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.
“Barquero”(1970) stars Lee Van Cleef as Travis, an
ex-gunslinger living a quiet life as the owner/operator of a barge that is the
only way to cross the river at a certain spot between Texas and Mexico. When we
first see him he’s in bed with Nola (Marie Gomez), a hot looking Mexican chick
who likes to suck on cigarillos. Everything’s fine until the creepy Fair (John
Davis Chandler) shows up at his doorstep leering down at the naked Nola and
says he and two men with him want to go across the water to Texas. Travis
doesn’t like the way he’s looking at Nola and tells him “A ride across the
river is all your money’s going to buy.” They get across and Fair pulls a gun
on him and tells his amigos to tie him up.
Meanwhile, in a town a few miles to the north Remy
(Warren Oates), leader of an outlaw gang, watches from the bedroom of a
whorehouse as his gang robs the bank and shoots up the entire town. Once
they’re done shooting everything full of holes they ride south, expecting the
barge to be ready to take them to Mexico. Only trouble is Travis has a friend
named Mountain Phil (Forrest Tucker in a show-stealing performance) who is
handy with a knife. He kills the two of the desperadoes and neutralizes Fair
with the help of some “tasty” fire ants. Once freed, Travis quickly rounds up a
bunch of squatters, including Anna (Mariette Hartley) and Nola and takes them
over to the Mexican side. Remy is pretty ticked when he gets to the river and
sees there’s no barge ready to help them flee to Mexico. It’s pretty much a
standoff for the next hour of the film as both sides try to get the upper hand.
Producer Aubrey Schenck intended to make “Barquero” a
combination of the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the bloody westerns
of Sam Peckinpah. He hired Van Cleef, who was a star of two Leone westerns Oates, a member of Peckinpah’s
regular stock company, for the lead roles. He had a script by George Schenck
and William Marks that had a fairly strong premise. The idea was to set up the
clash between Van Cleef and Oates and let it explode.
It succeeds as far as it goes, but could have been much
better. Schenck originally hired TV director Robert Sparr to helm “Barquero”
but Sparr was killed in a helicopter crash scouting location in Colorado and
the job went to veteran director Gordon Douglas (“Them!” “Rio Conchos”). You
can see the Leone influence, especially when Remy starts cracking up and begins
smoking some loco weed, reminiscent of Indio (Gian Marie Volante) in “For a Few
Dollars More.” The bank robbery scene that opens the film is imitation
Peckinpah, complete with an astronomical bullet count. But it’s obvious Douglas,
capable though he was, lacked the crazed inspiration of either Peckinpah or
Leone. You would really need an inspired mad man to make “Barquero” work and Douglas
just wasn’t crazy enough. “Barquero” is
something of a misfire rather than the cult classic it could have been. Nevertheless,
it’s a treat to see two of the baddest badasses together for the one and only
time in their careers, and if you take it for what it is, it’s a wild ride.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray presents “Barquero” in its 1.85:1
theatrical aspect ratio. The picture is crisp and clear, with good color. Some
film elements are more worn that others, but overall it’s in good shape. The
only extra is trailer. Kino Lorber
deserves to be commended for the way it’s releasing these terrific
looking-Blu-Ray transfers of hard-to-find-movies like “Barquero,” especially at
a time when most of the market is heading away from actual physical discs to
on-line streaming. I hope they keep them coming.
“Kill or Be Killed” (2015) aka “Red on Yella, Kill a
Fella,” is a low budget horror-western released on DVD by RLJ Entertainment
that also attempts to be a tribute to the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s
and Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch.” The plot is about a gang of outlaws in
the year 1900 traveling 500 miles through Texas to get to a stash of gold
that’s hidden at the bottom of a well in the sand dunes of Galveston Beach. The
group is hounded on their journey by a mysterious being and one by one the gang
members get picked off.
Like Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch these outlaws are a motley
crew. Their leader, Claude “Sweet Tooth” Barbee, played by co-writer/director
Justin Meeks, is very loosely based on real-life outlaw Sam Bass. As Meeks
portrays him, Barbee is a man obsessed with recovering the hidden loot from a
previous robbery. He’ll stop at nothing
to get it. He’s abetted by a gang of cutthroats capable of anything, and he’s
willing to overlook their bloody crimes if it will help him get to the gold. He’s
even willing to go as far as looking the other way when one of his men, a
hulking brute called Blocky (Gregory Kelly), brutally rapes and murders a girl
in her early teens.
Meeks explains in the DVD’s audio commentary that Barbee
needs Blocky’s muscle, so he’ll overlook what he did. But it turns out he’s
even willing to go farther than that. When the girl’s father pulls a shotgun on
Blocky to give him his just desserts, Barbee shoots the father in the head. Meeks
points out however, that as bad as that seems, Barbee, at least, has a line he
won’t cross. He doesn’t allow the girl’s mother and little brother to be killed.
Well, I guess...
Meeks and his co-writer/director Duane Graves, came up
with a script that tries to outdo the violence and sadism of the films that
inspired it. They set out to show bad men being bad and paying for it all in
the end. The addition of the horror element provides for a little extra gore. As
far as it goes, it’s not a bad premise for a movie. But the question is how far
across the line can you let your characters go before they become so
reprehensible that the audience cannot relate to them? Peckinpah’s bunch were
men on the wrong side of the law, but he gave them a sense of honor. They were
bad but not as bad as the posse of degenerates pursuing them, or Mapache, the
bandit chief they rob a train for. Barbee and his men, on the other hand, are
on a level even lower than that.
In another scene that comes out of nowhere, our
anti-heroes try to rob a black man (whom Barbee calls “Jimmy”) with a wagon of
furs, but when they find out he has no money, Barbee tells his men to get a
rope and “put his boots in the trees.” Smells like a lynching to me. But who can tell? The scene ends with one of
the gang coming toward the man with about three feet of rope in his hands. How
do you hang somebody with three feet of rope? Were they just going to tie him
up? I went to the audio commentary hoping the filmmakers would shed some light
on what was going on and why they included such an unnecessary and repugnant scene
in the first place. But instead all they discussed was how much they spent on
the props, including a gold coin they bought on eBay. It’s just one example of
the confused direction and writing in this film.
Meeks and Graves also seem to be fond of throwing red
herrings at the audience. As the members of the gang are killed one by one in mysterious
ways, there are scenes involving a giant savage with flaming eyes, which we’re
told in the commentary, is some kind of Viking who appeared in one of their
earlier shorts. Exactly why he’s in this film isn’t explained. He only appears
in Barbee’s dreams, but how can a dream image manage to slit at least one
character’s throat while he’s sleeping? Turns out he didn’t. The explanation of
who the real killer is pretty fantastic. Like really unbelievable, man.
The cast is full of indie movie players including Michael
Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Edwin Neal (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre),
Arianne Martin (Don’t Look in the Basement 2), Luce Rains (No Country for Old
Men) and Paul McCarthy-Boyington (The Human Race). Veteran character actor Pepe
Serna (Black Dahlia) is credited with being one of the producers and also has a
part in the picture. He plays a man named Rudy Goebel who, with his wife and
son or sons (not immediately clear), runs a ramshackle boarding house. We find
him drugging his latest boarder and then shooting him in the head when he
suspects his soup has been doped. When his hysterical wife asks him how long he
can keep doing this, he smashes her head on the wooden table top several times,
killing her, and throws her, the boarder, and one son into a root cellar. What
the hell? I don’t know. You explain it to me. There are a lot of unexplained
things in “Kill or Be Killed.”
Near the end of the DVD audio commentary Meeks remarks
that it’s always “good to leave a few questions unanswered at the end of a
film, just enough so if you watch maybe a second of third time it might link
some of the gaps.” It’s too bad Meeks and Graves didn’t take the trouble to
fill in the gaps themselves. If they had, and if they had written a script that
had some sort of morality to it, “Kill or Be Killed” might have been an
impressive entry in the weird west sub-genre category. But this is the 21st
century and in the world of indie films anyone with a camera can throw anything
they want up on the screen and call it a movie. As it is, it’s a somewhat pathetic example of
ambitious indie film making swinging for the bleachers and coming up with a
foul to left field.
The RLJ Entertainment DVD presents “Kill or Be Killed” in
a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which does justice to Brandon Torres’
cinematography. He captures some nice views of the West Texas country. The
soundtrack by John Constant is imitation Ennio Morricone, but has some merits
of its own. The disc contains the usual
extras, including audio commentary, interviews and deleted scenes. I’m sure
there is some sort of audience for films like this. The gore and horror
reviewers on the web seemed to like it. It’s definitely not for everyone.
teenage boys discover a gunshot outlaw and nurse him back to health in “The
Spikes Gang,” a 1974 western directed by Richard Fleischer available for the
first time on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Lee Marvin plays Harry Spikes, an outlaw
who inspires Gary Grimes, Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith to join him as
outlaws. Harry is calm, cool and calculating, endearing himself to the boys who
have romanticized his life as an outlaw.
(Grimes), Les (Howard) and Tod (Smith) are farm boys seeking excitement and
adventure and find it in Harry who recovers from his wounds with the boy’s help.
The three boys are bored with the farm life as well as the harsh treatment they
receive from their parents. Harry offers the boys a reward for helping him, but
they turn him down instead asking to join Harry who declines their offer. The
boys, determined to get away from their life as farmers, depart on what they
believe will be a life as successful outlaws. They attempt a bank robbery in
the first town they arrive, but things go terribly wrong as they end up killing
wanted outlaws with no money or food, the boys flee to Mexico where they find menial
work cleaning and washing dishes. Life on the run is dusty, dirty and bleak and
the boys bump into Harry who takes pity on the boys who want to join him. He
feeds them, buys them new clothes, gives them money and says goodbye. The boys press
their request and Harry relents. He puts them through a sort of outlaw training
camp and is impressed with the boys shooting skills and ability to follow
instructions. When they ask Harry if they will rob the town’s bank, he states
that his money is in that bank. They plan their robbery across the border back
in the U.S. However, tragedy intervenes, leading to unexpected deaths and Will’s
confrontation with Harry, the man he had idolized.
Howard and Tod are very good as the misguided boys seeking adventure only to
find death and betrayal. They give performances full of hope for the adventure
that never happens in this gritty and realistic western. Lee Marvin is very
likable and easy going as Harry Spikes and although I wanted the boys to find
adventure with him, he’s like a scorpion. His true nature as a ruthless outlaw
is what drives him, not loyalty, friendship. or helping three farm boys find
their vision as romantic outlaws. The boys want a safe adventure with money and
success, but that only happens in the dime novels and newspaper stories they
on the novel “The Bank Robbers” by Giles Tippette, the screenplay was written by
Irvin Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. who
collaborated on several movies together including “The Long, Hot Summer,”
“Hud,” “Hombre,” “The Reivers,” “The Cowboys,” “The Carey Treatment,” “Conrack”
and “Norma Rae.” The story reminded me a bit of “The Cowboys,” if only because
of the surface similarity in both stories of an experienced man leading boys to
become men. In this case the wrong kind of man.
music by Fred Karlin is familiar as it resembles a few of the cues from his
work on “Westworld” which was released the year before in 1973. The score
doesn’t quite work in this movie and is a little too cheerful. What does work
is the cinematography by Brian West, emphasizing the bleak dusty landscapes as
he did in the Australian classic “Wake in Fright.” Richard Flescher’s direction
is top notch, emphasizing Harry’s charm and charisma with a brilliant
performance by Lee Marvin.
United Artist release was co-produced by Walter Mirisch and also features Arthur
Hunnicutt and Noah Beery Jr. There’s also a credited performance by Robert
Beatty (Carnaby in “Where Eagles Dare”) as the sheriff, but his scenes were
obviously deleted from the final cut, a not uncommon occurrence that actors
have to face. The picture looks good and plays very well on the small screen,
clocking in at a brisk 96 minutes. The only bonus feature on the disc is the
trailer for this and two other movies. Whether you’re a fan of Lee Marvin,
Richard Fleischer or revisionist 1970s westerns, this movie is well worth a look.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of Richard Lester's zany 1967 military comedy How I Won the War. The film has long elicited debates among those who consider it a scathing and witty denouncement of militarism and those who dismiss it as a pretentious train wreck of a movie. Count this writer among the latter. The film plays like an extended Monty Python sketch - with all the energy and talent, but none of the laughs. To be fair, one must take the movie into the context of the era in which it was released. Shot in 1966, the movie is seen by many as a protest against the increasing U.S. military presence in Vietnam. Although the anti-war movie didn't get into full gear until 1968, this premise is not unfounded because one of the characters makes a blatant reference to Vietnam by name. Set in WWII, the film follows the misadventures of a small unit of British soldiers stationed in North Africa. The central target of screenwriter Charles Wood, writing from a far more traditional novel by Patrick Ryan, is that the common soldier is used as cannon fodder for elitest, unqualified officers, who are uniformly presented here as ignorant dilettantes. This notion is personified by the character of Lt. Goodbody (Michael Crawford), a young man of privilege who seems blatantly jubilant about the prospect of heading into war. His ludicrous optimism makes him blind to the fact that he is hated by his own men.
The film is basically a well-photographed, but emotionally uninvolving series of juvenile gags and slapstick humor. Unlike films like M*A*S*H and Catch-22, How I Won the War suffers from being completely surrealistic on every level, thus removing the audience from any real empathy with the characters. Goodbody talks directly to the audience, soldiers appear inexplicably in bizarre costumes and props appear out of nowhere to help set up a joke. The dialogue is so rapid-fire and spoken with such thick British accents that I could barely understand a word - and I've spent a good deal of my life traveling around England. Director Lester, whose lesser works I've often defended, squanders an excellent cast that includes Roy Kinnear, Michael Hordern and John Lennon, whose appearance here represents his only work in a non-Beatles film. That pop culture footnote actually makes more of his appearance than is merited. Although he acquits himself very well, Lennon does not have any stand-out scenes and his role could have been played by virtually any other actor.
The confusing story line, such as it is, follows the platoon from North Africa to Europe. Though at one point it implies they are part of Montgomery's disastrous invasion of Holland, the platoon suddenly appears near the Remagen Bridge in Germany. The latter part of the film plays better because Lester includes some semi-realistic battle scenes that are actually quite exciting. There is also an interesting sub-plot involving Goodbody being captured by the enemy and making friends with a German officer who is equally immune to the horrors of war. However, these factors are bit "too little, too late" to salvage the overall movie. One of the reasons the film didn't resonate with audiences at the time is likely because the British public could hardly relate to WWII as one of those useless, unnecessary conflicts. While it is true that Britain's involvement in the war was one of choice, the price of staying out of it would have meant the country would have existed only as a lapdog for a Europe completely dominated by National Socialism. Thus, using "The Good War" as a metaphor for a more controversial conflict such as Vietnam seems somewhat ill-advised in retrospect. Robert Altman's M*A*S*H succeeded using the Korean War as a backdrop because it was a situation the average person never adequately understood or supported and it made for a more direct comparison to Vietnam.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is most welcome but that doesn't mitigate the fact that this particular film is definitely for Lennon and Lester purists only.
Time has issued a new Blu-ray edition of Fritz Lang's classic 1953 film noirThe
Big Heatas a
limited edition (3,000 units). The movie ranks among the top films in the noir
genre and time has only increased its appeal. Glenn Ford is Dave Bannion, a
dedicated police detective who begins to suspect that the apparent suicide of a
fellow cop might be linked to department-wide corruption. His hunch proves
correct as it becomes evident that virtually the entire police department,
right up to the commissioner, is controlled by local crime kingpin Mike Lagana
(Alexander Scourby). When Bannion receives warnings to lay off the
investigation, he ignores them and continues to pursue leads. Before long, not
only he but his beloved wife (Jocelyn Brando) and daughter are targeted for
death. Lang's penchant for creating a dark, foreboding atmosphere is on display
here. Most of the scenes are interiors or dank, dangerous locations. The film's
central plot is mesmerizing from the shocking opening frames. As a leading man,
Ford could usually be described as handsome, affable and reliable but
"dynamic" would hardly be associated with his screen persona. InThe
Ford gives what is arguably the best performance of his career. As the
gangsters take their toll on him, he becomes a man obsessed, menacing men and
women alike. His only ally is Debby Marsh (wonderfully played by Gloria
Grahame), a ditzy but lovable gun moll who suffers terribly from her attempts
to aid Bannion. Director Lang brings real pathos to the proceedings. Bannion is
the ultimate family man-- and he has a sexually playful relationship with his
wife, something refreshing for a film from this period. When his wife and kid
are menaced, Bannion's rage brings him to the brink of committing murder
himself. Supporting characters are tortured, scalded, and even children are
many memorable scenes in the film and most feature an impressive array of
terrific supporting actors including Lee Marvin outstanding as a charismatic,
but vicious thug who squares off with Bannion in the action-packed finale. Lang
loved his adopted country, America, ever since he had fled Nazi Germany rather
than serve as one of their propagandists. However, he was always dismayed by
instances of injustice and often reflected these concerns in his films.The
well have been the most daring expose of police corruption seen in any film
until that time. The film remains a mini-masterpiece of its kind and all retro
movie buffs should have it in their movie libraries.
Twilight Time Blu-ray presents a terrific transfer that does full justice to
the outstanding camerawork of Charles Lang. The package includes the usual
informative collector's booklet written by Julie Kirgo, but don't read it
before watching the film as it is filled with spoilers. New features include on-screen separate interviews with director Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann, who both provide valuable insights into why they consider this to be one of the greatest of film noirs. An original trailer is also included.
Occasionally we at Cinema Retro like to demonstrate that our interest in films doesn't end in the era when scripts had the fingerprints of Steve McQueen or Henry Fonda on them. Regular readers know that we try to promote worthy independent films by up-and-coming directors. Case in point: "The Heart Machine", an intriguing mystery that marks the feature film debut of director/screenwriter Zachary Wigon. His film, originally released in 2014, is now available on DVD from Kino Lorber, a company that also tries to expand awareness of worthy indie films. The movie grabs you within the first few minutes, a necessary ingredient for any mystery. Cody (John Gallagher Jr.) is a 29 year-old, average guy who makes a modest living as a freelance writer. He lives in Brooklyn, which is now the center of the universe for hipsters. When we first see him he's engaging in a Skype video chat with Virginia (Kate Lyn Shiel), an attractive young woman his own age who resides in the same neighborhood he does. The two make small talk and it seems they are in a committed relationship and that she is on a trip to Germany. We soon learn that they have actually never met although they consider themselves to be boyfriend/girlfriend. Virginia is ostensibly studying for six months at an institute in Berlin. Their flirtatious remarks inevitably lead to some graphic phone/video sex via Skype. (Thus demonstrating an unintended benefit of the advances in technology). Cody is clearly not only smitten but madly in love with Virginia and they talk about their impatience at having to wait months before finally meeting in person. However, some disturbing suspicions enter Cody's mind. They begin when he hears an ambulance siren in the background on Virginia's Skype feed. He has recorded the chat and goes back to research what German ambulance sirens sound like (the wonders of Google!). He's even more disturbed to find that they sound nothing like what he has heard in his chat session with Virginia. The next day he is on a subway train to Manhattan and sees a young woman sitting opposite him who is an exact ringer for Virginia. She doesn't make eye contact with him but when he later mentions that he's seen her virtual twin on a train, Virginia acts a bit uncomfortable. Cody begins to suspect that the woman he saw was indeed Virginia and from here the plot segues into a Gen X version of "Vertigo". Cody becomes increasingly determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. If Virginia isn't in Germany, what is her motive for carrying out his elaborate hoax?
In his conversations with Virginia he maintains that everything is normal. However, when he throws out a couple of phrases in German and tells her he is studying the language she becomes inexplicably angry. Cody then begins an odyssey to try to prove that, like Sheila Levine, she is indeed alive and well and living in New York. He becomes an amateur detective and uses his skills with social media to track her movements through old Facebook posts. He becomes obsessed with his quest and begins to frequent places she might have visited, hoping to find people who know her. (The film is certainly a cautionary tale reminding us that the price we pay for technology is an almot complete loss of privacy.) The story builds in suspense because the viewer doesn't know any more than Cody does at one particular time. However, Zachary Wigon, the screenwriter, does a disservice to Zachary Wigon, the director by tipping us off way too early regarding a key plot point. It certainly doesn't entirely ruin the sense of suspense but it surely diminishes it. Alfred Hitchcock made the same mistake with "Vertigo", at least in this writer's opinion, by letting us in on the fact that the woman who is the exact double of his former lover is indeed the same woman. I always thought that it would have been more effective for the script to hold that relevation until a bit later in the story. Nevertheless, if Hitchcock could make such a misstep, one can hardly blame novice filmmaker Wigon for doing the same. The problem with reviewing mysteries is that the reviewer must tread carefully so as to not reveal too much. "The Heart Machine" can't actually be termed a thriller. At no time is anyone is any real danger, but Zigon shows an admirable skill for generating legitimate suspense from seemingly nondescript situations. When Cody gains entrance to a young woman's apartment by feigning interest in her, his real quest is to confirm that she is a friend of Virginia's. When she goes to another room, Cody accesses her laptop and begins to scroll through her personal messages. The sequence is especially intense in terms of being nerve-wracking for both him and the viewer. Zigon also has the knack for capitalizing on the New York locations, thus giving the movie an air of authenticity. Rob Leitzell's stylish cinematography aids immeasurably. Best of all are the performances. John Gallagher Jr. is gives a finely-tuned performance an everyday guy caught up in an extraordinary quest caused by his increasing obsession with a desirable woman (much like James Stewart in "Vertigo"). Gallagher is so good, in fact, that he loses himself completely in his character. His performance is quite remarkable. Although we see the object of his desire, Virginia, primarily through video chat screens, Kate Lyn Sheil is every bit his equal. She manages to be alluring, innocent and yet somehow foreboding all at the same time. You can well understand why Cody becomes obsessed with her. The supporting cast is peppered with fine performances from some very impressive young actors. The movie's conclusion and the resolution of Cody's quest is a bit unsatisfying in its ambiguity. Nevertheless, as both director and screenwriter, Zachary Wigon displays a great deal of promise. Here's hoping that in the "dog eat dog" world of indie filmmaking, he gets his chance to capitalize on that promise. I, for one, am very much looking forward to his future work.
The Kino Lorber DVD has an excellent transfer and a brief trailer. Here's hoping they will one day issue a Blu-ray release with commentary track.
has released John Frankenheimer’s “The Holcroft Covenant” (1985) in new Blu-ray
and DVD editions, superseding a previous DVD release on the MGM label in
1999. Frankenheimer fans will be
pleased to see this relatively obscure title available in remastered Hi-Def. Privately, even they may have to admit that
it’s deservedly obscure because it’s a clunker, marking a sad decline from the
excellence of “The Manchurian Candidate” two decades before. With that 1962 masterpiece, Frankenheimer and
scenarist George Axelrod benefited from superlative source material, Richard Condon’s
razor-sharp Cold War political thriller. “The Holcroft Covenant” was adapted from lesser stuff, a bestselling but
stumble-footed 1972 suspense novel by Robert Ludlum. Multiple screenwriters are credited: George
Axelrod, Edward Anhalt, and John Hawkins. The problems with the movie suggest a combination of Ludlum’s lame
storytelling to begin with, additional troubles in trying to turn the rambling,
528-page potboiler into a leaner, 100-minute-long movie, and questionable
choices by Frankenheimer himself.
Holcroft, a German-born New York architect, learns that he is the main trustee
of a covenant drawn up 40 years before, in the last hours of the Third Reich,
by three officers of the Nazi High Command. One of the officers, General Clausen, was Holcroft’s father. Once it’s signed by Holcroft and the children
of the other two officers, the covenant will release $4.5 billion from a secret
Swiss account, a fortune accrued over four decades from Nazi funds diverted by
the three officers during the war. Clausen’s posthumous directive specifies that the trustees are to spend
the fund for beneficent purposes, to atone for Hitler’s atrocities. Holcroft must locate the other trustees --
the son and daughter of General Tiebolt and the son of General Kessler -- so
that the covenant can be activated. His
mother Athene (Lilli Palmer), who had fled Clausen and Germany early in the
war, cautions Holcroft to walk away from the arrangement because his father
couldn’t be trusted and neither can the directive: “He was a Nazi through and
through.” But Holcroft idealistically
proceeds anyway, joining in Berlin with the Tiebolt brother and sister, who
have taken the name Tennyson, and the Kessler son, a symphony conductor now
calling himself Maas. Mysterious characters
enter the story in Zurich, New York, London, Berlin, and finally Zurich again,
seemingly intent on derailing the covenant, as bodies begin to pile up around
I mention that Holcroft is played by Michael Caine, because, well, if you need
an actor to play a German-born New Yorker, you want Michael Caine? As Frankenheimer notes in a director’s
commentary track repeated from the 1999 DVD, the “New York” scenes in the film
were actually shot in London, so why not simply transfer the phony U.S. setting
to the U.K., ignore the character’s New York upbringing from the novel, and
make him a German-born Londoner to match Caine’s accent? Reportedly, Caine was a last-minute
replacement for James Caan, who walked off the movie, so Frankenheimer may not
have had time even for minor script adjustments. A good trouper, Caine honestly appears to
invest a lot of energy in the part, accent aside. But it hardly matters because Holcroft is a
dolt who does anything he’s asked to do without a second thought, no matter how
inconvenient, nonsensical, or dangerous. Drop everything and fly to Zurich at the behest of a total stranger who
claims to be a representative from an international bank? Wouldn’t you? Hop over to London at the request of another total stranger and agree to
meet yet a third stranger in Trafalgar Square at 5 p.m. tomorrow? (“And don’t
look for him. He’ll find you.”) Sure, why not. Rendezvous at a church with a mysterious
woman in a bad disguise, and then hide out with her in a sleazy Berlin brothel
to avoid the bad guys? I’m on it.
of the Berlin brothel, Frankenheimer clutters several scenes with unnecessarily
eccentric background details. The
brothel business leads to a chase in and out of a nighttime street festival of
prostitutes and cross-dressers. In his
commentary, Frankenheimer says he wanted to use the brothel and the street
festival, which provide an excuse for some unattractive, R-rated nudity, to
evoke classic novels and films about the decadent Berlin of the 1930s. Instead of distracting the viewer so you’re
less likely to notice that the scene itself makes little sense, the clutter
only underscores the absurdity. When Holcroft first meets his fellow heir Maas
(Mario Adorf), Maas is conducting a symphony rehearsal -- because,
Frankenheimer says, he always wanted to film a scene of a symphony orchestra
performing. Simpler would have been
better, had Frankenheimer merely told his actors hit their marks, deliver their
lines, and move on. It doesn‘t help that
Adorf is miscast as a conductor (physically, he looks about as much the part as
Jack Black or John Goodman would), and that most of the other actors are
undistinguished. Only Victoria Tennant
and Anthony Andrews emerge relatively unscathed, even though Andrews enters
with an unflattering mustache that seems
to be part of a disguise, except that he never gets rid of it. It took me a while to realize that, more than
likely, it was an attempt to make Andrews look older so that the age difference
between him (37) and Caine (52) would not be so obvious, since their characters
are supposed to be contemporaries.
story turns on a “surprise twist” about the real purpose of the covenant and
the real motives behind Andrews‘ and Tennant’s characters. I saw it coming about 20 minutes into the
picture, without even trying. Frankenheimer stages the climactic scene in Alfred Hitchcock fashion,
with Holcroft and the chief villain struggling over a revolver in a chaotic
crowd setting, in this case a press conference. There’s even a Hitchcockian
close-up of Caine’s hand clamped desperately over the cylinder of the gun to
keep it from turning, inter-cut with shots of the two men struggling and the
crowd surging around them in panic. It’s
the only scene in the film that comes even remotely close to the gripping
visual style of “The Manchurian Candidate.”
viewers (admittedly, not a likely audience demographic) may smile when the
characters marvel over the $4.5 billion in the covenant. It was probably an impressive sum in 1985 but
now it seems like pocket change next to Bill Gates’ $77.7 billion bank
account. I’m reminded of Dr. Evil’s
comment in one of the Austin Powers movies, “Why make trillions when we can
make . . . billions?” The bad guys‘
ulterior purpose for the $4.5 billion? “To consolidate every terrorist group in the world into one cohesive,
overwhelming force to create international crises and chaos . . . until the
world is reduced to a state of anarchy, ready to accept a strong new leader who
can restore order and take command.” Given the past 15 years’ experience of 9/11, the global economic
meltdown, unending catastrophe in the Middle East, the growing chasm between
the haves and have-nots in the United States, and the rancid tenor of the 2016
Presidential campaign primaries, reality has left Ludlum’s and Frankenheimer’s
pulp fantasy in the dust. Never mind a
neo-Nazi conspiracy. Our perfectly
legitimate financial, political, judicial, and military systems have brought us
nearly to the same end.
Kino-Lorber Blu-ray disc’s 1920x1080p image is less than pristine but
acceptable. In addition to the director’s alt-track commentary, there is a
trailer gallery and menu, but unfortunately no English captioning for the hard
of hearing.Given that any audience for
the film is likely to fall into the age range for which captioning is a welcome
bonus, this is an unfortunate omission.
One of seemingly dozens of Universal westerns
released in the 1960s and early ‘70s, ‘A Man Called Gannon’ is a remake of the
tough Kirk Douglas western ‘Man Without a Star’ (1955). Rather than using Dee
Linford’s novel of the same name as its source, the film uses the screenplay by
D.D. Beauchamp and Borden Chase from the 1955 version, with additional writing from
Gene R. Kearney. Tony Franciosa stars as Gannon, a drifting cowboy without a
horse. While riding the rails west by locomotive cattle car, he meets young
Easterner Jess Washburn (Michael Sarrazin). The pair end up working as cowhands
on the Cross Triangle ranch, where the tough old hand teaches the tenderfoot
from Philadelphia how to ride and shoot like a pro. They both become romantically involved with
the ranch’s owner, Beth Cross (Judi West), which causes friction, while Jess
also clashes with the ranch’s bullying ‘top hand’ Capper (John Anderson). The
open range is being fenced in by the cattlemen and with the arrival of a
massive consignment of barbed wire, Gannon and Jess end up facing each other on
opposite sides of the fence.
It’s unfair to compare the film to ‘Man
Without a Star’, which benefits from Frankie Laine’s snappy title song and a
cast filled with memorable, seasoned performers like Jeanne Crain (as rancher
Reed Bowman), William Campbell (as greenhorn Jeff Jimson), Richard Boone, Jay C.
Flippen, Mara Corday, Sheb Wooley, Paul Birch, Roy Barcroft and the great Jack
Elam. In ‘A Man Called Gannon’, Tony
Franciosa is good in the title role, as a drifter ‘ex of Texas’, aimlessly
wandering the range. Like Kirk Douglas’ Dempsey Rae, Gannon is tormented by his
bad experiences of barbed wire – his little brother Jim was killed when he was
caught on a fence in a cattle stampede – which allows Franciosa a grandstanding
‘drunken trauma’ scene. I like Franciosa. He was an agreeable screen presence
in everything from the Raquel Welch spy vehicle ‘Fathom’ (1967), to Dario
Argento’s bloody giallo ‘Tenebrae’ (1982). My favourite of his roles is the
wily cutthroat Rodriguez in the gunrunning western ‘Rio Conchos’ (1964) and you
can see why he was reputedly up for the role of Manolito in ‘The High
Chaparral’ TV show (he lost out to Henry Darrow).
There are some familiar faces in the ‘Gannon’
cast – such as Sarrazin, Anderson, James Westerfield and Gavin MacLeod – but otherwise
it’s not the best-known cast. Emmy-award-winning TV director James Goldstone
uses trippy overlaid double exposures for some scenes (in the manner of Peter
Fonda’s acid western ‘The Hired Hand’) and also rapid cross-cutting in moments
of tension, like a spaghetti western. According to Judi West, who played rancher
Beth Cross, Goldstone had her voice dubbed, even though she was an accomplished
actress who had numerous film, TV and theatre credits and had taught acting
classes. The jaunty cowboy title song ‘A Smile, a Mem’ry and an Extra Shirt’
was sung by Dave Grusin. The narrative ballad ‘commenting’ on Gannon’s
adventures is very 1950s in method, if folksy 1960s in style. Grusin also
worked on ‘The Graduate’ (1967) and wrote the narrative ballad ‘Code of the
West’ for the James Coburn comedy western ‘Waterhole #3’ (1967).
New to DVD in the UK is ‘Arabella’, an
Italian period comedy set in that hotbed of hilarity, pre-WWII fascist Italy. Virna
Lisi stars in the title role – known variously in the film as Arabella Danesi
and Arabella Angeli – who determines to save her grandmother from destitution
by finding ingenious ways to pay off her elderly relative’s crippling tax bill.
The film is structured rather like those
1960s Italian portmanteau comedy-dramas, such as ‘Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’,
‘The Witches’ or ‘Woman Times Seven’. Such films were intended as vehicles for
one female star, be they Sophia, Silvana or Shirley, to demonstrate their versatility
in a variety of roles. But instead of separate stories, with different
characters, ‘Arabella’ has one continuous story arc, with Lisi’s sexy heroine
adopting various costumes, personas and wigs to seduce and blackmail her way
through a string of lovers, who are then conned out of cash to pay off granny’s
debts. Some of her victims are played by
Terry-Thomas. It is he who gets to show off his comedy skills in a variety of
roles, though despite costume and make-up changes, they all resemble
Terry-Thomas – there’s no disguising that tooth gap. He plays a girdle-wearing,
monocled British general Sir Horace Gordon, an Italian hotel manager angered by
the installation of a public urinal in the street outside his swanky
establishment and the rich duke who hires Arabella to ‘cure’ his gay son
Saverio. Terry-Thomas and Lisi had
already worked together to great success on the Hollywood black comedy ‘How to
Murder Your Wife’ (1965) and he’s clearly enjoying himself here in the various
The cast of this Italian-UK co-production –
shot in Rome, Naples and Venice – is an interesting one. Margaret Rutherford
plays Arabella’s debt-ridden granny, Princess Ilaria, James Fox is Arabella’s mysterious,
louche shadow Giorgio, and Rutherford’s old partner Stringer Davis from the
big-screen 1960s Miss Marple films shows up in an amusing cameo as Ilaria’s
gardener, Nazzareno. Giancarlo Gianni played Saverio, who pretends to be gay,
so that his father continues to send in alluring women to try to ‘cure’ him. Familiar
Italian supporting players appear, too – Renato Romano played General Gordon’s
batman, Renato Chiantoni is one of the tax inspectors hassling Ilaria, Giuseppe
Addobbati is a hotel guest and Ugo
Fangareggi is a policeman.
‘Arabella’s disjointed, jumpy plotting bears
the signs of considerable cutting for international distribution and it
eventually falls to pieces as a movie – in exactly the same way so many very
good 1960s Italian films that have been edited and dubbed for international
audiences fall to bits. The film was released internationally by Universal
Pictures and its associate producer was Dario Argento’s father, Salvatore,
before he began producing his son’s legendary gialli thrillers. The big plusses
are the art direction (by Alberto Boccianti) and superb 1920s period costumes
by Piero Tosi (Visconti’s designer on ‘Death in Venice’ and ‘The Leopard’), so
visually the film is splendid. Of most interest to me was the chance to hear
one of Ennio Morricone’s many little-heard scores of this period. ‘Arabella’
was directed by Mauro Bolognini, whose dramas ‘He and She’ (1969 – ‘L’assoluto
naturale’), ‘Un bellissimo novembre’ (1969 – ‘That Splendid November’) and ‘Metello’
(1970) are all worth a look, or rather a listen, for their memorable Morricone
scores. Bolognini also directed the erotic period drama ‘La Venexiana’ (1986),
aka ‘The Venetian Woman’ starring Laura Antonelli and Jason Connery, which also
benefits from a lovely Morricone score. The maestro’s score here is a mixture of
lush period orchestrations and comedic, clockwork themes which resemble early
drafts of Morricone’s title cue to ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion’
(1970). The descending flute trill from ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ makes a brief
appearance, but in the main, this is a playful score, befitting the material, with
a lovely violin theme for the Venetian scenes towards the end of the movie.
The Region 2 DVD from Simply Media is
presented in 4:3 screen ratio, which looks cropped at the sides. This seems to
be the case, as the IMDB lists the aspect ratio as 1.85:1. The film was 105
minutes in Italy, but cut drastically to 88 minutes for US release. Simply
Media’s habit of printing the US running time in promotional material continues
here, as the UK DVD actually runs 84 minutes. The picture quality has nowhere near the sharpness and clarity of some
of Simply Media’s other releases – notably its Universal westerns such as ‘A
Man Called Gannon’ and ‘Calamity Jane and Sam Bass’. ‘Arabella’ is rated 12 (for
‘moderate sex references’).
For 1960s Commedia all’Italiana, Terry-Thomas
and Morricone completists this is worth a look, but others might find it hard
going. A definite curio however and a long-lost one at that.
Though this welcome Scream Factory issue marks the first
time Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971)
and The Dunwich Horror (1969) have
been made available on domestic Blu-ray, both films enjoyed a previous release
on DVD as part of MGM’s long-suspended “Midnite Movies” series. Rue
Morgue was first paired with Cry of
the Banshee (1970) in 2003, with Dunwich
and Die Monster Die! (1965) following
in 2005. Though both of these earlier sets
are now technically out-of-print, copies remain generally available. Regardless, the more discerning horror-film
aficionado would be well advised to seek out this new Blu edition. Not only does Scream Factory’s HD master
offer a significant upgrade in visual presentation, the studio has also
restored bits of censored footage missing from the Y2K releases.
H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Dunwich Horror was written in the summer of 1928 and first
published in the April 1929 issue of the appropriately titled Weird Tales magazine. It’s likely the best known of the celebrated author’s
horror tales, having been recollected and reissued throughout the 20th and 21st
century in any number of literary horror anthologies. Though A.I.P. and director Daniel Haller (a
well-tested art director on many previous films for the company) have taken a
number of liberties bringing Lovecraft’s original tale to the screen, the author’s
basic premise is mostly preserved.
Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) is the great-grandson of
Oliver Whateley. The elder Whateley was
a practitioner of the black arts who, two generations earlier, had been hanged for
his heresy by vigilantes in the otherwise sleepy village of Dunwich. The Whateley’s have long been a bane to the frightened
residents of the ocean-side community, shunned and ostracized as devil-worshippers. Technically, this is a misunderstanding as the
family worships neither God nor Satan. They spend most of their nights secluded in a creepy cliff-side home on an
otherwise postcard-pretty coastline. The
Whateley’s mostly putter about the old house trying to summon the “Old Ones” who,
we are told, are an amorphous super-race of beings from another dimension that will
bring an end to mankind.
Wilbur’s grandfather (Sam Jaffee) has actually backed-off
a bit on the family’s over-zealous determination in this regard. He’s understandably wary as his own quarter-century
old attempt at summation – one which involved Wilbur’s mother, Lavinia –had
gone horribly wrong. The strange and
dangerous rumblings of a creature still imprisoned behind a locked closet door
will attest to that. But Lavinia’s surviving twenty-five year old progeny,
Wilbur, has not gone soft; he’s determined to succeed where his ancestors have failed. The young man needs only two components to
achieve his goal. He first requires
access to the Necronomicom, an
ancient and priceless book of which only two copies survive. Conveniently, one copy sits in a not terribly
protected glass display case in the University library in Arkham, only a mere forty
miles up the road.
More problematically, Wilbur requires a female virgin; and
good luck trying to find one in the summer of 1969. This is where Bayonne, New Jersey’s own Sandra
Dee, best known for her healthful and morally salutary screen-image, comes
in. It seems only a pure virgin can
serve as the conduit through which the “Old Ones” can, at long last,
emerge. With her post-Gidget acting career stagnant, Dee was desperate
to hone a new screen image at decade’s end. Here she is effectively cast both with and against type as the
beleaguered Nancy Wagner. Not all of the
former teenage star’s innocent ways were so easily expunged. The actress had her limits and was modestly body-doubled
in a number of brief nude scenes. Her
antagonist is the wild-eyed, nearly non-blinking Wilbur Whateley, and Stockwell
plays him as a complete nutcase, mysterious, emotionally remote, and not
particularly charming. It’s somewhat
difficult to believe that Nancy would fall for him so hard though it’s
suggested a combination of hypnotism and drug-laced tea keep the young woman in
tow. The drugging would also explain the
trippy, psychedelic dreams she suffers following her first share of the teapot
with weird Wilbur.
It’s actually the addition of this central
damsel-in-distress element that causes Haller’s film to deviate wildly from the
original Lovecraft tale. With the
exception of the aforementioned Lavinia, there’s nary a central-character
female present in the original short story. The movie’s climatic birthing of the “Old Ones” on a sacred altar atop
the cliff-side “Devil’s Hop Yard” is a near complete invention of the
filmmakers. In what was an already a customary
A.I.P. tradition, executive producer Roger Corman, and producers Samuel J.
Arkoff and James H. Nicholson were no doubt hoping to exploitatively piggy-back
off of the surprising success of Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
As was the studio’s modus
operandi, A.I.P. rolled out The
Dunwich Horror in a sweeping west-to-east geographic fashion, supporting
this new release at drive-ins and theaters with one or two other fiendish films
from the company catalog: The Tomb of the Cat (a more pronounceable
re-title of Roger Corman’s The Tomb of
Ligeia), The Oblong Box (1969),
and even Destroy All Monsters (the
legendary 1968 production of Japan’s Toho Productions, but issued in the U.S. by
A.I.P. in the late summer of 1969.)
In addition to being a reliable and fairly popular leading man, Ray Milland also showed some talent as a film director. In total, he directed five movies- among them "The Safecracker", a 1958 low-budget British film noir made by MGM. The fast-moving story concerns one Colley Dawson (Milland), an expert safecracker who uses his skills for a home security company. He is hired out to design safes for wealthy clients that can be deemed impossible to crack. Although regarded as a genius in his field, Colley is in a deep funk. He's in his fifties, has no home to call his own and still lives with his doting, aging mother (Barbara Everest) in a small home in a nondescript street in London. When Colley lands a major, lucrative contract for his company, his skinflint boss "rewards" him with a bonus of a measly five pound note. Colley's fortunes change when he is contacted by Bennett Carfield (Barry Jones), a wealthy man who divulges that he earns his income through trading in stolen antiques. He entices Colley to use his safecracking skills to form a criminal partnership with him in return for 50% of the profits. Colley doesn't need much persuasion. Feeling he is on the road to nowhere, he is eager to finally enjoy the finer things in life and has no ethical reservations about how to acquire them. Before long he is sneaking into affluent people's homes and relieving the owners of prized possessions. He adopts a dual identity. During the work week, he remains the wimpy employee of an ungrateful boss. On weekends, however, he tools around in a fancy sports car, dates a glamorous, sexually-charged minor actress and bets extravagant sums on horses. Things come to a crashing halt, however, when Scotland Yard gets wind of his activities. Carfield urges him to stop his safecracking because he is under suspicion but the arrogant Colley insists on pulling off one more caper- which he does with disastrous consequences. He soon finds himself in jail facing an eight year sentence. However, two years into his term, England is at war with Nazi Germany. He is approached by military intelligence with a tempting offer: accommodate a team of commandos on a highly dangerous mission in occupied Belgium in return for a full pardon. The plan revolves around a list of German secret agents in England that is being stored in safe inside a heavily guarded country chateau. The plan is to infiltrate the house, have Colley and the team penetrate the safe and photograph the list. If it works, the Nazis will be none-the-wiser that their agents' identities are now known. Colley agrees to go but proves to be a handful for the unit in which he will serve. He's not only long in the tooth, he's got tusks. Still, he completes a crash course in parachuting techniques and before long finds himself behind enemy lines but separated from his companions. From this point, the plot revolves around Colley meeting up with his team because their mission is useless without his participation. As director Milland manages to milk some occasional suspense out of the proceedings and sensibly turns his age into an asset. He can't keep up with his younger companions and his newly-found playboy lifestyle intrudes when his attempts to romance a Resistance girl almost compromises the mission. The final scenes of the film, set inside the chateau, are handled well and the ironic ending is rather moving.
"The Safecracker" is definitely "B" movie fare, but that isn't meant as a knock. It's quite entertaining throughout and Milland gives a highly amusing performance as a rogue who finds himself serving his country's war effort with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. The film features a fine cast of British character actors with Barry Jones particularly impressive. The Warner Archive release features considerable artifacts but they are a minor distraction. Most annoying is the fact that the night footage (much of it derived from newsreels) is so dark that you feel as though you are peering into an inkwell. Still, this is consistently entertaining film that will have cross-over appeal for lovers of crime movies, spy flicks and WWII films. A weather-beaten original trailer is also included. The DVD is region-free.
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The Vinegar Syndrome video label continues to unearth obscure examples of 1960s erotica. None is more bizarre than "Infrasexum", a 1969 concoction by director/actor Carlos Tobalina, who would ultimately be regarded as one of the more prolific hardcore filmmakers. Back in '69, however, it was still difficult to get theatrical showings of hardcore films, which were generally relegated to 8mm film loops sold in adult book stores. Tabolina tried to push the envelope with "Infrasexum" but was still confined by the dreaded "community standards" obscenity laws that mandated only soft-core movies could generally be shown without causing a major legal flap from local conservative groups that had routinely declared war on pornography. "Infrasexum" (I have no idea what the title means and apparently neither did Tobalina) attempts to tell a poignant story about the toll the aging process takes on sexual libido. The film opens in the offices of Mr. Allison (Eroff Lynn), a fifty-something successful business executive who is despondent over the routine lifestyle he is leading. He has money galore but exists in a gloomy state of mind. He's also depressed (in this pre-Viagara era) about his inability to perform sexually with his bombshell wife (Marsha Jordan), who prances about their penthouse clad in a see-through nightee. Determined to start a new life, Allinson sends his wife a goodbye letter, turns the control of his company over to two trusted employees and takes off for parts unknown. He immediately feels liberated from the day-to-day grind. He ends up in Las Vegas and almost reluctantly wins $250,000 in cash. He doesn't need the money but for the first time in ages he feels he's on a winning streak. He drives to L.A. where he has a chance encounter with Carlos (Carlos Tobalina), a somewhat kooky but charismatic man who routinely grubs money from him but also introduces him to a new lifestyle with his hippie friends. Before long, Allison is taking in rock shows in discotheques on the Sunset Strip and experimenting with pot. Carlos tries on several occasions to cure Allison's sexual problems by setting him up with willing young women but the result is always frustrating failure to launch. At one point an unrelated sub-plot is introduced in which Allison is kidnapped by two thugs who threaten his life and shake him down for big money. They also murder a helpless young woman in his presence. In one of the lamest action sequences ever filmed, Allison breaks free and kills both men in an unintentionally hilarious manner. Allison treats this presumably life-altering incident as though it's a minor distraction and before long is taking up his lifetime's goal of becoming a painter. An admiring young woman invites him back to her house but, once again, Allison can't seal the deal between the sheets and he has to call Carlos over to act as his stand-in!
It's difficult to say exactly what Tobalina expected to accomplish with this film. Is it an attempt to present a poignant look at the frustrations of the aging process with some full-frontal nudity tossed in? Or did he intend to simply dress up a sexploitation film with some legitimate dramatic story line aspects? In either case, the result is downright weird. Tobalina's insertion of a gruesome murder also seems like an after-thought designed to appeal to horror movie fans. It's got plenty of gore but is so unconvincingly shot and directed that the sequence elicits more laughter than chills. Whatever early talent Tobalina might have conveyed on screen is compromised by the bare bones production budget, which was probably close to zero. Technical blunders abound. In some scenes you can see the shadow of the cameraman in center frame. In others, people's voices are heard even though their lips aren't moving. Still, the film at least aspires to be superior to most soft-core grind house fare of the era. As a trip back in time, it has merit. It presents some wonderful, extended views of the Las Vegas Strip, for example, and we can relish the marquees extolling such performers as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Don Ho and Little Richard. Tobalina also gets out of the bedrooms long enough to take us on a scenic tour of local L.A. sites as well as the Sierra Nevadas. Tobalina is at his best when he gets out of the boudoir and shows us travelogue-like footage. On a coarser level, the film also provides an abundance of good looking young women who romp around starkers. The movie would be primarily of interest to baby boomer males who want a trip back in time to an era in which such fare was considered daring and controversial. It's bizarre qualities will also appeal to fans of cult sexlpoitation films.
The Vinegar Syndrome release looks great and the remastered print even shows us the grit and dirt that occasionally appeared on the camera lens. An original trailer is also included that is truly a laugh riot, in that a God-like voice virtually commands us to see "Infrasexum" because it's a "classic".
The dividing line between a film being an homage and a rip-off is sorely tested with "Forsaken", a 2015 Canadian Western by director Jon Cassar, who is best known for his acclaimed, award-winning work in television. This is a rare venture into feature film making for him and the result left me with decidedly mixed emotions. The film marks another collaboration between Cassar and actor Kiefer Sutherland, who starred in Cassar's wildly successful TV series "24". That the two men are comfortable with each other's style is immediately apparent from the first frames of the film. We want to extend kudos to them for bravely venturing where few in the movie industry dare to tread any longer: the realm of the Western, a genre that has been routinely neglected for decades. Despite the success of Westerns such as "Unforgiven", "Dances With Wolves" and "Open Range", studio chiefs can't seem to get over the ""Heaven's Gate" syndrome, the monumental 1980 Western that almost sunk United Artists. Even hardened criminals are punished less time than the poor Western genre,so we extend our respect to anyone who tries, no matter modestly, to revive it. The problem with "Forsaken" is that a lot of talented people are doing fine work in a film that is so blatantly inspired by Clint Eastwood's Oscar winning "Unforgiven" that it comes close to bordering on parody. The initial blame begins with screenwriter Brad Mirman, who depends far too heavily on elements from Eastwood's magnificent production. Let's start with the title, which is a transparent attempt to evoke "Unforgiven". (In fairness, Eastwood himself was less-than-original in his use of this title. He changed the film's title from "The William Munny Killings" and replaced it with the name of an unrelated John Huston Western from 1960, "The Unforgiven".) Then there is the movie's protagonist, John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland), who carries similar baggage to Eastwood's William Munny. He is haunted by a violent past and a penchant for committing bloodshed. He has returned to his hometown after a period of years and hopes to live his life as a pacifist, a lofty goal that the viewer will recognize as being doomed from the get-go. He soon finds that the town is populated by cowardly people who are letting a greedy land baron, James McCurdy (Brian Cox) use a mercenary gang to intimidate or even kill any homesteader who refuses his offer to buy their land. As in "Unforgiven", our hero is initially slow to anger and resists his inner demons. In Clayton's case, he is routinely abused, insulted and beaten by the mercenaries, who are led by Frank (Aaron Poole), who is so vicious that he even gets chastised by his employer, McCurdy. I kept waiting for a character to appear who would emulate Richard Harris's English Bob, the aristocratic gunslinger from "Unforgiven". Sure enough, along comes Gentleman Dave Turner (Michael Wincott), who displays the wit and gallows humor of dear ol' English Bob. Not helping matters is director Cassar, who aids and abets this pantomime by insisting that Sutherland pretentiously pose like Eastwood in "Unforgiven", as well as speak like him (distinctive, barely audible voice) and dress like him (he even wears a hat that is more than coincidentally similar to Eastwood's from that film). The "homage" syndrome goes into overdrive in the film's violent conclusion, which- to the surprise of no one familiar with "Unforgiven"- also takes place in a saloon, where a heavily-armed Clayton enters and engages a small army of bad guys in a one-man massacre. At times, it appears to be a frame-by-frame remake of the Eastwood film.(In fairness, Cassar does dip a bit outside of the "Unforgiven" pool long enough to replicate a sequence from the climactic barroom shootout from "The Shootist".) The epilogue imitates "Unforgiven" in an unforgivable manner, with scenes at an isolated grave while a narrative fills us in on the fate of the main characters.
Despite all of these reservations, it may come as a surprise to you that I liked and admired "Forsaken" very much. The script does introduce a few original elements. When Clayton returns home many years after experiencing the horrors of the war, he discovers that his former lover, Mary-Alice (Demi Moore), had presumed he was dead and ended up marrying a local man. They now have a small son and although Mary-Ellen professes to be perfectly happy, it's quite apparent there is still a spark between she and Clayton. More intriguingly, there is Clayton's relationship to his father, William (Donald Sutherland), the local reverend, who welcomes his estranged son back by informing him that his mother died and that her last hope was to see him but he never came. The two men settle into a tense domestic situation until John finally unburdens himself about a terrible secret that has been haunting him and that has inspired him to renounce violence. He also blames himself for the accidental death of his brother when they were kids. Ultimately, the clearing of the air leads both father and son to form a close bond but it is threatened by McCurdy and his men- and we know it will only be a matter of time until John takes up arms again. This plot element (the reluctant gunslinger) has been a staple of the Western genre for many years. (Think "The Gunfighter", "Shane", "The Shootist") but it still provides ample dramatic circumstances for a good director to capitalize on- and Jon Cassar is a good director. He has a real feel for the Western genre and elicits uniformly excellent performances from his entire cast, including Demi Moore who is refreshingly cast in a mature, non-glam role. To credit screenwriter Mirman, he capitalizes on the first screen teaming of both Sutherlands by providing realistic and engrossing situations and dialogue. The two actors bring a certain emotion and pathos to their on-screen relationship that is obviously enhanced by their real-life status as father and son. The movie is also gorgeously photographed by Rene Ohashi and features a fine score by Jonathan Goldsmith. Perhaps because I've seen "Unforgiven" so many times and have written about it extensively, I may be more sensitive to the similarities between the films, which I did find admittedly distracting. More casual viewers will probably not encounter this dilemma and enjoy "Forsaken" for what it is: a superior entry in the Western genre.
The Blu-ray from Entertainment One features only one bonus extra: a "making of" documentary which consists of the usual bland observations by people who were interviewed while a movie is still in production. (Who is going to say anything negative when they have to still work with each other?) Although director Cassar and Kiefer Sutherland acknowledge they emulated the traditional Western film elements in the making of the movie, neither man comes clean by mentioning "Unforgiven" specifically, which is a little like ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the saloon.
There have been a few effective "non-traditional" Westerns of recent vintage, "The Hateful Eight" being the most prominent but I would also highly recommend the Kurt Russell-starrer "Bone Tomahawk". However, if you have been starving for a Western that sticks with basic elements, this is the best I've seen in a number of years.
Hudson is an American commando sent to blow up a dam in “Hornets’ Nest,” a 1970
WWII action adventure set in 1944 Italy as the Allies advance on the German
occupation force. Directed by Phil Karlson (“Hell to Eternity,” “Kid Galahad,”
“The Silencers,” “The Wrecking Crew” and “Walking Tall”), the movie was an
American-Italian co-production filmed in Italy with a mostly all Italian cast
movie opens as the residents of Reanoto are massacred by German soldiers after
they refuse to give up the location of Italian resistance fighters. Meanwhile,
American commandos parachute in on a mission to blow up a nearby dam, but all
are killed except for Capt. Turner (Hudson). A group of boys hiding in the
hills when the German’s murdered their families rescue Turner and hide him from
the Germans. Turner is running a fever from his wounds and the boys convince a
local doctor, Bianca (Sylva Koscina), to help Turner. Von Hecht (Sergio
Fantoni) is the officer in charge of a local contingent of German soldiers
searching for Turner.
Colleano is Aldo, the leader of the boys. He’s understandably angry and wants
revenge against the Germans who murdered his family and the families of all the
other children. The boys form a band of partisans seeking to convince Capt.
Turner to teach them to shoot so they can kill Germans. They have guns and
ammunition hidden in a cave in the hills where they’ve been hiding. Turner
convinces the boys to help him retrieve his radio in order to contact his
headquarters and then complete his mission of destroying the dam. It’s not
precisely clear why the dam needs to be destroyed because the American forces
link up with him within minutes after the dam is blown up.
actor Sergio Fantoni (with dyed blonde hair) is unconvincing and miscast as Von
Hecht, but he’s a familiar face to fans of a pair of classic WWII movies from the
era. He was Capt. Oriani in “Von Ryan’s Express” and Capt. Oppo in “What Did
You Do in the War, Daddy?” It’s odd seeing him as a German officer in “Hornets’
Nest” and it doesn’t really work. It’s also not quite clear if Koscina is
supposed to be playing a German doctor or an Italian doctor in service of the
Germans, but that’s quickly forgotten soon after she’s taken prisoner by the children
and joins Turner in blowing up the dam. Koscina was cast after Sophia Loren
passed on the movie.
obvious criticism of the film is one I have for other movies and TV series from
the period. Hudson’s hair is too long and the sideburns and handlebar mustache,
while stylish in the 1970s, would not have been acceptable for military service
during WWII through to today. Koscina’s big hair, like Hudson’s hair, is
strictly from the late 60s and early 70s and the boys look like they were
plucked off the streets of Rome circa 1970 and wear the clothing they had
hanging in their closets at home.
movie moves at a brisk pace with plenty of action and Colleano is sympathetic
as Aldo. Hudson is good as Capt. Turner and this would be his final military
action role before settling into the successful TV series “McMillan & Wife”
which ran from 1971-1977. Koscina is beautiful and gives an acceptable
performance as Bianca, but she has little to do other than react to the boy’s
vengeance driven behavior, a rape attempt, having her clothing ripped, nurture
the small children and look enticing. Apart from Hudson, Apart from Colleano
(American father and English mother) and Karlson, the rest of the cast and crew
are made up of Italians and Yugoslavians. Italian second unit director Franco
Cirino even received a co-director credit on Italian prints of the movie.
story, written by S.S. Schweitzer and Stanley Colbert, was based on an actual
incident during the American advance in Italy. The screenplay is standard fare
for the era and among the last of this type of war movie. Critics at the time
disliked the depiction of children killing, being killed and participating in
war. I remember seeing this movie as a kid and I loved every minute of it. As a
fan of WWII movies and TV series, I wanted to be one of those boys fighting the
Kino Lorber release is the first time on Blu-ray for “Hornets’ Nest” and
features the trailer for this and two other Kino military- themed releases as
the only supplements. The movie clocks in at 110 minutes, looks and sounds
great with an outstanding score by Ennio Morricone. Originally released in
theaters by United Artists in September of 1970, the movie became a must see
movie for me when it turned up on TV throughout the 70s.
No matter what you think of the porn films created in the old days, their producers had an instinct for capitalizing on the hottest trends in mainstream movies. Take for example "Sensual Encounters of Every Kind", which was released in 1978, a year after Steven Spielberg's blockbuster "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". The film was promoted with marketing materials that implied it would be a sci-fi spoof but, alas, that promising premise ended with the posters. In fact the movie only has only a dotted line link to a supernatural premise. The plot centers on an ancient necklace that has the power to make its owner sexually irresistible to those around him or her. The caveat is that it only works once and then it must be passed on to another unwitting owner. Good thing it only works once because the benefits of the necklace might well result from death by exhaustion if the sexual action were to be engaged in on a regular basis. The plot line, such as it is, consists of several humorous vignettes loosely linked by the aforementioned premise. First up is a young, wealthy and bored young beauty (Lesile Bovee) who is bemoaning her dormant love life. Fortunately, the benefits of the necklace kick in just as three hunky gardeners are working at her estate. When they start to show a communal interest in her, she resists their advances but since this is a male-oriented porn flick she quickly has a change of heart and ends up having the time of her life with all three simultaneously. The next story centers on genre legend Georgina Spelvin ("The Devil in Miss Jones") as a tutor for teenage brother and sister who are spoiled rotten and prove to be snarky and disrespectful. Adding to their bizarre sense of "family relations" is their sexual relationship with each other, which they demonstrate in front of their tutor who predictably can't resist participating. Another vignette is the broadest in terms of comedy with a U.S. senator carrying on with his sensuous secretary (Serena) when his wife returns home unexpectedly. The belabored premise might work well with Peter Sellers or David Niven as the protagonist, however, it's as flat as a pancake here- and just as erotic. The final chapter has porn veteran Jamie Gillis as the male coach of a female college athletic team who is seduced in a gym by two of his students. The film's premise of an anthology of stories connecting diverse characters around the same object could have worked. (Think "The Yellow Rolls Royce" with hardcore orgies thrown in.) However, the comedic aspects are undone by weak writing and generally poor performances with only Spelvin delivering something akin to a performance (she had Broadway training and appeared in "Funny Girl"!) On the plus side, the real raison d'etre for the film is the sex scenes and the director, Richard Kanter, at least has the instinct to generally cut the lame jokes during these scenes and manages to make them quite erotic.
Vinegar Syndrome has released the film on DVD and it boasts a pristine transfer that probably makes it look better than it did at the time of its original release. An interesting bonus is a rather garbled phone interview with porn actor Jon Martin, who appears uncredited in the film. His conversation is feature-length and he provides some interesting insights, not only about the porn industry of the era, but his own career as well. (He studied with Stella Adler and Uta Hagen, though it's doubtful those legendary acting teachers envisioned exactly how he would end up employing his talents.) In all, another winning package from Vinegar Syndrome.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release
regarding the film “Culloden” and “The War Game”.
These startling and controversial films by Peter Watkins,
first broadcast on BBC TV, have been newly remastered to High Definition and
will be released on Blu-ray for the first time on 28 March 2016, presented
together in a Dual Format Edition (contains Blu-ray and DVD discs). An array of
special features includes a new interview by film editor Michael Bradsell, who
worked with Peter Watkins at the BBC, audio commentaries for both films and
short films about each one.
Hailed as a breakthrough when it was first broadcast in
1964, Culloden – which brilliantly reconstructs the famous battle of
1746 – stunned viewers by approaching its historical subject matter in the
style of contemporary TV news coverage.
Watkins’ The War Game, about a limited nuclear
attack on Kent, blended fact and fiction to create a disturbing vision of the
personal and public consequences of such an attack. Banned from TV screens for
twenty years, it was through its cinema release in 1966 – and its Academy Award
for Best Documentary Feature in 1967 – that it gained a loyal and vociferous
Newly remastered and presented in both High Definition and
Michael Bradsell Interview (2015, 21 mins): the
film editor talks about working with Peter Watkins at the BBC
John Cook audio commentary on Culloden (2002)
Culloden on Location (Donald Fairservice, 1964, 8
mins): colour footage of the cast and crew during the filming of Culloden,
with a 2002 commentary by John Cook
Patrick Murphy audio commentary on The War Game (2002)
The War Game: The Controversy (2002, 19 mins):
Patrick Murphy charts the production history, banning and eventual distribution
of The War Game
The War Game book: on-screen gallery of the complete
1967 book, published to accompany the film
Illustrated booklet with new essays by John Cook, David
Archibald and William Fowler, and full film credits
The Warner Archive has released "Go Naked in the World", a 1961 screen adaptation of a novel by Tom T. Chamales that apparently caused a bit of a sensation back in day with its forthright and adult look a highly-charged sexual relationship. The film, directed by Ranald MacDougall, opens with Nick Stratton (Anthony Franciosa) returning home on leave from the U.S. Army. We know things are somewhat tense with his family because he doesn't immediately tell them he is back, preferring to do some partying first. When his father Pete (Ernest Borgnine) discovers this, the tension builds immediately. Pete is a well-known construction magnate whose projects dot the city. Nick is in rebellion against his overbearing father, who feels that his son must follow him into the construction business. Pete loves his family, which consists of his long-suffering wife Mary (Nancy R. Pollack) and their two children, Nick and his teenage sister Yvonne (Luana Patten) but he alienates them with his heavy-handed demands that everyone march to his tune. He relegates Mary and Yvonne to the roles of helpless females and obnoxiously dictates his daughter's dating habits to the point of humiliating her. Mary, his wife of 30 years, has no say in any important matters. However, Nick is more rebellious and constantly stands up to his father, leading to explosive confrontations. Things only worsen when Nick falls head over heels for the vivacious Guilletta (Gina Lollobrigida), an independent party girl with a knock-out figure who can only be described in the vernacular of the era as a "bombshell". Nick has no trouble luring Guilletta into bed but he can't understand why she wants to leave it as a one-night stand. Nick is more than smitten- he's in love but Guilletta continues to inexplicably try to keep him at arm's length even though it's clear she loves him. Turns out that Nick is rather naive in his understanding of her lifestyle. He soon learns that she is a notorious hooker. Worse, his own womanizing father is among her clients! Nick still can't leave her- but his relationship brings the feud with his father to an even more alarming level. Caught in the middle is Guillette, a woman who is ashamed of her lifestyle but not sufficiently ashamed enough to quit it. She acts as an unwitting catalyst for the destruction of Nick's family's relationships that extends to Mary and Yvonne finally confronting Pete about his dictatorial ways. Wracked by guilt, Guillietta attempts to leave Nick again and again, as she suspects their love affair can only end tragically. Still, she is drawn to him with the same passion he has for her and their relationship continues even as it leads them to mutual disaster.
"Go Naked in the World" is extremely steamy in its treatment of sex when one considers it was released in an era in which such activities could only be hinted at. Nick and Guillette clearly love sex and the film doesn't paint them judgmentally as "bad people" for engaging in this behavior, which was fairly progressive for the time. The film is essentially a soap opera but a very engrossing one. Franciosa gives a powerful performance as a young man torn between his love for his father and the fact that he resents his attempts to dominate his life. Lollobrigida is terrific. She was often written off as another Italian sex symbol but I have never seen a film in which she didn't give a highly impressive performance. Her abilities range from light comedy to tragic dramas such as this. Borgnine, another great reliable force in old Hollywood, dominates every scene he is in and convincingly plays Franciosa's father even though he was only ten years old than him. The script has some melodramatic aspects but remains consistently interesting thanks to an intelligent, believable screenplay and fine direction. The impressive supporting cast includes Will Kuluva and Philip Ober. High recommended.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer and is region free.
Twilight Time has released a Blu-ray edition of "The Hawaiians", which was released in England under the title Master of the Islands. The 1970 big budget movie was a critical and commercial failure in its day, but evaluating it after all these years leads the viewer to accentuate its many positive elements. The story is actually an official continuation of James Michener's Hawaii, which was made into a major film in 1966 that curiously also underwhelmed critics and public. This sequel doesn't have the epic proportions of its predecessor, but it does boast some impressively lush production values and a typically enticing score by Henry Mancini. For this film, Heston reunited with director Tom Gries, with whom he made the vastly under-appreciated 1968 Western "Will Penny"which Heston regarded as one of his most satisfying artistic accomplishments. He is cast against type here in a somewhat unsympathetic role during a period of his career in which he was typically cast as a stalwart heroic figure. Heston plays Whip Hoxworth, a hard-nosed sea captain who transports luckless Chinese immigrants to Hawaii where they become cheated, abused and enter into what amounts to indentured servitude. The opening sequence finds the Chinese crammed into the sweltering hold of the ship and falling victim to illness and malnutrition. Hoxworth only adds to their misery by applying beatings and coldly calculating his human cargo in terms of acceptable deaths, 'lest his ultimate profits fall short of expectations. Hoxworth is the black sheep of a wealthy family. He is cut out of his father's will and has a contentious relationship with his siblings, who have little use for him. Barred from further sea duties, he is relegated to a failing plantation which he is determined to turn into a success, if only to spite his relatives. Geraldine Chaplin is his half-Hawaiian wife, whom he adores but who, for reasons never satisfactorily explained in the script, turns frigid after their son is born.
The film tells a parallel story about the plight of two immigrants who work on his plantation: Nyuk Tsin (Tina Chen) and Mun Ki (Mako), two people who, through necessity, live as man and wife even though Mun Ki tells Nyuk Tsin that the children she has borne him will not be considered hers. Instead, Chinese tradition dictates that they will ultimately return to China where his wife will assume the mantle of mother and Nyuk Tsin will be relegated to the status of an aunt. The couple's hard work appeals to Hoxworth's generally dormant sympathies and he allows them to prosper financially, especially when they successfully grow the first pineapples on Hawaii - a development that makes Hoxworth rich. However, the film piles crisis upon crisis on each of the major characters, including political intrigue, armed revolution and, in particulalry affecting sequences, outbreaks of leprosy and plague. John Phillip Law appears late in the 134-minute film as Heston's grown son, whose humanitarianism brings him into direct conflict with his father's Machevellian ways.
The Hawiians is big-budget soap opera at every level, but it's a consistently engrossing one. Heston excels playing part that takes him into new territory as an actor. The supporting cast is equally good, with both Mako and Tina Chen giving outstanding performances. It can't be said that the film is an unqualified success, but it's never boring and it probably seems more impressive today than it did at the time of its initial release. It should be mentioned that the movie has a fine score by Henry Mancini. There are worse fates than spending a couple of hours with Heston under any circumstance.
The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray (3,000 units) is right up to the company's high standards. It includes a trailer and the usual informative liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo.
the mid 1980’s, I caught ABC-TV’s premiere broadcast of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and it changed me
forever. I became a huge fan of both
Stanley Kubrick’s and Stephen King’s work, as well as classical music. Despite the protestations of many a film
reviewer regarding the casting of Jack Nicholson, I greatly admired his performance
in the film, and eagerly sought out all of his films that I could find on home
video and television at the time. Among
them was a film that I had not heard of before, the story about two Navy lifers
transporting a convict to the “brig”, a military prison, for having stolen
$40.00 out of the Polio contribution box (the Commanding Officer’s wife’s favorite charity – oops!!). Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973), which opened in New York on Sunday,
February 10, 1974 (having premiered in L.A. in December of 1973) , contains my favorite film performance by Jack
Nicholson, which is saying a lot considering that his turn as R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
is the role that most critics think of when they discuss his work. Here he plays Billy "Badass"
Buddusky, a U.S. petty officer who, along with Richard "Mule" Mulhall
(the late Otis Young), is tasked with escorting a sailor, Larry Meadows (Randy
Quaid), from their home base in Norfolk, VA to Portsmouth Naval Prison up in
Maine. On the surface, this looks like a
fairly routine affair as Buddusky and Mulhall go through the motions of taking
Meadows by train to his final destination. Initially by-the-book and aloof, they begin to feel sympathetic towards
the nebbish Meadows following a shoplifting episode. He’s obviously a kleptomaniac and, even
though he’s only 18, probably feels as though his life is over. Along the way, they start to think of the
things that Meadows will miss out on – his first sexual experience, having his
first beer, and getting into all sorts of fun trouble. Buddusky takes on the
role of the leader, and he sets out to show Meadows a good time. They break into laughter following Buddusky’s
outburst at a bartender (the language his uses in this scene could very well have
been a first for the time) and Meadows looks like a kid rang someone’s doorbell,
ran off and has gotten away with it. He’s obviously enjoying himself with his newfound “friends”. They get beer on their own and get drunk,
then spend the night in a hotel room and laugh to their heart’s content.
time progresses, Buddusky and Mulhall cannot help but take a liking to Meadows,
and eventually start to feel sorry for him, feeling that he got a raw
deal. They take time to seek out his
mother during a stop in Philadelphia (they don’t find her), and then they watch
him attempt to ice skate in Rockefeller Center in New York and fight with
Marines at Penn Station (which looks completely different than it does today). In Boston, they take Meadows to a whorehouse
for his first sexual experience (Carol Kane plays the prostitute). Michael Chapman, the cinematographer who shot
the movie, plays the taxi driver who gives the boys a ride (Mr. Chapman would
go on to shoot Taxi Driver for Martin
Scorsese in the summer of 1975, and actually appears as a cab fare in that film). They also sit it on a session with Nichiren
Shoshu Buddhists and Meadows attempts to put into use the chant that he is
taught in order to obtain good fortune. The
late Luana Anders makes an appearance in this scene, as does the late Gilda
Radner; they both died of cancer in 1996 and 1989 respectively. Another party they end up at features a very
young Nancy Allen, who is told by Jack Nicholson in a very funny speech about
why he loves his uniform. Even director
Ashby shows up: he can be seen sitting at the bar in the dart-throwing sequence,
sporting glasses and his trademark white beard. By the end of the film, we know that inevitably they must follow their
orders, and it’s painful to see Meadows incur Buddusky’s wrath following a
failed attempt to escape. The ending is
poignant, but a far cry from the tremendous downer that ends the novel of the
same name by Daryl Ponicsan upon which the film is based. Thankfully, the film is a tad more
There are, at a minimum, three important lessons gleaned
from the outrageous 1970 sci-fi thriller The
Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. The first and most obvious lesson is that the adage “two heads are
better than one” is simply not necessarily true. The second is that mad scientists, the most
bitter and misunderstood members of the medical profession, tend to a more liberal interpretation of the
Hippocratic Oath they’re sworn to. The
last and perhaps most important lesson: if
you and your best gal find yourself necking in an automobile on a remote
lover’s lane, it might be best to spoon under a good-old fashioned hardtop. Convertibles
are too easily shredded by two-headed maniacs.
Let’s be frank. Anthony
M. Lanza’s The Incredible Two-Headed
Transplant is one weird movie. It’s
not without merit, but it’s surely a film that invites parody and guffaws over
a Coke and tub of hot popcorn. This, I
imagine, is the reason Kino Lorber has offered the choice of a genuine “RiffTrax”
audio commentary as an optional supplement. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t listen through the mocking
supplement in total. Truth be told, while
I enjoy a cheap laugh or a well chosen barb as much as anyone, I’ve never been
a big fan of the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” or “RiffTrax” phenomenon. It’s not that I don’t find such commentaries humorous
or even, on occasion, insightful… at least when enjoyed in the privacy of one’s
own home. But one can’t ignore that such
burlesque has inspired several generations of idiots to ruin public theatrical
screenings with lame attempts at imitation.
Though a genuine 1970s drive-in theater-exploitation-horror
movie in nearly every regard, The Incredible
Two-Headed Transplant differs from most as it offers not a single spooky
nighttime scene. This might be the only
horror film that I know of that takes place entirely in broad daylight. Co-screenwriter James Gordon White conceived
the film “as a tongue-in-cheek take off on Frankenstein,”
but I suppose that can be said of practically any horror/sci-fi film featuring
a body on an operating gurney. In some
ways the film, reportedly shot on a budget of $350,000 and a money-spinner for
A.I.P. within six months of release, is an oddity even among that studio’s
deep-catalog of low-budget horrors. Writer White sees the film as a classic “B”
production, while star-player Bruce Dern has infamously dismissed it as a “Z”
It must be said that nearly everything about the film is
schizophrenic, and this extends to the movie’s soundtrack. There’s an early dash of background
instrumentation that offers a Seventies ghetto-soul vibe. But this then contemporary musical element
seems somewhat out of place when juxtaposed against the film’s entirely tranquil
Californian countryside setting. Odder
still is the film’s main title song, “Incredible,” a pleasant but out-of-sync bossa nova vocal number sung by the
otherwise obscure singer Bobbie Boyle. Both interludes start the film off on a weird,
Screenwriter White (The
Glory Stompers. The Mini-Skirt Mob) admits that while writing the non-union
scenario for American-International, he had visualized horror-film maestro
Vincent Price in the role of the crazed Dr. Roger Girard: the part, for
whatever reason, went to a young, lithe Bruce Dern instead. A great actor by any standard, Dern turns in
an uncharacteristically aloof and workmanlike performance in The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. In his memoir Things I’ve Said but Probably Shouldn’t Have, Dern admits he wasn’t
at all thrilled about the role, but the offer of $3,500 for ten days work was
enough for him and his fiancé to get married on so he signed up. Regardless of the star’s dubious commitment
to the project, director Anthony M. Lanza keeps the film moving along at a good
clip, and it must be said the movie suffers no moments of padding.
The film certainly wastes no time in getting one
involved. We’re instantly transported to
a suburban home where a ghastly act of violence is in progress. With several bloodied bodies littering the
floor, a crazy-eyed psychopath – one with an unfortunate propensity for sexual
violence - is in the process of lasciviously terrifying a young girl. Thankfully, she’s saved from a lurid fate at
the last minute when the police arrive and subdue the madman. Though a prudent judge commits the murderous
rapist, Manuel Cass, (played with wild, eye-rolling fervor by Albert Cole) to a
mental institution “until sanity is restored,” there’s little chance of that
happening anytime soon. It’s not long
after his confinement that Cass murders an attendant and drives off into the
countryside in a sporty 1961 Dodge Comet.
The scene shifts to a seemingly more tranquil
environment. Though wife Linda is
adamant that her husband is a “fine surgeon” who could very well enjoy a
thriving “marvelous practice” if only he… well, put his head to it, Dr. Roger
Girard (Bruce Dern) seems pretty determined to remain less than respectable. Dr. Girard is a man obsessed: he’s single-minded in his determination to
transplant a second head on a human subject. He’s also pretty confident in his ability to accomplish such a task. He’s already succeeded in this endeavor - as
any number of twin-headed caged animals and serpents kept in his home laboratory
can attest. For what purpose, you might
ask? Well, the doctor’s preoccupation in
this matter is never adequately explained. He’s obviously self-interested in creating an unassailable reputation as
one of the scientific greats, but as for the moral complexities of his
twin-head experimentations… well, “future generations” can sort it all
out. The doctor’s suspicious, cagey elder
mentor-assistant Max (Berry Kroeger) mutters something early on about his
protégé being the only one who can restore his damaged hands “and the body
needed to go with them,” so there’s some surgical motive there as well. Dr. Girard, at least at first, doesn’t come
off quite as crazy as Max, but he too
is something of a nut case, quick to impart bitter, disparaging missives on the
small-minded dullards he once worked beside at the local hospital.
Not counting the paying audience, the true victims of The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant are
Pat Priest’s beleaguered Linda Girard and John Bloom’s Danny. As the not-so-good doctor’s luscious wife, any
on-screen appearance of Priest, the lovely and curvaceous former Marilyn
Munster, is welcomed. Sadly, without the
kindly Uncle Herman or Grandpa to watch over and afford her a measure of
familial protection, Priest’s lonely afternoon of poolside sun-bathing is interrupted
when she’s spied upon, kidnapped and near-sexually assaulted by the
psychopathic escapee. Her preoccupied
husband didn’t hear her screams as he was, as usual, puttering away with bad
intent in his hacienda-home laboratory. As awful as Cass manhandles Priest during the kidnapping, it must be
said that the treatment she receives from her own husband is barely
better. In the course of the film Dr. Girard
(all in the interest of scientific secrecy, of course) locks his wife in his
laboratory, gags her mouth, ties her to a bed, performs a needle injection
against her consent, feeds her tranquilizers, and imprisons her inside a large
steel cage… and this is not to mention the not inconsequential emotional abuse
she’s made to endure. But the doctor
promises his wife a nice vacation (“anywhere you want”) after he finishes up
his experiments, so all is good.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Anchor Bay:
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – (March 22, 2016) – Award-winning
filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar’s (The Others, The Sea Inside) latest
psychological thriller Regression arrives May 10 on Blu-ray™ and
DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment and Dimension Films, and Digital HD and On
Demand from Starz Digital. Regression features an ensemble cast led
by Academy Award® nominee Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, Training Day,
The Purge), and Emma Watson (Harry Potter, Perks of Being a
Wallflower). Hailed as a “carefully-crafted tale of collective psychosis”
by the Hollywood Reporter, Regression also stars David
Thewlis (Harry Potter,Anomalisa), Dale Dickey (“True Blood”) and Devon Bostick
(“The 100”, Diary of a Wimpy Kid).
Minnesota, 1990. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke)
investigates the case of young Angela (Emma Watson), who accuses her
father, John Gray (David Dencik), of an unspeakable crime. When John
unexpectedly and without recollection admits guilt, renowned psychologist
Dr. Raines (David Thewlis) is brought in to help him relive his
memories and what they discover unmasks a horrifying
Regression will be available on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay
Entertainment for the suggested retail price of $26.99 and $22.98,
If you were going to write a
script following the further adventures of two Shakespearean characters, it's a
safe bet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wouldn't be the first names to spring to
mind. For those who don't know, they are two minor characters from Shakespeare's
Hamlet. They become the focus of Tom Stoppard's 1966 play Rosencrantz
And Guildenstern Are Dead, adapted for the big screen in 1990. The title is
taken directly from a line spoken in Hamlet.
It is a fairly shapeless,
existential film. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Gary Oldman and Tim Roth)
travel around the wilderness, partaking in nonsensical debates about fate,
chance, life and death. They seem unsure of where they are going or why, and often
muddle up their own names as if they are not entirely certain of their
They stumble across a
travelling acting troupe fronted by the Lead Player (Richard Dreyfuss). He
gives them cryptic hints about their place in the bigger picture, but much of
his meaning is lost on them. Occasionally, they find themselves flitting into
the events happening at the Danish castle of Elsinore, where young Prince
Hamlet (Iain Glen) is descending into madness following the death of his father
and the subsequent marriage of his mother (Joanna Miles) to his scheming uncle,
Claudius (Donald Sumpter). When involved in the fineries of Hamlet's story,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern suddenly become different men - they become more
articulate and purposeful, and have a better understanding of their place in
the world. When the action moves away and they are left alone once more, they
slip back into nonsensical and often stupid character traits, as if they have
been stripped of their personality and understanding.
The film often focuses on
the off-stage aspects of Hamlet, wherein Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
are mostly confused by the small snippets of information they glean from their
position at the edge of the main action. They try hopelessly to piece together
what is happening in Hamlet's life (and the lives of other characters) during
their absence, but only come up with fanciful theories to explain situations
which lie beyond their grasp. The technique raises an important question for
the audience: what role do we play in other people's lives? Our friend's lives,
our family's lives, don't cease to exist just because we aren't present - yet
we don't know what is happening to them or what they are experiencing at any
given time unless we are there to bear witness. Ultimately, lives carry on
regardless and our understanding of any situation is dictated and shaped by
whatever snippets we see for ourselves.
It's a clever device which
enables us to relate to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We see that, like them,
we are merely minor characters on a much larger stage - called 'Life'. The two
main characters are constantly mistaken for each other by those around them;
even between themselves they often forget which one is Rosencrantz and which is
Guildenstern. In some ways, Stoppard is mocking the way they are written in the
play, indicating they are so similar that they might as well have been rolled
into one, since there is not enough discernible difference between them.
One can imagine that
adapting the play for the big screen would present a daunting prospect for many
directors. It comes as little surprise, then, that Stoppard himself directed
the film version. As he pointed out in
an interview with the Los Angeles Times: "It began to become clear
that it might be a good idea if I did it myself—at least the director wouldn't
have to keep wondering what the author meant. It just seemed that I'd be the
only person who could treat the play with the necessary disrespect." He does a commendablejob here, and it seems surprising this was his one and only film directing assignment. With over 40 writing
credits to his name, it would have been interesting to see him adapting and directing
one of his other plays.
During the casting stages,
Stoppard approached Sean Connery to play the Lead Player. Once Connery's name was associated with the
production, Stoppard was able to secure funding for it.Unfortunately, around this time Connery was having problems with his
throat, leading him to visit a specialist who discovered abnormal
cells which had to be surgically removed. Connery pulled out of the feature to concentrate
on his health. Stoppard reacted angrily, informing the actor he had committed to the film and the producers would take the matter further. In
the end, Connery settled the matter out of court. It's not difficult to visualise Connery in the role: he would have had fun with the character and his voice would have
suited the prose beautifully, but alasit was not to be. Richard Dreyfuss makes a
perfectly worthy replacement, full of energy and mischievous humour in the
Through a distribution deal with the Warner Archive, many Paramount titles are being reissued on DVD. Among them: "Hustle", a 1975 crime flick starring Burt Reynolds and Catherine Deneuve. The film is definitely of an era when cop and gangster movies largely defined the medium. Directed by Robert Aldrich, "Hustle" doesn't rate high on the achievement scale of any of the participants but that isn't to say it doesn't have redeeming values that make it worth a look. The film opens on a sobering note with a group of grammar school kids rejoicing in a field trip to the beach- only to immediately discover a body in the surf. Turns out she is Gloria Hollinger, a wayward teen who had been living a troubled life. L.A. police Lt. Phil Gaines (Burt Reynolds) and his partner Sgt. Louis Belgrave (Paul Winfield) are assigned to investigate the death. The coroner quickly dismisses the death as a suicide. Gaines and Belgrave accept that verdict but they are then confronted by Gloria's grieving parents, Marty and Paula Hollinger (Ben Johnson and Eileen Brennan). Marty is an emotionally unstable man who has never recovered from traumas suffered in the Korean War. He has a short fuse and an explosive temper. His wife tells Gaines and Belgrave that although their daughter's promiscuous ways caused them anxiety, Marty was extremely close to her. He becomes obsessed with finding the person or people he believes murdered his daughter. He locks horns with the cops and accuses them of being complicit in a cover-up. Meanwhile, Belgrave starts to have second thoughts about the suicide theory. Initially, his pleas to re-open the case are rejected by Gaines and their boss, Captain Santoro (Ernest Borgnine) but eventually he relents and begins to investigate further. The trail leads to Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert), a sophisticated business tycoon with a penchant for wining and dining prostitutes- including Gaines's own girlfriend, Nicole Britton (Catherine Deneuve), who is a high priced call girl. Gaines learns that Sellers did indeed have contact with Gloria and that he arranged for her to star in porn films for his own pleasure. He denies having anything to do with her death, however. Marty Hollinger isn't buying the denial and sets out to avenge his daughter- an act that leads to a dramatic confrontation with Sellers.
"Hustle" strives to be more complex and intelligent than many of the low-end cop films from this era. To a degree it succeeds. The script by Steve Shagan does accentuate relationships and character development over major action sequences. However, the script is also problematic because the story line never really engages the viewer on an emotional level. The victim of the alleged crime is already dead when we first see her so there is little emotional resonance toward her character. Much of the screen time is taken up with the ups and downs of Gaines's relationship with Nicole. Theirs is more than a love affair of convenience. He is clearly smitten by her but harbors resentment over her lifestyle as a hooker. Nicole, for her part, is quite comfortable with her line of work. She will only give it up if Gaines marries her, something he is reluctant to do, having already been in a failed marriage. Reynolds and Deneuve defined charisma and glamour on screen in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, director Aldrich has plenty of bedroom scenes with his attractive leads but they are strangely bland and anything but erotic. Writer Shagan attempts to delve deeply into Gaines's psyche. He's sarcastic and cynical toward his job and superiors (in the tradition of all '70s cinematic cops) and he seems cold and unemotional. He also harbors fantasies about returning to Rome, where he once visited in relation to an investigation. He even keeps a calendar from 1968 on his wall to remind him of his goal to return to Italy. There are also references (not very well explained) of his obsession with "Moby Dick". The latter two personality quirks are supposed to be endearing but come across as rather pretentious in the scheme of the story. As for Deneuve, she is largely used for window dressing. We see her sauntering around the apartment and occasionally profiting from engaging in an obscene phone call with a client. In reality, her character could easily have been removed from the script without any major detriment to the overall story line.
The film meanders through some rather innocuous sequences before leading to the climax, which is quite intriguing and much better than most of what proceeded it. Reynolds and Deneuve are in fine form but the best performances come from Eileen Brennan and Ben Johnson as the distraught parents. Johnson, in particular, is a frightening force of nature and gives a riveting performance. Ernest Borgnine is largely wasted in a couple of short sequences that are rather weakly written. Paul Winfield gives the film an additional emotional core as the antithesis of Gaines in that he is a man of compassion and honor. Eddie Albert, always an asset to any film, is spot-on as usual, but also under-utilized. Other familiar faces in supporting roles include Catherine Bach and Jack Carter. The film, photographed by Joseph Biroc, has a grainy look that is compatible with many action movies of this period and composer Frank De Vol's score ranges from disco-like themes to schmaltzy romantic mood music.
The Warner Archive release contains no extra features.
as nails CIA agent Nick Pirandello (James Belushi) recruits milquetoast insurance
agent and suburban family man Bob Wilson (John Ritter) to save the world in
“Real Men,” a 1987 equal parts action comedy, spy movie, road movie and buddy
movie now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. Buddy movies dominated the
action genre throughout the 70s and 80s in theaters and, on TV and just about
every male star appeared in at least one. The “Lethal Weapon” movies starring
Mel Gibson and Danny Glover typified the genre with the apparent mismatch of personalities
who eventually work together to bring the plot to a satisfying resolution.
is no stranger to the buddy movie, having starred in a few throughout the 80s
including “Red Heat” with Arnold Schwarzenegger. While the two leads play it mostly
straight, the movie does provide laughs, action and also veers into science
fiction as it builds on one odd scene after another. Just as things start to move
in one direction, the movie takes a new turn into weirdness which is a big part
of the fun. It’s basically a series of non-sequiturs sequenced to bring about a
satisfying conclusion. Somehow it all works.
happens to look exactly like a recently killed CIA agent and Nick is sent to escort
him from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in five days to complete the dead spy’s
mission by Friday. Nick calmly explains their mission as he assembles a nail-firing
machine gun from parts found in Bob’s garage in order to fend the group of
unknown agents trying to kill them. Nick reveals their mission which is to meet
up with extra-terrestrial visitors (Nick calls them Ufoes) seeking a glass of
water in exchange for the “good package” or the “big gun”. The bad guys want
the big gun but the good package will save the earth from the effects of a recent
toxic waste accident which will result in the end of mankind. Bob proves hard
to convince and attempts escape at every opportunity, but Nick pulls out every
trick in the book to convince Bob that their mission is important to America
and the world, as they’re confronted by several groups of agents including
Russian KGB, rogue CIA agents and clown assassins.
escaping and driving through the night, they make a pit stop in Las Vegas. Nick
tries to prove the truth of his mission by showing a still doubting Bob a pen
inscribed by the Ufoes with, “To Nick from his Friends Far Away.” Still
unconvinced, Nick hammers the pen through a baseball after which it levitates,
sprouts antennae, spins and flies away. Russian agents show up and, after Nick
fails at negotiating a truce with a sultry female Russian agent, the shooting
begins again. Just as things start looking grim, the Russians stop shooting for
their lunch break. The duo calmly walks away from the halted firefight and end
up at Nick’s parents’ home where Bob meets Nick’s mom (a cameo by Barbara
Barrie) and dad. Nick explains that dad has gone through some big changes in
his life and is very happy now as a woman. Dad is played by Dyanne Thorne, best
known to fans of 70s exploitation cinema as the star of the Ilsa exploitation series,
in a funny sequence that ends with Thorne reminding Bob to call.
Thursday they’re in Indianapolis where they pick up a special glass to hold the
water for the Ufoes. They also engage the CIA killer clown unit. Nick is a
crack shot and seemingly has eyes in the back of his head. After falling in
love with a dominatrix he meets in Pittsburg, Nick briefly loses interest in
the mission, but by then Bob has gained the confidence Nick has lost and completes
Ritter was good at playing the type of character portrayed in the past by Bob
Hope, Danny Kaye and Don Knotts; the cowardly loser who comes through in the
end and gets the girl. In this case he earns the respect of his wife and kids
when he goes after the neighborhood bullies who stole his son’s bike. Jim
Belushi is also very effective as the relative straight man. He’s tough,
confident and plays it cool throughout, but also come across as a bit of the
slippery con man ala Bud Abbott and Dean Martin. Belushi and Ritter have good
chemistry and it’s a pity they didn’t do another film together.
by United Artists in 1987, this is the sole directing credit for Dennis Feldman
who also wrote the film’s screenplay. Known as a writer and producer, his
previous credits include “Just One of the Guys,” “The Golden Child,” “Species”
and “Virus.” In some ways the movie is a precursor to “Men in Black” where
government agents also have secret knowledge of extraterrestrials and compete
in an effort to garner favors from their advanced technology. The movie
underperformed at the box office, but did find life on cable TV and home video
release. Miles Goodman provides an entertaining score which does a fine job
underscoring the strange elements of the film.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks and sounds great. The only extra is the trailer, but
it’s worth a look because it’s simply a series of scenes between Nick and Bob
explaining what makes a man a “real man.” The movie is definitely an acquired
taste, but Belushi and Ritter are very good very likable as a team. The movie
isn’t for everyone, but it’s unique, entertaining and worth a look.
“A Bullet for Joey” (1955) with Edward G. Robinson,
George Raft and Audrey Totter is one of those “Red scare” movies from the
mid-fifties that combines elements of a crime plot with espionage and the evils
of communism. It was the Cold War era and people were digging bomb shelters and
practicing “duck and cover” air raid drills, while at the same time, congressional
committees hauled in suspected Communist Party members, including actors,
writers and directors, to testify and name names. Hollywood did its part, in
turn, by black listing suspected commies and turning out anti-communism films
like John Wayne’s “Big Jim McClain” “The Woman on Pier 13 (“I Married a
Communist”), and “I Was a Communist for the FBI.” “A Bullet for Joey”, despite
having two of Hollywood’s toughest tough guy actors in the cast, is one of the
weaker examples of this sub-genre.
It concerns a conspiracy by Communist agents who want to
kidnap a nuclear scientist named Macklin who is living in Montreal and has
developed some kind of secret atomic weapon. The Reds want to take him and his
device to Moscow. It’s not a bad story idea on the face of it. But who do you
suppose they enlist to carry out such a risky venture? Some skilled KGB agent? Some
steely-eyed Russian veteran of the Cold War? No. They get the crack-brain idea
to go to Portugal and contact Joey Victor, a deported American gangster played by
a tired-looking George Raft. They give him money, fake ID papers and send him
to Canada to snatch the scientist. Sure, I guess if you want to pull off a
super-secret international kidnapping, why not hire a nondescript guy like
Public Enemy No. 1? Makes sense to me. Even harder to swallow is the idea that
Joey would take the job not really knowing who the people are that are hiring
him, or why they would want to capture a nuclear scientist in the first place.
All he cares about is the money and a chance to slip over the Canadian border
and get back in the U.S. This is called putting blinders on your main character
so he can stumble through an overly contrived plot.
At this point you might be wondering what Edward G.
Robinson is doing all this time. Well, Edward G plays a Canadian Mountie Inspector
by the name of Le Duc who starts investigating a string of seemingly
unconnected murders that have suddenly sprung up in Montreal. Looking every bit as tired and worn out as
Raft, Edward G. goes through the usual police procedural motions as if in his
sleep. There are clues such as an organ grinder found in the river with his
face removed, a homely girl shot three times on a lover’s lane, a guy shot
through a window by a rifle with a telescopic sight. As he sifts through the
evidence, Le Duc discovers they all have one thing in common—they’re all
connected in some way to a nuclear scientist named Macklin.
Meanwhile, Joey gets help from the Soviet agents
reassembling his old mob including his former flame Audrey Totter. She’s
brought in to seduce the atomic scientist, and set him up for the kidnapping.
Joey advises her not to get involved with him, but she does anyway and tries to
get a note off to Edward G. spilling the beans. Totter, an actress whose
presence graced many a decent film noir, isn’t used very well in this flick.
Mostly she stands around looking like a big cat about to claw everybody’s eyes
out. She does have one of the best lines in the movie, however, when Joey
barges into her room as she’s writing the letter as she tries to hide it and
“Are your knuckles sore?”
“No why?”, Joey answers.
“Go back out and bang them on the door.”
That gives you some idea of the kind of script the
writers came up for this one. Maybe you can’t blame Edward G for looking tired
and bored when he’s forced to utter lines like: “Women are what makes life a
pleasure for men.”
I won’t bore you with further details of the plot, mainly
because I can’t remember anymore, even though I watched this film twice. I
don’t know if it was Lewis Gilbert’s lackluster direction, the cockamamie
script by blacklisted writer Daniel Mainwaring and A. I. Bezzerides (from the
novel by James Benson Nablo), or the tired and listless performances of the two
leads that was responsible for the eye-glazing experience watching “A Bullet
for Joey” turned out to be. All I can remember is squirming in my seat, feeling
itchy, getting up to get a drink, getting up again to use the rest room, and
finally just throwing up my hands in frustration during a scene where the cops
and gangsters are shooting it out on a boat, and all Edward G can do is try to
get through to headquarters on a radio that doesn’t work. There are guns a-blazing,
bad guys running all over the place, and in the middle of it, Edgar G is
sitting in a truck with the microphone in his hand, repeating: “Headquarters,
come in. This is inspector LeDuc calling. Headquarters, come in.” In this scene
Le Duc comes off almost as comically inept as Inspector Clouseau in one of
Blake Edwards Pink Panther movies.
There was, of course, the final moment, after Edgar G is
captured when he asks Joey why he took a job without knowing what it was all
about? Finally a light bulb goes off
over the gangster’s head when he realizes turning the scientist over to the
commies is a crime against humanity. Joey rises to the occasion and tries to
redeem himself. The title pretty much tells you how that turns out.
This was the second time Robinson and Raft worked
together. The first was in “Manpower” (1941) with Marlene Dietrich. The two
guys got in a fight over Dietrich at the time. Maybe that’s what this film
needed. Some behind the scenes shenanigans to put some life into what is otherwise
a pretty dull and lifeless movie. Too bad two old legends couldn’t have found a
better vehicle for their last appearance together.
This Kino Lorber
Blu-Ray is presented in the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the picture and
sound are okay, even though no effort was made at digital restoration. There
are signs of wear and tear. The disc has no extras other than a couple of
trailers. I’ve given high marks to most of Kino Lorber’s Studio Classic series.
I appreciate their desire to keep older, and more obscure films in circulation.
But this is one is marginal at best.
One of the most popular and enduring sitcoms of its era, "McHale's Navy" ran from 1962-1966. The premise centered on Lt. Commander Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine), a PT boat skipper stationed in the South Pacific (later transferred to Italy) during WWII along with a motley but lovable crew of swabbies. McHale and his men are unconventional, to say the least, and routinely disregard basic military discipline. They are so unruly that they have been relegated to their own tiny island, which suits them just fine. Here they brew booze, entertain young women and run about dressed in party attire. They also manage to "adopt" a genial Japanese prisoner-of-war, Fuji (Yoshio Yoda), who manages to stay hidden despite indulging in all the excesses of McHale and his crew. McHale's antics are to the chagrin of their superior officer, Capt. Binghamton (Joe Flynn), who is constantly devising schemes to catch McHale and his men in a major infraction and have them court martialed. Inevitably, just in the nick of time McHale and his crew distinguish themselves in some sort of military action that brings them praise from the top brass instead of ending their careers.
The series proved to be so popular that is spawned two feature films that have now been released as a double-feature DVD by Shout! Factory. "McHale's Navy" was certainly not the first TV series to have a cross-over to the big screen. In the 1950s Walt Disney edited together several episodes of his immensely popular "Davy Crockett" series starring Fess Parker and released them as the feature film "Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier". During the 1960s and 1970s, the same process was used to release previously-seen TV episodes as feature films, though many were seen only in European markets. These included "Mission Impossible Vs. The Mob", "Mission: Monte Carlo" (based on "The Persuaders") and most notably, eight entire feature films derived from two-part episodes of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.". "McHale's Navy" was a more ambitious venture because, like the big screen versions of "Batman" and "The Munsters" ("Munsters Go Home!"), it at least consisted of entirely new material shot specifically for the theatrical version. The real thrill for fans of such shows was the ability to see their favorites on the big screen in color during an era in which precious few homes boasted color TVs.
The plot of the first film is reed-thin. McHale crew member Gruber (Carl Ballantine) tries to raise funds for an orphanage by devising a massive betting scheme predicated on the outcome of a horse race in Australia that has already been completed. However, the bettors won't legitimately know the results of that race until the newspaper is delivered by mail drop a week after the race's conclusion. Thus a large number of servicemen converge on McHale's island to engage in the betting. The trouble is that almost everyone is betting on the favorite: Silver Spot. When the newspaper arrives, Gruber discovers to his horror that Silver Spot has indeed won- and now the pot isn't big enough to pay off the bettors. McHale and Gruber stall for time and buy a week during which they must come up with the money to pay off the bettors. McHale and his men sail their PT 73 to New Calendonia where McHale reunites with a former lover, Margot (Jean Willes), a local saloon owner who he hopes will lend him the funds. She agrees to do so but only for a steep price: he must consent to marry her. Meanwhile, McHale's bumbling executive officer, Ensign Parker (Tim Conway) attempts to rescue a local French beauty, Andrea (Claudine Longet) from a bothersome local wolf, a rich businessman, Le Clerc (an unrecognizable George Kennedy). He earns her respect and his wrath but he also accidentally launches a depth charge that destroys one of the docks owned by Le Clerc. Now McHale and his men must come up with money for damages or risk being imprisoned. In a plot device that is as improbable even by sitcom standards, it turns out the valuable Silver Spot has gone missing and the crew of the PT 73 just happens upon him on a remote island. They attempt to win the money they need by disguising the horse and running him in another race under another name. The "Day at the Races"-like scenario falls apart, exposing the crew's deceitful tactic- but when McHale and his men thwart a Japanese submarine attack, all is forgiven and they are rewarded with enough cash to pay off all their debts. The film provides some pleasant entertainment and manages- ever so slightly- to spice things up compared to the TV series. (It's clear that McHale and Margot enjoy a pretty steamy past.) Also, the ever-virginal Ensign Parker finds himself uncomfortably close to Andrea as she tries to change out of wet clothing. Much of the fun derives from watching the great Joe Flynn and Tim Conway interact with impeccable comedic timing. The direction by Edward J. Montagne is well-paced. Montagne, who also produced the TV series, was an underrated talent, having helmed and/or produced the terrific Don Knotts feature films of the era including the cult classic "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken".
Edward Montagne was also in the director's chair for "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force", released in 1965 on the heels of the first film's success. This time, however, Ernest Borgnine is nowhere to be seen. Borgnine told this writer years ago that he never got a clear explanation for why the film was made without him but said that theater owners leveled criticism at him, thinking he refused to be in it. In fact, Borgnine said he was flabbergasted that he had never been asked to appear in the movie. There were probably two motives for by-passing him. The first was money. By eliminating the highest paid cast member, Universal could keep production values low. Second, the studio might have wanted to give unrestrained screen time to the antics of Joe Flynn and Tim Conway, who were becoming an enormously popular duo through the TV series. In any event, Borgnine's absence is initially glaring but the as the film gets underway it turns out this sequel is superior to the original. The plot is more ambitious and the antics of Conway and Flynn are unrestrained. This film also affords McHale's crew- which consists of some wonderful character actors like Billy Sands, Gavin MacLeod and Carl Ballantine- to appear as something more than mere window dressing. This time around the plot revolves around a case of mistaken identity. Cutting through the clutter, it boils down to Ensign Parker first being mistaken for defecting Soviet officer and being arrested by KGB agents (one of whom is played by Len Lesser, who went on to appear as Uncle Leo in the "Seinfeld" series). Parker bumbles his way out of that but then becomes mistaken for a high profile Army officer (Ted Bessell), who has a reputation for being quite the lady's man. A lot of the fun revolves around the hapless, innocent Parker becoming a chick magnet for the likes of willing young women played by Susan Silo and Jean Hale, among others. Since the Army Air Corps officer Parker is impersonating is also a master pilot, he is forced to act as navigator aboard a bomber. Through a convoluted series of events, Binghamton ends up aboard the plane with him and the two wreak havoc before tumbling out of the plane on a jeep that is suspended from the cargo hull by a parachute. Flynn and Conway are like a modern version of Laurel and Hardy and I must admit that, despite the sheer predictability of their routine, I ended up chuckling out loud at numerous points. Meanwhile, McHale's crew gets some screen time when they switch uniforms with Russian sailors in order to sneak off PT 73 and go into town to get drunk. This, of course, turns out to have disastrous unforeseen consequences. The film also benefits from some other familiar character actors of the era including Henry Beckman, Tom Tully and Willis Bouchey, all of whom are marvelous to watch. Both films also feature the deft comedic turns by series regular Bob Hastings as Binghamton's ever-present aide and boot-licker, Lt. Elroy Carpenter, whose devotion to his unappreciative boss borders on the homo erotic. (I'm convinced the Mr. Burns/ Smithers relationship in "The Simpsons" is directly based on the Binghamton/Carpenter characters in "McHale's Navy"). As with the previous film, this one is a bit more mature in terms of sexual content, though it remains firmly in the category of family entertainment. The women's sexual aggressiveness would never have made it in the TV series (Jean Hale's character in particular makes it clear she can't wait to bed the legendary Romeo that Parker is impersonating). In another scene, Parker and Binghamton uncover a shipment of brassieres and both of them are clueless as to what they are.
Both of the Shout! Factory transfers are completely pristine and make for a highly enjoyable afternoon of "McHale" bing-watching. Unfortunately, there are no bonus extras.
In the course of a 1977 interview with Hollywood
correspondent Vernon Scott, American-International’s very own Samuel J. Arkoff,
the studio’s notorious penny-pinching producer, admitted to his mostly fiscal interest
in the horror film genre. “We got into
horror pictures [in 1955] when we discovered that without a big budget and
major stars our films were [relegated to] second features,” Arkoff reminisced. “I decided to make two pictures of the same
type and release them on the same bill… So we sent out The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues and The Day the World Ended as a pair and they cleaned up.”
Years later Arkoff would more completely
delineate his eminently prudent and successful marketing strategy to film
historian Tom Weaver. This insightful interview
with the irascible producer was included in Weaver’s seminal tome Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror
Heroes: the Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews (McFarland,
1999). In essence, Arkoff revealed that,
as an independent, the box office receipts from the earliest films released
through the American Releasing Corporation (the original name of the company
that would morph into American-International Pictures), had been relatively
As nationwide theater chains were still mostly
controlled by the major studios when Arkoff first opened shop, his A.R.C.
features were only booked by cinema-owners as flat-fee rentals of nominal cost.
The films were also, more fatefully, consigned to the lower-half of a double
bill program; this was unfair as such second-bill status did not allow independents
to take a percentage of the total gross of a twin-bill. In the years following
a 1948 court-ordered anti-trust injunction against the major studios, Arkoff
began to deliver his own twin packaged films to theater owners. Such independent double-bills ensured that all
profit percentages would rightfully funnel into the pockets of the producers.
It almost goes without saying that The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues was a
purely exploitative title; an obvious attempt to capitalize on the name-recognition
coattails of several successful science-fiction films of the era. The chosen title instantly invoked allusions
to Universal-International’s Creature
from the Black Lagoon (1954), Ray Harryhausen’s visual effects vehicle The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953),
and Disney’s Academy Award winning 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea (1954). The
latter two films would, at the very least, get their measurements right… but
more on this later.
If there was any film that I never imagined
would enjoy a Blu-Ray release, it’s the non-acclaimed and universally scorned The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues. Having done so, one has to respect
Kino-Lorber’s self-aware decision to include Joe Dante’s (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins) disparaging remarks concerning the
film’s dubious merit. There’s no
over-the-top self-serving ballyhoo present here, folks. Dante concludes his brief “Trailers from
Hell” supplement with these cautionary words: “I hardly know anybody who’s made
it all the way through The Phantom from
10,000 Leagues.” If nothing else, Dante’s
from-the-heart appraisal of the film’s dubious virtues proves he’s no
revisionist. He’s also not alone in his opinion;
amongst devotees of 1950s sci-fi, The
Phantom from 10,000 Leagues has a long established reputation as a talky,
turgidly paced snooze-fest disguised as a monster movie.
Nonetheless, there’s a fascinating back story
to all this. In 1962 Dante, then merely
one more disgruntled sixteen-year old horror movie fan, would fire off a letter
off to Forrest J. Ackerman, editor-emeritus of the influential 1960s/1970s
magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. In the course of his entertaining rant to the
editor, Dante suggested fifty films that, in his opinion, accounted for the
“worst horror films ever made.” The amused
Ackerman must have agreed with many of the youngster’s findings. He would later infamously assign Dante’s
“feeble fifty” to “the eternal fames of the brimstone pit” of horror-movie
history. The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues registered as “vapid” entry no. 38 on
Dante’s list, though it must be said this calculation was alphabetical rather
than meritorious in placement. To the
young letter-writers’ surprise, Ackerman chose to run his musings in the
magazine under the title “Dante’s Inferno,” an opinionated ten-page diatribe
that would cause no shortage of consternation amongst fans and the filmmakers
whose favorite films and/or contributions to celluloid history had been
commitment to Pam Grier and her Blaxploitation films of the seventies continues
with their latest package Sheba, Baby (1975). By the arrival of the mid-Seventies
Grier was at the top of her game, coming off such genre classics as Coffy
(1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) both directed by Jack Hill and both of which are
also available in superb releases from Arrow. Grier’s work for AIP continued in
explosive, fashionable style with Sheba, Baby and with new director William
Girdler at the helm. Sheba is without doubt a star vehicle that was tailor made
for exploiting Grier’s talents.
Shayne is a Chicago private eye who receives a telegram informing her of
trouble in her hometown of Louisville. The local mob boss, Pilot (D'Urville
Martin) has started to turn up the heat in trying to obtain her father’s loan
business. Along with her father Andy (Rudy Challenger), the business is run by
his partner Brick Williams (Austin Stoker), an instantly recognisable actor and
best known perhaps as Lt. Ethan Bishop from John Carpenter's cult classic
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). After several threats and a near fatal car bomb,
Sheba soon realises that the situation is becoming desperately out of control.
a few shaky moments in the script (credited to director Girdler and producer David
Sheldon), the film is carried in every respect by Grier’s scintillating screen
presence, she truly bosses the film, and looks fantastic in every frame. It’s a
film that should be enjoyed without too much scrutinising; accept it purely on
its surface level and you’ll find yourself smiling a whole lot and lapping up
the action. If your intention is to analyse it, then forget it. If you
scrutinise the problems in terms of continuity of dates, Sheba’s small quantity
of luggage (there’s a costume change in practically every scene), etc, then
you’ll be missing out on the action and overlooking its pure entertainment
value. The action scenes are plentiful and arrive fast and furious. Was this
film actually rated as PG upon its release? Look out for the car that spins
wildly off a grass verge, then look again to see how it misses Grier (on the
assumption it was her and not a stunt double) by a matter of inches. It is a pure
adrenalin pumping sequence. Yes, the film might be considered as routine and
stereotypical, even offensive in relation to its language (the ‘N’ word raises
its ugly head on several occasions), and the mob are of course pimped to the
max. But you’d be wise to let it go, as this is, after all, a product of its
time, and yes, it was almost considered as socially tolerated in the more discriminate
social culture of the seventies.
1080p presentation of Sheba, Baby can only be described as flawless. The
picture quality is as near to pristine as you could ever wish. Whist it retains
a generic low budget look, its colour grading delivers both a natural look and
just enough enhancement to emphasise those wonderful vivid colours of the
fashions and the times. The whole look manages to achieve a perfect balance.
Check out the film’s opening credits, the pin sharp yellow lettering almost
pops out from the screen. If they look familiar, you might just make the
comparison with Jackie Brown (1997), as director Quentin Tarantino uses the
exact same colour and font for his own Pam Grier movie. It’s not only homage,
but a deeper example of how Tarantino holds these movies so close to his heart.
The Blu-ray audio (original mono uncompressed PCM) is clean and clear
throughout, and allows the film’s soulful score (by Alex Brown and Monk Higgins)
to become an integral part of the experience. There are also a couple of great
vocals tracks (including the theme) provided by the American R&B/soul
singer Barbara Mason.
bonus material is both enjoyable and generous. First, there are two audio
commentaries, the first featuring producer-screenwriter David Sheldon and moderated
by critic Nathaniel Thompson. The second is provided by Patty Breen the
webmaster of WilliamGirdler.com. Breen’s commentary is actually a great deal of
fun; it’s a completely relaxed ‘fan’ style narration. Whilst Breen can’t help joking
about the film’s flaws and inconsistencies, it is never in malice and it’s
clear she absolutely adores every aspect of the movie.
Baby (15mins) is a brand new interview with David Sheldon who discusses his
role and his experience working on the movie and alongside director William
Girdler. Pam Grier: The AIP Years (12mins) does exactly what it says on the tin
and takes a look over the wonder years of the Blaxploitation queen with film
historian Chris Poggiali. The original theatrical trailer (2mins) and a
selection of publicity shots and lobby cards rounds off a very nice collection
of bonus material.
packaging consists of a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips, while the booklet features brand new
writing on the film by Patty Breen and is illustrated with both archive stills
Sheba, Baby is an excellent package and one that leaves us in hope that Arrow will
continue to explore Grier’s later American international Pictures such as Bucktown
(1975) and Friday Foster (1975). There’s little doubt that they would certainly
be welcomed and appreciated with open arms.
Technical Spec: Region: Region A/B Blu-ray / DVD 1/2, Rating:
15, Cat No: FCD1210, Duration: 90 mins, Language: English, Subtitles: English
SDH, Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, Audio: Mono, Discs: 2, Colour
‘Five Dolls for an August Moon’ is Mario Bava’s 1970 psychedelic spin on Agatha’s ‘Ten Little Indians’/’And Then There Were None’
with the addition of 70s fashions, a funky soundtrack, a walk-in meat fridge
and a revolving bed. This movie is all about ‘The Look’ and has all the Bava signatures
present – the overuse of zooming camera techniques, the appearance of the beach
and headland at Tor Caldara on Anzio Cape in Italy as the main filming location,
the effective, budget-defying special effects shots and the consummate
cinematography. Though often written off as lower-tier Bava, Arrow’s brand new region 2 Blu-ray/DVD edition, with vibrant colours and sound, shows Bava’s finesse and ensures
Businessman George Stark (Teodoro Corra) and
his wife Jill (Edith Meloni) invite guests to stay at their luxury shoreline
residence on a secluded island. The visitors are Professor Jerry Farrell
(William Berger), his wife Trudy (Ira Fürstenberg), mysterious Isabel (Justine
Gall), the Starks’ temporary ward, and businessmen Jack Davidson (Renato
Rossini) and Nick Chaney (Maurice Poli) and their wives Peggy (Hélèna Ronée) and
Marie (Edwige Fenech). The trio of businessmen want to persuade Jerry to part
with the formula for a new type of synthetic industrial resin and offer him millions
of dollars, but Jerry stubbornly refuses. In the boozed-up, decadent atmosphere
of Stark’s retreat, hedonistic excess, murder games, marital infidelity and
jealousy flourish. For example, Marie is having an affair with the Stark’s resident
houseboy Charles (played by Mauro Bosco), who rounds the island’s occupants up
to an even ‘ten’. Soon the guests are stranded – George sends away the island’s
yacht and later the motor launch, the only other way to leave the island, vanishes,
while radio contact with the outside world ceases. Then the killings start…
The principal objective of this static albeit
stylist giallo is to kill off its attractive cast – in that respect, it is very
much a rehearsal for Bava’s ‘A Bay of Blood’/’Twitch of the Death Verve’ the
following year. Some of the scenes in the Starks’ landscaped garden, with it
tropical palms, are very similar to the later film. But whereas in ‘Bay of
Blood’, we see many of the killings enacted before our eyes, often in graphic
detail, here his camera discovers the corpses already in eternal repose. We
suppose that the principal motive for the killing is greed for Professor Jerry’s
secret formula for resin, which he plans to unveil at a chemists’ convention in
Geneva the following month (presumably September). In typical giallo style, the
film’s title is evocative, but meaningless. The ‘five dolls’ are the five beautiful
women and the film’s French title, ‘5 Filles dans une nuit chaude d’été’
translates as ‘Five Girls on a Hot Summer Night’. Most of the mystery’s
revelations involve flesh. Edwige Fenech, the beautiful heroine and future
screen goddess of continental sex comedies and gialli, is most memorable as
Marie, one of the female protagonists – mainly because she plays the role clad
in underwear, bikinis, towels or less. Most of the actors are rudimentarily
going through the motions, with William Berger, Ira Fürstenberg and Justine
Gall being most notable for putting some effort in. The women aren’t
particularly well-rounded characterisations and mostly exist to be dressed,
undressed, caressed and distressed. The men are iniquitous, greedy and easily
dislikeable – Nick tries to persuade Marie to seduce Jerry to gain the formula
– and as a result of their lack of sympathy, it’s difficult to become involved
in the plot or the victims’ plight. It is
one film Bava singled out for criticism in interviews as the least favourite of
his work: “They paid me on Saturday and I had to start filming on Monday. I had
to accept the script (by Mario Di Nardo) which was just a horrible rip-off of
‘Ten Little Indians’. I had to keep all the characters, but I took revenge by
changing the identity of the killer”.
Kino Lorber has released a dual 3-D and 2-D Blu-ray of the 1954
cult sci-fi flick “Gog”.
At a secret US government base in the desert, various top secret
experiments are taking place that will provide invaluable data when the nation launches
its first manned rockets (keep in mind this is still a good six years or so
before the first Mercury flight). The experiments start to go awry so top
analyst Richard Egan is called in to investigate. Naturally, his
girlfriend Constance Dowling (producer Ivan Tors’s wife) is a top research
scientist there as well. As the investigation develops and the body count
increases, it appears that a pair of robots, GOG and MAGOG, are the cause of
the ‘accidents’…. or are they? Is someone or something else at the root
The 3-D and overall quality on this release is extremely good
(Richard Egan’s overindulgence in Brylcream is rather obvious in some shots
here). The action takes place in different fields in the frame and is
handled rather effectively. It is not a gimmicky 3-D film in any sense
and has been well thought out. When viewed on a Panasonic AG 8000 projector
there was very little or no ghosting. This project was produced by the
3-D Archive (Bob Furmanek, Greg Kintz and Thad Komorowski), the same folks who
brought us ‘3-D Rarities’ and ‘The Bubble’ last year.
“Gog” was released in May 1954 when the public's brief infatuation
of 1950’s 3-D was on the decline. As such, it was rolled out in 3-D in
only 5 bookings in southern California. It then played flat, or 2D, as
the release fanned out across the country. When “Gog” ended up in a TV
sale, for some reason it was then distributed in full frame B&W. Also
over time the negative for the left side was lost, actually most likely
destroyed, as the studios liked to keep their shelves clear to reduce storage
expenses (“Gee, why do we have two negatives of the same film? We can
throw one out!”).
So “Gog” became a ‘lost’ 3-D film. Fortunately, a left side
original release print was stumbled upon at a film exchange in a pile of materials
that was to be thrown out. The print worked its way to the 3- D Archive,
where it was found to be very faded. Fast forward to present day and the
digital technologies available to archivists. Greg and Thad, spent close
to five months working diligently to restore color, perfect registration of the
3-D image, clean up damage and dirt, all the while maintaining a ‘filmic’ look
to the presentation (films scrubbed too clean for Blu-ray have a very unnatural
Sixty three years later now, you can finally see GOG in 3-D,
better than the way it was meant to be seen.
The Kino Lorber release contains : both a 3-D and 2-D
version of the film; trailers; interviews with both the director, Herbert L.
Strock and director of photography, Lothrop B. Worth; featurette on the
restoration as well as an audio commentary by film historians Bob Furmanek, Tom
Weaver and David Schecter.
Scott plays a bounty hunter returning a former Indian captive in “Comanche
Station,” a 1960 Columbia release directed by Bud Boetticher and written by
western regular Burt Kennedy.
Jefferson Cody (Scott) trades rifles and
other items with a group of Comanche Indians in exchange for a captive settler,
Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates). Her husband has offered a large reward for her
return. After the exchange they’re met by outlaw Ben Lane (Claude Akins) and his
sidekicks Frank (Skip Homeier) and Dobie (Richard Rust) who help Cody during an
Indian attack at Comanche Station. Lane and Cody are old enemies and he and his
men have been searching for Nancy. Lane wants a piece of the $5,000 reward in
return for helping protect Nancy on the journey to her husband. Cody
reluctantly agrees and forms an uneasy alliance due to the Indian threat.
Cody befriends Dobie, who wants to be his own
man rather than the sidekick to the outlaw Lane.. Cody and Nancy form a friendship
which Lane sees as an opportunity to get under Cody’s skin. He plots to return
Nancy on his own and collect the reward, but he knows Cody is a better shot and
the better man.
The Indians are threatening and portrayed by
Native Americans rather than red-faced Caucasian extras. They’re talked about
more than seen and when they are seen they’re mostly on horseback and only a
modest threat to Cody and Lane. Lane is the real threat and Cody predicts the
outcome as Lane’s men are killed and the movie ends with the thrilling, if
predictable, gunfight between Cody and Lane on the edge of a rocky cliff.
The movie is a little gem overall with excellent
location photography beautifully shot in CinemaScope by Charles Lawton, Jr.
There’s also tight direction by Boetticher and strong performances by Scott,
Akins and the rest of the cast. The movie was apparently shot in 12 days in the
California desert, but the very short running time of 70 minutes doesn’t hurt, as
it ensures that things move at a brisk pace.
was the final film for Ranown, the production company formed by Scott and
producer Harry Joe Brown. Scott announced his retirement from movies after this
release. Fortunately, Scott returned for one more movie, “Ride the High
Country,” in 1962. Generally regarded as a classic of the genre, Scott retired
for good after that.
region 2 German release includes both German and the original English audio. The
CinemaScope picture and sound quality on this release are both terrific. While
the movie has a running time barely over an hour, there’s a lot packed into the
70 minute running time which is also an excuse to watch it as part of a double feature.
The movie was previously available as part of the 2008 DVD set, “The Bud
Boetticher Collection.” The only extra carried over from that release is the
original trailer in English. This German release also includes a slide show
stills gallery of original advertising material which is accompanied by cues
from the score. Well worth the time for fans of classic westerns, Bud Boetticher
and Randolph Scott.
Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However, imports
can often be found on eBay and Amazon in other countries. Although officially a
“region 2” title, many of readers report that Explosive Media titles play fine
on their region 1 players.)
Hyams’ “Busting” (1973) was one of several early 1970s police dramas that
followed the lead of “Dirty Harry,” two years before, in glorifying vigilante
tactics by disgruntled cops. Los Angeles
Detective Michael Keneely (Elliott Gould) tries to entrap a hooker, Jackie
(Cornelia Sharpe), by posing as a prospective john. He and his partner Patrick Farrell (Robert
Blake) trash her apartment without a warrant, looking for her “trick book” of
clients, and arrest her. The
incriminating pages disappear from the journal after it’s processed into an
evidence locker, and a high-powered defense attorney (William Sylvester) has
Jackie’s arrest thrown out of court on grounds that Keneely lacked evidence of
a crime: she had not explicitly propositioned him before he made the
pinch. The detectives learn that
Jackie’s boss is Carl Rizzo (Allen Garfield), a powerful drug and prostitution
kingpin, and they go after one of Rizzo’s heroin runners, Hyatt (Jack Knight)
with equal lack of success, igniting a bloody gunfight in a crowded public
market. Rizzo brags to Keneely that he
is so well connected politically that Keneely and Farrell will never be able to
two cops are banished to an assignment nabbing “perverts” in the men’s room at the La Brea Tar Pits
Park. Marvel Comics fans take note,
Keneely has an “Ant-Man” comic book at hand to pass the time as he watches from
a stall. I doubt it was paid product
placement. Frustrated, they target Rizzo
on their off-hours with a campaign of harassment, hoping to eventually make a
case while getting under the gangster’s skin. Rizzo is so predatory and arrogant that the viewer, presumably, has no
qualms about Keneely and Farrell nailing him by any means necessary. This was the same Nixon-Era, middle-class
paranoia that “Dirty Harry” manipulated even more cunningly: the fear that
criminals were literally getting away with murder (not to mention rape,
robbery, and varied affronts to public decency) because recent court decisions
had tied the hands of the police.
an audio commentary with Elliott Gould for Kino-Lorber’s new Blu-ray release
of “Busting,” film critic Kim Morgan
calls the movie a “wonderful . . . under-looked should-be-‘70s-classic.” “Classic” is debatable; “curiosity piece”
might be a better description for younger audiences who are likely to find the
period ambience of cynicism, grimy squad rooms, seedy peep shows, and strip
bars novel. Be warned, the dialogue is
heavy with offensive terms like “faggot” and “fruit” that may reflect the
homophobic slang of the time but are no longer tolerated at all.
the movie runs a trim 92 minutes, it seems longer: Hyams’ script tends to
wander from scene to scene, never really picking up much momentum except during
the well-filmed chase and shootout at L.A.’s Grand Central Market, and even
that sequence drags at the end. None of
the characters is sharply developed, only Keneely having much in the way of a
background, and that limited to a monolog about how he started out as an
idealistic young cop. Two iconic ‘70s
cult actors are cast in small supporting parts -- Sid Haig as Rizzo’s bodyguard
and Antonio Fargas as an aggressive customer in a gay bar where Keneely and
Farrell are assigned to a drug stakeout -- but neither is given much to
his comments on the audio track with Kim Morgan, Gould recalls that Ron Leibman
was originally set to play his partner, but when Leibman didn’t work out
(Gould’s comments on this point are vague), Peter Boyle and Blake were up for
the part. Gould says, “I love both
actors,” but he championed Blake because the actor was “dangerous and
unpredictable.” Ironically, Gould’s
character is the more volatile of the two detectives. The movie might have worked better if the two
leads had been cast to type, Blake as Keneely and Gould as Farrell. Gould’s commentary is droll and
informative. “Oh my God, I don’t remember
this,” he says as Cornelia Sharpe takes off her top in the scene between
Keneely and Jackie in her apartment.
1920x1080p image in the Kino-Lorber Blu-ray is about as serviceable as one
could expect from a 40-year-old, mid-budget movie. Other extras besides the commentary tracks
are trailers for “Busting” and two other releases, “The Long Goodbye” and
“Running Scared” (the 1986 Peter Hyams cop-buddy movie with Gregory Hines and
Billy Crystal, not the 2006 film of the same name with the late Paul Walker).
Back in the pre-internet era there was an old adage that went "Never pick a fight with somebody who buys ink by the barrel." In other words, think twice about taking on someone who can reach millions of people through the reach of magazines or newspapers. That might have included screenwriters, as well. Take the case of Walter Bernstein, a prolific television writer in the early days of the medium. Bernstein was one of the high profile victims of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunts which, through the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The committee was ostensibly searching for "Fifth Columnists" who were secretly in league with the Soviet Union and plotting to undermine the American way of life. McCarthy and his cronies convinced a wide swath of the American public that Hollywood was a nest of covert commies and would point to films and TV series that were alleged to be sympathetic with the communist doctrine. Conveniently forgotten was the fact that the U.S. government had implored the major studios to make such films after our enemy, Josef Stalin, was betrayed his ally Adolf Hitler, who launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union. Immediately Stalin found himself now a crucial member of the Allies. It was a relationship of convenience for both sides. Stalin depended on the war in the West to occupy the majority of Hitler's forces, which would otherwise have been able to to capture his entire nation. For America, Britain and the other allied nations, Stalin and his tremendous military resources managed to keep Hitler bogged down in Soviet territory, sustaining huge losses in what became the Fuhrer's greatest military blunder. Hollywood studios were called upon to start cranking out propaganda films disguised as popular entertainment that would paint Stalin and the Soviets in a benign and heroic manner. The studios cooperated in the spirit of patriotism. Ironically, as soon as Nazi Germany was defeated and Stalin became a villain again, these same studios were chastised in some quarters for being pro-communist- and the "proof" was the very film that the U.S. government had implored the studios to make. McCarthy, a far-right zealot, shot to international fame with his hearings before HUAC at which suspected subversives were compelled to testify at. The deal such individuals were offered was simple: rat out suspected fellow subversives or incur the wrath of the inquisitors. Many people did betray their friends and colleagues but others, such as Walter Bernstein, refused to do so. In return they found themselves blacklisted in the entertainment industry. Legally the government could not demand that such people be denied a living but from a practical standpoint, pressure was put on TV networks and studios so that the top brass "voluntarily" decided not to employ these individuals. In the end, McCarthy's hearings unveiled no real communist threat but he did succeed in ruining the lives of plenty of left-wing artists, writers, directors and academics before being publicly humiliated himself.
By the late 1950s, Bernstein was gainfully employed again and was writing for film and TV productions (his credits include the screenplay for "Fail Safe"). In 1976, Bernstein wrote the screenplay for the devastatingly effective Martin Ritt-directed film "The Front", which explored how blacklisted writers had to endure the humiliation of employing "fronts" (i.e non-writers) to sell scripts to studios and networks, ostensibly as their own work. The real writers were denied decent paychecks and screen credit. Bernstein's long memory of those dark days of disgraceful American political policies extended to another film, "The House on Carroll Street", made in 1988. This production was somewhat less political and concentrated more on the aspect of being a thriller, which is probably what attracted the involvement of Peter Yates, who directed such high profile action films as "Robbery", "Bullitt" and "The Deep". The story centers on Emily (Kelly McGillis), a vivacious young woman living in New York City who is strong-willed and independent. She is also a "career girl", to coin a quaint phrase of the time, and holds a prestigious position as photo editor for Life magazine. However, her leftist views place her in the cross-hairs of HUAC and she is called to testify before the committee. When she refuses to cooperate and "name names" of friends and colleagues who might be communists, she is fired after her employer receives pressure from government agents. To make ends meet she makes a measly salary by reading novels to a rich old woman, Miss Venable (Jessica Tandy). While at Venable's house, she notices some strange goings-on in a house across the garden. A group of German men are having intense discussions and acting in a rather suspicious manner. Emily goes into Nancy Drew mode and eavesdrops on them but can't quite figure out what they are talking about. She later meets a young man who was at the meeting and strikes up a friendship with him. However, his behavior only increases her concerns. He is extremely nervous and informs her that there are some dastardly things being planned but he won't reveal what. Emily begins to secretly follow him and discovers that other people are doing the same. Who are they- and why does she feel increasingly threatened herself? Meanwhile, Salwen (Mandy Patinkin), a hard-nosed big wig on the HUAC committee, is ordering increased pressure on Emily to cooperate. The FBI sends a team of agents to routinely harass her and subject her to humiliating searches of her home. One of the agents, Cochran (Jeff Daniels), takes sympathy on her and the two strike up an awkward friendship that later turns into a love affair that could threaten Cochran's career.
The plot becomes increasingly complex as Cochran begins to assist Emily in finding out what the group of German-speaking men are up to. It appears that they are working in league with Salwen and government agents in a top secret plot to provide ex-Nazi war criminals with false identities in order to allow them to enter the United States and become citizens. It seems that the U.S. is willing to forgive these men for their crimes of genocide because they could provide valuable tools to combat the Soviets in the Cold War. Emily and Cochran are even more horrified to discover that the ex-Nazis are being given the identities of deceased Jewish people. Selwan discovers that Emily is on to the scheme and tries to bribe her to keep secret. When that doesn't work, things heat up and attempts are made on her life. The action-packed finale finds Emily and Cochran in a battle for their lives against Selwan and his men in the midst of bustling Grand Central Station.
"The House on Carroll Street" was met with apathy by both critics and the public but the film's attributes are more apparent today. It plays out like a Hitchcock thriller with the innocent protagonist swept up into incredible events that are initially beyond their comprehension. Walter Bernstein's screenplay is both intelligent and largely believable and director Peter Yates downplays violence in favor of good old-fashioned suspense. (It's the kind of film in which the heroine decides to place herself in harm's way by walking through an eerie old house in order to investigate suspicious activities.) The film effectively reflects an era in which America went mad and civil rights were sacrificed in the name of national security. McGillis gives a very fine performance and even provides a nude scene that is completely gratuitous but which was still much-appreciated by this viewer. Jeff Daniels is also commendable as a likable, all-American FBI man who finds that his agency is embroiled in some very un-American activities. Patinkin is a villain in the Bond mode: dripping with phony charm and charisma while all the while plotting nefarious fates for his intended victims. The production design is also commendable and convincingly evokes the look and feel of New York in 1951. The most ambitious sequence is the finale set at Grand Central Station. The mind boggles at how Yates pulled off shooting such a complicated action scene in a place that is jam-packed with people 24 hours a day, but the result is highly impressive . It should also be noted that the movie boasts a fine score by Georges Delerue and excellent cinematography by the esteemed Michael Ballaus. The film is not an underrated classic. There are some occasional laps in logic, loose ends and some highly predictable plot developments but for the most part it plays out in fine style and is consistently interesting and entertaining. Recommended.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has a fine transfer and features the original trailer.
The "coming of age" genre of American movies can vary wildly in terms of subject matter. There are the great teenage "coming-of-age"
films (see: John Hughes)- which are more poignant than standard, individual
teen angst stories dealing with topics such as "Why doesn't he like me?"
or "How do I get rid of my acne and become more popular?" Yet other, far more dramatic "coming of age" films center on the evolution of the United States, none more movingly than those dealing with the abolitionist period of our nation's history. It
was a proud time in our history; people of conviction stood up against an
abhorrent societal norm in certain areas of the country. Some people went
willingly and others were dragged kicking and screaming into a new age of
tolerance and growth. Yes, I know, we're still not
all growed-up yet but you notice that with every day passing day we see increasingly
sympathetic reactions to tragedies such as those that happened in Ferguson,
Missouri or Sanford, Florida. Good people often come together through grief.
The North Star is a moving and engaging "coming-of-age"
film. First time writer and director Thomas K. Phillips assembled an impressive
cast to tell this inspirational story based upon factual travails. "Big Ben" Jones and
Moses Hopkins (Jeremiah Trotter and Thomas C. Bartley, Jr., respectively)
become runaway slaves from the plantation they work on in Virginia when Ben
learns that he is about to be sold to an even more heinous slave-owner. Once sold, he will be
shipped to Mississippi - a state where he fears he would be subject to even greater degradation "Let's just say it's a matter of Mississippi
pride,"says the purchaser of "Big Ben," Wilburn Davis (Tim
O'Connell). "With the biggest owned niggrah comes the biggest
prestige," replies the current owner, Master Anderson (John Diehl) and
they settle on a price of $5000. Upon
learning that his new “property” has escaped, Anderson takes immediate action."That's
over a year's salary," Anderson tells the slave hunters he's hired. There
are some frightening, reprehensible creatures in this film but also some benevolent characters, as well. One of them is Mr. Lee (Clifton Powell), who advises the runaways to head toward the free state of Pennsylvania by following- you guessed it- the North Star.At the risk of making a faux pas, there's very little gray in
The North Star - things are pretty much black and white.
The North Star premiered on
UMC (Urban Movie Channel) last month for Black History Month and is now sold at
Wal-Mart and Amazon, and will be available on disc via Netflix as well as
the following digital sites: iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, GooglePlay, Xbox and Vimeo.
I viewed the film on DVD, which unfortunately has no bonus extras or even
set-up options, either. There are scenes in the film where the dialogue is very
soft and lines can be missed, indicating the sound mixing could have been
tweaked a bit better. I would have watched it with subtitles had I been given
the option. One unrelated peeve of
mine is that there isn’t enough screen time afforded to Keith David. This
accomplished actor briefly portrays (less that 2 minutes of screen time) the
great Frederick Douglas. If you have never seen Mr. David perform Shakespeare,
do so if you can. His Othello (with Liev Schreiber as Iago) is the finest I've seen. (I've forgiven him, almost, for playing Cameron Diaz's step-father in
"There's Something About Mary." That's two hours plus I'll never get
however, is worth a viewing, despite the fact that the direction is a bit erratic and the editing sometimes results in some confusion. However, cast is uniformly superb. Despite my aforementioned criticisms, I believe that director Thomas K. Phillips has a promising future in the industry and I look forward to his next film.
"Gunman's Walk" is another obscure Western gem that has been given new life through a Blu-ray release by German-based Explosive Media. The 1958 production was filmed in CinemaScope, the widescreen process that studios relied on to combat the newly-evolved threat of television. Director Phil Karlson makes the most of the format and captures the grandeur of the open plains of Arizona and mountainous regions of California for a story of a dysfunctional family that manages to fracture even further despite the abundance of wealth it enjoys. Van Heflin plays Lee Hackett, a one-time pioneer who endured every kind of hardship and struggle to establish a ranch in hostile Indian territory. Over the years he became a state-wide legend by triumphing over adversity and by building a modest cattle ranch into an empire. Lee also helped establish the town which has now grown appreciably. Consequently he carries a lot of weight and political power with the locals. The story opens with Lee as a middle-aged widower who has two grown sons. Davy Hackett (James Darren) is the younger, a quiet, relatively shy young man with a thoughtful disposition. He is the polar opposite of his older brother Ed (Tab Hunter), an arrogant, mean-spirited person who is constantly getting into trouble. Lee prides himself on being a strict disciplinarian over his boys but in reality they realize that his bark is worse than his bite. (He even encourages them to call him by his first name.) Much to Davy's frustration, Lee constantly uses his influence to get Ed out of trouble. If he can't do it legally, he'll use bribery or intimidation.Even while Lee dotes over his eldest son, Ed has plenty of "daddy issues" with his father. He resents that he has been handed everything on a silver platter. He also is fed up with Lee's ego and constant self-aggrandizement for having endured Indian battles, gun fights and the extremities of nature in order to build and protect his business. Ed also accuses his father of wanting him under his control so that he'll never have the opportunity to become his own man and possibly exceed his Lee's achievements. Despite this tense relationship, Lee continues to spoil his eldest son even as he hopes he can exert a positive influence on him.
When Lee and his sons lead a major cattle drive into town the family relaxes afterward by living it up a bit. Lee and Ed don't adhere to the local sheriff's (Robert F. Simon) edict that no one can carry a gun in town and the sheriff is too intimidated to challenge them. Almost immediately Ed gets into trouble by getting drunk, frequenting prostitutes and insulting people- but things are about to get worse. On the prairie Ed and a local ranch hand who is a Sioux engage in what starts as a good-natured race to see who can rope a much-desired white stallion. When the other man threatens to win the prize, Ed shoves him and his horse over the side of a cliff, resulting in the man's death. Ed claims it was an accident but two other Sioux secretly witnessed the incident and report it to the sheriff, who finds his backbone and arrests Ed for murder. However Lee rides to the rescue again and gets his son off the hook by bribing a stranger to say he witnessed the incident and it was indeed an accident. But Ed doesn't learn his lesson and continues to cause trouble- this time with deadly consequences.
Despite being saddled with a "B" movie title, "Gunman's Walk" is a highly compelling, intelligently written drama that is packed with tension thanks to the able direction of Phil Karlson. The script addresses a number of hot-button issues such as abuse of wealth and the ugliness of racism, which were topics not usually covered in Westerns of the period. The film also affords Tab Hunter a role that has far more depth than the one dimensional hunks he was often saddled with playing. As Ed, he is a tragic figure- a man to be despised, yet pitied. Hunter gives a fine performance, at times managing to be charismatic and almost likable before spiraling back into villainy. He's more than matched by old pro Van Heflin, who gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as a man who created his own living hell by over-indulging the son he loves so much. James Darren is capable but rather unexciting as the younger brother, but the part doesn't have much meat to it to begin with. Katherine Grant is fine as a young woman who Darren is trying to romance despite the fact that she is half-Sioux and is looked upon as inferior by his brother and father. As with most Westerns of this era, the cast is peppered with fine character actors. Among them: Mickey Shaughnessy, Robert F. Simon, Ray Teal and Edward Platt. In all, "Gunman's Walk" is a truly fine Western that has been unjustly overlooked for decades.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray is top-notch, as is generally the case with this company's releases. It includes both English and German dubbed versions of the movie along with an interesting stills gallery accompanied by Tab Hunter crooning the Western song "Runaway", which he sings in a pivotal sequence in the film.
(Explosive Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However, you can often find imports available on eBay and other Amazon sites around the globe. Explosive Media Blu-rays are region free.)
begin by making one thing clear: The animated opening titles sequence of The Amorous Prawn (U.S. title: The Amorous Mr. Prawn) aside – which features
a pair of flirtatious cartoon crustaceans flitting around the screen – there
isn't a single prawn to be found in director Anthony Kimmins' lukewarm 1962
farce, let alone an amative one. The title in fact references the nickname of
one of the film's secondary characters, a rakish lothario played by Dennis
thrust of the story actually concerns Dodo (Joan Greenwood), the wife of
General Sir Hamish Fitzadam (Cecil Parker) and her resourceful scheme to scare
up some quick cash to help fund his impending retirement. The couple live on a
sparsely manned Army base in the Scottish Highlands, and when Hamish is sent
overseas on business Dodo sets into motion 'Operation Lolly', opening up the
house and expansive grounds of the base as a salmon fishing holiday destination
for American tourists. She bribes Corporal Sydney Green (Ian Carmichael) and the
other members of the small on-site platoon to disguise the building's military
purposes and assist in her plans by posing as hotel staff. Naturally the
subterfuge is a recipe for calamitous misunderstandings.
The Amorous Prawn exudes the whiff of
theatrical buffoonery – and not of the particularly amusing variety at that –
it should come as no surprise to learn that it first saw life as a stage play
written by none other than director Kimmins himself. Yet, to be fair, what it
lacks in laughs it manages to compensate for with a modicum of amiable charm.
Ian Carmichael is always watchable (even if his character here is a tad less
endearing than those he played in the likes of School for Scoundrels and Double
Bunk) and there are a number of stalwart Brit reliables on hand to imbue
the proceedings with a mien of comforting familiarity, among them Derek Nimmo (whose
portrayal of Private Willie Maltravers is more camp than a row of tents),
Finlay Currie, Geoffrey Bayldon, Gerald Sim and Michael Ripper. Meanwhile Liz
Fraser brings her stock in trade bosomy blonde sex appeal to the party, though
she's very nearly upstaged in the glam department by one of Price's squeezes,
barmaid 'Busty Babs' (Sandra Dorne).
Today The Amorous Prawn's primary
audience will reside either among nostaligia-seekers who remember it from its
original run round the circuit, or those with a fondness for unassuming Sunday
afternoon fare. Supported by one of John Barry's earliest scores, fans of the
composer may also be drawn to investigate, though it should be said that his
work here falls well shy of his more distinguished endeavours.
The film comes to DVD in the UK from Network, the crisp transfer serving DoP
Wilkie Cooper's black and white photography marvellously. Though not in a
position to clarify – I've seen the film just once before – it should be noted
that some material has allegedly gone AWOL from this release, apparently
amounting to some 3-minutes’ worth of footage. The film was certainly subjected
to BBFC-imposed cuts back in 1962 in order to secure a 'U' certificate, but
given that a fleeting (though startlingly graphic) glimpse of frontal male
nudity when a Scotsman's kilt rides up is present and correct in this 'U'
certificate DVD release, one would have to wonder what could possibly be
missing. The only bonus feature is a generous gallery of production stills, front
of house cards and artwork, some of which bears the film's alternate titles The Amorous Mr Prawn and The Playgirl and the War Minister.
One of the most unfairly neglected WWII films of its era, director Lamont Johnson's 1970 escape thriller The McKenzie Break comes to Blu-ray through Kino Lorber. The movie is rather small in scale with most of the action confined to a POW camp for German prisoners located in Scotland (though the movie was actually shot in Ireland.) The establishing sequence succinctly makes the film's scenario abundantly clear. The British ostensibly run the camp but the real power is in the hands of the senior German naval officer, Schlueter (Helmut Griem), a 27 year-old true believer in the Nazi cause. In the first scene we observe the inability of the camp's British commandant, Major Perry (Ian Hendry) to stop a riot orchestrated by Schlueter in protest of plans to shackle twenty five German officers in retaliation to the same action recently done by Germans to British POWs. The British guards seem hapless and ill-equipped to handle the situation. This leads to the arrival of Capt. Jack Connor (Brian Keith), an unpopular maverick officer who has been sent by London to the camp to "advise" Major Perry about how to reinstate order over the POWs and blunt Schlueter's growing influence with them. Although Perry isy the senior officer, he can read the tea leaves and understands that Connor has virtually carte blanche to carry out his plans. Connor immediately meets with Schlueter and makes it clear there's a new sheriff in town, so to speak. The two men are outwardly cordial toward each other but only in the kind of superficial relationship that one sees between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. They both know they intend to get the better of the other man. In Schlueter's case this means successfully orchestrating a daring escape through a secret tunnel for a key group of naval officers. He has been ordered by Hitler himself to do this so that Germany's shrinking U-boat corps can get some extra manpower. Schlueter, who is handsome, witty and charismatic, is determined to carry out his orders at any cost and Connor discovers he is willing to kill any dissenters among his fellow prisoners. This includes a disgruntled Luftwaffe officer who resents Schlueter's tactics. He's mortally wounded in another riot orchestrated with the sole intent of leading to his demise. Connor confronts Schlueter about this war crime and the fact that he believes Schlueter previously murdered his superior officer in the camp because he refused to aggressively follow the plans for the escape. Connor tells Perry that he knows there is an escape tunnel. Perry argues that they should close it down immediately but Connor has a more daring plan. Knowing that the escapees would have to make their way to the coast and be rescued by a U-boat, he argues to allow the men to escape then follow them and nab the U-boat, too. Perry thinks the plan is too risky but Connor prevails and the group of German soldiers escapes. Unfortunately for Connor, things to do not go the way he anticipated and he discovers there is a good chance the men will make it back to Germany.
The McKenize Break is an intelligent, well-written film based on a source novel by Sidney Shelley. There have been countless WWII movies set in prison camps but this one gets a refreshing twist by making the Germans the prisoners. Under the impressive direction of TV director Lamont Johnson (in his feature film debut), the Germans are not portrayed as dolts or stooges, nor the mustache-twirling villains they often were in films such as this. They are presented as loyal servicemen who are simply trying to do what any POW would want to do: get back to their native country. The character of Schlueter, however, is more controversial because he can excuse killing his own men in order to achieve the greater goal. Connor is also a flawed officer. Within hours of arriving at his new post, he's sleeping with a female orderly. He's also bull-headed and suffers from a superiority complex that makes him adverse to taking advice from Major Perry, who he considers to be an incompetent. The performances are excellent, though this is primarily a two-man story. Keith, long one of the most underrated leading men in Hollywood, gives a commanding performance. He's charming even while he's being insolent and his thick Irish brogue adds a feisty element to his character. Similarly, Schlueter is extremely well played by Helmut Griem, a fine actor with considerable screen presence. It takes a good deal of skill for a young actor not to be overpowered by Keith's sizable persona and Griem pulls off the feat admirably. The film builds in excitement as the escape plan goes into action, although not without some tragic and unforeseen consequences for the Germans. The final sequence is a race to nab the escapees by an increasingly desperate Connor, who now fears they will indeed get away on the U-boat. The final scenes are packed with suspense and extremely well-staged, as is the film's ironic conclusion. Highly recommended.
The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber does not include any extras except for the original trailer.
men find peace and friendship as they uncover a mystery in the Yorkshire
countryside. “A Month in the Country” is one of those elegant movies about a
bygone era in post Victorian England that has become enormously popular in
movies such as those produced by Merchant-Ivory and in TV series like the recent
“Downton Abbey.” The exploration of class distinctions and gender roles has
been a staple in English drama in movies and TV for decades and the audience
appears to always be hungry for more. The likes of Austen, Bronte and Dickens
and stores of England through WWII have provided fertile ground for countless
tales that continue to fascinate and entertain.
Month in the Country” features early career performances by Colin Firth and
Kenneth Branagh. Both actors went on to enormous success and in the case of
Branagh, as a successful director, too. Firth and Branagh were born to feature
in period pieces like this and they both do an excellent job carrying the movie
with believable performances. Natasha Richardson is also on hand and gives an
equally excellent performance as the lovely vicar’s wife.
two central characters, Tom Birkin (Firth) and James Moon (Branagh) are veterans
of the latest “war to end all wars”, commonly known as WWI, and suffer from what
was then known as “shell-shock” and later “battle fatigue,” (now known as post-traumatic
stress syndrome or PTSD), an often misunderstood and misdiagnosed symptom of
continuous exposure to the extreme violence of war. Each man is in the small
town of Oxgoodby to work, but instead uncover a secret. Birkin is removing the
paint and restoring a long forgotten mural in the local church. Moon has been
hired to find the ancient grave of a local resident. The secret behind both the
painting and the grave are at the center of the story as both men come to terms
with their emotional wounds.
church mural dates to the Middle Ages and a local patron is paying the church
for the restoration. The vicar is less than enthusiastic about the scaffolding
and feels the mural will be a distraction, but grudgingly allows Birkin to
sleep in the belfry while he works on revealing the picture. Moon is more
interested in the prospect of locating buried treasures than in finding the
grave and both he and Birkin become friends. Moon has his own demons and suffers
from nightmares while sleeping in a hole he dug beneath his tent. He tells
Birkin it makes him feel safe. Birkin stutters (a precursor to Firth’s “The
King’s Speech” stutter) as a consequence of his emotional breakdown. Both men
enjoy the solitude and peace of the countryside as they uncover the layers of
paint and earth which cover their respective projects. They form a bond with
each other and the people of Oxgoodby as they uncover and expose their
plays Alice Keach, the aforementioned vicar’s wife. Young and beautiful, she
seeks out Birkin and brings him apples. Moon suggests the possibility of chemistry
between them and the way things usually work in these period stories is that a
romance develops. However, this isn’t a story about romance and love affairs.
It turns out Birkin is married and has a wife somewhere. Birkin also befriends
the local station master Ellerbeck (Jim Carter, the head butler in “Downton
Abby”) and his delightful children.
emotionally scarred, Birkin is also a bit of a jerk and resents that nobody in
the town, particularly the vicar who lives in a large empty house with his
wife, has invited him for dinner or offered lodging. Just then the station
master Ellerbeck’s children, Kathy and Edgar, arrive with food and a gramophone
to entertain Birkin as he works. They also invite him for lunch, which he
is also a local lay-preacher, the fire and brimstone type, although he’s a
friendly and kindly husband, father and friend. He sends Birkin off to his
afternoon sermon and Birkin reluctantly agrees. The children accompany Birkin,
who attempts his own fire and brimstone sermon, but instead discusses his work
in the Oxgoodby church. Afterwards he has dinner with a family who lost a son
in the war and later visits a dying girl who is at peace with her illness. All this
has an effect on Birkin as he continues working on the mural. Moon discovers the
lost grave and the mystery behind the mural and the grave are revealed. As the
movie ends a letter arrives for Birkin from his wife and both men depart on new
projects, restored to a type of normalcy.
movie is filled with terrific performances, beautiful scenery, feelings of
melancholy, a longing for what could have been and the experience of a life
lived. The movie runs a leisurely 96 minutes and includes a wonderful score by
Howard Blake. Directed by Pat O’Connor and based on the novel by J.L. Carr, it was
released in 1987 and features outstanding location photography.
Blu-ray features an insightful commentary by Twilight Time regulars Julie Kirgo
and Nick Redman who reveal the movie was lost in a sort of movie limbo and
remained unseen for decades. Kirgo and Redman are classic movie enthusiasts and
listening to them makes you feel like you are in their company. Be sure to watch
the movie a second time with the commentary. The disc also features the trailer,
isolated music & effects track and a booklet with notes by Kirgo. This is a limited edition of 3,000 units.
The good folks at Synapse Films are primarily known for releasing high-end editions of retro porn flicks and cult sci-fi/ horror titles. All of their releases are impressive, if not in terms of content, then certainly in terms of quality and the imaginative bonus extras. The label often gives the deluxe treatment generally reserved for David Lean films to low-rung, long-forgotten titles. Often, even if the film is of questionable merits, the perspectives offered by the extras make the viewing experience highly enjoyable. Synapse sometimes strays from their own formula by releasing mainstream films. Case in point: "Stalingrad", an acclaimed three episode documentary that was broadcast to great acclaim in 2003 in Germany and Russia. The new Synapse Blu-ray release is an extended cut featuring previously unseen footage. The film is presented in three separate stand-alone episodes, each running 55 minutes, that follow the progression of the battle in sequential order. As a viewing experience, "Stalingrad" is utterly mesmerizing. It's a sobering reflection on what was deemed the bloodiest battle of WWII. Directors Sebastian Dehnhardt, Christian Deick and Jorge Mullner present heart-wrenching interviews with both German and Russian veterans of the battle. The horrors they recount are backed up by some of most dramatic newsreel footage I've ever seen. The battle of Stalingrad has been documented many times before- and very effectively. However this documentary has the advantage of an extensive running time that allows some of the more personal nuances to be recounted in ways that previous documentaries were not able to do. The film is fairly well balanced between the Russian and German perspectives and the stories told from both sides are uniformly moving.
If there is a weakness in the production its in the fact that it lacks an introduction that gives the overall background on how the battle came to be. Clues to its origins are strewn throughout the episodes but for the benefit of those who are not WWII historians, a brief overview of the conflict would have been useful. For the record, in 1939 Nazi Germany shocked the world by signing an alliance with Stalin's Soviet Union. The move was a surprise because from a political standpoint, National Socialism was vehemently against Communism. But Adolf Hitler was shrewd in his political dealings. He conned Britain and France into ceding Czechoslovakia to him on the basis of a promise that it would satiate his territorial demands. By the time they realized they had been snookered, Hitler had moved against Poland, thus initiating the outbreak of WWII. Hitler was already in alliance with imperial Japan and Italy. Indeed the Axis powers seemed destined to rule much of the world. Josef Stalin was more than happy to sign up and share the spoils of war. He assisted in invading Poland and Finland but behind the scenes Hitler regarded him as a hapless stooge and the Russian people are genetically inferior to the Aryan race. By forming an alliance with Stalin, Hitler ensured that he wouldn't have to fight the Soviet army until a time of his choosing. That time came in June 1941 when Hitler launched a major invasion of the Soviet Union. By that point he was comfortably in control of most of continental Europe and he felt he could deal Stalin a quick death blow. His generals warned him otherwise, but Hitler had assumed total command of German military strategy. At first his instincts seemed to be right. German columns made quick progress through the Soviet territory, decimating the ill-prepared enemy forces they encountered. Thousands of miles of land was seized and the peasant populations subject to cruel tortures and genocide. Hitler's unwillingness to take advice from his generals backfired when he split his forces in 1942 to launch simultaneous attacks on two different regions, sending half in a quixotic mission to seize the oil fields in the Caucuses and the other half to take Stalingrad. It was the military equivalent of hubris. He was most obsessed with taking Stalingrad not because of any relevant military importance but simply to deal Stalin a personal blow by occupying the city that bore his name. The Germans met far greater resistance than they had anticipated. The civilian population joined the fight and proved a formidable force, building barricades and tank traps while the regular army fought the Germans fiercely. Germans did inch forward and at various points occupied large sections of the city. However, Staliln's mastermind general Zhukov had kept an enormous army secretly in reserve. As winter bore on, the Germans were not equipped to deal with the harsh Russian weather. Food and fuel supplies dwindled, morale sank among the huge German Sixth Army and their advance came to a stalemate. Zhukov waited until his prey was weak and disheartened, then launched a one million man surprise counterattack that resulted in hundreds of thousands of German troops being encircled, starved and relentlessly bombarded even as temperatures reached 60 below zero. The toll was horrendous on German troops, many of whom died from starvation and some from suicide. Toward the end, the starving soldiers sometimes resorted to cannibalism to survive. Hitler demanded that the troops fight to the last man, but Field Marshal Paulus ultimately relented and surrendered, making him the first German Field Marshal in history to do so. Ultimately it would take years before a political agreement would see the surviving POWs allowed to return to Germany. Only 6,000 of the 100,000 prinsonersremained alive at that time.
"Stalingrad" cuts presentation of the causes and background of all of the above to the bare minimum, instead concentrating on first-hand accounts of the battle. Survivors include both Russian civilians and German and Soviet war veterans. All of their stories are compelling and some might move you to tears. Among the tales of mutual cruelty, however, are some stories of unexpected compassion. The German POWs expected to be executed immediately but were impressed by the fact that their captors, themselves drastically short of food, split their bread ration with the prisoners. Soviet doctors also worked diligently to save the lives of wounded Germans. For the German troops, most had turned against Hitler when it became clear that he intended to all but abandon the Sixth Army to their fate, save for a relative small number of wounded men who were able to be airlifted out. One patient recalls that all wounded men were placed in occupied Poland until they recovered because Hitler didn't want the stigma of so many injured soldiers to bring down the morale of the German people who, by that time, were suffering terribly. The Blu-ray includes a wealth of incredible battle footage from both sides that will make you appreciate the bravery of war time photographers and filmmakers. Bonus features include interview segments that were deleted from the original cut of the film, an interview with historian Dr. Guido Knopp that adds interesting perspectives to the events, and "Stalingrad Today", a video tour of the impressive city that has since been rebuilt and renamed Volgograd but which still bares the scars of the infamous battle. What is left as an overriding impression is that over 500,000 died unnecessarily in order to satiate the whims of a madman.
"Stalingrad" is a major historical record that should be seen by everyone.