the
countryside beyond the city add texture and mood to the film.
“Johnny Angel” also has a beautiful, evocative score
composed by Lee Harline. The right music was essential to this film, which has
so many scenes without dialog.
The picture and sound quality of this Warner Archive burn-on-demand
DVD are good. Unfortunately, there are no extras, not even a trailer. Even so, “Johnny Angel” is highly recommended.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
favorite summertime tradition whenShark
Week: Jawsome Encountersarrives
on DVD (plus Digital) on June 14 from Lionsgate. For the past 28 years,
Discovery Channel has captured the world’s attention with Shark Week,anannual televised event that
explores the ocean’s most magnificent creatures. Featuring 13 fintastic
episodes from the 2014 season (never before released on DVD) just in time for
the newest season of Shark Week broadcast on Discovery.Discovery’s
annual event is bigger than ever! Dive deep into the mystery of “zombie sharks”
in New Zealand, get up close and personal with Tiger Sharks lurking below the
surface in idyllic Hawaii, and explore Great Whites off the coast of Australia.
The only commonality among the films of director Nicolas Roeg is that there is no commonality. Roeg graduated from being one of the industry's most respected and innovative cinematographers to becoming an esteemed filmmaker in his own right. Among his disparate productions: the London crime film "Performance", the bizarre David Bowie starrer "The Man Who Fell to Earth", the cult favorite "Bad Timing" and his most accomplished film, the adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's supernatural novel "Don't Look Now", which ranks as one of the most atmospheric and terrifying movies ever made. By the early 1990s, however, Roeg's penchant for making avant garde films with limited boxoffice appeal- combined with his insistence on not compromising his artistic visions in the name of commerce- put him at odds with studio executives. His movies were largely appreciated by the art house cinema crowd but that didn't endear him to the studio bosses in the corner offices. One of Roeg's most bizarre, ambitious and expensive films was the little-seen and even less-remembered "Eureka", a 1983 production that was bedeviled by bad luck. First the basics: Roeg initially approached screenwriter Paul Mayersberg to adapt a book titled "Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?" by Marshall Houts. Sir Harry Oakes may have faded into historical obscurity but in 1943 he was certainly one of the most famous men in the world- and had been for two decades. It all began when Oakes, an American by birth, went north into the wilds of Canada in his quest to prospect for gold. He doggedly pursued this ambition for fifteen years before stumbling upon what became the greatest discovery and claim for gold in North American history. Overnight Oakes became one of the richest men on earth. He later moved to the Bahamas where he lived comfortably on a large estate with his wife and daughter. Enamored by the British gentry he interacted with, Oakes changed his citizenship and became a subject of England. Big money buys impressive friends and Oakes was quite chummy with the Duke of Windsor, who had made a wee bit of a splash himself a few years earlier when he was known as King Edward VIII- yes, that King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in order to marry the love of his life. Edward was by then relegated to being the Governor-General of the Bahamas, some theorized to get him off the front pages. Between his scandalous marriage and the fact that he was deemed an appeaser to Hitler in the lead up to the war with Germany, which was now raging, the Duke was not "Flavor of the Month" in his native England. Still, he and Harry Oakes hit it off rather well and before long Harry was knighted, ostensibly because of his sizable contributions to charity, but some theorized the Duke had pulled some strings on his behalf. Sir Harry's bliss was short-lived. In 1943, he was brutally murdered in his own bed. How brutal was the crime? Well, he was bludgeoned, tarred and feathered, burned alive and beheaded. Clearly, at least one person in his orbit was not very enamored of him and it was decided that the person who liked him least was his son-in-law, who Harry had virtually disowned. A sensational trial took place that resulted in breathless international coverage but the suspect was found to be not guilty on the basis of flimsy evidence. The sensational case remains technically unsolved to this day, though amateur sleuths still debate who the real culprit was and what his motive might have been.
Nicolas Roeg was understandably intrigued by this story and was delighted when screenwriter Paul Mayersberg had also read the book that Roeg wanted him adapt for the screen. He, too, had longed to make a film of it. With the two men in synch, they set out to make a linear retelling of the remarkable characters and events pertaining to Sir Harry's life. However, they realized that since several of the major players in his life were still alive, the production could be plagued by lawsuits. Thus, they decided to give fictitious names to the characters. This also liberated them in terms of using artistic license when desirable, as they were no longer attempting to present a purely factual study of Sir Harry's life and death. It also liberated Roeg by allowing him to bring more esoteric elements into the production. The central character was now named Jack McCann (Gene Hackman) and our first view of him is indeed striking: he in embroiled in a violent struggle with another man in the midst of a raging blizzard in the Canadian wilderness. An unidentified woman, presumably the other man's wife, pleads for the men to stop fighting and we learn that Jack, who has been enraged by something that is never explained, is splitting up his prospecting partnership with the other man. He eventually storms off into the intimidating landscape to continue to pursue his goal of finding a major strike. Ultimately he does just that by literally falling into a fortune when he slips through a crevice and finds himself in an underground cave that is literally raining gold dust. He rejoices in his triumph but his happiness is short-lived. He returns to the bordello where the love of his life, a local hooker and oracle (Helena Kallianiotes) is literally on her death bed and she dies in his arms. It's the first in a string of unfortunate incidents that will plague Jack's life. The scene then abruptly switches to twenty years later when we find Jack comfortably residing in his Bahamian estate named, appropriately enough, Eureka. He's a hot-tempered man prone to violent outbursts. The only calming influence in his life is his twenty year-old beautiful daughter Tracy (Theresa Russell), who he clearly adores but who also brings him consternation because of her strong, independent ways. Tracy has married Claude Malliot Van Horn (Rutger Hauer), a handsome, charismatic European gigolo. Jack can immediately see through Claude's motives and calls him out for being an opportunist who is using Tracy to get access to the McCann fortune. The rift results in Tracy becoming estranged from Jack and her mother, Helen (Jane Lapotaire), a weak-willed woman who Jack treats as he would the hired help. A parallel subplot finds Jack being pressured by his friend and business associate Charles Perkins (Ed Lauter) to sell his beloved estate to a group of American gangsters headed by a man named Mayaofsky (Joe Pesci) and his second-in-command Aurello D'Amato (Mickey Rourke). Seems they want to expand their operations to the island Jack resides on and consider his land crucial to their plans. Typically, Jack not only rejects their offer but insults them in the process, leading to the gangsters deciding to take strong-arm tactics against him. In the film's most disturbing scene (and there are several), Jack is murdered in his bed by being bludgeoned, tortured with a blowtorch and (we learn later) beheaded. It's an incredibly gruesome sight to behold, as Roeg holds nothing back from the viewer except the decapitation. (We should be thankful for small favors). The balance of the film concerns the resulting murder trial, which mirrors the real life case in that Jack's son-in-law was arrested and charged with the crime. He had motive and opportunity- but so did many of his enemies including the gangsters.
"Eureka" may have been an ambitious undertaking but it's also a highly unsatisfying one. The script provides us with a dearth of sympathetic characters. With the exception of Tracy (who is superbly played by Roeg's then-wife Theresa Russell, who made numerous other films with him), there isn't a single other character with any admirable traits. Hackman delivers a powerful performance as McCann but the character is sketchy. We all know money doesn't always buy happiness but we never get to the root cause of his dissatisfaction with life and everyone around him. The supporting cast is equally excellent with Rutger Hauer giving one of the best performances of his career as the vain, almost effeminate pretty boy whose charm makes Tracy blind to his vulgarities. These are demonstrated in a very haunting sequence in which Claude and two female companions secretly attend a voodoo ritual that becomes a pagan-like orgy which leaves everyone involved disgraced and emotionally scarred. Joe Pesci and Mickey Rourke are impressive as the gangsters, with Pesci uncharacteristically underplaying his role, while Ed Lauter does the same as Jack's wimpy friend Charlie. The main problem with "Eureka" is that Roeg values style over substance. The entire first section of the film involving Jack's quest for gold is compromised by Roeg dropping in metaphysical and supernatural aspects, implying that his seer girlfriend is somehow sending him psychic signals to find the gold even though this will inexplicably cost her her own life. Even when the story gets on more traditional footing in Jack's later years, Roeg still toys with the viewer by inserting artistic touches that are visually striking but which distract the audience and make things quite confusing to follow. At times it's hard to figure out who is who and what everyone's relationships and motivations are.Roeg also can't resist making numerous analogies between the characters of Jack McCann and Charles Foster Kane, though the comparisons seem a bit obvious and heavy handed. Having said that, the movie looks beautiful and Alex Thomson's cinematography is top-notch, as is the lush musical score by Stanley Myers.
If Jack McCann's fate seemed cursed, so did "Eureka" as a major film production. The movie was financed and was to be distributed by United Artists. However, during production the management team of the long-troubled studio changed and "Eureka" was treated as an orphan project that had been green lit by the previous regime. Not helping matters was the fact that a test screening proved to be very discouraging, with the audience overwhelmingly giving the quirky film a "thumbs down" verdict. UA sat on the movie for two years before giving it a very minor and abbreviated release, after which it fell into obscurity. Twilight Time has released the film as a special edition Blu-ray, limited to only 3,000 units- and kudos for them for doing so. Although the film is a misguided and unsatisfying enterprise, it still has enough impressive aspects to merit a look by any serious movie scholar. Bonus features include extensive on-camera interviews with screenwriter Paul Meyersburg, producer Jeremy Thomas and editor Tony Lawson. In listening to their reflections on the film (Mayersburg in particular), one gains far more insights into what Roeg was hoping to achieve and how we should view the characters. It's a tremendous help in terms of providing fresh perspectives but a casual viewer who sees a film in a theater should not have to seek out interviews with the movie makers in order to gain such information. The special edition also has a rare audio commentary track consisting of Roeg answering questions at the movie's world premiere. A theatrical trailer is also included, as is an informative booklet by film historian Julie Kirgo.
"Eureka" is an artistic failure in this writer's opinion but at least it's a fascinating one and certainly worth a look in order to draw your own conclusions.
The Warner Archive has released the previously-issued Paramount special DVD edition of The Family Jewels as a burn-to-order title, carrying over the extras from the previous release. The 1965 film is a tour de force for Jerry Lewis, who not only starred, but co-scripted, co-produced and directed the film. There lies the rub. Lewis was certainly a pioneer in his field, one of the first actors to create a second successful career as director. Prior to his achievements, most other actors who tried to helm major films gave up after one or two efforts. (Charles Laughton, Kirk Douglas, Walter Matthau, Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, Marlon Brando, etc.) However, the more overstretched the workaholic Lewis became, the more his work suffered. He is onscreen for almost every scene in this film, playing a variety of crazy characters. Eleven year old actress Donna Butterworth (charmingly billed as "Miss Donna Butterworth") is Donn Peyton, an orphaned rich kid whose guardians have instructed her that she must choose a new father from among her eccentric uncles, who she barely knows. Her best friend is Willard Woodward, her ever loyal chauffeur and caretaker. He's a bit of a klutz but his childlike manner ensures he's the perfect companion for the sophisticated young girl. It's Willard's job to escort Donna to various parts of the country to meet her uncles and see which one she will choose as her new dad. (Apparently, the uncles have no say in accepting this rather sobering responsibility). One is an ancient sea captain (Lewis in absurd makeup that makes him look like a cross between a mop and Captain Kangaroo), another is an unspeakably vile and self-centered circus clown, another is an inept airline pilot, while another is a bumbling boob with a British accent, while the remaining two are a gangster and a successful photographer of glamour models (Lewis reprises his Nutty Professor character of Julius for this role.) The plot, such as it is, exists only to afford Lewis any number of showcase moments as he wreaks mayhem on the screen as each of the idiotic uncles. Eventually, little Donna is kidnapped and held for ransom by the gangster uncle, thus allowing Willard the chauffeur to spring into action to save her. The climactic sequence in which Donna chooses the man she wants to be her new dad is as absurd as it is predictable. The film contains a couple of cringe-inducing examples of nepotism run wild. The first occurs in a sequence that exists for no other reason than to show Willard enjoying a new rock 'n roll album "coincidentally" released by Gary Lewis and the Playboys. The second occurrence finds the group awkwardly making a cameo in the film. Now I like dear old Gary and his Playboys (I just saw him recently in an oldies concert and he was damned good) but this kind of blatant promotion proves to be more a distraction than a delight.
I've always been an admirer of Jerry Lewis and even second rate Lewis (which this is) still has some charming elements to recommend. Lewis, whose best efforts were under the restraint of director Frank Tashlin, has no one to keep him in check here. His characterizations of the uncles range from genuinely amusing (the photographer, the pilot) to over-the-top even by Lewis standards (the sea captain, the gangster, the Brit). He makes one of the most startling impressions as the nasty clown in the only role not designed to be humorous. "Miss Butterworth" is a very capable and likable actress and is able to hold her own on screen with Lewis (no easy task). There are some nice bits by well loved character actors like Neil Hamilton, Sebastian Cabot, Gene Baylos and Robert Strauss. As with even the least of Lewis' movies, it never commits the cardinal sin of being dull.
The special edition features include a commentary track by Lewis and singer Steve Lawrence (!), who had nothing to do with the making of the film. However, Lewis realizes what this writer learned a long time ago: when you are recording commentary tracks for comedies, it always flows better when there is byplay between two people. Solo commentaries are best left for the likes of Citizen Kane and Schindler's List. There are such long gaps between some of Lewis' comments that I had to check to see if I had somehow switched out of the commentary mode. Lawrence is there to serve as Lewis's Ed McMahon, serving up softball questions and laughing in all the appropriate spots. Still, Lewis does provide some nice insights into the film. He says he was reunited some years ago with Donna Butterworth and was delighted to see her again (she had seven children). Lewis also tells us during a sequence in which he makes a seemingly impossible shot on a pool table that he was coached for two days by Minnesota Fats himself, which is a rather fascinating tidbit. The DVD also includes some casual screen tests of Lewis chatting with Butterworth and an original trailer. In all, an impressive package for a mid-range movie that nonetheless is worth viewing if for no other reason than to experience a bygone era in which family comedies could be made without bathroom humor and sex jokes.
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Nicholas Ray’s Knock on Any Door has been released as part of Sony Pictures’ Choice Collection. The 1949 film starred
Humphrey Bogart and a very young John Derek as a defense attorney and his
street punk of a client.It's not high
on the list of Bogart classics, and it's not even one of Ray's best (It was his
second film, made after the far superior They
Live By Night). Ray never particularly praised it, saying only that he
wished it could've been grimmer. Ray once pointed to Luis Bunuel’s LosOlvidados,
a film about Mexican slum kids that came out in 1950, as an example of the sort
of film KnockOn Any Door could've been.If Bunuel's film had come out first, Ray said, the inspiration would've
been there to make a more penetrating, realistic work. "I would have made
a hell of a lot better movie," Ray said.
On Any Door is usually labeled as
film noir, but nothing in the story has the subversive taint found in the best
noir films, and there’s none of the sleek, European ex-pat styling, unless one
counts the expressionistic lighting that cuts across the prison floor in a
scene where a convicted killer makes his long walk to the death house. KnockOn Any Door is more in line with the crime dramas turned out by
Warner Bros during the 1930s, which makes sense when one considers Bogart got
his start in those Warner Bros crime flicks, and it was Bogart’s film company,
Santana Productions, that produced Knock
On Any Door for Columbia Pictures.
While it wasn’t a
blockbuster, it performed well enough at the box office to establish Bogart’s
group as a serious production unit. It also gave us the quote, “Live fast, die
young, and have a good looking corpse,” a quote so nice it’s given to us twice
by the angry Nick Romano, played by Derek with all the seething anger he could
muster beneath his impossibly long eyelashes. According to Bogart biographer
Stefan Kanfer, Bogie tried to boost Derek's performance by pointing out that
most of the day's top actors, from James Cagney, to Edward G. Robinson, to
Bogart himself, had started out in crime movies, and that a good performance as
a heel is always eye catching. Not surprisingly, Derek goes for broke in the
film, to the point where he appears to be auditioning for a role in ReeferMadness. Lookat me! he seems to say in every scene, Look at my perfect profile, my quivering
lips; look at how twitchy I am when I play angry! I'm a real actor, damn it!
Derek was just a young,
inexperienced actor fresh out of the paratroopers when he was cast as
"Pretty Boy" Nick Romano, "the Skid Row Romeo.”Romano, like so many Hollywood hoodlums, is a
good boy shoved down the wrong path in life after losing his father at a young
age, and then growing up in poverty. Attorney Andrew Morgan (Bogart) has known
Romano for years and has watched him struggle. When Romano is accused of
killing a cop, Morgan hesitates to help. For one thing, the partners at his law
firm don't want the negative attention such a trial could bring. Morgan also
isn't sure if he believes Romano is innocent.
On Any Door is actually two films woven together. We
see Romano's tale in flashback, as he goes from being a mama’s boy, to a
typical slum rat and petty thief, to a beleaguered family man who drinks too
much and can't hold down a job. We also see Morgan's crisis of conscious as he
works up the enthusiasm to help him. Morgan, a former slum kid himself,
believes people should help themselves. Gradually, though, he sees Romano as a
kid worth saving. By the film's end, Morgan vows to spend the rest of his life
helping kids like Nick Romano.
The Nick Romano character
was a bit ahead of the times. He looks and carries himself like a character
from a mid-50s juvenile delinquent movie, perhaps The Wild One, or Blackboard
Jungle, or even Ray's own RebelWithout A Cause. There were even rumors,
possibly apocryphal, that Marlon Brando was interested in the Romano role. Hot
off his stage success in A Streetcar
Named Desire, Brando would've been an interesting Romano, and with his
realistic acting, might have booted this movie into something close to a
classic. According to different sources, Bogart was originally planning to make
the film under the direction of Mark Hellinger, with Brando as Romano. When
Hellinger died in Dec. 1947, the project was temporarily put aside until Bogart
started Santana Productions. Brando, who had wanted to work with Hellinger,
allegedly turned down Bogie’s offers, paving the way for Derek. (I find it a
little hard to believe that Bogart was, as some biographers claim, pursuing
Brando to any great degree, considering Bogart was notoriously disdainful of
the self-indulgent method actor types emerging out of New York. The thought of
Brando and Bogart together is fascinating, but just the fact that Bogart
eventually chose Derek, who was light years away from the brooding Brando,
makes me think the whole Brando rumor was nothing but a PR flack's pipe dream.)
Derek, with his greasy mop
of thick black hair, looks the part of a dashing street hood, but his acting is
too melodramatic and hasn't aged well. At the time, though, Derek made quite a
splash, inspiring Hollywood gossip columnist Luella Parsons to write, "I
predict John Derek will be one of the big screen stars of 1949."Stardom didn't quite find Derek, although he
acted regularly for many years, appearing in everything from westerns to bible
epics.He's probably best known to baby
boomers as the husband/mentor and sometime director of Bo Derek.Even when Derek died in 1998, most of the obits
focused on the couple's May/December romance, which was fodder for gossip rags
during Bo's brief run at movie stardom.
Bogart is Bogart, and not
much more needs to be said. There's an excellent scene where, suspecting Romano
has stolen 100-dollars from him, Bogart as Morgan lures Romano into an alley
and wrestles him to the ground, pinning him in the dirt with some sort of
commando hold and then rifling through Romano's pocket to get back his money.
"You're a two-bit punk, and that's all you'll ever be,” Bogart snarls,
spraying saliva everywhere.Always a
sprayer and a drooler, Bogart’s lips and chin practically shine with spittle in
this movie, especially during the courtroom scenes where he has long speeches
and no one around to wipe his mouth. Bogart’s forehead also perspires like crazy in
the court scenes, until he looks like he's performing on the bow of a ship
during a storm. He's great, though, and his closing speech to the jury is among
the better scenes of his late '40s period.Heavy-handed? Sure, but Bogart could always make these scenes
compelling, whereas if another actor tried it, the bit would come off as
"Knock OnAny Door is a
picture I'm kind of proud of, and I'll tell you why," Bogart the producer
said in a press release trumpeting the film. "It's a very challenging
story; different; off the beaten path. The novel (by Willard Motley) was
brutally honest. We've tried to be just as direct, just as forceful, in the
picture. I think you'll like it better that way. "
proclaimed Knock On Any Door "a
hard-hitting, tight melodrama," the film's Feb. 1949 release was greeted
by mixed reviews. The notion that criminals were not always responsible for
their actions was a relatively new and unpopular concept. The film was
occasionally praised for its direct look at life in the slums, but Bosley Crowther
of ‘The New York Times’ wasn't impressed. "Not only,” wrote Crowther, “are
the justifications for the boy's delinquencies inept and superficial...but the
nature and aspect of the hoodlum are outrageously heroized." Crowther, who
may have invented the word ‘heroized,’ added that the film was riddled with
"inconsistencies and flip-flops," and that "The whole thing
appears to be fashioned for sheer romantic effect, which its gets from its
'pretty-boy' killer, victim of society and blazing guns."
Actually, the film
could've used some more blazing guns. The opening sequence is a stunner, with a
cop being gunned down on a dark street, and a sudden swarming of the
neighborhood by cops rousting every local man with a criminal record. The scene
is a mere tease, though, for the film settles down into a talky courtroom drama
and doesn't quite live up to its opening blast. But give Bogie and his Santana
crew credit for choosing this project as their debut voyage. They jumped on the
juvenile delinquent bandwagon before it had really taken off, predating the
screwed-up teenager craze by five or six years. In a way, Derek’s Nick Romano was
a forerunner of James Dean, Elvis, Sal Mineo, and every other greasy hoodlum
with puppy dog eyes that would populate the movie screens of the 1950s.
The Choice Collection DVD offers no extra
features, but the transfer is crisp and clear, all the better to see Bogart
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
upon a time before cell phones, social media and the internet, there was
citizens band radio. CB radio is closely associated with truckers and was used like
a cell phone to keep in contact and inform one another on things like speed
traps, accidents and road construction in the days before cell phone mobile apps.
Trucker lingo like, “10-4 Good Buddy” and “Breaker-Breaker” briefly became a
part of the common vernacular due to the popularity of “Trucker” songs that
played on Country & Western radio stations throughout the 1970s. Hollywood picked
up on the trucker craze incorporating the “Good Old Boy” element and Southern
charm with TV series like “Movin’ On” (1974-76) and “B.J. and the Bear” (1978-81)
and movies such as “Smoky and the Bandit” (1977) and its sequels.
of the big radio hits of that era was “Convoy”, released in 1975 by Bill Fries
(better known to fans as C.W. McCall). The song reached number one on both the
country and pop charts in the U.S. and on the pop charts in the U.K. Hollywood
purchased the rights to the song and hired one of the biggest directors of the era
to make a movie inspired by the hit novelty song. Co-financed by United Artists
and EMI, director Sam Peckinph was given total control over its production,
which in hindsight, was a mistake as the movie went millions of dollars over
budget and two months behind schedule. The film was released in 1978 just as
the trucker craze was fading in popularity, but the movie became the biggest
money maker of Peckinpah’s career. Getting the finished production to the
screen was no easy feat, as Peckinpah was dealing with his personal addictions
and apathy toward the movie, but he filled out the cast and crew with many
friends who worked with him on his previous film projects. This prevented
studio heads from firing him, as major cast members like Kristofferson
threatened to walk from the movie with him.
Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine and Burt Young all worked with
Peckinpah in some of his most memorable movies. “The Wild Bunch” alone is one
of the greatest westerns ever made and while one can debate the merits of
Peckinpah’s other films, they’re all stamped with the indelible Peckinpah brand.
Peckinpah was a flawed man living in the shadow of his greatest achievement,
“The Wild Bunch.” “Convoy” is no “Wild Bunch,” but few movies will surpass that
classic. “Convoy” was a troubled production from the moment Peckinpah was
hired. It started life as a lighthearted action comedy inspired by a hit
novelty song that doesn’t have much of a plot. Peckinpah saw the movie as a
modern day western with truckers as cowboys standing up to corrupt police,
unfair interstate trucking laws and incorporating political satire.
“Rubber Duck” Penwald (Kristofferson) is a non-affiliated trucker opposed to
unionization who has a long standing feud with New Mexico sheriff Lyle
“Cottonmouth” Wallace (Borgnine). The sheriff sets up speed traps in order to
extort cash from truckers as they pass through “his” county. Photo journalist
Melissa (MacGraw) is passing through and meets up with Rubber Duck at a local
truck stop. What Melissa and Rubber Duck see in each other, not to mention why she’s
in New Mexico, isn’t really clear. Melissa sells her car along with most of her
belongings, and ends up catching a ride with Rubber Duck after he and about a
dozen fellow truckers flee the scene of an old fashioned western bar fight with
the sheriff and his deputies.
follows is over 90 minutes of large trucks driving at high speeds being chased
by police through New Mexico desert highways and at times off road through the
desert in an apparent protest against unions and big government. The governor
and local media get in on the chase and the result is trucks crashing and
driving through lots of dust clouds. This eventually builds to the climax
involving a National Guard tank blasting Rubber Duck’s truck off a bridge. The
desert scenes are interesting with trucks driving through miles of desert in a
Peckinpah slow motion ballet. What else is there? Not a whole lot. The movie
has a paper thin plot that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
is a serviceable leading man and, as depicted in the poster art, has his shirt
off a lot of the time. Burt Young is Bobby “Pig Pen” and Cassie Yates is truck
stop waitress Violet. Peckinpah cast a diverse group of actors including
Franklyn Ajaye as Spider Mike and Madge Sinclaire as Widow Woman. There’s a
racial element introduced as Mike is jailed and beat up by the sheriff’s
deputies. Widow Woman ends up sitting in the middle seat between Billy and
Whitey Hughes throughout most of the movie after her truck tips over during a
sharp turn. This on location accident was incorporated into the story and the
result is Widow Woman hitching a ride with the other truck. I think that’s one
of the big problems with a movie about truckers – too many shots of characters
sitting in a truck. There are a couple of scenes where everyone gets to stretch
their legs at a truck stop, but that’s where the trucker movie stops being a
is not for everyone, but it does have its moments. It’s a Sam Peckinpah movie and
that has to be worth something. It’s well known that Peckinpah was dealing with
alternating bouts of alcohol and cocaine addiction throughout his career which
certainly had a definite impact on his movies. The real reason for buying this new
Blu-ray release by Kino Lorber are for the generous supplements including an
audio commentary by film historians and Peckinpah experts Paul Seydor, Garner
Simmons and Nick Redman. The commentary is filled with anecdotes and personal
reminisces on Peckinpah, on the cast and crew as well as details on the
production. Their outstanding commentary opens up the movie and brings to life the
world of Sam Peckinpah. Kino Lorber didn’t stop there and also include a 73
minute documentary on the making of “Convoy,” deleted scenes, a montage of in-jokes
and cameos, radio spots, trailers, a promotional featurette, a stills gallery
and an interesting feature by a fan expert from Norway. The movie apparently
has a substantial cult following outside of America.
re-recorded “Convoy”, incorporating the plot and characters from the movie and
it briefly made its way to the top of the pop charts again. This new version
can be heard during the end credits. The Kino Blu-ray looks and sounds very
good and is a breezy, easy going experience which trucks in at 110 minutes.
Peckinpah fans will enjoy this release for the outstanding and generous
supplements. Fans of the “good old boy” trucker genre will also be entertained.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
BURBANK, CA (April 11, 2016) – Just in time for Father's Day and
the theatrical release, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the long
awaited animated series that aired when Saturday Morning Cartoons reigned
supreme. Available on DVD on June 14, 2016, Tarzan, Lord Of The
Jungle: Complete Season One was created by the Filmation Studio
for CBS and follows the animated adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs' ape man
from the 1970's. The two-disc collectors setincludes all 16
episodes from the series’ first season, and is priced to own at $19.98 SRP. The
DVD has an order due date of May 3, 2016.
As the opening narration explains: "The jungle: Here I was
born; and here my parents died when I was but an infant. I would have soon
perished, too, had I not been found by a kindly she-ape named Kala, who adopted
me as her own and taught me the ways of the wild. I learned quickly, and grew
stronger each day, and now I share the friendship and trust of all jungle
animals. The jungle is filled with beauty, and danger; and lost cities filled
with good, and evil. This is my domain, and I protect those who come here; for
I am Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle!"
“Tarzan, Lord Of The Jungle was animated the
old fashion way, with many hours of hand drawn stills," said Mary Ellen
Thomas, Vice President Family & Animation Marketing and Partner Brands.
"They don't make animation like this anymore, and we are really proud to
be releasing this timeless classic just in time for the July release of Tarzan in
The 1961 MGM Western A Thunder of Drums has been released by the Warner Archives. The film was regarded as a standard oater in its day but has since built a loyal following who have been eager to have the movie available on the home video market. What sets A Thunder of Drums apart from many of the indistinguishable Westerns of the period is its downbeat storyline and intelligent script, which was clearly geared for adults as opposed to moppets. There's also the impressive cast: Richard Boone, George Hamilton, Charles Bronson, Arthur O'Connell, Richard Chamberlain and Slim Pickens among them.The film opens with a sequence that was very unsettling and shocking for its day: an Indian attack on a tranquil homestead. A little girl is forced to witness the gang rape and murders of her mother and teenage sister. The plot then shifts to the local fort where commandant Boone is overseeing an understaffed cavalry contingent that has to find and defeat the marauding tribe, which has already slaughtered numerous settlers and soldiers. The Indians are window dressing in the story: nameless, faceless adversaries who are not given any particular motivation for their savagery. (These was, remember, far less enlightened times and such conflicts were generally presented without nuance.)
George Hamilton is the by-the-book West Point graduate assigned to the fort as Boone's second-in-command. He gets a frosty reception from minute one. Boone tells him he doesn't meet the requirements of a seasoned officer who can survive in the hostile environment. The two men spend a good deal of their time in a psychological war of wills. Adding to Hamilton's discomfort is the discovery that his former lover, Luana Patten, is not only living at the remote outpost, but is engaged to one of his fellow officers. The two rekindle their own romance and this leads to scandalous and tragic results.
The film is based on a novel by popular Western writer James Warner Bellah and probably represents the career high water mark of director Joseph Newman, who was destined to toil for decades helming B movies. He gets vibrant performances from his cast. The ever-watchable Boone is in his predictably crusty mode, cynically second-guessing his officers and men, tossing out insults and sucking on an omnipresent stogie. Boone was so dominant in every role he played, one wonders why he never reached a higher status as a reliable box-office figure. Hamilton is in his standard pretty boy mode, but holds his own against macho men Boone and Charles Bronson, who is cast against type as a somewhat dim-witted character of low scruples. Singer Duane Eddy, who was a teenage pop star at the time, made his film debut here with a degree of fanfare, but it was obviously last minute stunt casting as Eddy is given virtually nothing to do except strum a few chords on his guitar. The film boasts some magnificent scenery and some rousing action sequences that are more realistic than those found in most Westerns of the time. A Thunder of Drums isn't art or even a great or important Western - but it is fine entertainment and the Warner Archive edition looks terrific. An original theatrical trailer is included.
always knew that porridge oats ranked among the world’s sexiest foodstuffs,
didn't you? You didn't? Neither did
advertising executive Teddy Brown, tasked with devising a promotional campaign
to 'sex up' under-performing breakfast product ‘McLaughlin's Frozen Porridge’
in risqué romp Every Home Should Have One
(1970, U.S.: Think Dirty). This
neglected gem has just been given a new breath of life in the UK via a
sparkling Blu-ray and DVD release, a constituent of Network Distributing's
ongoing British Film Collection.
by Marty Feldman (who also stars), Barry Took and Denis Norden, Every Home Should Have One delights in
taking a swipe at not only the absurd and superficial nature of the advertising
profession but also the hypocrisy of our self-imposed moral guardians (both
still valid targets 45 years on, I'd proffer), and the pitfalls of adopting a
permissive lifestyle. But most rewarding of all it gives bug-eyed, chaotic-haired
comic Feldman a free canvas to do his thing – and he delivers the funnies in
kernel of the tale concerns the life of ad man Teddy Brown (Marty Feldman).
Professionally he's struggling to come up with a sales idea that will please
both his boss (Shelley Berman) – whose own dismal ideas include giving away
free plastic sporrans – and their client (Jack Watson), a no-nonsense Scot.
Privately he's having to deal with his wife Liz (Judy Cornwell) joining a
‘Clean Up TV’ crusade presided over by the local Vicar (Dinsdale Landen). The
Vicar happens to have lascivious designs
on Liz, and their kleptomaniac son (Garry Miller) who, spurred by a TV play
entitled ‘The Fetish’, has developed hobbies that include purloining the
panties of the family’s string of au pairs (among them Julie Ege), which he squirrels
away between the pages of his stamp album.
Panty raided: Julie Ege.
Every Home Should
was produced by Ned Sherrin (also producer on such big screen rib-ticklers as The Virgin Soldiers and Frankie Howerd's
ribald Up trilogy) and directed by
Jim Clark (who two years on helmed Rentadick
– also produced by Sherrin and featuring Ege – but was better known for his
skills in the editing room; he scooped the Oscar for his work on The Killing Fields and brought his
expertise to The Mission, Charade, Agatha, Marathon Man and
Brosnan Bond thriller The World is Not
Enough, to name but a few).
garish couture might have dated the film a shade, but there’s still a lot of
fun to be found here, the plenteous smiles – it seldom evokes belly laughs –
proportionate, I’d suggest, to how much you like Feldman. He certainly had a Marmite
effect on audiences. For this writer's money, regardless of the fine assembly
of players backing him up (beyond those already namechecked there are terrific
turns from Francis de la Tour, Penelope Keith, Patrick Cargill, and an
uncredited Alan Bennett), Feldman is the crazy-glue who holds the movie
together. He effortlessly steals the show, at his most amusing in a clutch of Billy Liar-esque fantasy sequences which
pitch him into a horror film (as a voracious vampire), a black-and-white silent
movie, a sepia-tinted peepshow loop, a Swedish arthouse film and a zany
animation (graphics courtesy of Richard Williams, later-to-be titles animator
on several Pink Panther movies and
animation director on Who Framed Roger
Blu-Ray release comes highly recommended, delivering a colourful 1.66:1
presentation of the film with nary a trace of grain, its picture so clean that your eye is frequently
distracted by faddish 70s set dressing (such as the toy Captain Scarlet vehicle on the sideboard in the Brown household)
and minutiae like the nicotine stains on Feldman's fingers. The bonus materials
comprise an image gallery (which collects together a selection of lobby cards
and poster art), a trailer, a sans-subtitles replay of the Feldman/Ege arthouse
movie sketch and some original release promotional material in PDF format. Also
available on standard definition DVD.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Paramount Home Media:
NEW YORK – Called “the best looking fantasy
series on TV” (IGN) and “damn fine television” (Collider), MTV’s hit show“The
Shannara Chronicles” Season One
arrives on DVD June 7, 2016. Executive produced and written for television
by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar (“Smallville”) and executive produced by Jon
Favreau (Iron Man), the lavish
fantasy series is based on the 26-volume book series by Terry Brooks. “The Shannara Chronicles” premiere on MTV was viewed 14.6 million times across linear
and digital platforms and delivered the best single-week performance on iTunes
ever for an MTV series.
Set thousands of years in the future, “The Shannara Chronicles” follows three
heroes, Elf-Human hybrid Wil (Austin Butler, “Arrow”), Elvin Princess Amberle
(Poppy Drayton, “Downton Abbey”), and Human Rover Eretria (Ivana Baquero, Pan’s Labryinth), as they embark on a
quest to stop an evil Demon army from destroying the world. The show also features Manu Bennett (The Hobbit), John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings), and James Remar
Arriving just in time for Father’s Day and
graduation gift-giving, the four-disc DVD set includes all 10 episodes from the
inaugural season along with more than 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes
footage. “The Shannara Chronicles”Season One DVD set has a suggested
retail price of $29.99 U.S./$32.99 Canada.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
of the Dagda Mor
DVD Release Date: 6/7/16
U.S. Rating: NR
Running Time: 411 min
Chronicles” is written for television by and executive produced by Al Gough and
Miles Millar. Jon Favreau, Jonathan Liebesman, Terry Brooks and Dan Farah
also serve as executive producers. The first two episodes were directed by
Jonathan Liebesman (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”).
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
On May 3, fans of director Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” will have the
opportunity to revisit the acclaimed drama and learn even more fascinating
details about the real American war hero Chris Kyle and the Navy SEALS he
fought with. “American Sniper: The Chris
Kyle Commemorative Edition” arrives as a two-disc Blu-ray from Warner Bros.
Home Entertainment featuring a special commemorative disc with 60 minutes of
brand-new bonus content, including revealing in-depth documentaries narrated by
Bradley Cooper*. “American Sniper” stars
Cooper as Chris Kyle, whose skills as a lethal sniper and qualities as a human
being made him a hero both on and off the battlefield.
A two-time Oscar® nominee for his work in
“Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” Cooper stars alongside Sienna
Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Kevin Lacz, Navid Negahban
and Keir O’Donnell.
Oscar®-winning filmmaker Clint Eastwood
(“Million Dollar Baby,” “Unforgiven”) directed “American Sniper” from a screenplay written by Jason Hall, based on
the book by Chris Kyle, with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. The autobiography
was a runaway bestseller, spending 18 weeks on the New York Times bestseller
list, 13 of those at number one.
The film is produced by Eastwood, Robert
Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan. Tim Moore, Jason Hall,
Sheroum Kim, Steven Mnuchin and Bruce Berman served as executive producers.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will donate
$1.00 of the purchases to Chris Kyle Frog Foundation up to $150,000 from April
19, 2016 through December 31, 2016, void in Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois,
Massachusetts, Mississippi and South Carolina.
The aim of the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation is
to provide meaningful, interactive experiences to service members, first
responders and their families, aimed at enriching their family relationships.
Prior to his untimely passing in February 2013, Chris had begun casting his
vision for the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation to provide experiences for service
and first responder families to work through many of the difficulties he and
Taya had experienced post-deployment. As Executive Director of the foundation,
Taya and a dedicated team are ensuring Chris’ vision, desire and legacy to the
country he served carries on now and into the future. For more information on
the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, please visit www.chriskylefrogfoundation.org.
“American Sniper: The Chris Kyle Commemorative Edition” will be
offered on two Blu-ray discs in double elite case packaging for $24.98 SRP.
From director Clint Eastwood comes “American Sniper,” starring Bradley
Cooper as Chris Kyle, whose skills as a sniper made him a hero on the
battlefield. But there was much more to him than his skill as a sharpshooter.
Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is sent to Iraq with
only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves
countless lives on the battlefield, and as stories of his courageous exploits
spread, he earns the nickname “Legend.” However, his reputation is also growing
behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target
of insurgents. He is also facing a different kind of battle on the home front:
striving to be a good husband and father from halfway around the world.
Despite the danger,
as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing
tours of duty in Iraq, personifying the spirit of the SEAL creed to “leave no
one behind.” But upon returning to his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and kids,
Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.
Sniper: The Chris Kyle Commemorative Edition” Blu-ray contains the following
special features: ·*Chris Kyle: The Man Behind the Legend -- NEW! In
never-before-seen home movies, family, friends and fellow soldiers reveal
another side of ChrisKyle. ·*Navy SEALS: In War and Peace – NEW! Join Taya Kyle
and legendary SEAL Marcus Luttrell as they illuminate the secret world of
America’s elite fightingforce. ·Bringing the War Home: The Cost of Heroism – Previously only
limited availability! Discover the challenges faced by many U.S. veterans whose
return home can often be as daunting as their time atwar. ·One Soldier’s Story: The Journey of American Sniper Join director Clint
Eastwood, cast and crew as they overcome enormous creative and logistic
obstacles to bring the truth of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s story to thescreen. ·The Making of AmericanSniper
Howdy, pardners. It’s western movie roundup time at
Cinema Retro today. Here are a handful of oldie westerns recently released on
DVD by the Warner Archive- and which are now available in the Cinema Retro
Movie Store. And a rootin’, tootin’, downright interesting bunch of movies they
First up, “Station West” with Dick Powell and Jane Greer.
Ever wonder what would happen if private dick Philip Marlowe traveled back in
time to the old west and tried to solve a murder case? That’s essentially what
you have with Station West, an offbeat western filmed in black and white that
plays like film noir, except all the men wear wide-brimmed Stetsons instead of
Fedoras, and shoot Colt Peacemakers and Winchesters instead of snubbed nosed
.38s. To further mix up the western and detective genres Jane Greer, the most fatale of all femme fatales, is on hand, playing Charlie, a hard-boiled gal who
runs a gambling house and just possibly a few things more.
Powell plays Army Intelligence investigator John Haven
who arrives in town to find out who killed a couple of cavalrymen who were
transporting gold. Powell is his usual,
laconic self, cracking wise and engaging in some sharp dialog written by Frank
Fenton and Winston Miller. To wit:
Haven sits down at Charlie’s table uninvited.
You like to take chances, don't you?
I feel lucky.
Charlie: I advise you to try the dice table.
Haven: I'd rather get lucky here.
Every man has the right to his own funeral.
Released by RKO in 1952 the movie is loaded with a
supporting cast made up of veterans of that studio’s numerous noir crime
thrillers. Raymond Burr, Regis Toomey, Steve Brodie, Guinn Big Boy Williams,
Agnes Moorehead and Burl Ives are all on hand and just right as the shadowy characters
that populate this crooked little town. Based on a Luke Short novel, “Station
West” provides a diverting 87 minutes of curious, off-beat, entertainment.
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Next up is “Rough Shod” (1949), another RKO black and
white western, this one starring Robert Sterling, Gloria Graham, and John
Ireland. It starts out with Lednov (Ireland) and his two fellow escaped
convicts creeping up on a camp of drovers from a nearby ranch. They kill them
in cold blood and steal their horses and clothes. Not far away Clay Phillips (Sterling)
and his kid brother, Steve (Claude Jarman of The Yearling) are driving eight
head of horses to Sonora to set up a stage line. In town, the sheriff asks if
Clay will join the posse to round up the convicts. Clay says no thanks, adding
he’s pretty sure Lednov will come looking for him. They’ve got a history.
Also on the road is dancehall gal Mary Wells (Graham) and
her three “co-workers” who got kicked out of town by the decent folk. Clay and
Steve run into them on the trail when their buggy breaks down and Clay
reluctantly agrees to help them by taking them in his wagon to the nearest
ranch. The nearest ranch belongs to Ed Wyatt and good old Ed and his wife,
never knew it to fail, well, they get paid a visit by Lednov and his friends.
Meanwhile Clay and Mary are on the trail and she’s starting to get under his
skin. But Clay’s ready to kiss her off soon as they get to the Wyatt place,
because all he cares about is dropping her and the other ladies off at the
Wyatt place, getting the horses to Sonora and setting up his stage line.
I know you’re thinking, oh boy, Clay, Steve and the dance
hall girls are going to ride into a real mess at the Wyatt place. Probably get
captured. Clay and Steve probably get
beat up, with the leering convicts having their way with the dance hall gals.
Well, that’s what would have happened if Anthony Mann had directed “Roughshod.”
But this movie was directed by Mark Robson, who made movies like “Bright
Victory”, “The Bridges of Toko-Ri,” and “Champion.” He wasn’t into that kinky
stuff. Instead, once the convicts get enough to eat, they say
goodbye to the Wyatts and ride off! After that build up to nothing, the movie
become more or less a soap opera. Mary sees an opportunity to lead a decent
normal life with a guy like Clay and sets out to hog tie him matrimonially
speaking. There are a couple of subplots involving one of the girls who just
happens to be the Wyatt’s daughter, and conflict between Clay and Steve over
the roughshod (get it, Roughshod?) way
Clay treats Mary. It’s all tied up at the end when finally, after all that
romantic folderol, Lednov and his men show up and there’s a pretty well-staged
shootout in the woods.
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Winner's ribald 1983 reimagining of 1945’s venerated The Wicked Lady gets a long overdue UK DVD release from Second
Sight in July. Bristling with star names delivering some of the most cringe-worthy
performances of their careers, needless to say it's an essential acquisition.
beautiful Caroline (Glynis Barber) invites her dearest friend Barbara (Faye
Dunaway) to meet her husband-to-be, Sir Ralph Skelton (Denholm Elliott). The
manipulative Barbara seduces Skelton and the demure Caroline graciously steps
aside allowing them to wed. Quickly tiring of her affluent and influential
position as Lady Skelton, Barbara is soon looking for something to spice up her
life. One night, desperate to retrieve jewellery that she has carelessly forfeited
in a game of cards, she dons attire akin to that of infamous local highwayman
Captain Jackson. The adrenaline rush she gets from the experience gives her a
taste to continue her nocturnal thievery, but inevitably it isn’t long before
she crosses paths with the real Jackson (Alan Bates), an encounter that gives
rise to an unexpected turn of events.
German release poster
on the novel "The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton" by
Magdalen King-Hall, Winner’s The Wicked
Lady was produced by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, whose
production company The Cannon Group spat out literally dozens of films in its
heyday, many of them big star vehicles and most of them pretty bad – though, it
has to be said, few of them less than entertainingly so. Winner would work with
the gregarious producers several times throughout the 80s, taking the helm for Death Wish II and 3, Bullseye (with Golan
alone) and Hercule Poirot mystery Appointment
The director took co-writing credit on The Wicked Ladywith the original version's scripter Leslie Arliss. The resulting film has taken a lot of flack throughout the years for its vapidity – and, rest assured, high art it most certainly ain't. But as guilty pleasures go they don't come much more rewarding. I mean, what's not to like about a movie in which Faye Dunaway andStar Trek: The Next Generation's Marina Sirtis get into a gratuitously protracted, BBFC-baiting catfight which evolves into a skirmish with whips during which Dunaway lashes her opponents clothing to shreds? It's something of a star-studded affair too; along with Dunaway, Elliott, Bates and Barber there's substantial input from the likes of John Gielgud, Oliver Tobias, Prunella Scales and Joan Hickson. Performances are uniformly ripe and one or two are camper than a field full of tents…which, perversely, only serves to enhance the film’s entertainment value. Dunaway was actually nominated for a 1984 Razzie as worst actress forThe Wicked Lady– and witnessing her overwrought performance in the final scene one could argue a strong case for her having romped it – though she was ultimately trounced by Pia Zadora forThe Lonely Lady.
It was always going to be something rather good that
would eventually topple Jaws (1975) from the box office number one slot. Sydney
Pollack’s compelling political thriller, Three Days of the Condor, achieved
that feat. It is a film steeped in speculative government dealings and the
shady side of its associations with large business corporations.Three Days of the Condor is arguably one of
the greatest thrillers to emerge from the 70s. it arrived directly in the
slipstream of the Watergate scandal that had witnessed the toppling of a
president and a severe shifting of the United States political arena. The
ripple effect from such political scandals bought about a change in American
cinema with film directors examining the fringes and paranoia fallout that
subsequently evolved. The darker side of American politics had suddenly become
the new in-vogue sub-genre. Probing thrillers such as Alan J. Pakula’s All the
President's Men (1976) became fascinating exposés as well as enlightening forms
In Three Days of the Condor, Robert Redford stars as
Joe Turner; he’s an everyman employed on a clerical level by the CIA in New
York City. He’ss smart; an expert of sorts who provides advice and analysis
based upon foreign publications and what might be hiding in between the lines. One
afternoon he dashes out to the local deli to collect the lunch orders for the
office staff. He returns to his office to find that his entire group of colleagues
has been massacred. Panic stricken and confused, Turner calls his superiors to
request that he be bought in safely. However, the situation is turned on its
head when he finds himself being hunted down by the same group that murdered
his colleagues- and on the directive of his CIA superiors.
In desperation, and acting on pure adrenalin, Turner
abducts Kathy (Faye Dunaway) a photographer. Turner needs to get off the
streets and take some time to piece together the mystery. He ultimately wins
over Kathy and convinces her to assist him, despite the danger to her own life.
Because the twosome is played by Redford
and Dunaway, it will surprise no one that they become lovers in the process. Together, Joe and Kathy begin to unravel
clues while a sinister, lone assassin (Max Von Sydow) calmly manoeuvres ever
closer in their footsteps.
Some 40 years on, Three Days of the Condor still
works superbly. Based on James Grady's
novel, it is interesting to observe how the passing years have witnessed the
author’s fictional elements materialise into accountable elements of fact, a
realisation that makes the story that much more chilling. The passing of time
deems it almost entirely plausible, which perhaps diminishes the shock value to
some degree. Right or wrong, there is almost an acceptance regarding the shady
conspiracies that unfold when viewed today, even more so than at the time of
the film’s original release.
Redford and Dunaway are both magnetic on screen, two
iconic stars that were dominant on the silver screen around the mid-Seventies. Pollack’s
direction is tight and tense and keeps the narrative flowing at an even,
constant pace. Also noteworthy is Dave
Grusin's smooth and funky Jazz score. In recent times it has become something
of a legendary soundtrack and one that has rightly been proclaimed as a 70s
Eureka’s 1080p transfer is very nice indeed, Condor
(through the various incarnations I have previously owned) has never appeared
or stood out as the sharpest of 70s movies. Some scenes tend to have a ‘director’s
intent’ soft focus to them. However, its hidden beauty is made apparent with tighter,
close up shots, which look superbly detailed and reveal a vivid natural
clarity. The film also appears to be rather brighter – especially in night
shots. Blacks especially appear to retain just the right balance without
falling off into the dreaded, milky grey spectrum. The picture is clean
throughout and does not reveal any signs of blemishes, dirt particles or
scratches. The film’s audio is provided by
way of an English LPCM 2.0 channel and an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
channel mix. The purist in me opted for the 2.0 channel mix, which is both
clear and perfectly detailed.
In the bonus features you will find The Directors:
Sydney Pollack – an original (and excellent) 60 minute documentary that
examines the film-making career of the esteemed filmmaker. It’s a great watch
which includes archival interviews and features contributions from Cliff
Robertson, Paul Newman, Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep, Julia Ormond and Sally
Field. There is also a new video presentation featuring film historian Dr. Sheldon
Hall who discusses (in detail) the production history of the movie, the
identities of the main protagonists, the evolution of their relationships and Pollack's
directing style. As with any piece
featuring Sheldon Hall, you know you are in good, intelligent company with a
man who knows his subject well. At 22 minutes, it sadly passes all too soon. Also
included is the original theatrical trailer, which is generous at around 3
minutes. Included within is a superbly produced 32-page illustrated booklet
featuring a new essay by film critic Michael Brooke and an extensive interview with Sydney Pollack. It
is apparent that Brooke has obviously researched his subject to the highest
standard. Intelligent and hugely informative, Brooke’s writing is supported by
an equally impressive array of archival images. The booklet is a lovingly produced
piece that almost warrants its admission fee alone.
It’s a shame that Eureka’s Region B package doesn’t
include the Sydney Pollack commentary track as this is an addition I would have
dearly loved to hear. I can only assume this was unavailable due to copyright
restrictions, but as an admirer of Pollack’s work and legacy, I’m sure it would
provide a fascinating listen. Nevertheless, Eureka’s presentation pushes all
the right buttons and serves as a perfect example of what made 70s cinema so
unique and so damn good. Grab it without hesitation. https://www.eurekavideo.co.uk/moc/three-days-condor
early 1970s Italian Gothic chillers from director Emilio Miraglia have been released
in the UK in a dual Blu-ray/DVD box set. Bearing the tantalising umbrella title
"Killer Dames", it could equally be looked upon as a Marina Malfatti
set, since the actress occupies a prominent role in both of the films contained
prolific assistant director throughout the first half of the 60s, Emilio Miraglia's
fourth spin in the director's chair following a trio of crime thrillers was
also his first foray into terror terrain. 1971's The Night Evelyn Came Out of Her Grave (o.t. La Notte Che Evelyn Usci Della Tomba) concerns English aristocrat Lord
Cunningham (Anthony Steffan), a man devastated by the passing of his titian-haired
wife Evelyn, who he suspected was being unfaithful. Struggling to overcome his
grief over her death and rage at her perceived infidelity, Cunningham lures attractive
redheaded women to his castle residence on the outskirts of London where he
first seduces then tortures them in a dungeon kitted out with S&M gear. Cunningham's
doctor (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) convinces him that remarriage is the only way to stem
his unravelling sanity, whereafter he meets and falls for the beautiful Gladys (Marina
Malfatti). They wed and at first it appears that the doctor's advice was sound.
But then the slayings begin...
screenplay, which Miraglia co-wrote with Fabio Pittorru and Massimo Felsatti, is
an intoxicating blend of Gothic mystery and stylish giallo, top-heavy with the
staple ingredients of the latter – copious nudity and sadistic killing. In one
particularly nasty sequence a victim is thrown into an animal enclosure where
the canidae residents rip out her intestines. Director of photography Gastone
di Giovanni brings plenty of visual lustre to the show and Bruno Nicolai
provides a dreamy cocktail lounge score. Although the pace slackens a tad here
and there and the sadomasochistic facet affords it an unnecessarily sleazy vibe,
in summation it’s a compelling enough little number which keeps one engaged and
guessing up until the last reel – bristling with unpredictable double and
triple crosses – and its slightly abrupt conclusion. Steffan makes for a solid
leading man, slipping back and forth between cultured sophistication and sweaty
paranoia, whilst Malfatti is delightful as the beleaguered heroine.
next film (and Evelyn's bedmate in
this set, surely not coincidentally also featuring a key character by that
name) was the following year's The Red
Queen Kills Seven Times (1972, o.t. La
Dama Uccide Sette Volte, a.k.a. The
Lady in Red Kills Seven Times - its onscreen title here).
the wake of their grandfather's murder by a masked figure cloaked in crimson, two
sisters (Barbara Bouchet and Marina Malfatti) inherit his castle abode. But the
murders continue, believed by some to be perpetrated by the mythical ‘Red Queen’
who, family legend has it, returns every 100 years to claim seven lives. Could that
possibly be the case? Or is there something more insidious going on?
has to be said that some aspects of Red
Queen are a little clichéd (it's one of those films where, when a character
utters those guaranteed-death-sentence words "I know who the killer
is" you just know they’ll get bumped off five minutes later without having
had time to spill the beans) and the otherwise creepy titular killer is
slightly undermined by a cartoonish burst of manic laughter accompanying each murder.
Nevertheless, in this writer's opinion it's the better film of the pair, slicker
paced with a superior narrative that builds to a more satisfying climax, and boasts
more imaginative death sequences than its predecessor (one memorably grisly impaling
is staged atop a spiked fence). Oh, and it also showcases an early Sybil
Danning performance, the Miraglia/Pittorru script ensuring the actress has
barely a single scene in which she isn't required to shed her clothing. The
director maintains a fine level of ‘who's-doin'-it?’ intrigue that, as with Evelyn, keeps the audience in suspense
until the final reveal (though seasoned giallo buffs will have little
difficulty seeing through the veritable shoal of red herrings), and there are
plenty of standout moments; a stylish nightmare sequence which culminates with
Barbara Bouchet strapped to a torture rack will certainly pique the prurient
proclivities of her fans. Bruno Nicolai serves up an infectiously chirrupy
score (you'll be humming it long after the end credits have rolled) and Alberto
Spagnoli's beautiful cinematography ensures that there’s always something on
screen to admire, whether it be the atmospheric Gothicism of the castle
interiors or the striking décor in the (then) modern apartments.
Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess
opens on a desolate Quebec City just before nightfall. Overcast skies, drenched
streets, and a still rustling wind suggest the tranquility of a recently
concluded storm. The camera moves toward a house, easing through an open
window. Inside, a dead body, that of a lawyer named Vilette, lies bludgeoned on
the floor. A man in priest’s cassock, which he soon removes, flees the scene
under cover of darkness. He is then observed by another priest as he hurriedly
enters a rectory. About a minute into this 1953 film, there has been a murder,
a passing glimpse of the assailant, and a witness, and a previously serene
environment is now the backdrop for a sinister scenario. Thus we have many of
the main ingredients necessary to set up a prototypical Hitchcock story.
But this story goes one brilliant step further. Based on the 1902
play by French-Canadian Paul Anthelme, Nos
deux consciences (Our Two Consciences), I
Confess has the murderer, in actuality a sexton named Otto Keller (O.E.
Hasse), tell the real priest, Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift), about
his deed. The catch, of course, is that Michael cannot reveal what he knows due
to the strictures of confidential admission. Even if this wasn’t a perfect
murder—Otto only wanted to steal some money—it was a perfect confession.
The murder is more than simply an illegal secret Michael must
conceal, however. Visiting the scene of the crime the next day, his own
behavior raises suspicion, eventually to the point that he becomes the prime
suspect for Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden). And when the unhappily married Ruth
Grandfort (Anne Baxter) greets Michael and passionately mutters, “We’re free,”
it becomes clear that indeed Michael also has reason for wanting the lawyer
dead: he and Ruth harbor a taboo, though presently platonic, love, and only
Vilette knew about it. So the question then becomes not how the characters will
react to the crime itself, but how they will function following the confession,
how all involved will deftly handle the aftermath of this crime that benefits
more than just the murderer, and potentially leaves the consequences to fall on
an innocent man.
George Tabori and William Archibald are credited with the
screenplay of I Confess (one of only
two writing credits ever for Archibald), but the film was rumored to have
involved nearly 12 writers at various points in its eight-year preproduction.
Yet with so many cooks working on the broth, I Confess retains a fair amount of Hitchcock flavor. It is even
tempting to further read into it a personal connection for the director, given
that he was raised Catholic and identified with the religious setting,
appreciating Father Logan’s adherence to his religious principles, for
While Clift’s Method acting background (and his drinking) sometimes
ran contrary to Hitchcock’s preference for blindly obedient and unquestioning
actors, the two evidently worked well enough to elicit an excellent performance
by the astonishing young star, already with two Oscar nominations under his
belt and on his way to a third, for From
Here to Eternity (1953). To see Clift’s face as Hasse tells him about the
murder is an acting master class in close-up. Held in a single take, Clift’s
expressive features register his shock at the announcement, his guilty consideration
of its advantageous value, his acceptance of its significance, and his return
to priestly concern, all with the mere crinkle of a nose, blink of an eye,
facial twitch, or furrowed brow. There is no doubt Clift had one of the
screen’s more breathtaking faces, but more amazing is what he could do with it,
and we see it all in just this one shot. Costars Malden and Baxter fit their
roles well, but Clift in general gives a type of nuanced performance rarely
seen in a Hitchcock film.
In the opening sequences of I
Confess, Dimitri Tiomkin’s exuberant score pounds to operatic rhythms
matched by camera movement and editing, rising to a crescendo of high-pitched
tension as all of the above mentioned pieces are put into place. Things calm
down not long after this breakneck opening, though, settling to a statelier
pace with extensive passages of dialogue, detailed procedural interrogations,
and later, a prolonged trial sequence. Even the basic generic tenor switches
gear for a time to have its drive be the forbidden romance rather than the
murder. Before the 30-minute mark, it is clear that Michael knows too much,
Otto and his scheming wife Alma, played by famed German actress Dolly Haas in
her only American role, both know he knows too much, and Larrue knows everybody
knows more than they’re telling. The main problem with I Confess, as far as its maintaining a consistent interest, is that
we too know more than we should. Where I
Confess falters is that by this point, not even half way through the
picture, everything is more or less explained, except for perhaps how and when
the truth will be revealed, and much of what transpires until that moment is
simply getting in the way.
Charlton Heston fans will appreciate the fact that one of his few major films not to be released on home video has finally made it to DVD through MGM. "Number One" (released in certain countries under the title "Pro") is an off-beat vehicle for the superstar, who was then at his peak of popularity. The fact that the movie under-performed at the box-office and failed to score with critics didn't diminish Heston's status as a leading man. He would go on to star in such hits as "The Omega Man", "Skyjacked", "Soylent Green" "Earthquake", "Midway"and "Airport '75"- with cameos in the popular "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers". The poor response to "Number One" doesn't diminish its many merits - and the fact that Heston was willing to play against type in a largely unsympathetic role. For the film, he reunited with director Tom Gries, with whom he made the acclaimed 1968 Western "Will Penny". Curiously, both movies center on the same theme: a macho man who can't come to grips with the fact that he is aging and, therefore, his chosen way of life is threatened. In "Will Penny", Heston played the title character: a middle-aged cowboy who feels the inevitable aches and pains of trying to maintain a career that is clearly suited for younger men. Similarly, in "Number One" he plays "Cat" Catlan, a star quarterback for the New Orleans Saints football team. Catlan has seen plenty of fame and glory as the team's Golden Boy and the idol of the crowds. But now he is 40 years old and, although still in Herculean physical condition compared to most men his age, he's fallen victim to the constant brutalities he suffers on the field. The film opens on a particularly disastrous game in which Catlan makes some serious misjudgments about plays and bungles some key passes. The result is an embarrassing loss for the team. The Saints' gruff coach Southerd (John Randolph) isn't ready to give up on Catlin but seemingly every other team member is. Catlan is subjected to some cruel jokes and he has to contend with the fact that a much younger player (Richard Elkins) is breathing down his neck, hoping to replace him as quarterback. Things aren't much better at home for Catlan. His long-suffering wife Julie (Jessica Walter) patiently endures his mysterious absences, unpredictable mood swings and volatile temper. She is a very successful fashion designer but Catlan is "old school" when it comes to the role of wives. He wants Julie to stay home and cater to his needs. In the midst of one of their frequent fights, he even stoops so low as to cruelly tease her about her inability to conceive a baby. Still, she sticks with him even when he confesses to having an affair with an another attractive, self-made woman, Ann (Diana Muldaur). Faced with the fact that his career is winding down, Catlan reluctantly explores his options for his post-NFL life. They aren't very enticing. His best friend Richie (Bruce Dern), is an obnoxious former Saints player who brags about having gotten out of the game at age 34. He now runs a very successful car leasing business and lives a playboy lifestyle. He wants Catlan to work for him, a prospect that doesn't sit well with the aging quarterback. He also gets an offer from a computer company to work for them but the idea of dealing of being surrounded by machines in the confines of an office is repugnant to him.Ultimately, Catlan is inspired by his wife to go out on a high note. During one of their rare moments of domestic detente, she convinces him that he still has some good games in his future if he can shake off the funk and get his confidence back. The film's climactic game is the very definition of mixed emotions. Catlan performs well and has his mojo back but the movie's ambiguous final shot is anything but uplifting.
Tom Gries was a good director for Heston. He somehow managed to tamp down Heston's larger-than-life personality and afford him the opportunity to play everyday men. In "Number One", Heston is subject to the sorts of problems that plague most middle-aged men. He's nervous about his future. He often takes his frustrations out on the people closest to him. He tries to reassert his youth by exerting his sexual prowess through having an affair. Throughout it all, Heston admirably does not try to make Catlan into a hero. There is a level of sympathy accorded to him because of the emotional and physical stress he is under but his sheer disregard for others makes him more a villain than a hero. (He even refuses to give fans his autograph). Even worse is his sheer selfishness in how he deals with his wife's needs. He feels threatened by the success she is enjoying in her own career and therefore diminishes her achievements. Heston gives one of his finest performances, ironically, in what was one of his least-seen films.He gets able support from the woefully-underrated Jessica Walter, whose performance a couple of years later in "Play Misty For Me" should have assured her of major stardom (and an Oscar nomination). Director Gries also utilizes the talents of real-life football players, some of whom exhibit impressive acting skills. Diana Muldaur also excels as the siren who lures Catlan into her bed. There is an air of authenticity to the film, primarily because Gries shot much of it in front of packed stadiums. (Cinematographer Michael Hugo's work is especially impressive). Gries also captures the feel of New Orleans back in the day, capitalizing on the local scenery, jazz clubs and even getting the great Al Hirt to perform a number and do a bit of acting. About the only dated aspects of the film concern the off-the-field activities of the NFL players. Catlan complains that they are paid like peasants, which was probably true in 1969, but is a rather laughable notion today. Also, the NFL team is required to wear jackets and ties when traveling to or leaving the stadium, another rule that would be virtually unenforceable by contemporary standards.
"Number One" never found its audience in 1969 but hopefully the crisp, impressive DVD release from MGM will find help retro movie lovers appreciate its merits. The film did have at least one critic who appreciated the movie and Heston's performance. Writing in the New York Times, critic Howard Thompson wrote: "Charlton Heston, minus a
beard, a loincloth, a toga or the Red Sea, tackles a starkly unadorned role in
one of the most interesting and admirable performances of his career…If Heston
could have been better, we don’t know how." Our sentiments exactly.
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London may have been the epicenter of the sexual revolution in the mid-1960s but that still didn't make it easy to see adult entertainment on the screen. The dreaded Office of the Censor wielded Draconian power as the guardians of British morality. Hence, the only place you could see anything remotely erotic on film was through 8mm "loops", short films that ran only minutes. The closest mainstream cinemas got to playing films with nudity was through pretentious "documentaries" that exposed the sordid side of London's nightlife or life in a nudist colony. In reality, these denouncements of promiscuous sex existed strictly to capitalize on promiscuous sex and everyone knew it. Pete Walker was an enterprising young entrepreneur who tried to fill the gap for sex-starved Britons by shooting hastily-arranged, no-budget black and white exploitation films that lasted only minutes. Walker had started in the even more staid early part of the decade by hiring well-endowed, free-spirited young woman to "star" in his modest productions. There was no shortage of talent, as Briton did have a booming market in glamour magazines that featured nude models and starlets. Walker would shoot the silent B&W films on 8mm before graduating to 16mm. The final product would be sold in local book shops for extravagant prices. Walker and the store made tidy profits and the consumer could feast his eyes on some bare female flesh. Everyone was a winner.
In 1969 Walker decided to do something far more ambitious by creating a film with an actual story line and populated by people who could really act. The result was "For Men Only" (AKA "Hot Girls For Men Only"), a ribald comedy that ran a scant 43 minutes but had production values that looked like "Gone With the Wind" compared to his earlier efforts. David Kernan (who played Pvt. Hitch in "Zulu" a few years before) plays Freddie Horn, a young man engaged to marry Rosalie (Andrea Allen). However, she demands that he quit his job as fashion editor for a prominent journal because he is generally assigned to interview beautiful young models who wear barely-there new clothing lines. She's right to be jealous, as Freddie has been living quite the life, indulging in the "fringe benefits" of being around so many willing young women. Reluctantly, he applies for a job as a writer for a bland magazine that will ensure he has no exposure to the fairer sex. He is summoned from London to the countryside to meet his prospective new employer, Miles Fanthorpe (Derek Aylward). He meets Fanthorpe at a local church where he is giving a stern lecture on morality and the decay of society, which he attributes to permissive sex and increasing tolerance of homosexuality. The small crowd responds enthusiastically to his conservative, fire-and-brimstone rant. Freddie is understandably depressed at the prospect of working for such a man but the first clue that not all is as it seems occurs when Fanthorpe gives him a lift back to his manor house- in an Aston Martin DB5. Once at the house, Fanthorpe comes clean. His uses his reputation as a conservative prude to mask his real personality which is that of a sex-obsessed rogue. Fanthorpe then introduces Freddie to his staff, which consists of busty young women of loose morals who spend the entire day romping around in bikinis or sunning themselves while topless. Freddie is understandably delighted to accept the job of writing for one of Fanthorpe's publications that deals with nude models. Within minutes, he is immersed in a virtual orgy- and he understandably forgets a vitally important social engagement for that evening. Seems he has to accompany Rosalie and her parents to a black tie dinner to celebrate their wedding anniversary. The parents can't stand Freddie as it is and have warned Rosalie that he is addicted to skirt chasing. When Freddie doesn't turn up for dinner, Rosalie sets out to trace his whereabouts and ends up at the country manner where she sees the real scenario. Naturally, through happenstance even her prudish parents show up along with a local parson, resulting in a chaotic scene that culminates with a bevy of bikini girls being stuffed into the DB5 for a fast getaway. (Not even 007 enjoyed that privilege.) Although one could term the film as a "sexploitation" title, that doesn't do it justice. "For Men Only" is actually quite amusing and features some very fine comedic performances. The sexual content is quite mild but there is something erotic about seeing these lovely young actresses cavort about while scantily clad. It's like Matt Helm on steroids.
The other feature, "School for Sex", also features Derek Aylward in essentially the same kind of role he played in "For Men Only". Here he is an upper-crust type named Giles Wingate who inherited a manor house and a fortune and blew through it all by marrying a series of opportunistic golddiggers. To pay off his debts, he engages in some dubious financial tactics that end up with him being criminally prosecuted. He's spared a jail sentence and put on probation but still needs to find a way to pay for his lavish lifestyle as well as the salary for his elderly, intensely loyal butler. He comes up with an inspired idea. Since he was snookered by so many lovely young women, he decides to open a "School for Sex" on his premises. The idea is to charge beautiful young women a hefty fee for instructing them how to seduce wealthy men and ensure their financial well-being. In order to carry out the plan, he needs some female assistance. He hires the Duchess of Burwash, a widowed hot-to-trot middle-aged cougar played by Rose Alba, who main claim to fame was her short but memorable appearance as the SPECTRE "widow" who gets socked by James Bond in the opening of "Thunderball". She's a boozy opportunist but she delivers the goods in terms of instructing her students how to seduce naive men. Before long, there are more students than Wingate can accommodate. Rich families are sending their daughters for instruction, thinking they will be attending a finishing school for sophisticated young women. Instead, they will run around naked and engage in sex techniques. The film comes to an ironic conclusion as Wingate becomes a victim of his own success. "School for Sex" is described by Pete Walker as the worst movie he ever made. He blames himself for not getting a professional screenwriter and trying to keep costs down by writing the script himself. Although not as polished as "For Men Only", it still has its amusing moments and there is plenty of eye candy in the form of the lovely young ladies. The performances of Aywayrd and Alba are also very funny. The film is a bit more daring than "For Men Only" in that it does include topless sequences and a glimpse or two of full nudity.
Kino Lorber has released both films as a Blu-ray double feature edition. Both remastered prints look excellent and the special features in the package are most welcome. Pete Walker provides a new filmed interview and gives some interesting insights into the world of sexploitation films in England during the 1960s. There are also numerous Walker "loops", the early B&W silent nudie flicks as well as a trailer for "School for Sex" and alternate footage from the film featuring full nudity that was shot for the Japanese market.
In summary, it's a delightful trip down Mammary Lane for anyone who appreciates the low-brow pleasures of such "naughty" entertainment.
Among our most popular articles are those pertaining to video availability of vintage erotica (You old perverts!). Vinegar Syndrome, which has rescued countless grindhouse titles from the 1960s-1980s, has just released one of their most ambitious titles yet, "All Night at the Po-No", consisting of three DVDs packed with features and shorts that all played at the Po-No Theatre in L.A during the 1970s. Don't be immediately dismissive of all of these films, as some do show talent in the construction of reasonably compelling story lines. Surprisingly, when given an actual script to follow, some of the performers also show skill in terms of acting ability, so you can at least assure your significant other that you are watching these only for their artistic merits.
Here is the official press release:
Vinegar Syndrome presents its new ‘Storefront Theatre
Collection’, which celebrates both the strange and often homegrown productions
that played in ‘mini-theatres’ of the 70s. This special-edition 3-disc set is
uniquely packaged in 100% recycled card stock and features a heavy-duty
Throughout the early to mid 1970s, the most common way to
see underground feature films was to visit a ‘storefront theatre.’ Sometimes
referred to as ‘mini-theatres’ or ‘shoebox theatres,’ these small venues were
often converted retail stores armed with nothing more than a couple projectors
and nailed down folding chairs. And, unlike larger houses like the Pussycat
chain, the films screened in these small and cozy spaces were low-budget 16mm
efforts, affectionately known as one-day-wonders.
Hundreds of these theatres dotted the American landscape,
and with them, the most truly independent and underground filmmakers found a
place to exhibit their work.
In this first volume we focus on Los Angeles’ PO-NO
Theatre with 12 examples of LA made films, produced between 1970 and 1973.
Included titles are Huck Walker’s unrelentingly ALL AMERICAN HUSTLER, Anthony
Spinelli’s bizarre vampire comedy SUCKULA, Rik Tazi’ner’s low rent costume
saga, THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF HERCULES, as well as anonymously directed
efforts like CARNAL-GO-ROUND, SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE, HOMER THE LATE COMER, and
the experimental subjective-camera feature, EROTIC POINT OF VIEW, in addition
to five more surprise feature films featuring early genre stars like Rene Bond,
Sandy Dempsey, John Holmes, and more. All films have been scanned in 2k from
rare original theatrical prints to re-create the experience of stumbling into
the PO-NO late one evening and not leaving until dawn the next day.
Directed by: Various
1970-1973 / 740 minutes / Color / 1.33:1
Actors: Rene Bond, John Holmes, Sandy Dempsey, etc, etc…
• All films scanned and restored in 2k from ultra-rare
• Features two bonus short films
Cagney is Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., USN in “The Gallant Hours,”
available on Blu-ray for the first time by Kino Lorber. Affectionately known as
“Bull” Halsey, the movie is a biography of
Halsey told in a semi-documentary style with most of the narration provided by
Robert Montgomery, who introduces people, locations and explains the action
occurring off stage. Montgomery, a distinguished Us Naval officer in WWII, also happens to be the director of the movie
and this is his final effort on film.
movie opens at Halsey’s retirement ceremony, incorrectly stated as 22 November
1945 (Halsey retired from active duty in March 1947). Reflecting in his cabin with
his steward, retiring Chief Petty Officer Manuel Salvador Jesus Maravilla (Leon
Lontoc), the movie flashes back to the Battle of Guadalcanal as Halsey takes
command of American forces in the South Pacific on 16 October 1942. Once he
arrives on board his flag ship, Halsey forms staff and they come up with a strategy
for holding the island and defeating the Japanese. Halsey is a commanding,
straightforward man making the best of grim circumstances, but he’s earned the
respect of the men he commands. At the time the Japanese were still in a strong
position to win the war, but in spite of the odds against them, American forces
prevailed at Guadalcanal making the American victory in the Pacific a turning
point in the war against the Japanese Empire.
movie is unusual in a number of different ways. It has an unconventional score
composed by Roger Wagner, using a choir rather than an orchestra. There is some
incidental music, but according to IMDB, there was a musicians strike during
production and the score is largely sung by the Roger Wagner Chorale. The movie
predates other WWII movies like “Tora! Tora! Tora!” by depicting key figures on
the opposing side in their preparations for battle, which humanizes them in a
thoughtful and sincere way. The movie is unique for a WWII drama as it contains
no actual battle scenes, has no action scenes and relies heavily on the
characters and narrator explaining to the audience what’s going on. Suspense is
created via the radio transmissions and the actions of Halsey and his staff as
they react to the battle. Most of the scenes take place on sets recreating
aircraft and ship interiors with location shooting in San Diego standing in for
Guadalcanal and ship deck scenes. Somehow, it all works and I thoroughly
enjoyed the movie.
film benefits from beautiful black and white photography by Joseph MacDonald
which is filled with scenes of self reflection by Halsey in his spartan
quarters as he listens to radio messages and reacts to news. Cagney gives an
outstanding performance as the grizzled and outspoken Halsey and the movie includes
a wonderful cast of supporting actors with Dennis Weaver in a memorable
performance as Halsey’s aid and pilot, Lieutenant Commander Andrew Jefferson
Lowe III. Richard Jaeckel is also on hand in a brief role as battle weary
pilot, Lt. Commander Roy Webb.
in June 1960 (less than a year after Halsey’s death) by United Artists, the
movie would be one of the last for Cagney. It has been criticized by
nit-pickers for several historical inaccuracies and the viewer should be aware
that the movie takes a few liberties, but these are minor and do not detract
from the story. The film has a 115 minute running time and the Kino Lorber Blu-ray
looks beautiful and sounds terrific. The disc contains the trailer for this and
two other movies as the only extras.
Westerns exist in a surreal alternate universe filled with new landscapes, new
faces, new music, extreme violence and a slightly askew version of the Hollywood
western story that veered into new territory literally and figuratively. The
Spanish desert locations are unfamiliar and surreal filled with gunshots that
ricochet, echo and often sound like cannons. Good and bad men are not as we may
perceive them and behave in unexpected ways. Women and children are treated
harshly and often come to an early demise. Anachronistic cowboys, lawmen,
gunslingers, bandits and outlaws use guns and ammunition that may not have
existed during the period, but somehow it doesn’t really matter. We accept the
juxtaposition whether we are aware of it or not because Spaghetti Westerns are
a fantasy version of the fantasy west created by Hollywood. Hundreds of
Spaghetti Westerns followed the release of Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of
Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and
changed our expectations for the genre.
Maria Volonte and Thomas Milian team up as unlikely allies in “Face to Face,” a
1967 Spaghetti Western available on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The movie opens
with history professor Brett Fletcher (Volonte) announcing to his students that
he’s leaving for Texas due to poor health. In his new life in the desert,
Fletcher looks pale and sickly, spending his days relaxing in the sun with his
mistress (Linda Veras). A stagecoach stops at his hotel with two sheriff
deputies escorting the bandit Solomon “Beauregard” Bennet (Milian). Fletcher
takes pity on Bennet, who takes advantage of the diversion and holds Fletcher as
his hostage and is shot during the escape. When he passes out from his wound, Fletcher
continues to help him escape.
agent Charlie Siringo (William Berger) runs into Bennet and Fletcher and seeks
to infiltrate Bennet’s Raiders by pretending to be an outlaw himself and
eventually succeeds. Fletcher is sent away by Bennet and convinced to return
back home in the East. While waiting for his train in Purgatory City, he sees
Bennet ride into town. Fletcher saves Bennet in a gunfight with about a dozen men
seeking Bennet’s bounty. Joining up with Bennet, they meet up with former
members of Bennet’s Raiders. Bennet is a sort of Robin Hood and the leader of a
large group of people, including women and children, living in the desert. The
women in the group vary from the beautiful Maria (Jolanda Modio) to Cattle
Annie (Carole Andre) who also happens to have a crush on Bennet, but both women
have very little to do other than to represent the Hollywood western tropes of
a mistress and the girl who dresses like a boy. They live a harsh life and are
treated badly, but stand by Bennet and Fletcher.
by the group and their way of life, Fletcher takes an active role as the
raiders rob a train and the passengers. Fletcher comes up with a bank robbery
plan that results in the capture of Bennet, but reveals Siringo as a traitor.
Fletcher takes over the gang running it with an intellectual ruthlessness, his
health improving as his character becomes more outlaw than professor. He leads
the group on a trek across the desert where many are killed by bounty hunters.
Bennet escapes his captors with Siringo hot on his trail and they eventually
meet up with Fletcher for a final showdown.
“Face To Face” takes place during the American Civil War, the movie does not
depict the war in any way other then making reference to it in a few scenes.
Charlie Siringo was a real man and a Pinkerton agent, too, but I suspect the
similarities end there. The movie has political overtones dealing with race,
class, gender and fascism and the 1967 release hints at the escalation of the
Vietnam War, but it can be enjoyed on its own merits as an engaging western.
by Sergio Sollima (“The Big Gundown,” “Run Man Run”), the movie didn’t receive
a theatrical release in America until 1976 which is a pity because it is one of
the better entries in the genre. Fortunately, “Face To Face” is available on Blu-ray
from Kino Lorber and it looks and sounds very good. Volonte is terrific and so are
Milian and Berger. The opening credits are reminiscent of those for “The Good,
the Bad and the Ugly” and the movie includes an outstanding score by Ennio
Morricone. The extra features on the disc include a trailer for another Kino Lorber
release and an option to watch the movie in the original Italian. The Italian
version is not in HD and looks its age, but includes English subtitles and is a
welcome feature for fans of the genre.
Carlos Tobalina was among the most prolific of adult film directors. From the late 1960s through the late 1980s, Tobalina ground out dozens of grind house porn flicks and, no fool he, appeared in any number of them as well, though often not in the sex scenes. What set Tobalina's films apart was the fact that he at least tried to instill some quality and occasional social messages into what was otherwise undistinguished fare. Tobalina, who died at age 64 in 1989, would probably have appreciated the fact that Vinegar Syndrome has been releasing quite a few of his titles in remastered DVD editions that probably look better than they did back in the day. Among these releases is a Tobalina double feature that he directed under one of his alter ego names, Troy Benny. Both of the movies have a common theme in that they star one William Margold, who apparently was quite influential in the adult film industry of the 1980s and is still appearing in sleazy movies today even though he is in his seventies. He is also a social activist, having founded the Free Speech Coalition and established a charity to look after down-and-out veterans of the porn industry. First up in the double feature is "Lust Inferno", a 1982 production in which Margold appears as a corrupt TV evangelist (is there any other kind?). Margold, who is curiously billed as "Mr. William Margold" (not even Orson Welles had that much clout), stars as Rev. Jerry, a charismatic preacher who rips off the suckers in his audience by indulging in the usual fire-and-brimstone sermons. He also "cures" invalids who he pays off in cash backstage after the event. At home, Rev. Jerry is very much a family man, but it's probably not the kind of family most of us could relate to. His wife (Rita Ricardo) is frustrated that the Rev won't indulge in intercourse with her because he believes the act is only for procreation. He does indulge in some other sexual activities with her that are entirely for his satisfaction. Consequently, she goes off to "group therapy" sessions that are actually bi-sexual orgies. Rev. Jerry's oldest daughter, Dora (Tamara Longley) does the same with her teenage friends because dad won't allow her to date anyone. (The effectiveness of that strategy seems to be dubious, at best.) Meanwhile, the youngest daughter, Lucy (Marguerite Nuit) is also finding it hard to deal with her raging hormones. She asks for- and receives- her mother's permission to adopt a disguise and seek work in the local bordello that is run by Madame Blanche (Lina Spencer). What Lucy and no one else in the family knows is that her father is Madame Blanche's best customer. He pays thousands of dollars for S&M sex sessions with Blanche's young hookers. This plot development leads to the film's ironic conclusion in which Reverend Jerry finally pays a terrible price for his immorality- but it also results in a major "Yuck" factor for the viewer. The hardcore scenes are pretty standard for the era with nothing particularly inventive going on but at least director Tobalina attempts to make a statement about the craze for supporting corrupt TV preachers. In fact, he was a bit ahead of his time. Within a few years some of the best-known televangelists would be brought down in their own sex scandals.
The most enjoyable aspect of the presentation is the recent interview with William Margold on a commentary track. Margold describes himself as a blowhard and its difficult to take issue with him. We're all for admiring anyone who takes pride in their work but Margold discusses "Lust Inferno" as though it's a major achievement. He indicates that he based his interpretation of the Reverend on Richard Brooks' 1960 film version of "Elmer Gantry" and says that back in the day he even met Burt Lancaster and correctly predicted he would win an Oscar for the role. The most amusing aspect of the commentary track has Margold, who was obviously watching a sub-standard VHS version prior to the film's restoration for DVD, complain constantly about the poor quality of the tape. He also rails against the fact that the version they are watching is missing key sequences, only to have him proven wrong when they turn up later. Margold, like most of the leading men in this peculiar branch of the film industry, was probably chosen more for his physical attributes than his acting abilities, but he seems to think that his work here is top-notch both. In fact, his performance is par for the course for porn films and there is no indication he possessed any admirable skills outside of the boudoir. Speaking of which, Margold waxes nostalgic about some of his sex partners in the movie, including one woman who became his wife and another who he continues to pine away for because he never appeared in a sex scene with her, sort of like the fisherman who gripes about "the one who got away". Regarding stock footage in the film of real life audiences at televangelist events, Margold chuckles and wonders if they ever knew they would end up in a porn film. It's also quite eye-opening to listen to Margold give the play-by-play for his on-screen antics and to provide opinions about his personal techniques for self-pleasure. Margold may indeed be a blowhard but he makes for an entertaining commentator. You have to admire Vinegar Syndrome for creating some value-added content that is both funny and insightful because it gives you an idea of what the adult film industry was like from the viewpoint of one of its veterans.
The second feature on the DVD is "Marathon", a lazy production even by the low standards one would have expected for the genre. Shot in 1982, it's a quickie that features a lot of major stars from the industry including Ron Jeremy, Jamie Gillis. Sharon Mitchell and John Holmes. The "plot" simply features a large group of swingers who attend a costume party at Gillis's apartment. Everyone is getting it on while attired in crazy costumes when a phone call alerts them that a friend (William Margold) and his wife have been injured in a skiing accident and they are both in the hospital. Deciding to provide the kind of bedside companionship that no doctor would, they all barge into the hospital suite where Margold and his wife are being treated. Here, while still in costume, they resume the orgy. The therapy works as both patients join in the action. The film is played entirely for laughs and is therefore about as erotic as a dip in a pool of ice water.
The transfers of both features look very good with vibrant colors and enough original film stock grain to make you nostalgic for the era.
Cornell Woolrich is a writer whose work was much loved
and cherished by fans of film noir. The
Internet Movie Database lists 102 credits for him for both film and TV
shows—titles including “Rear Window,” “The Bride Wore Black,” “The Night Has a
Thousand Eyes,” “Black Angel,” “Fear in the Night,” and “Phantom Lady,” He
didn’t write any screenplays that I know of. The films and TV shows were all adapted from a prolific output of
stories written under his Woolrich and William Irish pseudonyms, and under his
real name, George Hopley.
While Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M.
Cain make up the Big Three in noir fiction, Woolrich carved out a special niche
for himself. Chandler, and Hammett wrote about tough guy heroes who usually
overcame the web of evil they encountered. Cain’s heroes weren’t always so
lucky, but at least they had a toughness about them that gave them a fighting
chance. Woolrich’s protagonists, on the other hand, were just the opposite.
They were guys or gals not really equipped by experience or temperament to
handle what fate had in store for them, but who tried to do the best they could
to keep their heads above water. There was always a sense of impending,
irrevocable doom, and a surrealistic atmosphere that set his tales apart from
Nowhere was that surreal quality more prominent than in one
particular low-budget feature from Nero Pictures called “The Chase “(1946). Directed by Arthur D. Ripley and adapted by
screenwriter Philip Yordan from Woolrich’s story “The Black Path of Fear,” “The
Chase” stars Robert Cummings as Chuck Scott, a man down on his luck in Miami
who finds the wallet of rich gangster, Eddie Roman, played menacingly by Steve
Cochran. When Chuck knocks on the door
of Roman’s mansion to return the wallet, you’d think he might have been a
little leery when a peep hole opens and we get a glimpse of an eyeball peering
out, and we hear Peter Lorre’s unmistakable voice asking, “What do you want?” Lorre
plays Gino, Roman’s right hand man.
Chuck is the proverbial fly stepping into the spider’s
parlor. For being such an honest guy, Roman hires him as his chauffeur. While
under Roman’s employ he meets the gangster’s wife Lorna, a sad blonde played by
French actress Michelle Morgan. Roman is a mean guy who slaps his wife around
and likes to inflict psychological cruelty, like a kid tearing the wings off of
flies. He likes to be in the driver’s seat too. Literally. In a bit of
weirdness concocted by Yordan, Roman has separate brake and accelerator pedals
in the back of his limo so he can take over when Chuck’s behind the wheel. He
tests Chuck’s tolerance for mental torture by driving the speedometer past 120,
while trying to outrace a train on the tracks ahead. Chuck remains cool and at
the last minute Eddie hits the brake. Roman turns to Gino, who’s looking a
little green around the gills, and says: “Hey, he’s alright.”
Chuck’s main job seems to be chauffeuring Lorna around on
long drives at night. She likes to stop at the beach and go out on a pier and
stare out over the water. Chuck feels sorry for her and besides, she ain’t bad to
look at. She asks Chuck what’s out there and he tells her Cuba, and she says
“Take me.” Despite his fear that Eddie is suspicious, he takes her to Cuba by
ship and no sooner do they stop in a Havana bar for a drink and a quick dance,
when Lorna collapses in his arms with a knife in her back. He’s suspect No. 1,
naturally, but a Cuban cop (Alexis Minotis) gives him a chance to try and
explain his way out of it. And, of course, all he does is get himself into
further trouble. He knows Eddie or Gino did it, but he’s got to get some
evidence. He has to make a break for it. All of this leads up to a really
strange midpoint in the story where suddenly everything takes a wild,
Yordan’s screenplay for “The Chase” plays fast and loose
with Woolrich’s original story, and how much you’ll enjoy the movie may depend
on how much of a Woolrich purist you are. Yordan and producer Seymour Nebenzal changed
the structure of the book. The novel opens with Lorna’s murder and Chucks’
attempts to clear himself. He finds an ally in a Cuban woman whose husband was
killed by cops, and the Miami portion of the story is told in flashbacks. The
restructuring and the new ending that Yordan came up with changed the story
considerably, but by providing a new background element showing Chuck to be a
returning WW II veteran with some psychological problems, it probably seemed
more plausible to audiences in the post- war America of the mid-forties. The
returning vet unable to adapt to a corrupted civilian life became a basic trope
of the genre. “The Chase” is not pure Woolrich but in its own way, it provides an
even more nightmarish finish than the original.
“The Chase” is one of those obscure little movies that
until now has only been available in very poor copies on VHS and DVD. The
picture was so dark and murky you could hardly make out the action in the night
scenes and dialogue was obscured by noise on the soundtrack. But Kino Lorber has
released a newly restored Blu-ray mastered from 35 mm elements preserved by the
UCLA Film & Television Archive. The restored picture is excellent. Contrast
and clarity are first rate, with very few flaws. Franz Planer’s impressionistic
black and white photography is shown off to great effect. The only complaint
might be that some of the interior shots inside Roman’s mansion are now a
little too bright—somewhat jarring for a movie that takes place in the twilit
world of dreams and nightmares. The soundtrack is crystal clear, however, allowing
Michel Michelet’s lush soundtrack to be heard to full advantage.
The 1920 x 1080p disc presents the film in 1:33 full-screen
aspect ratio, and has an informative audio commentary track by Canadian
filmmaker Guy Maddin. (Maddin’s only error is to misidentify Jack Holt, who
plays an Army shrink, as Bruce Cabot). Also included are two radio adaptations
of “The Black Path of Fear,” one starring Cary Grant. Overall, Kino Lorber gets
high marks for “The Chase.” It should be in every film noir lover’s collection.
character makes an excuse for the bad behavior of Dixon Steele, a Hollywood
screenwriter played by Humphrey Bogart, by saying, “He’s a writer—people like
him can afford to be temperamental.”
in the same year as Billy Wilder’s acerbic film
noir attack on Tinsel Town, Sunset
Boulevard, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s similar assault on show business, All About Eve, Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place was nowhere near as
popular—but it was just as scathing. It may not have been a box office success,
but the picture’s reputation has grown considerably over the decades, mainly
because Bogart’s performance as a bitter, angry movie scribe ranks among his
best onscreen personas. But it’s not pretty. The guy has anger management
issues, the likes of which probably had not been seen in a mainstream film
prior to the picture’s release. Dixon Steele is a tinder box ready to explode,
and of course he does, more than once, during the course of the story. Bogart
isn’t afraid to expose a dark side of himself in his portrayal of a man who
has, as his love interest observes, “something wrong with him.”
woman is Laurel, played by Gloria Grahame (who, at the time, was married to the
director). At first she provides an alibi to the police for Steele, who might
be a suspect in a young woman’s murder. After Dixon and Laurel fall in love,
their relationship is a stormy one. As outlined in one the supplements
contained on this new Criterion disk, the “romance” mirrors that of Nicholas
Ray and Gloria Grahame’s—they also had a tempestuous bond. It was so sticky
that Grahame had to sign a contract stating she would agree to follow Ray’s
direction during the making of the film. (And talk about sex scandals... Ray later
caught Grahame in bed with his thirteen-year-old son from a previous marriage.
Grahame eventually married the
step-son after her divorce from both Ray and another spouse in-between!)
the tale revolves around an unsolved murder investigation, In a Lonely Place is really about two lost souls trying to connect.
It’s more of a melodrama than a film noir,
although the stylistic traits of the latter certainly abound. This is not a
pleasant movie; in fact, it’s quite disturbing for a picture from 1950.
Bogart’s Dix Steele is not a likable guy, and yet we watch the train wreck that
is his life with morbid fascination. Why Bogie wasn’t nominated for a Best
Actor Oscar that year is a mystery—perhaps it was because audiences may have
been turned off by the character’s mean-spirited nastiness. Nevertheless, Lonely Place is a remarkable piece of
work, not only from Bogart, but also from Grahame and director Ray.
Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray release features a 2K digital restoration
with an uncompressed soundtrack and a new audio commentary with film scholar
Dana Polan. The noteworthy supplements include a 40-minute excerpt from I’m a Stranger Here Myself, a 1975
documentary about Ray; a revealing new interview with Grahame’s biographer,
Vincent Curcio; a 2002 piece on the making of the movie, featuring filmmaker
Curtis Hanson; a radio adaptation from 1948 of the original Dorothy B. Hughes
novel and starring Robert Montgomery; and the theatrical trailer. An essay by
critic Imogen Sara Smith appears in the booklet.
you like your film noir tough, mean,
and nasty, then In a Lonely Place should
be right up your sleazy alley. At the same time, the tortured romance should
appeal to love-cynics everywhere. It’s so dark, it makes a Bogart/Bacall movie
look like a Tracy/Hepburn flick.
actors have occupied the role of Sherlock Holmes over the decades, some more suited
to the shoes of author Arthur Conan Doyle's famous consulting detective than
others. One of the finest portrayals is that by Ian Richardson. Yet, sadly, his
is also one that is often overlooked, not leastways because he played the
character just twice (in a pair of 1983 films made for television), but also
because his light was to be quickly eclipsed a year later by the arrival on TV
screens of Jeremy Brett, whose interpretation of Holmes is considered by many
to be the definitive one.
Weintraub – who produced several Tarzan movies throughout the 60s and was executive
producer on the popular long-running Ron Ely TV series –teamed up with Otto
Plaschkes (whose producer credits include Georgie
Girl and The Holcroft Covenant)
with the intention of making several Holmes adventures headlining Richardson. But
when it became apparent that Granada TV was to launch its own series starring
Brett, their plans were abandoned in a rights furore that resulted in a
substantial out of court settlement in Weintraub’s favour. The two films that
Weintraub and Plaschkes did bring to
realisation were The Hound of the Baskervilles
and The Sign of Four, two of only
four full-length Holmes novels written by Conan Doyle. Both were shot on exquisite
sets constructed at England's Shepperton Studios and include some splendid
location work utilising the likes of Devonshire country house Knightshayes
Court (doubling for Baskerville Hall) and London's River Thames (with some canny
employ of theatrical smog to abet the disguise of non-period background
The Hound of the
Baskervilles is probably the most famous of all Holmes's adventures
and one of the most filmed. Yet it is also one that largely sidelines the great
detective from the action for its middle third. The familiar plot finds our detective
investigating death believed connected to a centuries old family curse and the
legend of a demonic canine that allegedly haunts the eerie fog-wreathed
moorlands surrounding the Baskerville estate.
by Charles Edward Pogue (whose later work included David Cronenberg’s remake of
The Fly) and directed by Douglas
Hickox (whose CV includes such 70s screen favourites as Brannigan and Theatre of
Blood), like many before and since this isn't verbatim Conan Doyle. But
that certainly doesn't detract from its worth as a cracking piece of
entertainment. It's handsomely staged (the foreboding moors, awash with
swirling fog, are at night as effectively nightmarish a Grimpen Mire as ever
brought to the screen), with lush production values that completely belie its
TV movie origins. It also boasts hands down the best depiction of the spectral,
yellow-eyed titular beast to date.
however, it benefits from an endearingly charismatic central performance from
Ian Richardson; in many scenes the actor bears a startling resemblance to this
writer's favourite Holmes, Basil Rathbone. Donald Churchill's interpretation of
faithful ally Dr John Watson leans towards a bumbling nature that irks purists
and doesn't rank as one of the more noteworthy, while Martin Shaw's Sir Henry Baskerville
is hindered by horrible dubbing. Nevertheless, add in a marvellous assembly of supporting
players – including Denholm Elliott (who'd previously appeared in 1978's woeful
spoof version of the story), Glynis Barber, Ronald Lacey (as Inspector
Lestrade), Eleanor Bron, Connie Booth, Brian Blessed and Edward Judd – and
Hickox's film is markedly one of the most star-spangled versions of the
The Sign of Four is comparatively
a slightly more grounded and sedate affair, though at least Richardson's Holmes
get more screen time. Again adapted from Conan Doyle’s novel by Charles Edward Pogue,
more so than Hound it takes dramatic
liberties with its source narrative (rearranging events and introducing new,
slightly superfluous material), yet also in keeping with its predecessor it is
hugely enjoyable. Directed by Desmond Davis (Clash of the Titans), this one finds Holmes following a trail of murders
born of a broken pact between thieves relating to a treasure of precious
gemstones and jewellery.
Healy steps in as a fine Watson (though again the character is played as a
little more maladroit than his literary self) and there are strong turns by
Thorley Walters (who previously played Watson twice, opposite Christopher Lee’s
and Douglas Wilmer’s Sherlocks respectively, in 1962’s The Valley of Fear and 1975 screwball comedy The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother) and Cherie Lunghi
as the delectable Mary Morstan (who, in the novel – but not here – gets engaged
to Watson). But overall this is a less starry affair than Hound. All the same, there are nice performances from Terence Rigby
as Inspector Layton (a curious name switch, for he's clearly meant to be
Lestrade), Joe Melia as the despicable peg-legged villain of the piece and John
Pedrick as his savage sidekick.
Hound before it, The Sign of Four boasts a rich cinematic mien that bests many actual big screen Holmes adventures.
one can certainly lament that Ian Richardson made only these two Holmes movies,
that they're both exceptionally good is reward enough. And both are now available
on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Second Sight, each with a bonus audio
commentary from Holmes enthusiast David Stuart Davies. The 4K restoration for
the Blu-rays is quite honestly breathtaking; one can scarcely believe that 33-year-old
TV movies could look so good. There is, however, a caveat: the 1.78:1 aspect
ratio presentation of the two films. Back in 1983 they were shot for then-standard
4:3 television format and the decision to force fit the image to modern widescreen
TV sets has played merry havoc with the composition in some shots, at its most
injurious when the tops of heads are rudely shorn off. It’s more noticeable in The Sign of Four than in The Hound of the Baskervilles but it’s a
frequent distraction just the same. This disappointment aside though, these
releases can't come more heartily recommended, both to Holmes fans (who will
snap them up regardless of any perceived shortcomings remarked upon here) and
those who simply enjoy a good solid evening’s entertainment.
A shot from The Sign of Four in its original 4:3 aspect ratio.
The same shot as presented on Second Sight’s 1.78:1 aspect DVD and Blu-ray release.
should be noted that the Blu-ray release is coded Region B and the DVD is Region
2. The films are also being made available for download and on-demand in both
standard and high definition.
MGMhas released the 1970 Western Cannon For Cordoba as part of their burn-to-DVD line. This is yet another film that was written off as "run of the mill" at the time of its initial release but probably plays far better today when Westerns are scare commodities. The film is clearly designed to capitalize on movies such as The Professionals and The Wild Bunch, and while it certainly isn't in the league of those classics, it's a consistently engrossing and highly entertaining horse opera. Set in 1916, when the US was embroiled in assisting the Mexican government in suppressing "revolutionaries" who were really bandits, the plot centers on a crime kingpin named General Coroba (well played with charm and menace by Raf Vallone), who launches an audacious raid on American General Pershing's troops and succeeds in stealing a number of valuable cannons that will make him almost invulnerable to attack once they have been installed at his remote mountaintop fortress retreat. George Peppard is Captain Douglas, a hard-bitten and insolent cavalry officer in Pershing's command who is sent on a virtual suicide mission to infiltrate Cordoba's compound, blow up the cannons and kidnap the general. Imagine The Guns of Navarone with sombreros. He takes along the standard rag-tag team of tough guys which includes Peter Duel and the always-reliable Don Gordon, seen here in one of the most prominent roles of his career. That old chestnut of a plot device is introduced: Gordon has sworn to kill Peppard at the end of the mission for allowing his brother to be tortured to death by Cordoba.
The group pretends they are American sympathizers to the revolution and succeed in infiltrating the compound with the help of Leonora (comely Giovanna Ralli), who intends to seduce the general and then betray him in revenge for having raped her years before. The film is as gritty as it gets, and as in the Sergio Leone Westerns, there is a very thin line that separates the villains from the heroes. Peppard is in full Eastwood mode, chomping on omnipresent cigars and saying little. He betrays no sentiment and is almost as cruel as the criminal he seeks to bring to justice.
Director Paul Wendkos keeps the action moving at a fast clip and there is at least one very surprising plot device that adds considerable suspense to the story. The action sequences are stunningly staged and quite spectacular, and it's all set to a very lively and enjoyable score by Elmer Bernstein. Cannon for Coroba may not be a classic, but it's consistently well-acted and will keep you entertained throughout.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer
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Sony has released Walter Hill's 1975 directorial debut, Hard Times, on on DVD through their Sony Choice Collection. Hill was an up-and-coming screenwriter with Peckinpah's The Getaway to his credit as well as solid thrillers like The Drowning Pool, The Mackintosh Man and Hickey and Boggs. There is no evidence in Hard Times that Hill was a novice behind the camera, either. This is one of my favorite films of the period, though many retro movie fans probably haven't seen it. The story is set in 1933. Chaney (Charles Bronson) is a middle-aged drifter who ends up crossing paths with Speed (James Coburn), a fast-talking promoter of "street fights" (no holds barred matches between local tough guys with no rules or regulations). Needing some quick cash, the soft-spoken, low-key Chaney forms a partnership with the mercurial Speed. In his first match, they win big when Chaney knocks the local champ out cold with one punch. They gravitate to New Orleans where Speed can put together some high stakes fights. They are joined by Poe (Strother Martin) an amiable quasi-doctor (he had two years of medical school) with a penchant for opium but who is skilled at patching up bruised and beaten fighters. Chaney quickly becomes a local legend and draws the attention of a local fight promoter/kingpin who insists that Chaney fight a seemingly invincible slugger he has imported from Chicago. When Chaney refuses, the kingpin kidnaps Speed and holds him hostage until Chaney shows up for the high stakes fight. The script, co-written by Hill, is a prime example of how less can be more, at least in terms of dialogue. Bronson says very little during the film, but conveys much emotion with a nod of the head, the blinking of his eyes or a wry smile. This is evident in Chaney's relationship with a local down and out woman (Jill Ireland), who he basically sees for easy sex. When she presses him to convert their trysts into a meaningful relationship, Chaney simply walks out. No drama. No speeches. Similarly, the superb performances of Bronson, Coburn and Martin seem inspired by the Sam Peckinpah school of men sticking together no matter what. When Speed is kidnapped, Chaney initially refuses to help him. He correctly points out that Speed is responsible for his own reckless behavior that sees him make enemies of the wrong people and foolishly gamble away money as fast as he earns it. Yet, in a crunch, Chaney comes to his partner's aid. There is no fanfare between Chaney and Speed, who knows that, by appearing for the bout, Chaney has saved his life. Instead, just a quick handshake a "thank you." By de-emphasizing overtly sentimental gestures and dialogue, Hill makes the relationship between the trio even more moving.
Hill and his co-writers pack a lot of memorable scenes into the film's scant 93 minute running time. Aided by editor Roger Spottiswood (another future director) and cinematographer Philip Lathrop, Hill makes every frame of the film count. There isn't a slow moment or a meaningless line of dialogue. Clearly the highlights are the action sequences. This is Fight Club for the Baby Boomer generation. Bronson, who was in his 50s at the time, performs all of his own gut-wrenching fight scenes, along with co-stars Robert Tessier and Nick Dimitri. They are brutal affairs that will quickly convince you that these men are actually beating each other up. The stunt coordination is among the best I've seen in any film. The film's more whimsical sequences are aided immeasurably by Barry DeVorzon's addictive score.
With Hard Times, Bronson reached the pinnacle of his acting career. It's wonderful to see him reunited with Coburn, his co-star from The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. However, Coburn became even more interesting as an actor as he grew older whereas Bronson grabbed for the low-hanging fruit and began to concentrate primarily on by-the-numbers action movies. The film remains a testament to his abilities as an actor- and credit Walter Hill for bringing those out in full force.
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Peck is a Canadian fighter pilot serving with the British RAF in WWII Burma in
“The Purple Plain,” a 1954 military drama available on Blu-Ray for the first
time by Kino Lorber. After losing his wife (Josephine Griffin seen in
flashbacks) during an air raid by the German Luftwaffe in London, Squadron
Leader Bill Forrester (Peck), displacing his grief with a death wish, begins a
mission to kill as many of the enemy as possible, flying every dangerous
bombing run he can against the Japanese. He doesn’t care if he lives or dies
and has developed a reputation by members of his group as being unstable and
prone to get others killed. He insists on a short turnaround with repairs to
his Mosquito Bomber so he can return to combat as soon as possible. Time off consists
of sweating from the relentless heat and fever dreams brought on by countless
fatigued, but with an outstanding record of success, Forrester gets the
attention of his senior officer, Group Captain Aldridge (Anthony Bushell), and
the flight doctor, Dr. Harris (Bernard Lee) who believe Forrester is nearing a
breakdown. They decide Forrester should have some time off and Dr. Harris takes
him to a local village where he checks on the medical care of some of the people
and brings them food. Harris introduces Forrester to an eccentric missionary, Miss
McNab (Brenda de Banzie), and her assistant, the beautiful Anna (Win Min Than),
a local Burmese woman. Both women run the school and help the local people with
medical care, food rations and anything else they can offer. Anna is drawn to
Forrester as he shares his painful past, he begins making regular trips to see
Anna. Ultimately, they fall in love.
at the base we meet Blore (Maurice Denham) who shares Forrester’s tent and they
are joined by Forrester’s new navigator, Carrington (Lyndon Brook). Blore is an
annoying man who shares all his opinions on everything including Forrester’s
reputation as a man who gets others killed. Forrester is harsh with others
including his mechanics and the newly arrived Carrington. Their first mission
together is rather routine, flying Blore to his new assignment. Forrester has a
reason to live again and longs to rejoin Anna. The movie gets interesting and
takes a turn as a survival tale after both engines catch fire and their plane
crash lands behind enemy lines. Carrington is badly burned and must be carried
in a stretcher, but with a new found will to live, Forrester is determined to
get all three of them to safety. With no food and little water, they cross the
desolate plains of Burma by night and sleep by day.
insists they should have remained at the sight of the crash in the hope they
will be rescued. He maintains Forrester is taking another risk and is going to kill
all of them. The crossing is incredibly treacherous and the landscape is
desolate with nothing to offer other than relentless heat, craggy cliffs and
little shade. Blore grumbles and complains, but continues to carry on until he
slips down a cliff and breaks his collar bone. After seeing a plane fly over,
Blore departs while Forrester and Carrington are sleeping and heads for the
wreckage of their crashed plain to await rescue. Forrester heads out to find
Blore and return him before nightfall, but finds Blore has suffered a tragic
fate. He returns and carries Carrington on his back, more determined than ever.
Purple Plain” is an outstanding mixture of survival story, love story and WWII
adventure in exotic Burma. We never see the enemy, but the real conflict is
within Forrester and Peck is very good at doing battle with himself. We see his
change from battle fatigued suicidal risk taker, to a man who discovers life is
worth living. Bernard Lee is a welcome supporting player bringing a nice
balance to the movie and Brenda de Banzie is memorable as Miss McNab. Maurice
Denham is good as the doomed Blore and Lyndon Brook is also impressive as
Carrington. Win Min Than is beautiful as Anna, but I never quite understood her
attraction to Forrester other than her desire to nurture him. She always looks
as though she’s on the verge of tears and is almost too serious and morose at
times, but this is a minor concern. After all, she has experienced her own
Rank production released in the US by United Artists, the movie was directed by
the able Robert Parrish with outstanding cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth
and editing by soon-to-be director Clive Donner. The movie was filmed on
location in Sri Lanka, standing in for Burma. This film is a gem which rarely
played on TV when I was discovering classic movies and is a welcome release in
HD. The movie looks and sounds very good and extras include the trailers for
three other Kino blu-ray releases including Peck’s “On the Beach” and “Billy
Two Hats” as well as another Parrish effort, “The Wonderful Country.”
Following the release in March of ‘A Man
Called Gannon’ (1968), Simply Media in the UK continue to release more
Universal-International westerns, this time of 1940s and ‘50s vintage. The new
releases, out on 18 April, are ‘Calamity Jane & Sam Bass’ (1949), ‘Cattle
Drive’ (1951) and ‘Black Horse Canyon’ (1954). This trio of films are literally
‘Horse Operas’, with the accent on thoroughbred steeds and their importance and
role in the working west. Be they cattle drovers, stock breeders or outlaws,
where would any of them be without the horse? The answer, of course, is
I’ll review the DVDs in the order I watched
them. First up is ‘Cattle Drive’, a 1951 western directed by Kurt Neumann.
Chester Graham Jnr (Dean Stockwell), the spoilt, arrogant son of railroad
magnet Chester Graham Snr (Leon Ames), is accidentally left behind when the
train he is travelling on makes a water stop. Lost in the arid desert, he is
rescued by Dan Mathews (Joel McCrea), the ramrod on a cattle drive to Santa Fe.
The boy joins the trek, reluctantly at first, and eventually learns to respect
his elders, whilst also learning how to become a proficient cowhand and bronc
buster. When they arrive at the trail’s end, the boy – who has been christened
Chet by the drovers – has become so enamoured of Dan and life on the range that
he’s reluctant to re-join his father and civilisation.
As you’d expect from the material, there are similarities
here with such films as ‘Red River’ (starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift)
and ‘Cattle Empire’ (also starring Joel McCrea) and the television series that
grew out of the latter, ‘Rawhide’, which made a TV star of Clint Eastwood. On the cattle drive, there’s a chuck wagon
stocked with vittles driven by an irascible cook (was there any other type on
cattle drives?) as played by Chill Wills, as ‘old pot walloper’ Dallas. There’s
a sense of the workaday west, with the drovers routine depicted romantically,
but also to a degree realistically. The trail drivers diet of beans and more
beans will make you think of the famous campfire scene in ‘Blazing Saddles’
(1974). In a rather fanciful moment, a rogue black stallion runs off the
remuda, the herd of horses the drovers use as their steeds. But there’s nothing
fanciful about the scene where the destructive power of a cattle stampede is
depicted, after one drover accidently spooks the steers with a rifle shot.
Unusually for a 1950s western, there’s no
female lead – in fact there are no women in ‘Cattle Drive’ at all. McCrea,
always a reliable screen cowboy, and young Stockwell (perhaps known to most
from the sci-fi TV series ‘Quantum Leap’) make an appealing team. Though Dan is
the ramrod, Cap (Howard Petrie) is trail boss. Among the drovers are
troublemaker Jim Currie (Henry Brandon – Chief Scar in ‘The Searchers’) and
Charlie Morgan aka Careless (B-western star Bob Steele). Other drovers were
played by reliable stuntmen Emile Avery, Carol Henry, James Van Horn and Chuck
Roberson, who handle the ridin’ and ropin’ with aplomb. The film was shot in
spectacular Technicolor on location in Death Valley National Park, California,
and also in the distinctive hilly backdrop and red dust of Paria, Utah, which
has been used as the memorable setting for such westerns as ‘The Outlaw Josey
Wales’, ‘Ride in the Whirlwind’, ‘Sergeants 3’ and ‘Duel at Diablo’. Listen out
for the traditional cowboy ballad ‘Ten Thousand Cattle Gone’ at various points
in the film, either in orchestrations, or whistled, sung or hummed by the
cowhands. This was reputedly one of McCrae’s favourites of his own films and
his easy-going, hard-riding Dan is the epitome of a 1950s Hollywood western
hero. At one point, Dan races his horse Blaze against Currie’s steed Lightning,
but it’s Dan’s pursuit and taming of jet-black wild mustang Outlaw that
provides the film with its best moments. Outlaw himself was played by Highland
Dale, who as we shall see had a busy schedule in the 1950s.
George Sherman’s ‘Calamity Jane & Sam
Bass’ (1949) also features horse racing as a key plot component. Sam Bass
(Howard Duff), a farm boy from Indiana, arrives in the Texan town of Denton and
wins a stake by betting on Calamity Jane’s horse Thunderbolt, against the
seemingly invincible Denton Mare in a big horse race. This supposed biopic is
as romanticised and inaccurate as they come, as it depicts Bass’s descent in
outlawry. After the race, Sam manages to buy the Denton Mare and joins a cattle
drive to Abilene. En route Sam races the Mare against various cowboys’ steeds
and wins money, but in Abilene town tyrant Harry Dean (Marc Lawrence) wins a
high-stakes horse race by poisoning the Mare. The drovers have put their entire
savings, plus all the proceeds they had from the cattle sale, on the Denton Mare
to win. When they realise they have been tricked, Sam and his friends hold up
the stage that Dean is travelling on, to take back their money and an outlaw gang
Throughout the story, Sam is torn between two
women – lovely storekeeper Kathy Egan (Dorothy Hart), the sister of Denton
sheriff Will Egan (Willard Parker) and altogether livelier Calamity Jane, as
colourfully played by Yvonne De Carlo. De Carlo looks tremendous when she
arrives on screen here, in a fringed buckskin outfit and wearing bright red
lippy. She reappears at various points in Sam’s life, even saving him from jail
and lending him her horse to make his escape, as he becomes a fugitive – albeit
as an innocent victim of injustice. It’s a shame she’s not onscreen more, as Calam
is the film’s best ingredient, predating Doris Day’s more famous portrayal of
the frontierswoman by four years. Despite occasional flashes of realism, this
is an idealised Hollywood western, with colourful costumes and perfect
landscapes highlighted in magnificent photography. The big race in Abilene was
filmed at Kanab Rodeo Grounds (aka Kanab Racetrack) in Utah, with many
sequences filmed in the Kanab landscape, including Kanab Canyon and the sets at
Kanab Movie Ranch. Other scenes were filmed at the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth,
California (the bank robbery scene) and Red Rock Canyon State Park, at Cantil,
California. In supporting roles, Lloyd Bridges played cattle trail boss Joel
Collins, Houseley Stevenson was irascible cook Dakota and Norman Lloyd was
Sam’s eventual betrayer Jim Murphy (that morsel at least was based on fact). Some
of the cattle drive sequences are very familiar, as it’s stock footage lifted from
Woods plays a down on his luck con artist who teams up with retired fighter
Louis Gossett, Jr. to score a huge win against a local mob boss in a high
stakes boxing match in “Diggstown,” now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
Michael Ritchie directs an impressive cast in this entertaining 1992 comedy.
However, the MGM release never found its audience and underperformed at the box
office upon its release.
movie opens in Winfield Prison, Olivair County Georgia, where a fight is taking
place in the common area with the full knowledge of the prison guards and Warden
Bates (Marshall Bell). Wolf Forrester (Randall “Tex” Cobb) is fighting Minoso
Torres (Alex Garcia) as Gabriel Caine (Woods) helps an inmate escape. Wolf ends
up in the prison hospital after losing the fight and he and Gabe discuss their
plans as fighter and promoter after they’re released. The warden threatens Gabe
after the escape, assuming correctly that Gabe had something to do with it, but
he has no proof. The warden and Gabe trade insults as Gabe is released from
meets with and makes a deal with mobster Orestes Matacena (Victor Corsini) who
agrees to back Gabe in a con aimed at local Diggstown businessman John Gillon
(Bruce Dern) in a high stakes boxing match. Gabe’s pal and fellow con artist
Fitz (Oliver Platt) sets the stage for the con at a local Diggstown pool hall by
winning a bet including the classic Corvette belonging to Gillon’s son, a
recent gift from his father. Fitz, seeing a poster of the town’s namesake
Charles Macum Diggs, brags that Diggs pales in comparison to “Honey” Roy Palmer
which predictably angers the locals. It turns out Diggs is well known not only
as a boxing champ, but for defeating five men in one day. Gillon turns up as
does Gabe who bets “Honey” Palmer can defeat 10 men in one day.
problem now is for Gabe to convince “Honey” Palmer (Louis Gossett, Jr.), a
48-year old retired fighter, to commit to the fight. He agrees and the bet
jumps to a quarter million dollars as Gabe and Gillon agree on the terms.
“Honey” will fight 10 men in 24 hours, and all his opponents must reside within
has other unfinished business in town and has to pay a promised visit with
Wolf’s dogs. He also meets Wolf’s sister, Emily Forrester (Heather Graham in an
early movie), who is suspicious of Gabe and quickly figures out his con. In the
days before the fight, Wolf arrives in town dead, delivered by the prison in a
wooden crate. The bet jumps as “Honey” completes his fight training and the
fighters and spectators assemble for the big event. Near the end of the fight
the bet jumps to a million and a half with the property owned by Gillon on the
fights are predictable with easy and hard fought wins as “Honey” wins against
guys with names like Tank Miller and Hammerhead Hagen. By the final fight a ringer
is brought in by the prison warden, Minoso Torres, who is eager to see Gabe
lose. Gillon isn’t above using his own son to win the bet and the movie comes
to a satisfying, if predictable, conclusion.
movie is based on the novel “The Diggstown Ringers” by Leonard Wise with a
screenplay by Steven McKay. The original title of the film, “Midnight Sting,”
appears during the opening credits on this disc. My suspicion is that the
studio didn’t quite know how to market this comedy which is equal parts boxing comedy
and con artist thriller.
has very little to do in the film other than look good in shorts and disappears
completely 76 minutes into the 98 minute movie after being asked to take a recent
victim of Gillon’s thugs to the hospital. Platt has little screen time after
his comic turn setting the stage for the con in the pool hall and the movie is
basically a three man showcase for Woods, Gossett and Dern.
Kino Lorber release looks and sounds terrific with a nice score by James Newton
Howard. Extras on the disc include a making of featurette and trailers for this
and another Ritchie comedy, “The Couch Trip.” This easy going comedy is
predictable and may have benefitted from a larger role for Heather Graham, but
is recommended for the enjoyable cast.
The first African-American to direct a major film for a Hollywood studio was Gordon Parks, whose feature film debut "The Learning Tree" was released in 1969. Parks may have shattered the glass ceiling but there wasn't a tidal wave of opportunities that immediately opened for other minority filmmakers, in part because there were so few with any formal training in the art. One beneficiary of Parks' achievement was Ossie Davis, who was internationally respected as a well-rounded artist. He was a triple threat: actor, director and writer but his directing skills had been relegated to the stage. In 1970 Davis co-wrote the screenplay for and directed "Cotton Comes to Harlem", a major production for United Artists. The film was based on a novel by African-American writer Chester Himes and proved to be pivotal in ushering in what became known as the Blaxploitation genre. In reality, it's debatable whether "Cotton" really is a Blaxploitation film. While most of the major roles are played by black actors, the term "Blaxploitation" has largely come to symbolize the kinds of goofy, low-budget films that are fondly remembered as guilty pleasures. However, "Cotton"- like Gordon Parks's "Shaft" films which would follow- boasts first class production values and top talent both in front of and behind the cameras. Regardless, the movie had sufficient impact at the boxoffice to inspire a seemingly endless barrage of Black-oriented American films that were all the rage from the early to mid-1970s. The Blaxploitation fever burned briefly but shone brightly and opened many doors for minority actors.
The film was shot when New York City was in the midst of a precipitous decline in terms of quality of life. Crime was soaring, the infrastructure was aging and the city itself would be on the verge of bankruptcy a few years later. Harlem was among the hardest hit areas in terms of the economy. The once dazzling jewel of a neighborhood had boasted popular nightclubs, theaters and restaurants that attracted affluent white patrons. By the mid-to-late 1960s, however, that had changed radically. Street crimes, organized gangs and the drug culture spread rapidly, making Harlem a very dangerous place to be. It was foreboding enough if you were black but it was considered a "Forbidden Zone" for most white people, who spent their money elsewhere, thus exacerbating the decline of the neighborhoods. "Cotton Comes to Harlem" serves as an interesting time capsule of what life was like in the area, having been shot during this period of decline. Director Davis was considered royalty in Harlem. Despite his success in show business, he and his equally acclaimed wife, actress Ruby Dee, never "went Hollywood". They stayed in the community and worked hard to improve the environment. Thus, Davis was perfectly suited to capture the action on the streets in a manner that played authentically on screen. Similarly, he had a real feel for the local population. As with any major urban area, Harlem undoubtedly had its share of amusing eccentrics and Davis populates the movie with plenty of such characters.
The film opens with a major rally held by Rev. Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart), a local guy who made good and who is idolized by the population of Harlem. O'Malley is a smooth-talking, charismatic con man in the mode of the notorious Reverend Ike who uses religion as a facade to rip off gullible followers. This time, O'Malley has launched a "Back to Africa" campaign for which he is soliciting funds. It's based on the absurd premise that he will be able to finance disgruntled Harlem residents back to the land of their ancestry. The hard-working, semi-impoverished locals end up donating $87,000 in cash but the rally is interrupted by a daring daytime robbery. An armored car filled with masked men armed with heavy weaponry descend upon the goings-on, loot the cashbox and take off. They are pursued by two street-wise local cops, "Grave Digger" Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and his partner "Coffin" Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques). Davis provides an exciting and colorful car chase through the streets of Harlem, as the cops fail to snag the robbers. They also discover that O'Malley has gone missing, leading them to believe that he orchestrated the heist himself so he could keep the proceeds raised at the rally. The plot becomes rather convoluted, as Jones and Johnson learn that a bale of cotton has arrived in Harlem and its somehow connected to the crime. They assume that the stolen money has been stashed in said cotton bale, which quickly changes hands among the most unsavory characters in the community. Getting in on the action is a white mob boss and his goons who are also trying to recover the cotton bale. The cotton itself is resented in Harlem because of its historical links to slavery and by the end of the film, the bale ends up in a stage show at the famed Apollo Theater where it is used as a prop in a bizarre production that involves historical observations about the black experience intermingled with a striptease act! Through it all, Jones and Johnson doggedly chase any number of people through the streets, engage in shoot-outs and car chases and come in and out of contact with Rev. O'Malley, who professes his innocence about being involved in the robbery. The Rev isn't so innocent when it comes to other unscrupulous activities such as chronically cheating on his long-suffering girlfriend Iris (Judy Pace) and manipulating other women in a variety of ways.
The most delightful aspect of the film is the showcasing of some very diverse talents of the era. Godfrey Cambridge (who made it big as a stand-up comic) and Raymond St. Jacques enjoy considerable on-screen chemistry even if the script deprives them of the kind of witty dialogue that would have enhanced their scenes together. They make wisecracks all the time and harass some less-than-savory characters but the screenplay never truly capitalizes on Cambridge's comedic potential. The film's most impressive performance comes from Calvin Lockhart, who perfectly captures the traits of phony, larger-than-life "preachers". He's all flashy good looks, gaudy outfits and enough narcissistic behavior to make Donald Trump look humble by comparison. Lockhart seems to be having a ball playing this character and the screen ignites every time he appears. There are some nice turns by other good character actors including pre-"Sanford and Son" Redd Foxx, who figures in the film's amusing "sting-in-the-tail" ending, John Anderson as the exasperated white captain of a Harlem police station that is constantly on the verge of being besieged by local activists, Lou Jacobi as a junk dealer, Cleavon Little as a local eccentric, J.D. Canon as a mob hit man and Dick Sabol as a goofy white cop who suffers humiliation from virtually everyone (which is sort of a payback for the decades in which black characters were routinely used as comic foils). The film has a surprisingly contemporary feel about it, save for a few garish fashions from the 1970s. It's also rather nostalgic to hear genuine soul music peppered through the soundtrack in this pre-rap era. Happily, life has not imitated art in the years since the film was released. Harlem has been undergoing the kind of Renaissance that would have seemed unimaginable in 1970. The old glory has come back strong and the center of the neighorhood, 125th Street, is vibrant and thriving once again. These societal perspectives make watching "Cotton Comes to Harlem" enjoyable on an entirely different level than simply an amusing crime comedy.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains the original trailer and the sleeve is adorned with the great Bob Peak's superb poster art.
By the late 1960s the Spaghetti Western genre was no longer a magnet for second-rate American actors. As with the Bond-inspired secret agent rage of a few years before, many big stars were burning up phone lines demanding that their agents get them over to Europe to cash in on the craze. Among them, apparently, was James Garner, whose credentials as a major and respected international star certainly provided an indication about how lucrative and popular the once lonely Euro Western productions had now become. In fact such Westerns had existed prior to the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone trilogy of the mid-1960s but it was definitely those "Man With No Name" films that shot the genre into over-drive. In fact they were a producer's dream: a compliant host government eager to get some Hollywood glamour and providing lucrative tax breaks, pre-exisiting desert towns that minimized the need to build opulent, expensive sets and efficient Italian producers who generally oversaw production and could ensure that films wrapped up on time and within budget. Garner's first and only foray into the realm of Spaghetti Westerns occurred in 1970 when he starred in "A Man Called Sledge", a film that is largely unremarkable except for Garner's presence and the fact that he plays against type as a rather despicable anti-hero.
The story opens with Sledge (Garner) and some cohorts robbing a stagecoach. The robbery goes awry when a guard on the stage is accidentally killed by a shotgun blast. Now wanted for murder, Sledge and his men rendezvous in a nearby saloon to talk strategy. His two main confederates are Ward (Dennis Weaver) and Hooker (Claude Akins). Sledge also brings along someone he refers to as the Old Man (John Marley), an aging ex-con who has informed him about a fantastic hoard of gold that is occasionally stored in a local prison camp where he had once served time. The Old Man says that periodically the gold shipment, which is heavily guarded, passes through the area and is locked up overnight so the guards can get some rest. Sledge and his men immediately begin to plan an audacious scenario in which they will cause a riot at the prison and steal the gold. In order to do so, Ward poses as a U.S. Marshal and "arrests" Sledge on the murder warrant. He brings him to the prison where Sledge has only a few hours to find a way to overcome a guard, steal the keys, liberate the other prisoners, locate the gold in the confusion and, with the Old Man's help, access the treasure behind a seemingly impenetrable vault. Although the stern, humorless Sledge fancies himself to be a criminal mastermind, most of his major decisions run into snafus. Once the riot ensues, he and his cohorts manage to access the gold, but in "Treasure of Sierra Madre" style, this only ensures that greed and paranoia now overtake the group and the thieves start killing each other off.
The film was directed by actor Vic Morrow, who does a reasonably good job of keeping the action moving at a brisk pace. The film has a more polished look than most European westerns largely because a major producer- Dino De Laurentiis- provided a larger-than-normal budget that afforded the hiring of Garner, Weave and Akins. IMDB reports that the film was shot in Italy but I'm skeptical if only because several of the locations resemble where sequences from Spanish-based westerns of era were filmed. The village where the finale takes place (atmospherically set during the Day of the Dead festival) looks an awful lot like the setting for "For a Few Dollars More". The biggest drawback with the film is that all of the characters are villains. Unlike the Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, who was a rogue with at least a semblance of conscience, Garner's Sledge is an irredeemable bad guy whose only human quality is a genuine love for a local hooker (Laura Antonelli). He's responsible for the deaths of innocent people and he uses violent threats even against the Old Man to get what he wants. In his memoirs, The Garner Files, the actor wrote about the film: ""One of the few times I've played a heavy and one of the last. I wish I could remember why I let Dino De Laurentiis talk me into this turkey, The poster says "Not Suitable for Children". It should say "Not Suitable for Human Consumption.". That's a bit harsh. The film is consistently entertaining and boasts some exciting action sequences, even if Garner's considerable charisma is completely absent due to the morbid screenplay. It's also good to see Garner in the company of Dennis Weaver, Claude Akins and John Marley, all of whom provide solid supporting performances.
"A Man Called Sledge" has been released on Blu-ray by German-based Explosive Media. Their DVDs are primarily available on Amazon Germany's site but imports often pop up on Amazon USA and eBay. The film has an excellent transfer and a selection of trailers and TV spots from the film- but make sure you don't watch them before viewing the main feature, as they give away every plot surprise.
One of the positive elements of the Blaxploitation film genre that exploded in the 1970s was the emergence of many hitherto unknown talents. Among them was Bahamian-born actor Calvin Lockhart, who immigrated to New York and immersed himself in theater, studying with the legendary Uta Hagen. Lockhart didn't find immediate success but hop-scotched between the U.S. and Europe, where he found more opportunities on stage and in film. By the time he returned to America, the Blaxploitation rage was in its early stages and Lockhart nailed down a key, scene-stealing role in director Ossie Davis's film version of "Cotton Comes to Harlem" in 1970. He also earned the starring role the same year in "Halls of Anger", playing a besieged inner city teacher who is trying to keep the lid on inter-racial tensions. Lockhart also starred in the crime thriller "Melinda", which- perhaps because of its bland title- is not as well-remembered as lesser entries in the Blaxplotation genre. Thus, it's good news that the film has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. "Melinda" is impressive on any number of levels. Unlike most Blaxploitation movies, which were actually produced, written and directed by white filmmakers, this one was brought to the screen entirely by African-American talent: director Hugh A. Robertson, producer Pervis Atkins, screenwriter Lonnie Elder III and composers Jerry Butler and Jerry Peters. The movie also has an intense, realistic tone that affords Lockhart to give what is arguably the performance of his career.
Lockhart plays Frankie J. Parker, the morning drive DJ on a popular L.A. soul music radio station. Frankie is a showman supreme. His combination of unapologetic narcissism combined with his snarky, biting sense of humor sets him apart from the competition- and makes him a local legend among black listeners. Frankie is living the life. He makes a lot of money, drives a fancy sports car and has a bachelor pad apartment where he entertains a stream of beautiful young women. He's so in love with himself that he has the place adorned with posters and photos of himself and looks in the mirror every morning verbally express how damned good looking he is. One fateful day, however, Frankie's charmed life goes into a tailspin when he meets Melinda Lewis (Vonetta McKee), a sexy new arrival from Chicago who is very much a woman of mystery. When she resists Frankie's standard pick-up lines and shows she is wise to his well-worn methods of seduction, she becomes a challenge for him. He wines and dines her and shows her off at a high profile party aboard a yacht owned by his old friend Tank (Rockne Tarkington), a black athlete who has made good. On board, he has an unexpected encounter with a former lover, Terry Davis (Rosalind Cash), who makes it clear she still carries a grudge against Frankie because of his philandering ways. Later that evening, Frankie and Melinda return to his apartment where they finally get down to business- but she makes it clear that she is in control of the situation. Unbeknownst to either of them, the heated sounds of their love-making are being enjoyed by a shady character who has been following Melinda since she arrived in L.A. and who is know pleasuring himself outside the apartment door! The next morning, Frankie realizes that this time he is genuinely in love- and Melinda seems to reciprocate. To say much more would be to provide some unintended spoilers. Suffice it to say that Frankie learns that "Melinda Lewis" is an alias and that his new lover is the former mistress of a ruthless Chicago mob boss, Mitch (Paul Stevens) who is desperate to track her down because she has deposited a cassette tape in a bank safe deposit box that implicates him in a high profile murder. Before long, the mob links Frankie to Melinda and thinks he in cahoots with her. He is framed for a ghastly murder and pummeled and beaten by cops before he finally makes bail. Realizing he has limited time to get to the bottom of what is going on and clear his name, Frankie finds he has to enlist the aid of estranged lover Terry Davis, who becomes the only friend he can trust. The two become amateur detectives trying to get access to the bank vault and the evidence that would give them leverage over Mitch and his gang of murderous goons who are now in L.A. Things go awry, however, when Frankie is framed for yet another sordid murder and Terry is kidnapped by Mitch and held for ransom under threat of death unless Frankie delivers the incriminating evidence against him. Frankie knows that if he does, he and Terry are as good as dead so he enlists some unusual allies- the fellow students of his karate academy. It helps when the Grand Master is real-life martial arts expert and future "Enter the Dragon" star Jim Kelly. In the film's only truly over-the-top sequence, Frankie and the karate students ambush the gangsters, Before you can sing "Everybody was Kung Fu fighting", everybody is Kung Fu fighting. The film culminates with Frankie and his allies laying siege to Mitch's mansion, where they find Terry locked in a glass gazebo surrounded by rattle snakes and other dangerous critters.
Until its rather fanciful finale, "Melinda" is a realistic urban crime movie packed with interesting characters and intriguing mysteries that are revealed slowly. Like a Hitchcock film, it centers on a completely innocent man who is swept up in fantastic and deadly events beyond his comprehension. Lockhart gives an outstanding and commanding performance, turning from a carefree, narcissistic playboy to a man who is willing to do anything necessary simply to survive another few hours. He gets able support from both female leads, gorgeous Vonetta McKee as the mystery woman who affords Frankie an evening of sexual bliss that turns his life into a nightmare and Rosalind Cash, in full tough girl mode as she was the previous year opposite Charlton Heston in "The Omega Man". On the other extreme, Paul Stevens makes for a suitably slimy villain. The direction by Hugh A. Robertson is quite impressive and he overcomes the relatively modest budget by capitalizing on the street locations which he uses to maximum atmosphere and effect. "Melinda" is a superior entry in the Blaxploitation film genre. Highly recommended.
The Warner Archive DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.
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If "Another Time, Another Place" is remembered at all, it's probably for all the wrong reasons. The 1958 film afforded Sean Connery his first major leading role, even though he gets killed off a little more than half-an-hour into the story. I'm not giving away a spoiler here...you can see it telegraphed from the early moments of the movie. Connery was given "Introducing" billing, a common fallacy on the part of studio marketing departments that implied an actor or actress was making their big screen debut. In reality, Connery had been kicking around the British film industry for a couple of years prior to making this movie, but only in supporting roles. The other bit of trivia for which this film is remembered is due to a tragic real-life scandal. While co-starring with Lana Turner, Connery began to spend a lot of his free time with her off set. This didn't set well with Turner's jealous boyfriend, a mobster named Johnny Stompanato, who tried to bully Connery into staying away from Turner and got punched out by the Great Scot. Stompanato let it be known that Connery was a marked man. When filming was done, the future 007 didn't tempt fate by hanging around with Turner any longer, though things could hardly have been worse if he did. Shortly after the production was completed, Turner was being physically menaced by Stompanato and her teenage daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed him to death in order to defend her mother. The result was one of Hollywood's great scandals. The studio brass were ever opportunistic and were said to have expedited the release of "Another Time, Another Place" in order to capitalize on the sensational trial of Crane, who was exonerated on the basis of justifiable homicide.
As for the film itself, it defines what used to be quaintly termed as "a woman's picture". It's basically a feature film length soap opera set in 1945 London during the waning days of WWII. We first see Connery as daring war correspondent Mark Trevor, whose on-the-scene radio reports from hot spots around the globe leave listeners mesmerized. Among his admirers is Sara Scott (Lana Turner), a sassy New York newspaper columnist who works out of the bureau's London office. Sara is very much the liberated lady, having made a name for herself in an industry that was then dominated by men. We soon see that she and Mark secretly carrying on a torrid love affair. A complication arises when Sara's lover Carter Reynolds (Barry Sullivan) arrives from the States. Reynolds is not only engaged to Sara, but he is also her employer, as he owns the newspaper she works for. She breaks the news to him that she is now in love with another man but Reynolds seems dismissive of her statement and feels she will ultimately come to her senses and return to him. On the eve of Mark leaving for Italy, Sara informs him that she had been engaged to another man but now that won't matter- she wants to spend her life with him. Mark, however, drops a bit of a bombshell himself. Turns out he's married with a young son and intends to return to his family. Both he and Sara are clearly in love and both are heartbroken by the circumstances. Sara tries to persuade Mark to leave his wife and child to be with her. He sends mixed signals, originally rejecting the overture but later implying he would do so. With that, he leaves for Italy with his assistant, Alan Thompson (Terence Longdon), the only one in his life who knows about his affair with Sara. The following night Sara is listening to the radio when she learns that Mark has been killed in a plane crash en route to Italy, although Alan has managed to survive. Wracked with grief, Sara is inconsolable. She makes a dramatic decision to visit Mark's village in Cornwall and see the house he lived in. While doing so, she has a chance encounter with Mark's son Brian (Martin Stephens), who, in turn, introduces her to his mother, Kay (Glynis Johns). The odd and awkward encounter results in Sara becoming Kay's house guest and helping her write a book about her husband's career. The two women become fast friends, though only Sara knows they are both grieving for the same man. This is where the film is elevated from standard tearjerker to a rather compelling drama that examines the effects that infidelity can have on all of the parties involved. Both Alan and Carter Reynolds track down Sara, who- in one of the film's weakest sequences- attempts suicide off camera, apparently in an attempt to drown herself. As Kay nurses her back to health, Alan and Reynolds try to reason with her and convince her to return to New York, 'lest Kay learns that her new best friend was her husband's secret lover. Things come to a boil when Sara decides to spill her soul to Kay and tell her everything.
"Another Time, Another Place" is primarily a showcase for Lana Turner, who- under the competent, if uninspired direction of Lewis Allen- gives an earnest performance that is still overshadowed by her supporting cast members. The biggest knock about Turner's presence in the film is that she looks too glamorous. Her hair is perfect, her mannerisms are perfect and -in the film's most absurd sequence- she is fished from bay after a suicide attempt and brought to Kay's cottage for medical attention, yet she still looks like she just stepped out of a fashion display in Harrods window. Much is made over her character being a tough woman able to exist in a man's world (she even plays poker with the boys), but in reality she's just another heroine of the era who cannot seem to function without a man in her life. Turner delivers a competent performance but is hampered by the fact that she came to stardom in an era in which very mannered acting methods were in vogue, especially among the Hollywood sex symbols. In terms of portraying a realistic character, she is out-shown by the more natural acting style of Glynis Johns. The male supporting leads are also adequate, if unexciting. The major "find" of the production was Sean Connery, whose impact is somewhat hampered by the fact that he has relatively little screen time. There is little to suggest that he was a superstar in the making and he spends most of his time cooing words of love to the smitten Turner. His character does develop a bit of an edge when we learn that, at heart, he is actually a cad who is cheating on his adoring wife. He develops a conscience and sense of guilt and tries to terminate the affair but is locked into the frustrations of the age-old meange-a-trois dilemma.
"Another Time, Another Place" was shot on an obviously low budget with scenes of wartime London relegated to the back lot. Things open up a bit with some on-location shooting in Cornwall but the majority of the action takes place in living rooms, offices and kitchens. Despite the movie's flaws, it's a reasonably compelling story about inherently good people who become involved in an immoral love affair. For Connery fans, the movie affords them the opportunity to see how his raw talent was rather quickly developed into a very distinctive acting technique that would ultimately make him one of the true icons of international cinema. "Another Time, Another Place" performed disappointingly at the boxoffice and Connery seemed headed toward oblivion. A Fox contract didn't go far but he was loaned out to Disney to star in "Darby O'Gill and the Little People". Ironically it was through viewing that film that producer Cubby Broccoli's wife Dana was impressed by his raw masculinity. That would pay off for him a few years later when he sought to play the role of James Bond. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Warner Archive has re-issued the exact DVD transfer that was once available through Paramount- right down to identical packaging. The transfer is very good but there are no bonus extras.
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It's probably a safe bet that most adults have seen at least some of the notorious film footage shot during the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. However, no one has ever seen the definitive denouncement of these camps for genocidal practices because the project was stopped in its tracks in the immediate aftermath of WWII. When British, American and Soviet troops stumbled upon the seemingly endless number of concentration camps in the final days of the war, they were not prepared for what they saw. There had been frantic warnings from the Jewish community about the barbaric nature of what was occurring in these hell holes but they were generally thought to be overstated, if not impossible to believe. Such were the mind-boggling horrors that greeted them that the Allied high command ordered that the places be filmed in order to capture for posterity the types of acts that future generations would not otherwise be able to imagine. The camps were always terrible beyond description but they got even worse when it became clear that the German defenses were collapsing and Allied troops were inevitably overrunning what was left of the retreating Third Reich. Even at this late date, with defeat inevitable, the Nazi brass was determined to fulfill Hitler's extermination policies. Tens of thousands of half-dead prisoners were forced on torturous marches to other camps. It was a journey most did not survive. Those who were deemed too weak to move were often systematically murdered often just days or hours before their liberation would have occurred. However, even these barbarians could not succeed in executing the sheer number of these hapless souls and so it was that many were still alive when Allied troops marched into the camps. Even the most battle-hardened troops could scarcely believe the panorama of human misery that greeted them. Surviving prisoners, too weak to stand, had been haphazardly tossed into mountains of corpses. The ovens that incinerated others were still warm and filled with bones and ash. Warehouses of personal possessions from the doomed prisoners dotted the camps, filled to the roofs with items that were to be recycled. The ever-efficient and cost-conscious Reich even ground up the bones of the cremated and sold them wholesale to local farmers as fertilizers. Such was the horror that even General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe, personally felt the need to witness these horrors. So, too did General George S. Patton.
A joint decree by the Allies resulted in British, American and Soviet cameramen frantically filming the horrors as they unfolded. The dead and dying seemed to film every frame but there was also indescribable joy on behalf of those who knew that, with proper care, they would most likely survive. Ultimately the task of coordinating all of this footage fell to Sidney Bernstein of the British Ministry of Information. The Allies decided that a feature film should be created by Bernstein with the intention of having it widely shown to citizens of Germany to reinforce their feelings of guilt over what had been done in their name. Bernstein's vision went beyond simply providing a cinematic chamber of horrors and he wanted to construct the movie as professionally as possible. Thus, he reached out to Alfred Hitchcock to assist him as a creative consultant. Hitchcock had already left his native England for Hollywood, where he was finding great success. However, he heeded the call to return to England to work on the project partly out of frustration that he had been "too old and too fat" to have served in the British military. He viewed this as an opportunity to contribute to the war effort even though the war was now over. Hitchcock and Bernstein labored over the film project for months as the British military became increasingly frustrated. They wanted speed, not artistry. Ultimately the decision was made to take the film away from Bernstein. This was due to a number of factors. One was based on the premise that it became clear that the German public, by and large, was being sufficiently contrite over the war time crimes of the Nazis. The nation was a bombed out wreck in urban areas and the Allies wanted to rally the public to help rebuild their land. Forcing them to watch films of atrocities that many had witnessed when they were made to visit the camps after liberation was now being seen as rubbing salt in their wounds. There was also a political factor, however. Before the war had even ended, it became clear to Britain and America that the Cold War was starting with the Soviet Union. Stalin, emboldened by FDR's death and the shocking loss of Winston Churchill in elections to comparatively weak Clement Attee, was ratcheting up his drive for land grabs in eastern Europe. Britain and America needed to ensure that all of Germany didn't fall into the Soviet orbit. It was decided that attempting to drive home the subject of war crimes would only alienate the public at large. Ultimately Germany would suffer being divided into two separate nations, with the Soviets taking control of the eastern portion of the country and subjecting its citizens to another cruel dictatorship. Still, the footage of the concentration camps had to be seen somewhere, somehow. Director Billy Wilder, himself an immigrant from Germany who got out during the rise of Hitler, was approached to now helm the project. Uncredited, he oversaw production of what became known as "Death Mills". The film ran a scant 22 minutes and was originally made with a German soundtrack, as it was to be screened for select audiences in Germany and Austria. Although not long in terms of running time, it's hard to imagine that even an elongated version would better convey the stomach-turning tortures meted out by the Nazis. Wilder's film didn't bother with artistry or nuance. It was the antithesis of what Bernstein and Hitchcock had envisioned- a non-stop depiction of cruelties with no pretense of having been made by professional filmmakers.
In 2014 director released "Night Will Fall", a documentary made for Britain's Channel 4 and which ultimately would be telecast in America on HBO. Singer had amassed the disparate footage from the aborted Bernstein/Hitchcock project and combined it with "Death Mills", which had been created from the same pool of British, American and Soviet films. Singer went the extra mile, tracking down elderly death camp survivors who, to great emotional effect, are interviewed on screen, in some cases viewing footage of themselves being liberated from the camps. Cinema doesn't get much more emotional than this. The only reason some of these people survived was because they were twins and caught the eye of the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, who had a mad passion for conducting horrendous "medical experiments" on them. Mengele was obsessed with seeing if science could manipulate hereditary features through experimentation on twins. Most ended up dying and others were executed when Mengele tired of them, but some survived and were captured on screen as Allied soldiers freed these helpless children from certain death. Singer's film also puts into context the Hitchcock and Wilder associations with the project and combines a coherent time line about the use of the footage. His film also describes the sense of disbelief on the part of American, British and Soviet soldiers who generally entered these camps without the slightest idea about what they were about to experience. The effort to care for survivors was immediate and intense but many of the prisoners died even after liberation because of the sheer neglect they had suffered. Eisenhower ordered that local residents be forced to personally visit the camps. It became clear that many really didn't know the full extent of the horrors. Footage shows hundreds of villagers jovially walking down country lanes en route to a camp. The narrator points out they appear to be on the way for a pleasant day in the country. Upon seeing the thousands of dead and dying, however, most are moved to shame and tears. Bulldozers are used to control typhus outbreaks by burying piles of men, women and children in mass graves, denying them even the dignity of being identified. Children who survive often have forgotten their names and refer to themselves only by the numbers tattooed on their arms. For this viewer the most unbearable aspect was to watch scenes that don't involve people but object that represent people. In a warehouse filled to the roof with eyeglasses from victims that were to be recycled for the Reich, the narrator aks that even if one in ten prisoners needed glasses, how many had to be killed to amass such a supply. In another storage building sacks are opened containing women's hair which was being packaged and sold to German industries. There are house decorations such as lampshades made from tattooed human skin. Even shrunken heads were deemed as novelty items by SS brass. Perhaps saddest of all are the mountains of toys confiscated from children to be sent to other children in the Reich. These ghastly souvenirs bare silent witness to the cruel fates that befell the Nazi's youngest victims. In other particularly moving scenes, Soviet doctors examine victims in a vain attempt to save them. One is a young man who was shot in the head because he was caught sharing a crust of bread with another man. A young girl of about eight years old was forced to stand all day barefoot in ice and snow because her productivity was deemed to be disappointing. I fully confess to averting my eyes from the screen during much of the footage shown.
An inmate who thought she was doomed expresses her thanks to a British soldier.
"Night Will Fall" is an important and mesmerizing film and its getting additional exposure through its recent release on DVD by the Warner Archive. It's message is essential and should be required deemed viewing for any thinking, rational person. One of the reasons the Allies were intent on documenting these atrocities is because they predicted in years to come, some people would try to deny they ever occurred. Sadly that has proven to be the case. The internet, in particular, has given voice to fringe groups and kooks worldwide who have no trouble attracting fellow conspiracynuts. Some may be harmless eccentrics, such as people who still believe the moon landing was a hoax. Others, however, deal in far more dangerous beliefs such as denial of the war time atrocities inflicted by Hitler and his madmen. The existence of such people make the continuation of genocide possible and the practice is alive and well today in various parts of the world. However, we can never prove how many people were positively influenced by films such as "Night Will Fall". Clearly the majority of the world's population has thus far thwarted the rise of another Hitler, even if such dictators exist within their the confines of their own borders. It is imperative that good people everywhere keep the truth alive. Perhaps we should all heed the warning that "Those who neglect history are compelled to repeat it."
The Warner Archive DVD contains bonus extras including Billy Wilder's "Death Mills" film, the Soviet film "Auschwitz", which chronicles the liberation of the camp and the atrocities that were uncovered, and an extended contemporary interview with Prof. Rainer Schulze on the premises of the notorious Bergen-Belsen death camp where he discusses the events that transpired there.
“Robber’s Roost” (1955), a colorful western filmed in
Durango, Mexico with George Montgomery, and a host of other familiar faces from
the fifties, was a movie a decade ahead of its time. Based on a Zane Grey
novel, it tells the story of a mysterious stranger known only as “Tex”
(Montgomery) who rides into the town of Junta Grande, and joins one of two
gangs working for crippled rancher “Bull” Herrick (Bruce Bennett). Hank Hays
(Richard Boone) is the leader of one gang, and Heeseman (Peter Graves) heads up
the other. Herrick believes the best way to protect his herd of 6,000 cattle
from rustlers is to hire the two rival gangs to keep an eye on each other. “There’s
an old saying,” he says. “Set a thief to catch a thief.” Well, that sensible
adage proves to be unworkable here. Who
in his right mind would hire a bunch of cattle thieves to guard his herd? It’s
explained that Bull injured his spine when his horse rolled over on him and put
him in a wheelchair. Maybe they left out the part where he suffered some brain
damage as well.
Nevertheless, Herrick hires Tex as part of Hays’ outfit,
but somehow this tall stranger with two six-guns and an extra-wide brim hat
doesn’t really seem to fit in. For one thing, he asks too many questions. He’s
especially interested in the “Circle K” brand on the horses Hays and his men
are riding. Herrick’s sister Helen (Sylvia Findley) arrives from back East to
provide some love interest in a film overcrowded with male actors and tries to
convince Bull to sell the ranch and get his spinal injury tended to. Bull, who
got his nickname by being bull-headed, tells her he won’t leave until he gets
his cattle to market. Add to this mix Robert Bell (William Hopper) a wealthy
rancher who wants to marry Helen and you’ve got the full cast of characters. And
a full cast it is, indeed, with anywhere from six to a dozen characters on
screen in most of the scenes. Director Sydney Salkow must have needed a traffic
director to keep them from bumping into each other.
But it’s the constant butting of heads between two gangs
that hate each other, as they wait for the chance to double cross Herrick and
steal his cattle, and the mystery surrounding Tex and what he’s doing in the
middle of all this, that makes “Robber’s Roost”, in its own weird and unusual way,
rather interesting to watch. One of the
more bizarre aspects is the character played by Richard Boone, who is good as
usual playing a hard case. But for some odd reason he keeps curling his lip up
over his front teeth as if he were sucking on a lemon. Hard to know if he had
just been fitted with a bad set of caps or he thought he had to keep snarling
to look tough. Fortunately for him and us it is a distracting mannerism that he
never repeated throughout the rest of his career.
As the film progresses we learn, of course, that Tex
isn’t an outlaw like all the others, despite a wanted poster that Helen
discovers, but has tracked Hays and his gang to Junta Grande in pursuit of the
unknown men who raped and killed his wife. With so many bad guys, and Helen
thinking he’s one of the baddies, Tex has his hands full trying to bring them
to justice and save “Bull” Herrick’s herd, especially after Hays and Heeseman
finally realize their best course is to stop fighting each other, steal the
whole herd and split the profits. Golly! I guess Bull never thought that would
happen. The final climax takes place in the mountains of Durango, complete with
a lookout post that features a boulder balanced on a rocky spire, which I
suppose must be the titular Robber’s roost.
Despite the oddball touches and the somewhat implausible
plot, “Robbers Roost” is fun to watch. And, as noted at the beginning of this
review, there are two things that make this movie prophetically ahead of its
time. One is Herrick’s idea of pitting two rival gangs against each other to serve
his own purposes. It’s more like a plot from a gangster movie and I can’t think
of any westerns up until then that have a similar story line. However, nine
years later Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” (1964) would serve up the
same idea although in a slightly different and more believable way. Of course,
“Dollars” is an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo,” which was supposedly
inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest.” Zane Grey wrote “Robbers Roost”
in 1932, three years after “Red Harvest” was published. Perhaps “Robber’s Roost”
can be counted as one more film ultimately inspired by Hammett, who knows?
The other thing that sets “Robbers Roost” apart from the
films of it time is the fact that except for Tex, Herrick and his daughter,
just about all the main characters, especially Hays and Heeseman are really bad
men. They cheat, steal and kill without qualm. They would have been right at
home in a Leone or Peckinpah film, but they were far from the usual black and
white hats that populated westerns in 1955.
In addition to an unusual story line, “Robber’s Roost”
benefits by having been filmed on location in Durango, Mexico. As usual in a
Zane Grey story, the landscape is as important an element as the characters. Kino
Lorber’s Blu-ray transfer presents the 1.85:1 theatrical print in good
condition, with vibrant color and impressive detail, giving the rugged Mexican
mountains landscape real depth and beauty. The film shows some signs of wear
and tear and the original mono soundtrack is a bit on the rough side. But
somehow, it gives the movie a rugged authenticity.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics deserves kudos for presenting
films like “Robbers Roost” in high definition, giving modern day viewers a
chance to see them the way they were originally seen in neighborhood theaters. It’s
far from being a classic western on the order of “Shane” or “The Wild Bunch,”
but viewed as a film spanning the transition from the standard western fare of
the mid-fifties to the “adult” westerns of the sixties, it’s certainly worth
catching. And you don’t want to miss Boone’s final dying words, as he sucks on
his front teeth and makes a clean breast of everything, including killing Tex’s
wife. “I’m not trying to horn in with the almighty,” he says. “I just want an
edge when they line up for the last showdown.”
What more is there to say after that?
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents “Robber’s Roost”
with no frills, although there are previews for three other Blu-rays including
“The Gunfight at Dodge City” with Joel McCrea.
"Young Billy Young" is the kind of film of which it can be said, "They don't make 'em like that anymore". Not because the movie is so exceptional. In fact, it isn't exceptional on any level whatsoever. Rather, it's the sheer ordinariness of the entire production that makes one pine away for an era in which top talent could be attracted to enjoyable, if unremarkable, fare such as this. Such films, especially Westerns, were churned out with workmanlike professionalism to play to undemanding audiences that didn't require mega-budget blockbusters to feel they got their money's worth at the boxoffice. Sadly, such movies have largely gone the way of the dodo bird. In today's film industry, bigger must always be better and mid-range flicks such as are no longer made. However, through home video releases such as Kino Lorber's Blu-ray of "Young Billy Young", it's possible to still enjoy the simple pleasures that such movies provide.
The story opens with botched robbery in Mexico committed by Billy Young (Robert Walker) and some cohorts including Jesse (David Carradine). The plan to steal horses from the Mexican military goes awry and Billy is forced to split from his fellow robbers with the army in hot pursuit. Making his way back across the border to New Mexico, he is penniless and desperate. He has a chance encounter with Ben Kane (Robert Mitchum), a tough, sarcastic older man who he encounters again in a nearby town. Here, Billy is being cheated at cards by the local sheriff, who goads him into a gunfight. Billy ends up killing him but stands to be framed for the sheriff's death. He's saved by Ben, who rides along with him to another town where Ben has agreed to take on the job of lawman. Ostensibly he is there to keep order and collect back taxes from deadbeats but in reality, he is on a mission of revenge. Some years before, Ben's son had been gunned down by a criminal named Boone (John Anderson) and Kane has learned that Boone is a presence in the new town and that he is being protected by a local corrupt businessman, John Behan (Jack Kelly). Ben makes his presence known immediately by enforcing the law in a strict manner. He's confronted by Behan, who tries to intimidate him. This results in Behan being slapped around by Kane. Behan also grows to resent the new lawman because he is flirting with his mistress, saloon entertainer Lily Beloit (Angie Dickinson). When Behan abuses her as punishment, he gets another beating from Kane. Meanwhile, Billy runs into Jesse and accuses him of having deserted him in Mexico. The two men fight it out and Jesse is later involved with the accidental shooting of the town's beloved doctor while in the employ of Behan. Kane learns that Jesse is Boone's son and holds him in jail as bait for Boone to come out of hiding. The plan works all too well. Boone turns up with a small army and lays siege to the jailhouse where Kane and Billy are holed up.
Original French lobby card.
"Young Billy Young" was compared to a TV show by New York Times critic Howard Thompson on the basis that it contains so many standard elements of westerns from this time period. There is the bad girl with the heart of gold, the evil business tycoon, the brash young gun and his wiser, older mentor, the heroes outnumbered by superior forces and a lovable old coot (played against type by Paul Fix in full Walter Brennan/Gabby Hayes mode.) Yet somehow it all works very well, thanks mostly to Robert Mitchum's stalwart presence. With his trademark ram-rod stiff walk and cool persona, Mitchum tosses off bon mots like a frontier version of 007. Even the Times acknowledged that "Mitchum can do laconic wonders with a good wise-crack". He has considerable chemistry with Dickinson, though the action between the sheets is more implied than shown. Robert Walker Jr. acquits himself well in the title role and David Carradine makes an impression even with limited screen time. The film was directed by Burt Kennedy, an old hand at directing fine westerns in reliable, if not remarkable, style and it all culminates in a rip-snorting shoot-out that is genuinely exciting. The fine supporting cast includes Willis Bouchey, Parley Baer and Deanna Martin (Dino's daughter) in her acting debut. One oddball element to the film: Mitchum croons the title song over the opening credits. If this sounds strange, keep in mind that Mitchum improbably once had a hit album of calypso music.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes the original trailer as well as trailers for other westerns, "Support Your Local Sheriff", "Support Your Local Gunfighter" and "The Wonderful Country", which also stars Mitchum.
The seemingly promising teaming of Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale, both at their most glamorous back in 1968, goes hopelessly astray in the comedy/crime caper film "A Fine Pair". The movie is the kind of lazy effort that makes one suspect the only motives for the stars' participation were quick, sizable paychecks and the opportunity to enjoy some exotic locations at the studio's expense. (Think "Donovan's Reef" without the fun.) The film opens in New York City and we find Hudson as NYPD Captain Mike Harmon, a conservative, no-nonsense career police officer who runs his precinct with the same strong-arm tactics that General George S. Patton employed to keep his troops in line. Out of nowhere pops Esmeralda Marini (Cardinale), a glamorous and almost annoyingly perky young woman who has arrived unannounced from her native Italy. Turns out she has known Harmon most of her life as he was a good friend of her late father, who was an Italian police captain. It's never adequately explained how the two law enforcement officer's professional careers intersected but it turns out that Harmon became close enough to the Marini family that Esmeralda has long considered Harmon like a favorite uncle. The absurdities start almost immediately as Esmeralda confesses that she has possession of some stolen jewels that she has stolen from a prominent Italian family, the Fairchilds, who are now on holiday in New York. She says that she has regrets about having participated in the crime and wants to break into the Fairchilds' fortress-like chateau in Austria so that she can return the jewels before they find they are missing. One would think that a streetwise New York City police captain would see this as a rather bizarre and implausible yarn, but not Harmon. On a moment's notice he decides to take a leave from his job and flyoff for Austria with Esmeralda in a quest to undo the wrong she committed by stealing the jewels. Oh, did I mention that Harmon is also married? He dismisses this by saying that he was simply vague about his reasons for taking off suddenly for a week in Austria. I'd be curious to hear about the outcome of any married man who decides to employ the same tactics.
Once in Austria, Harmon is alternately bemused and annoyed by Esmeralda's party-hearty lifestyle. She is a magnet for eccentric young men of the counter-culture, who she beds with guilt-free abandon. However, it doesn't take long before conservative Harmon is joining in the partying but there is still the slight problem of breaking into the Fairchild's estate. Harmon uses a false scenario to convince the local police chief (the marvelous character actor Leon Askin) to give him a tour of the security devices inside and around the perimeter of the mansion. While it might be a professional courtesy to share such information with a fellow police captain, one would have to wonder how the absent family would feel about strangers treading around their private property and discussing all their top-secret burglar alarm devices. Harmon is stunned by the sophistication of the anti-theft system and concerned that the mission of breaking into the home will be impossible- and Esmeralda is vague about how the original theft was originally orchestrated except to say that her accomplice managed to pull it off. Against all logic, Harmon decides to risk his life and career in order to carry on with the plot. In some of the most absurd scenes, he becomes a poor man's "Q" Branch by devising ways to use ordinary objects such as champagne bottles and mingle them with chemicals in order to gain access to the house and neutralize the alarm system. It's a plan that would have challenged Einstein, but Harmon feels secure enough to continue with the caper. He and Esmeralda decided to undertake the top secret and illegal task of mixing dangerous chemicals by doing so in the communal toilet of the tiny bed and breakfast lodge they are staying at. Even Inspector Clouseau wouldn't be that careless.
Harmon's plan requires artificially raising the interior temperature of the room the Fairchilds' safe is in to a scorching 194 degrees Fahrenheit because somehow he has figured out that this will prevent the alarms from being triggered. The entire sequence is ludicrous and seems designed simply as an excuse for Cardinale to strip down to her bra and panties, which provides the only break in the tedium. It doesn't take much skill to make a caper film sequence suspenseful but director Francesco Maselli (who also committed the sin of co-writing the screenplay) manages to bungle even this "can't miss" opportunity. There is no tension whatsoever and the scene ends prematurely with the caper successfully carried out. However, Esmeralda now has a second break-in she wants Harmon to help with. By this point, he is smitten with her and they become lovers. Given the fact that he has been a de facto "uncle" to her, the "Yuck" factor kicks in right away. Before long Harmon has changed his entire personality, ditching his conservative lifestyle for the free-wheeling, anything-goes philosophy of Esmeralda. Harmon's transformation is as likely as someone entering the voting booth with the intention of voting for Ted Cruz and suddenly deciding to pull the lever for Bernie Sanders. The remainder of the film concerns this second, equally implausible, crime plan. By this point Harmon has discovered that he has been played for a sucker by Esmeralda, who had him place worthless jewels in the Fairchild safe. While he was preoccupied doing so, she used the opportunity to steal real jewels. In fact, she had never been inside the mansion before and had conned him into giving her access. Got all that? Then please explain it to me. Harmon is so enamored that this career police captain with a distinguished career in law enforcement decides to become a professional jewel thief and give up his profession. In a "Oh, by the way..." moment he conveniently also explains that he phoned his wife and requested a divorce, which she immediately complied with. Before long, the happy couple is off to Rome for their next caper. Not even Jules Verne could come up with such fantastical scenarios.
"A Fine Pair" has more problems than poor direction and a terrible script. It's perhaps the worst-photographed major film release I've ever scene. Cinematographer Alfio Contini has a distinguished record in the movie industry so maybe this was an aberration. However, he employs some amateurish techniques that make it appear the film was photographed by an amateur who stumbled onto the set while he was on his lunch break. There are head-spinning swirls and dreadful use of the zoom lens. Contini also squanders the early sequences in New York by focusing on tight close-ups of the actors instead of the city's exotic locations. The choppy editing doesn't help and we're left with an upbeat, jaunty score by Ennio Morricone as the film's sole asset. While I've always enjoyed Rock Hudson's work in movies, he gave very few truly impressive performances ("Giant" and "Seconds" among them.) He was best suited for light comedies which he had a natural flair for which is why it's a telling sign that he's pretty awful in this film. You can almost see a thought bubble above his head with the question "What the hell am I doing in this mess?" He gives a listless and uninspired performance throughout. Cardinale is at least lively but her character is poorly written and completely unbelievable. Regarding their performances, New York Times critic Roger Greenspun astutely wrote at the time, "...the film at times seems like "Mission: Impossible" performed by the cast of "Captain Scarlett and the Mysterons"- with facial expressions that cleverly imitate life."
The Warner Archive DVD was mastered from the best elements available. Fittingly they are awful and, thus, so is the transfer. The color quality varies wildly and some scenes are so dark that it feels as though you are staring into an inkwell. Not helping matters is that the movie suffers from bad dubbing and sound mixing so that even Rock Hudson sounds like he is being dubbed by a different actor. The movie is of primary interest to loyal fans of Hudson and Cardinale and those who get a kick out of watching promising cinematic premises that turned into disasters.
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We at Cinema Retro like nothing more than to make our readers aware of emerging new talents in independent film making. Two of the most impressive young movie creators whose work we've experienced recently are Steven Piet and Erik Crary, two personal friends who teamed up to fulfill their dream of making their own feature film. The duo wrote the screenplay for "Uncle John" and Piet made his directorial debut with the movie, as well. The film is a highly stylized, oddball concoction that blends two seemingly disparate storylines that intersect logically as the movie proceeds. The story grabs you from the opening frames in which we see Dutch (Laurent Soucie), a hulk of a man staggering in a dazed condition on the dock of remote lake in Wisconsin. We see he is being followed by another man, John (John Ashton), who is wielding the oar of a rowboat that he has apparently just slammed Dutch in the head with. He's about to administer the coup de grace when Dutch falls into the shallow water and conveniently drowns. We then watch John, a man in his late sixties, struggle mightily to cover up evidence of the murder. He wraps Dutch in an improvised body bag and painstakingly drags him to his truck, loads him into it and drives to an isolated field where local farmers burn brush. Here, he buries the body under a mound of branches and pours some gasoline on top, making for a gruesome bonfire. Who are these men and why has one murdered the other? The answers are given but not until much later in the story. Meanwhile, we see that John isn't a madman. Rather, he's well-established in the small farming community and respected for his low-key personality and slow-to-anger temperament. He earns a modest living on his farm, which he's converted to a woodworking shop where he does freelance carpentry jobs for local residents. About the only excitement in his day-today activities is getting together each morning with a group of local good ol' boys for coffee at the local diner where they discuss gossip and the affairs of the day. It doesn't take long before word gets around that Dutch has gone missing. Apparently Dutch has been a loose cannon and troublemaker for decades. Recently he's found Jesus and decided to repent. As part of his self-imposed penance, he's been visiting the locals and confessing to various misdeeds he's done against them and begging for their forgiveness. As the days pass with no sign of Dutch, the group begins to speculate that maybe someone didn't decide to forgive him for a specific transgression. Through it all, John keeps a poker face and pretends he is ignorant of Dutch's fate. But as the local sheriff keeps digging around, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable and perhaps is coming to regret having committed the murder.
The script cleverly presents a completely parallel and seemingly unrelated plot that centers on Ben (Alex Moffatt), a 29 year-old designer in a hip marketing studio in Chicago. A new employee, Kate (Jenna Lyng) has been brought on board to oversee projects. On one level he resents the hiring of this new supervisor but on the other hand he's understandably smitten by her charm and good looks. Before long they begin a romantic relationship. The two stories blend later in the film when we learn that Ben was raised by "Uncle John" when his mother died and his father deserted him. He decides to visit John and introduce him to Kate. The timing of the visit couldn't be worse for John, who is becoming increasingly concerned about being unveiled as a murderer. Adding to his woes is the nagging presence of Dutch's brother Danny (Ronnie Gene Blevins), who is all-too-obviously suspicious that John is hiding a terrible secret. Danny, like Dutch, is a local trouble maker with a short-fuse and a penchant for drinking. He drops by John's farm during the visit by Ben and Kate, who remain oblivious to the uneasy banter between the two men. Director Steven Piet ratchets up the tension in this marvelously-constructed sequence in which John and Danny enact a sequence that reminds one of a Bond movie in that the protagonist and villain talk politely to each other but barely mask their hatred for one another. John knows the noose is getting tighter and fears that Danny will take matters into his own hands if he doesn't stop him first. Worse, Danny make seek to avenge his brother's murder by making Ben and Kate his victims. The only element of the film I found somewhat disappointing is the final scene which has sense of irony about it but doesn't quite deliver the payoff I had hoped for. Nonetheless, "Uncle John" is a real winner in every respect. If you enjoy Hitchcock thrillers, give this one a try. In fact, the film reminded me of Hitchcock in the sense that the Master always tried to show just how difficult it is to kill a human being and dispose of a body. In "The Trouble With Harry", the titular corpse keeps popping up around town to the dismay of the locals. In the kitchen murder sequence of "Torn Curtain" we see exactly how ill-equipped an everyday person is to kill someone else. "Uncle John" explores this territory by showing us the pain, tension and aggrevation John must endure to cover-up his misdeed.
The sheer intelligence of the screenplay of "Uncle John" is what impressed me the most. The film doesn't rely on violence or gruesome scenes of bloodletting. Instead we get realistic characters talking in a realistic manner. Uncle John is one of those complex characters we've seen in films of this type before. On the surface he is the villain who has committed a deplorable deed. However, you end up inadvertently admiring his creativity and resolve in avoiding being detected as a murderer. He is played with enormous skill by character actor John Ashton, who finally gets a well-deserved starring role. Ashton's performance is award worthy, as he captures the essence of a very complex character and makes him sympathetic even though we can't condone what he has done. He is the consummate professional, bringing both pathos and cringe-inducing murderous instincts to his portrayal. He's matched by equally excellent performances by Alex Moffatt, Jenna Lyng and Ronnie Gene Blevins, all of whom should have promising futures in the film industry. The same goes for Steven Piet, whose debut as director is rather remarkable. He has a real eye for how to set up a scene and milk it for all its worth. I should mention that the casting of the film is outstanding. Even the smallest role is expertly played. Kudos to cinematographer Mike Bove, who does wonders with lighting elements that add immeasurably to the foreboding atmosphere. There is also a fine musical score by Adam Robbi and Shawn Sutta.
The Kino Lorber DVD includes a montage of scenes from the film set to the soundtrack music, a teaser trailer, original trailer and a rather clever interview with the filmmakers conducted by their own moms. In it, they discuss the trials and tribulations of making films such as these on micro-budgets. They may not have made much money from this project but it's far superior to most of the over-produced, overly-costly mainstream fare churned out by the major studios.